Travelling during Covid. September 2020 A soggy day in Bath.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

Welcome to the new world of travel.  It is going to be a bumpy ride, but it will always be worth it. It is an insatiable thirst, once tasted, always needed.  Always wanted.

The thought of not being able to travel again, this year, was a heartbreaking experience, for me.  I decided, it was not going to be – to sit and wonder and dream of places I needed to visit, and be satisfied to stay at home and embrace Covid. For five months, I sat at home, in South Africa, but dared to venture out to explore the little I could and it was life changing, in my own back yard.  Yet the yearning and the not being able to go beyond borders, seemed stifling, controlling even, and a first repatriation flight for me. Fortunately, and through much hardship, I now have two passports.

Back in London, the fingers were tapping for places to go.  I was not fast enough it seems, for the more I looked, the more the borders closed down in Europe.  Quarantine again.  Go close, I thought, mask in hand, go close, and it was Bath to be. And this is where the travel consultant ventured, and learned, and makes sure she can advise her clients about the experience of Covid travel.  It seemed so simple, a train trip to Bath, a budget hotel –  I have been to Bath so many times, but wanted to see how the world, and travel had changed, or adapted to the new way of being.

Of course.  Distance above all.  The saddest Railway station welcome to date.  Ticker tape evidence, everywhere. There is no dining service on the Train, but the journey itself was gorgeous, through Wiltshire, relaxing and letting the countryside whizz by.  If you are looking for assistance on arrival, best to follow the appropriate apps on your mobile, for humans are scare on the ground.

I had arrived early.  In the past, this was no problem and you could either check in early, or leave your bags at the hotel and return for check in.  I say this now in terms of a budget hotel: arrival was an empty reception area.  To call on the phone for assistance.  Skeleton staff doing all the work, and that included the cleaning, so I was a little concerned as to the quality cleaning of my room. That’s ok, I thought, will leave my bag, and venture into rainy Bath for the afternoon.  No leaving of luggage.

NB.  This has not been my experience is upgraded hotels.  One can still leave your luggage pre or post stay.

I make notes:  does Covid travelling exclude Budget hotels with limited staff for a while?

So it was to spend the afternoon walking through Bath with my luggage, backpack and, feeling like a tortoise with a fancy umbrella, ventured across the river into the heart of the city. This is when you realise that life, or the virus, has sucked the last of small coffee shops, little rendezvous havens and though the actual Baths were open, timed tickets were required.  All looked desolate and sad, even the Roman gods on the edge of the pools. Was it just the rain, the only day of rain, that seemed to create such a morose scene? Lack of hoards in summertime visits, but there were a few diehards waiting outside Sally Lunn’s Buns to tuck into tradition and take that ever important Instagram.

As a good travel consultant does, always checking to see where the good eating places are, where the great toilet facilities are, which hotels had actually opened, I was determined to make the best of it.  Despite the rain, the Abbey Hotel offered a great Afternoon tea and lot of sympathy for the bedraggled, wet person I was, with the luggage.

In the midst of Summer, Bath was pouring down. A gap in the sky had me going back to my hotel.  Now the wi-fi was an issue, and bookings for breakfast strictly observed by time slots.  With masks.  And this is the moment of travel, for now. I got soaked in Bath, I had to lug the luggage, but was I sorry I went?  Not for a minute. It was going back to a gorgeous city, with a history of Jane Austen, the Romans, the Crescent,  the beautiful parks and gardens. It rains in England and I can only say, if you travel when it rains, you find other gems you would normally pass by on a sunny day.

So what am I saying? Travel.  Do it anyway.  We get used to the masks and the lonely stations.  We fly and a face quarantine but it will always be worth it.  The summer is coming to an end but there are are so many local places to visit – the Staycation option is brimming and busy – even to the point of struggling to find accommodation. The point is to get out there and experience the best travel can offer, but be beware of the changes and go with the flow.

Loved Bath: parts deserted, other fully functioning. Rain or shine. Check with your hotel before you travel about left luggage and rules.

Flights are cheaper now – specials are really worthwhile. London, where I am based, is open for business. For some, the borders may still be closed, but wherever you are, support your local tourism and visit.  It is so essential that we get tourism back on its feet, for all of us.  So maybe you need to adapt, we all are, and the more we do, the sooner we get to travel the way we used to.

First trip down. Different but lovely. Dare I say this, but maybe spend a little more for upmarket hotels that offer more in the way of comfort at this time.

Oh, and Italy is still open … guess where I’m going next …

I cannot imagine my life without travel.  Don’t intend to.

 

Do we really begin to feel so old, or do others make us so?

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” ― Sophia Loren

It has been a while since writing, much has happened and mostly the superior irritation of feeling a lot older than I normally do.

I berate myself for doing this, but as much as I tried, the weariness and physical inability to dance through the moments, left me not only hobbling and frayed, but spiritually bereft. All my own doing …

At first, lockdown had me at ‘once again’ transforming everything.  Walking and, oh dear Lord, trying to become a runner without having trotted for a million years.  ‘Besimpled’ is all I can say.  Would it be karma at her wittiest, in bestowing me with ‘runner’s knee’?  One minute I felt the twinging of my right knee cap and before you could say, ‘we can have wine again’ I was hobbling to the Physio therapist for treatment.  ‘You have Runner’s knee.’  ‘You have to be kidding!’ Pain central.

This was not enough however, I was shifting to the London mode.  Time to return to the wee bairns (now seriously in no need of mother’s attention), signed a lease, took a repatriation flight and spent three weeks, with the wounded knee, living out of a suitcase.  Moving to a new house – falling down the stairs. I am Methuselah. And I was doing it to myself, feeling like a cripple without fitness, no energy, lots of depression and basically, deeply unsatisfied, hurting and unhappy.

The injury heals and the energy returns.  Which made me wonder if I was just plain feeling my age, dear God, or sinking into the acceptance and telling everyone that I was feeling old and miserable, and thus began to be treated thus?

Yesterday two things happened.  The first was a darling elderly gentlemen, who has yet to work out the wearing of a mask on the bus, or defiant perhaps, escorted by I surmise, his wife, who verbally  erased him from any form of independence.  A two year old had more freedom of choice, how to get on the bus, where to sit, how to sit, what was in front of him, outside the window – it was horrible to watch and the more she babied, the smaller he became.  The same happened in a coffee shop.  Two women in their thirties I think, brought in their mother.  Brought, it was more like escorted, plonked down on a chair, positioned and decided what was best for her to drink. The more they ignored her, only to order her to drink up, the smaller she became, and I knew I had done that to my own mother, not so long ago.

Why do we do that?  It’s a patience thing I guess and I was treating myself equally so, having no patience with this injury, transferring the frustrations of a lame leg and moving into a state of believing I was to old to cope. Resisting the change, even though I had brought it upon myself?  Looking for sympathy and then feeling sidelined because others had no patience with me? Physically, things will take a little longer – I doubt I would qualify now for things I would not have qualified for two decades ago.

But I was pissed off yesterday.  We are dealing with such ageism anyway and now, spirits sink at every turn when we are made to feel smaller, and I just hate that we fall for it. We accept that those younger are so much smarter and can stream, beam anywhere, virtual this and drink us under the table, but maybe we just secretly don’t want to know and do all those things anymore.  Champion of the Boat race drinking at University was sort of my highlight and now Mommy cuddles the bottle of wine, not because she has become a stereotype, but perhaps sometimes this world had just become so super boring.  We have cooked, cleaned, bathed, soothed, medicated, worked, travelled, loved and lived in full technicolour, thank you.  Kudos to Hugh Grant and Colin Firth who both turned 60 this week, the heart can still flutter and maybe more so that the looks are chiselled rather than winsome.

‘Ageing is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.’  David Bowie.

As to the question, yes.  We allow ourselves to feel old, become morose and think we have passed our time and wallow, and yes, others do make us feel old and we allow them too.

I will never wear the purple hat and fall into the stereotypes we tend to, but dammit, I allowed myself to think my life, romance, experiences and everything else, was over, because I struggled to walk, moved into a new house, take three buses to work and wore a knee brace on a nine hour shift.

And I am looking back at the pictures – not to feel sorry for myself, but to teach myself that granny frocks and socks and trainers and not really my style, so why the hell did I think my age made it acceptable?

If you are reading this with some delightful socks and crocks … you know what I mean.

Cheers!

 

 

er

The Staycation Vacation. And then to fly again.

 

Yeah, a little late in the game.’  she says.

‘What do you mean?’ she says.

‘This Staycation thing … ‘  she says.

It’s true, whilst I was still locked down in limbo city, others were quicker off the mark, getting the little Staycation sorted before the rest of us woke up and smelt the whiff of not being able to find a bed at any Inn.

Yet, it remains an interesting topic.  My generation, back in the day, meant nearly every holiday was right in our own back yard. If it was summer, the pool, your bike and friends were all you needed.  Remember?  The best part of it was not having to go to school.  If it was winter, you twiddled our thumbs. The best part was not having to go to school. That was everything your vacation meant.  Summer and out came the sunflower oil in lieu of sunscreen, the bikinis, lilos and the beach towel you got for Christmas.  LP’s that melted in the shade under the tree and if it was a real good day, Mom would let you share some Coca Cola. Throw in the bonus of going to a movie, or the drive in and heaven was besties and a midnight feast. In winter, we wandered from friends’ houses to friends’ houses, and twiddled our thumbs while we cried to the soundtrack of ‘Love Story.’

The REAL vacation, if all was in favour with the gods, was an annual trip to the beach.  For us it was Durban. Oh, the excitement, the packing and knowing you had to leave at six am in the station wagon for a six hour trip. Being able to go back to sleep for the first part, still in your pyjamas, wedged somewhere between the teenage sister and Ouma.  Halfway stop at ‘Windy Corner’ to turn a brighter shade of green (competing with the car sickness) when that Tupperware lid was hoisted with flourish and the scent of soggy Tomatoes hit you in the face. We shall not talk of the egg between bread.

‘Can you see the sea’ game overtook ‘I spy’ for waning interest in windmills and wheat fields and then, for glory, a week of sand and melting ice-creams. Etched memories of which I swear I can remember every, single one.

 

I could write for hours on our beach holidays. Let’s just say there was a trampoline and that was luxury personified.

Raising my own children, rather privileged in many ways, the trend was for friends to ‘go skiing.’  Young ones flown to foreign slopes on an annual holiday.  We came to London many times.  Exchange students we hosted spoke of visiting … what was it, twenty odd countries … they were fourteen at the time, and what was once a privilege for few became accessible for many to simply plan holidays outside of our own borders. The closing of them during COVID has swung the Staycation straight back into play.  Not only are we unable to fly to most foreign countries at present, but money is tight, budgets being cut, re-thinking being done.  Long haul holidays to foreign beaches are being replaced by a tripple to the local bay and it is a good thing, and we need to support our local tourist spots, now more than ever.

The tourism industry is in dire straits, as if the house has been closed and the covers thrown over the furniture.  When shall she awake from the slumber?  When will the guests return?  They are.  Rather than head for the airport, we are flocking to  beaches, valleys and hamlets to re-discover our own little worlds, we have not really given too much credit for, and once smiled at whilst tourists take pictures of rosy hedges and ha ha’s outside the manor. The flux of foreign to domestic travel is positive and just – back to the closer, the intimate, the good old family holiday.

But I say that holding the double edged sword.  Being in the industry I also know that it is inbound travel that accounts for one of the highest income sources in our economy.  We need inbound travel.  These are the clients that flock to the Private Game Reserves, the top hotels, the famous restaurants.  Travellers who partake of local attractions, spend vast amounts of money in our shops, on indigenous products and cultural activities.  Who hire cars, concierges, partake of tours.  We need them to survive, just as much as we need to re-discover our own back-door destinations. The ability to travel and flavour the world must be fostered – we grow that way.

Everyone seems to be scrambling to find anywhere left to visit for the holidays in England.  Others fear to leave the borders as the quarentine game lobs from border to bored and uncertainty scares the bravest of souls. In South Africa, domestic and foreign borders remain closed, with devastating effect.

Back then I was happiest with my hot pants, a spin on the dodgems, going to the Sharks Board and making new ‘holiday friends.’ As an adult I want the option to travel wherever I choose, to expose my children to different countries and cultures. This sister of all sinister sicknesses has brought both front and centre – staycation is making a comeback.  But not at the risk of travelling abroad, for they need us desperately to survive.

Perhaps the new norm should be a question of balance.  A little of both.  A concerted effort to not only support your local tourism industry, but save enough to have that gorgeous, exotic foreign holiday once, or twice a year.  That way, we all win.

Images:  The Guardian, Revenue -hub

 

Redundancy, financial loss and COVID.

In the midst of grief, any given clichés, advice, self help books or other bits of advice, may just be the last thing you want to hear.  Platitudes and attitudes that could not possible grasp the depth of your loss.  Believing no-one would ever begin to understand how devastating it feels, you are inconsolable.

You have lost your job.  Your income.  The future is uncertain. Your grief is real.  Some may feel it as acutely as death, divorce, any other form of trauma we experience in these crazy but wonderful lives of ours.

I remember the first time I was made redundant.  Total failure were the words that sprang to mind.  The more the company director tried to explain it was a financial, corporate decision, the more I felt I was being told I was worthless.  Not worth fighting for, expendable. It was gutting – I was broken.  All the doubts and recriminations dogged my every day.  Limping from the office, I was too afraid to tell anyone – what would they think of me?

I was twenty-two and it was a business decision, but I could not see past my shame. We do have a way of beating ourselves up for the smallest of nothings, but still I felt tainted somehow.  Young and energetic, another one soon came along.

Covid has wiped the jobs of millions from their CV’s.  Unprecedented, early shock had us at furlough.  At least we were ok, we thought,  but in my line of business, tourism and hospitality, the reality of not going back to work became a reality.  I remain optimistic though, there will always be a desire to travel and celebrate, I just have to think of other ways of going about the next few months to earn an income, re-adjust, prepare and will be ready when those itchy feet want to travel again.

Having said that, being made redundant at any age is traumatic.  Being made redundant or losing your income in The Silver Street time of your life, that’s just so much more difficult.  We know all the fluff of no-one being ageist and hang onto that belief, but we also know that when we are up against thousands of others desperate to work, it’s going to be a little harder for us. Defeatist though, never.  Getting by is operation central now.  Just getting by, like the proverbial swan, gliding on top of the water, but paddling like the devil underneath – and that is the planning for great things.

Just remember, you are not alone right now.  You know that, you read the papers, you are part of a pandemic, of a greater force and you are simply thrown from the economic fallout that is happening right now.  You are not alone.  It is devastating when you don’t know where the next salary check, dividend or any form of financial aid is coming from.  It is super scary, especially when you have expenses, accounts, financial agreements that have to be honoured, but how?

Never one for giving advice, I am simply going to jot down a few pointers that are helping me through this at the moment. Some you may relate to, some you may think … the woman has lost it and some may just be that kind of drivel you don’t want to hear.  Be positive, seriously?  Now? The woman is deluded.  But actually, she’s not.  Take it from someone who has worked in more jobs than a packet of liquorice all sorts – always adapting, always falling … and always getting up again.  This is my personal advice to myself.

  1.  It will pass.  Forever going back to compare this time to what others have endured in history. I am not close to starvation, isolated and far from my family.  Others are so much worse off than me, I see them driven by hunger and fear and I need to do the best I can, for I still have plenty by comparison.
  2. The little bit of money put away.  I need to dip into my rainy day funds, but am staying away from my capital.  To do this, I need to find temporary work until I can get back on an even keel.
  3. Been working on my CV, which let’s face it, at our age, reads like an encyclopaedia – how to reduce this to bulletin type, one page only, was surely a theory devised by an ancestor of The Marquis de Sade. Nevertheless a fun read. You may need to up the CV for the first time in a long time, no need to pay someone else to do it, anyone younger has it down pat, believe me, my children find this part of my life very entertaining.
  4. If money pinches, take anything you can, for now.  I am not averse to getting down and dirty if it means my bills are paid.  You never know, what you may think the most menial of labour, may just be the most rewarding.
  5. Clear your head. Clear your head of past accolades and any reference to what you were.  You will be. In the middle is, it will suffice until I will be awesome, even better than before.
  6. Be humble.  Everyone wants what ever is available out there.  Imagining you are a Ferrari and the job requires a white van is not going to play in your favour.  White vans can do so much more anyway.
  7. Be even more humble.  If it means calling every contact you know, pulling in the network threads, reminding relatives in the closet that blood matters, do whatever you can to clock the hours and get the pay.  Well, not everything …
  8. If your first mental response to lockdown was like mine, I was wondering about growing potatoes etc, and did just that.  Planted lettuce (which got aphids) and all sorts and made casseroles, enough of which I froze to feed an army or two in the future.  Then I took a repatriation flight back to London and the mountains of packeted food was given to others. With all the restaurants in lockdown, I saved a lot of money, and that is going to stay that way until things ease up. I don’t need to eat out and buy clothes if money is tight.
  9. I think that’s it for the surface part, now to the paddling beneath the water part.
  10. Planning a whole lot of new ways and avenues that will enrich (hopefully in more ways than one) my life.
  11. This I can do while I am working, part time or full time when I can, and do some more courses (are there any left I haven’t done) or get a new website up for something else I have always wanted to do.  I love cooking, what are the possibilities there … and so on.  Never let it be said that invention is not close to dealing with a disaster. Being unafraid and driven are the buzzwords required here. Post these words around the house.
  12. And my advice to myself is done.  I have to work, I want to work, I can’t be fussy and it will all come right again – then I will have a multitude of great things to make my day even more curious.

Once I got my headspace right, just the same as all the other times when grief was all consuming and that black cloak tightly wrapped, I am ready to listen and learn from others.  There are many groups on Face Book, i.e. Over 50’s job seekers, that share real stories, advice and links for potential jobs.  There are, yes, she says, books and articles that will give you the sugar in your tea, help you focus, which is a tad difficult at the moment.  There are people to talk to, people to follow who have courage enough to feed some into you.  And you can then do the same for someone else – speak, write, advise, hold spiritual hands.

And me, I consider myself fortunate.  It IS going to be tough, but I am the little mole, digging and clawing my way through the tunnel right now, convinced I will find the light.  You hold on, we are in this together.

Images: Pintrest

 

 

Summer heat and finding my feet.

If Lucifer is testing me, am not ‘going to pull ‘a Karen’, but Hades, it’s hot!  London and heat like this has us wilting at sunrise and crisp by even fall.  32 degrees at seven pm – how are you holding out? What are you doing to keep cool?

George has been semi comatose all day.  Feet in cold water, feeding of the ice cubes, poor little fellow.  I have resorted to freezing grapes and juice, cold showers on the hour and still the glow has turned to ditch digging sweat. Still, its great to be back in London. From the alcohol ban in South Africa to this – Lucifer has been busy.

Patiently waiting for the International boarders to open, the wait is ongoing.  Decided to do a ‘repatriation’ flight back to the UK.  The prospect was daunting with all the rules and regulations and I was in a total panic; what if the temperature was a little high, the document a little missing … this was all a non-refundable exercise.  No going directly to the airport, loaded on buses and single file, we returnees were ushered onto the flight.  Gone were the lovely uniforms, replaced by white suited, visor clad and mask wearing crew. Understandable.  Worst airline food in history – no hot food, no coffee – day old smashed chicken and a slice of cheddar on a stale bun. Moving on.  Then there was the delightful ‘you must register with the UK government and quarantine threat.’ No-one at the airport to check.  All the drama for nothing – I think most airlines are stepping up to the ‘repatriation’ game to just get back into the air (at a hefty fare of course.)

Don’t blame them.  Let the world open up now thank you!  It has been too long, very sad and life changing, but too long. So what did you do in the months of not being allowed to step outside, stop working or work from home.  How did it work for you?  Are you still employed?  Many face redundancy and worse, many over fifties are now facing an uphill battle to find work.  Don’t stop going for it, it will happen.  This is just the time to re-evaluate and perhaps change direction. Is there something you have always wanted to do but feared for it at the same time?  Now is the time.  This lady is in the tourism business.  The tourism business is on it’s knees right now, and it breaks my heart, but I remain optimistic that it will pick up again.  That doesn’t mean I am not looking in different directions for something to add to my working life.  If weddings are on hold, I have seen wedding photographers change course and are giving virtual lessons, doing family shoots … you know what I mean.  It isn’t easy, and that is why, once again, I am finding my feet in a new dynamic, in a new world so to speak.

Challenging, but exciting at the same time. Finding you feet is what it is all about.  Doubt if I will ever be hired as a CEO in the next few months, but Lordy Lord, do I want to do that?  Rather be a dog walker (when it gets cooler).  No, it is not going to be easy, but it is going to be a path of discovery and DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YOU OTHERWISE. If I am a typical Karen, than it is only because no is not a word I have a place for anymore.  Over the past few years, I have had enough no’s to build a fountain – base of no’s ,water of tears, but I have put that angel right on top.

As Dory would say, ‘just keep swimming’.

A darling friend, who like me has had an interesting, if never to be repeated, past few years.  She took her maintenance and bought a Guest House in December.  World crashing, I asked her how she was coping.

‘After what we have been through, this virus is nothing.’  That’s the spirit boss girl, that is the baby steps to success.

Not quite going to dive into the Thames, but a paddling pool in the living room is looking ever so attractive.

Hello lovelies … it’s going to be a great time.  I have been lying low, sort of if you have nothing to say, don’t spill the banal onto pretty ears, but now, oooh, now there is so much to say, do and discover.

Watch this space and get inspired in your own Silver Street – such a cool avenue.

Images: The Standard

 

 

 

 

Covid and Peanut butter sandwiches.

In a world gripped by Covid, we are all struggling, in our own way.

The day has been one of torrential rain, gales so fierce it is difficult to go outside.  I am safe and warm in my home, but I am also in a country that many are facing starvation – poverty so dire, it is difficult to imagine the sheer extent of it all.

So tonight I write, not of pretty gardens or far off beautiful places, but of what is happening, right here, right now.  And the heart is breaking for those who fight the elements of the fiercest cold, and the most desperate of hunger. The predicament has always been here, but perhaps Covid has brought the plight of the homeless and destitute to the fore.

Began for me, oh dear, staying longer than expected in South Africa, and making the best of it.  What to do, get though this, until I could fly back to London.

I felt very sorry for myself. How to pass the time and I have no work here.  Do a little decorating, work in the garden … wait it out.  Then  I found, by chance, a group of women who were making sandwiches for children who were now, not getting a meal at school, for schools have been closed.  Make a few sandwiches, they asked, help these children have at least one meal a day in their bellies.

I can do that, I thought.  Make my own little contribution.  Toss in a bag of oranges, or two. Every week I made sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches ( peanut butter is more nourishing) and happily deposited my bags of charity at the point of collection.  Once a week. Keeping the distance.

If I could post some of the pictures of the children, and adults, receiving packages of basic food, I would. But I won’t, for their sakes.  They are lovely, the utter gratitude, but also the real ‘picture’ of hunger, and fear. They do not need to be put on social media, or this post, and I will respect them.

This amazing, and generous, group of women has grown to the stage where nearly two thousand sandwiches are made every week.  As is, the need for other basics became evident.  Blankets, clothes, diapers, plastic, drinking water and even just something like tampons were top of the list. A handicapped child was found in a squatter camp, his mother trying her best. We were made aware, hospital visit arranged, a wheelchair donated by funds from children, parents, anyone who could help. Still I thought, do what I can, from a distance.

I was asked to visit a squatter camp, to take photographs for a newsletter, for a charity. Was reluctant. It’s one thing helping out, and quite another, getting up close. Feelings of dread, not wanting to seriously engage. I did go. There are people, of all races, living under plastic sheets, hoping against hope for a wooden structure, a steel container, anything to protect them from the elements. There is no race issue here, only one of survival. In the most basic form. The most basic act of just getting through the next hour, the next day.

And I thought.  How did you get to this?  How can you not make something of yourselves, seriously, is there no job, or self help scheme to lift you from this desolate state? As I began to speak to a few living there, there isn’t. Zenophobia excludes help. A few are trying to earn a few cents by begging at stoplights, making scarves and jewellery, selling plants they have gathered in the mountains behind them.  Yet, everyone I spoke to was strangely calm, hopeful and grateful. Can I just say, I felt so small.

I would love to post pictures of the smiles on those children’s faces when they received a peanut butter sandwich. I cannot.

The pandemic has prevented many from going to work. I worried about getting more wine. Africa is Africa and poverty will always be here I suppose, but now, in this time, people are willing to risk getting Covid rather than starving. They will risk the disease instead. In becoming involved, I have seen the elderly grasp at a parcel of soup mix, children running for bread, mothers crying quietly with resignation, others huddled against the cold. Under plastic, crates, makeshift corrugated iron sheets. And still helping others.

Around the world, statues are going down, anti racism protests, political chaos.  Dare I say it, but there are do-gooders who shout for a while, and go back home.  They should come here and see the volunteers who risk their own health, and at times safety,  to go into townships and squatter camps to feed and nurse the worst hit by the lockdown. Quietly – in all weather.

I would love to post the pictures. I won’t. I will honour those who think a tin of beans is a gift.

As the rain beats down, and the winds lift the tiles, I think of those who need a blanket, and a peanut butter sandwich.

 

As they say, keep safe, but also, keep giving. Give in any way your can.

 

 

 

Keeping faith and those French cafés.

C’est possible!

Saturday afternoon and I am onto my bigillionth cup of tea. Am a viable little teapot of late. Morning tea, blah mid-morning tea, after lunch tea … afternoon tea… it goes on and on and on. Count tea before I can count the wine. Dream of coffee. Dream of coffee on the sidewalks of Paris, which since this week, is possible again. Who would have thought, those tightly packed cafés, a breath from the person next to you, facing forward and viewing the world with a great little noisette, would be back in business? Can’t keep a good thing down.  Drinking coffee at home, during the lockdown, just isn’t the same n’est pas? Paris has come to life again, and plans made, sidewalks widened, tres interesting head gear in place,  the romance may be tainted, but not forsaken. Talking of inspiration, I have my little list this week.

Getting away, when I can get away. It’s to the beaches, the mountains, the cities. Until it actually happens, here’s to dreaming of Europe’s beaches. This of course, may have to wait until next year, and I shall never complain about Easyjet ever again. Much to complain about of course, nothing like the six am flight from Gatwick to lose one’s faith in humanity, big time; having to reduce luggage befitting a sparrow on route to the sun, the security snarls, stripping and apologising for whatever because you are convinced you must be guilty of some heinous crime. Not to mention the lovely louts in airspace, drinking largers in slipslops and the greasy spoon offerings before being shoved into a seatless space whilst the Speedy borders bully their way in front of you. I digress, I will not complain of Easyjet again for she can get me to the beaches of Shirley Valentine and Donna Sheridan. Low Budget airlines do test the faith, but I am keeping the faith to get to travel again. Hold that plane!

Whilst the rest of the world slowly returns to a semblance of what we know, the focus for me, rather than be pessimistic (and I have my moments), is instead on the amazing resilience all around. The last to be allowed to resume to business are the Hospitality, Wedding and Events and Beauty industries. You can imagine what the hair looks like now – think Charles Manson, but even in this faith remains for rescue. Many restaurants have turned to delivery services, setting up shop outside to serve customers. Entrepreneurs are offering online courses, writing great articles and making videos to keep their livelihoods relevant whilst holding out for salvation – it will come.

We will always want to go somewhere special to celebrate, meet friends. Weddings will happen. All will be well, if but in a different form.

We are still here. We have planning and projects to explore. Face realities of what still exists and what we can salvage out of what is not working anymore.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” Brene Brown. Keeping the faith is key. Believing that we can rise, change, deliver and drag ourselves up from the floor over and over again, is what makes each of us unique and valuable.

Adding bookmarks of inspiration to daily life, is what it means to plan forward, rather than be stuck in the disappointment of the time. We need creativity, innovation and regeneration now. New careers are out there, it may be a first for you, doing something you never dreamed of.

Think outside the box, if the box of your life has a lid on it. No matter our age, we are all going to have to be inventive – no-one is immune to change and this mother of all change has many of us in the starting blocks, running a new race. I’m ready and impatient to start. And then to the beach and a stop at the Café de Flore.

 

Image: Christophe Petit Tesson

June. Glorious June.

Envigorated. The first of the week and the first of the month. Double delight.  We are beginning to see the light.

Who would have thought that the first half of the year, 2020, would have brought such immense change, deep level five changes to our lives? Who would have thought? Life became about biding our time, locked down, hopeless to control, in the worst season of war some of us had ever experienced.  And we suffered, we lost, we feared and we got to know a different kind of future – for some, still unknown – do we still have jobs out there, can we still go out there, how will it be, how will we cope?

Just like that, half the year swept under a veil of fear and uncertainty. Being our time, housebound, locked out, locked in. Brutal stuff .We learnt the possibilities of confinement, tried this ,did that, baked the banana bread. Some exercised, some began on line courses, some cried all the time, some rebelled – but the collective human nature, coped.

Where I am tonight, lockdown is still deep. But, and little by little, light shines through. Today we were allowed to buy wine, ‘hello wine!’ and able to walk around at all hours of the day. These little givings changed all around me, smiles came forth … and we still look to the skies to see the planes, for so many of us are waiting to board – me back to England and missing the Summer, but hopefully that this will happen soon. In the meantime, in lockdown, all sorts of acceptance happened.  Being here, at first, was scary, so far from my family and what I know, but now a time, a retreat of sorts, to accept the quiet and kill the fear, the stuff, hone into the what matters and that is a good thing.  As I said, the stages, which is now, the planning and doing time.

Would I have done this if life was as frantic as it had been? Doubt it.  I have been forced to slow down in in that, to find the simple stuff, lost long ago.  Cherish that.  I have sorted photographs, memories, songs, little anxieties and the past.  And now, with June, happy June, it’s the light to where we fly.  To the light we look up too.

I have finally spent time in my other home.  And made it more so.  A family place to come to and love.  Over the years we rented, had strangers stay, and now it’s finally become the place of peace.  Am here now.  It has also become the place of family to return to, have when things are good, and not so good, and done.  When I leave, close the door, and I can, it will be here. Times we are given things we at first, resent.  This was part of a settlement and I thought, I don’t want to live here, I live there and all that … the lockdown of being here has forged a new love affair. It is home.

Life gave me two destinations. Blessed I think. Not by choice, but now by choice.

For me, June has the beginning of true Summer,and the beginning of Winter.  The vineyards are turning golden to red, to brown. In England, the roses are blooming.

It’s all about the light, wherever you are.  The slow but steady lifting of darkness this year. Parks are opening, shops are opening, coffee is back on the menu. We can walk, and talk again of subjects other than Brexit and Covid. Thank you! We have downed the crafts and seeking nature.  We can dance with optimism in anyway we choose. The into ourselves and re-inventing is going to bear fruit. New careers, dishing the old out with the plughole, force drive to the other ourselves.

Confetti June.  Diaries are opening again. Plans are possible. I am excited.

We have found the small stuff, the little posies, the big bouquets of life. To the rivers, the beaches, the mountains and the stage of all that we can do.  And I am not alone in this, in this possible reinvention, renewal and loveliness of it all.

June is a great month. Glorious June.  You have come around and we are back on the stage of all we want.

We are going to be amazing – women, and men, who have had to re-define all we are.  Begin again. Try again.  And in that, the stage is open, the waiting in the wings is over … take centre stage in your life and live it with gay abandon.  If this time has taught me anything, it’s that we have no time to just be spectators in our lives, but to be the number one headline in it.

Happy June, I embrace you – you are the bride of all that can happen.

Break the rules. Make your own. A month of all the loveliness possible.

 

The Pandemic P’s and how you will flourish in the midst of it.

‘A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity:

An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.’

Winston Churchill

 

Sometimes words just don’t mean much when your life has fallen apart.  There are no clichés powerful enough to make you feel better.  Trivial platitudes don’t cut it when the soul lies lifeless and the heart is torn apart.  We question life itself; what is the point of all the struggle and loss?  It is in the understanding of why, why not, and how I deal in times of trouble, that I was forced to re-evalute, re-direct and re-adjust my life, over and over again.

Some of the scariest moments in my life, I willingly, or unwillingly, contributed to.  They were partly of my making.  Life came to easily to me, and when it all went wrong, after the outfall, I had to face up to some very hard facts – and how I was going to move forward from that point I thought I would never have the courage. Call it growing up. At my age. Call it facing the truth about oneself, but in all the darkness, like now, like the five stages of death, we are faced again with something out of our control, and rather than give into the wasteland, we need to see this as an opportunity to look deep, open the wounds, find the source and change what needs to be changed, to be ready when we can no longer blame the war, but take responsibility for how we are going to embrace what we find in the next step.

The Pandemic caught us all unaware.  It may change, but for now, these are the 5 P’s that most account for my getting through this time, and I hope it helps you too.

 


  • PANIC

Of course.  Not at first, we sort of became numbed individuals as the reality of this illness arrived, like fog over an airport, and we are no longer able to carry on as normal.  Orders to wash our hands, wear gloves and cough into our sleeves, that was all.  Panic grew as the numbers of casualties and deaths increased – this was becoming something serious.  Plans to stay at home, and get to the home we were going to stay in, for a little while … till it all blew over and the skies opened up again.  Bad news became the norm, we really began to panic; about food, medical supplies, not seeing family and friends.  Everything closed up – this becomes real, we are in seige mode.  The war has begun and we are totally unequipped for the onslaught.

The level of panic remains for we have no cure.  Anxiety leads to sleepless nights, frayed reactions.  We are locked in, or locked out.  Arguments happen, snapping at others increases, loss of freedom leads to cabin fever and not working, to listlessness.  Initial banter and resilience wanes. WE are all pessimists, and rightly so – the enemy will not stand still.

Accept the panic, it still comes in waves, but this, for me, subsides as a hibernating bear.  As long as I don’t prod or defy it, I can tred lightly.


  • PAUSE

Difficult.  Being asked to.  We are not a generation of small stuff.  Big lives, bold moves.  Time turns to water. Days to a dripping tap. We are in the shelter of hoarding and waiting.  Obedient. The day before grows stale, as the jokes and memes and catching up with those you don’t really feel the need to anymore.  Longing for those you do grows intense. In the pause, you are willing new things; the learning of a language for a country you cannot visit, the baking of food you have no taste for. Cleaning with vigour to find some order.  Everything known to you looks different. Effort becomes the operative word.  Elastic pants your friend.  The Pause period, which we are still in right now, is one of letting go, be it willingly or not caring a damn, is dangerous.  We begin to accept what we would never before. And we are tired, tired to the bone of expecting, of media, of all the horrendous reality of our state of being, outside the window, and inside our souls. The excitement of the pandemic affair, deflates very quickly.

Times I am so down, listening to myself breath is enough. The fog is everywhere still, but, and it is a lovely but, the eyes begin to focus of the small stuff. The heart flings aside the fluff and the mind … the mind is a mess, but its time for a spring clean.  You have enough time now, no excuses and, oh my, the dust is everywhere, physically and spiritually, everywhere. Recognise that we have no choice but to pause, and in that pausing, recalibrate.

With time on my hands, and planes on the ground, I did the anger, and the wallowing, and the doing nothing in depression, and am facing the third stage.  Like the levels we are being forced to live in now.


  • PRAISE

If you keep a gratitude dairy, you will understand the meaning of praise. Giving thanks for the good things in your life, for moments that mean so much, for others who contribute to your happiness.  I don’t have a gratitude diary, more like an angst journal, but being alone in lockdown, the person I have to face, and give some praise to, is myself. Praise all those I love, they know that, and now it’s time to turn inward.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to praise yourself.  Over, and over again.  Whatever you think about being egotistical and rather be self depreciating, let it go.  You are your own soldier here.  The one going to walk out with, you. Gosh, you have made it this far, warts and all, with all the scars and the journey can only get better now.  Strip the layers of negativity you wrap around yourself and now is the time to do it.  Everyday.

It’s not about losing twenty pounds or running for office.  Not about being prisoner to the past, or martyr to falling down.  This is the time to be super honest, and super selfish.  Praise in the time of pandemic of self love at her best.  Be vulnerable, be honest and then be loving, and complimentary. You are  amazing, and if you need a makeover to be phenomenal, now is the time.

Praise everything you have, and are.  Everything you thought you needed and now don’t anymore.  Praise simple aspects of your day; how you put on your make-up, change the sheets, fold the linen.  Praise the messages you send, the kindness you exude, the ability to finish a crossword/puzzle and savour the way you taste your first sip of wine, toss the pasta – make is a slow, deliberate act of daily things that you do in your own special way.  A compliment to you, your own dance.

To praise is to reflect and say … I am ok.  I am not perfect, but I am no longer defined by others.  When the lockdown ends, be sure of a few surprises … and if you are not alone, no need to share this pact with yourself.  To go all the way to the inner most part of you, is the restoration and re-invention of the rest of your life.  Question everything. You have the answers already.

 


  • PLAN

This time would be such a waste if we did not plan for better.

Now that you have survived the initial wave, sat around watching the paint dry (or every series on Netflix) – now that you have taken stock of the things that make up your life, and your life itself, now is the time to plan.  So often we follow a path in our lives established by environmental factors, or falling into patterns of place and people that we bump along, quite happily.  Some are still on that road, happy and content.  Some have found some bumps and fell into a ditch. There is nothing that truly dictates what we should and should not do.  Just because you don’t come from a family of avid cooks, it is not too late to become a maestro chef, an artist, a journalist.  So you have never lived alone, become a CEO of your own company, or even written a blog, but that should not stop you.

The universe has thrown the room quite open.  Everything is up for grabs. I have always loved ‘The Invitation‘ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, and thus I send it to you.

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Just saying – this takes courage, and it brings rewards.  This is the time.  Plan for a journey, a career, a whatever – yes even in My Silver Street time, and greatness is close.


  • PERFORM

Here is the most difficult lesson.  The most difficult part.  The follow through.

We will survive this Pandemic.  We will be patient and go through all the stages. When it does end, will we perform? Take all we have been through and take centre stage in our lives, as we should?

I know I cannot go back.

Will meet you at the café of Life for the best coffee and the new stories of us.

Images: Youtube, Love this pic.

Lockdown, a little bit of sex and the Chameleon going for a walk.

Lockdown day one million.  Little mercies.  A good walk.  Will I call it a ‘Beautiful walk’ as at My Silver Street?  In the beginning perhaps, on the Estate and nature in all her glory, hedging towards Autumn. Now it is the same walk, round and round. At least I still drag myself out of a virus inflicted crazy dream and little sleep state and pull on the trainers.

Beginning each day with ‘Enough, going to do this and that, change my life, change the world’ to end of day … blah. Getting the little soldiers into a plan of action.

The weekend had me in a chatroom. The Zoom Room.  Chatting to family who are shedding the jumpers for summer frocks, and an Art Class; sketchbooks.  Of course Karen, the moment you find a shop open with Art Supplies. you have to buy the biggest Sketch book known to man.  A great big, bloody red Moleskin sketchbook.  Initially the idea was sound, to put and plaster and tag and dot little pieces of inspiration.  Quite the other when you have to show it to the group via webcam and cannot actually hold the atlas/doomsday book up for them to see.  Memo, a little one will look so much more attractive in your handbag whilst sipping a noisette ‘a la sidewalk cafe in Paris in future.  The Red peril will not fit into your suitcase.

Where the Art continues to be curious and beautiful, the book reading attempts right now, have been less so.

The painting is by Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678)  You can find it in the Wallace Collection, in London.  It speaks of abundance, both in flesh and nature, of plenty, of fertility and harvest.  Surrounded by humans, satyrs, children (fertility) and reference to Bacchus/Dionysus, the god of wine and hedonism, the composition is one of sensuality, voluptuous abandon and lust.  Lust, sex and passion.  An allegory of Fruitfulness.  Ripe with sex.

Poetry does it beautifully, and many novelists can engage the words with graceful imagery to evoke all the nuances and beauty of sex.  Just as many get it so wrong. So embarrassingly wrong.  There is even a ‘Bad sex in literature award’.  I kid you not.  Anyway, there is no Daunt Books close by, but dear Lord, why have the past two ‘International Best Seller’ books been sadly lacking in writing about sex in a realistic, yet magical way.  Of course, the first I read had to deal with every topical subject the author could tap into; we have war, rape and revenge.  Now I am trying to, with a skewering, vinegar in your eye determination to finish, has me going ‘oh dear, forgiving Lord, has EL James begun writing under a pseudonym?  Have I not escaped her? Again the topical jam it all in list: dreary marriage to a cold hearted orc, jumps in the Seine, totally rescued of course, anyone can dive into the Seine with its currents and whip out the desperate – runs away, to the idyllic seaside town.  Instant job, lodgings, favourite of all – late life sexual awakening, first orgasm and sjoe … the convenience of it all!  Does it not reduce you to a pulp of craving for wine – it did me.  So please, good recommendations for I cannot do the ‘hope it goes to Hollywood’ stuff.  Amazing don’t you think, when you think of it, just how every book seems to be ‘The number 1 bestseller’ – what would happen if it were the ‘Number 4 best seller’? Oh dear … Suggestions please, or I shall revert to the classics once again (always a good thing) to read about real passion and sexuality.

Fans of EL James, by the way, you have made her immensely rich.  I hope she took some grammar lessons with the loot.

Sadly, the past week, we read of the passing of Nigel.  Monty Don and his beloved Nigel, which I watched religiously on ‘Gardener’s World’ – the perfect couple, boy and his best mate. They were the closest to what I believe a real home, garden and life should be.  It is a long time ago, I had any of these together, and I suppose they were like a dream team – his loss will be great, for those who love the programme, but immense for Monty Don and his family.  Times I think, this is what it really should be like, pushing the wheelbarrow through the seasons, followed by two faithfuls in a beautiful garden – and the nuzzling, the unconditional love an animal gives, that is the most powerful love. I hope one day, when I grow up and settle down, I will have a companion like Nigel.

In closing, I stumbled upon another unique couple.  On my walk today – we have  to distance and it’s rather a stop and let pass situation, complete with masks, as one does in the fresh air. Seriously? An elderly gentleman came towards me, and I stopped to allow him right of way.  Walking stick in one hand, the other was held out in front of him, almost in a shield holding fashion and it was only when he was right beside me, I noticed the chartreuse, bulging eyed chameleon perched there.

I am not a fan, afraid more like. When it comes to some animals, I wish David Attenborough a long life, he can cuddle them. Yet, as I walked on, I thought of how much he must love that green fellow.  The responsibility to nuture is there. Is gives sense to being. Maybe the fraught existence of sex and lust and passion has waned with every step.  Maybe he still feels them all, I hope he does. We must endeavour to feel the fluttering for as long as we can.

Reflections in the water.  A few Geese and Coots still visit.  The birdsong is lyrical, and the tiniest weaver is in the orchestra. It is a quite and reflective time; I may not be able to visit the Galleries, but art abides.  Not sure of the reaction if I meet swivel-eyed Sam, now being aware of him, but how charming was that moment in the morning?  Just to find a really, really good book that doesn’t make me despair.

“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”
–“Sonnett XVII,” by Pablo Neruda

“my blood approves,
and kisses are better fate
than wisdom”
–“since feeling is first,” by e.e. cummings

Want more words like these … be safe and plan for your own continued journey.

Till more xxx

Image: own and Bournmouth news.