Re-connect

I think that one of most pernicious effects of the pandemic is that aside the fact it’s made everyone perpetually fearful about every aspect of their daily lives – it’s also made practically everyone feel older.

I know I feel that way.

I don’t just feel it physically, but mentally too.

For a long time I suspected that it was a symptom of depression – because I’m sure that there are times I’ve succumbed to this over the last two years.

At times it’s felt as if there was nothing more to life than home (which is thankfully ace) and work.

People that weren’t included in these two camps had effectively disappeared from my world view – and I’ll admit that I did practically nothing to stop that from happening.

I’m not sure where my sense of isolation from the wider world stops and the onset of depression related weight gain begins. As a package I think they’re very much like a chicken and an egg – and just like that well worn conundrum I’ll never truly know which came first or whether one can exist without the other.

I do know one thing though.

I’m better when I’m around people – and as they were slowly taken away by successive lockdowns and working from home directives (whilst simultaneously being labelled in my mind as potential plague carriers) the less and less I wanted to have anything to do with my old (very sociable) life.

Recently though (mostly due to a deep and profound dissatisfaction with myself) I kicked the hornets nest at work, and threw my proverbial toys out of the pram.

I’m not an idiot though – and didn’t go nuclear.

This wasn’t a ‘flip the desk and storm out’ scenario.

I instead discussed how I felt about a number of things (one of which being my fitness and depression) with my manager – who was kind enough to listen to me quietly implode in front of him for almost 90 minutes.

The end result of this was an offer I did not expect – and that was a question about whether or not working a four day week would help.

The trade off would be 4 longer days on Monday – Thursday (I still needed to work full time hours) but crucially it would then mean that I would gain a more expansive Friday-Sunday weekend if I did.

I was skeptical though.

I’d previously worked long shift hours in another (life) job, and it didn’t really do my health much good. Swapping from nights to days in that role practically killed me in under two years. My (already erratic) sleep patterns meant many many 12.5 hour shifts with less than an hour’s shut eye under my belt.

I probably shouldn’t have been driving to work in the first place, let alone doing a 12.5 hour night shift and then driving home again.

My overriding memories of that period were endless fast food pickups on the way back and massively increased alcohol consumption.

Although to a person finishing work at 7.30am there’s nothing odd about buying a four pack of Stella to chill out with after a long day, it’s not really a good look when you’re waiting in line with them at the local shop next to parents taking their children to school in the morning.

That’s really what I remembered most about longer days – so initially I was reluctant to say yes.

Instead I said I’d talk to my partner about it and decide what to do.

We discussed it over the weekend – and after weighing up the pros and cons I/we decided that it was worth a try. Maybe it would re-energise me and give me the mental space to turn things around.

That was around three weeks ago.

Yesterday was my second Friday off with my new working pattern – and after only two weeks doing it I think I’m a convert! I usually work relentlessly as it is (I’m crap at taking breaks) and having a longer day to fit in all the things I need to do was actually really helpful.

The additional day at the weekend (when the suggestion was originally discussed) didn’t seem like it would make much difference – however now I’ve experienced it the truth is that it really does.

This is not just because I can go shopping, visit the cinema or have more time to prep meals for the week (so we don’t eat crap) but because I can suddenly have more time to rip off the metaphorical band aid off and start to reconnect with people I’ve neglected for a while.

This week I’ve started doing just that – and whilst chatting with them realised what an idiot I’ve been for hiding myself away for so long.

Truthfully this has mostly been because of my embarrassment surrounding weight gains.

My partner in crime has seen the toll that this has taken on my self respect but thankfully she has had no qualms in taking a virtual (verbal) pointy stick and has periodically poking me in the ribs with it.

She knows why I’ve been reticent to see my friends – and that if I do it will lift my spirits and make me happy.

Irritatingly she’s right (although I think its best not to tell her that – so please keep it to yourselves).

After catching up with good friends yesterday and today I feel really good – although my throat is a bit hoarse after all my chattering.

To be fair – that makes me sound like I’ve been making lengthy speeches with a megaphone (maybe it also says I should listen more than I talk) but honestly I’ve just been nattering about life, the universe and everything to people I care about for the first time far in too long.

The fact is I love these people – and I love talking to them.

This is just who I am though – and I am ashamed to say I think I lost sight of that.

That’s daft though – because if I’m brutally honest the main thing I love about my current job (whilst I do predominantly work alone) is that I also do a lot of face to face appointments.

Whilst this was also a cause for stress during the pandemic (particularly when PPE wasn’t available or mandatory) it was also keeping me going – because I never knew what kind of person would walk through my door.

Whoever they are though I know that I’m going to be sitting with them for 30-60 minutes setting up and personalising a new device or giving them help with one that’s not working.

An hour is a LONG time to spend with someone if they’re silent – and I (like nature) abhor a vacuum – so I ask them questions about their lives and jobs, in the hope that they will fill the silence while I fix their tech.

I always ask open ended questions that can’t be gotten rid of with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Thankfully I’ve now been doing my job long enough that when they reply I can reciprocate – and have a chat in between little tweaks, reboots and configuration changes without getting lost or making mistakes.

This occasionally affords me the opportunity to get to know people a lot better.

Many that I see are now repeat customers – and they really make me smile because they always seem happy to see me and ask what I’ve been doing since we last met.

Many occasionally keep in contact on Teams and reach out with silly little messages or queries from time to time.

Some I’ve bonded with because they seemed inquisitive and wanted to learn something about their tech (I’m always happy to teach people new skills) whilst others would prefer to talk about their thoughts and feelings – and I’m just as comfortable with that too.

Seeing people who’ve returned from maternity leave, a secondment elsewhere – or even a bout of Covid is nice. Finding out how they’ve dealt with their challenges and life changes is never less than interesting.

One lady (who is in her own words is) close to retirement has been dealing with the legacy of an early Covid infection and back in 2020 was hospitalised for a while.

Many health issues had resulted from this period and she now almost permanently worked from home to minimise personal risk.

Some pre-existing conditions that she’d had before the infection had been worsened, whilst other debilitating new ones had unexpectedly followed her illness, and they all presented their own challenges.

More than anything though she seemed glad to be out of the house and on a special trip to pick up the device I was giving her.

‘Long Covid…’ she said to me ‘is not nice – and every day is difficult. But I find my pleasures where I can.’

‘It’s fun to get out!’

She tilted her wrist at me and flashed a rose gold Apple Watch.

‘Nice!’ I said ‘I’ve just upgraded as well!’, tilted my wrist too and raised my own watch into view.

She immediately upped the Ante – and reached into her pocket, pulling out a shiny new iPhone 12 in a modern looking case.

‘Ooooh!’ I said. ‘Pretty! Do you like it?’

‘I love it!’ she said.

‘I got it about six months ago.’

Since we were now in the middle of an impromptu ‘show n tell’ I reached behind me for my iPhone 11 – and presented it to her. I had took the case off to highlight the stainless steel olive green band around it (which I rather like) and ruminated over how it performed, felt in the hand and how good the battery life was.

‘I want to upgrade…’ I told her ‘but I keep pulling back from spending the money on an iPhone 13 because this one is still sooooooo good.’

She nodded.

‘I know what you mean.’ she replied. ‘Tech is my only pleasure at the moment though.’ she said, her eyes smiling at me above the medical mask covering most her face.

I’ve got much better at judging eyes in the last two years.

You have to. They’re all I see every day at work.

Endless sets of eyes.

Some have smile lines, some seem to be permanently frowning. Others are hard to read so I rely on foreheads and eyebrows.

I pity people who decided to have botox in 2019…

She (and her expressive eyes) then reached into her bag and pulled out a smart looking folio case.

‘This is my new iPad!’ she said – proudly showing me a third item of tech.

She was my kind of soon to be retired lady!

Years ago when I worked at BT Internet (circa 1999) we referred to this market segment as ‘Silver Surfers’. At the time they were an emerging and unexpected population demographic that were not only intent on getting online but also keen to learn how to use a Windows PC in order to make it happen.

These kinds of users were (and are) a pleasure because they not only have inquisitive minds (and will ask questions like machine guns) but also do so with the additional benefit of life experience and the ability to converse.

Not all are ‘rat a tat’ interrogators though.

Some will quietly absorb, not seem like they’re taking anything in, listen to what you have to say and then suddenly ask a million questions about another random aspect of the device – or how it interacts with something else.

These crafty listeners are Trojan horses. They know exactly what you’ve just been wittering on about but have been politely and patiently biding their time until they can ask about what really tickles their grey matter.

They really keep you on your toes – because they want to know how to edit video, use apple pencils, figure out how much data they use, find out how to use cloud based documents, make conference calls etc etc.

The list is endless.

Enquiring people are awesome – but sometimes having an enquiring mind can be a burden.

I sometimes see another repeat customer who is practically the human equivalent of a Meerkat.

If I open a box in front of her she will instantly be drawn to peer over the edge and look inside.

If I type something into my computer (relating to her device or account) she will immediately be compelled to read it.

If I offer to show her how something works she’s suddenly sitting directly next to me before I see her move.

I find it quite comical.

I’d go so far as to say she practically aches to open everything and look inside – and I love the giddy enthusiasm that she has to find out to what is under a lid or is hidden away by packing tape and cardboard.

The slightly frustrating aspect of this (I imagine for her rather than me) is that her day to day work is logistical – and this means that the vast majority of her time is spent receiving sealed parcels from carriers and propelling them to various destinations.

She has to do this without ever looking inside – which must be awful for someone so naturally inquisitive.

When she finally got to see the contents of one particular box (that she’d actually forwarded to me without realising it contained her new phone) the glee was practically insurmountable.

It was like watching a Labrador being thrown 20 tennis balls at the same time.

Rarely do I see someone so pleased to have a new device as well as simultaneously willing to make absolutely sure that it’s looked after.

I can’t see this phone coming back to me looking abused and smashed like so many do.

She absorbed every bit of advice I was willing to impart about how to use it and in doing so underlined for me how positive some days at work can be.

Occasionally though I’m faced with the opposite.

An outstretched palm pointed at my face.

Usually these customers sit right at the other end of the spectrum and exist as living examples of human brick walls.

Their direct animal relation would probably be an Emu – and when they hold their hands up in front of my face they usually all say practically the same thing word for word.

‘Don’t tell me anything technical – because I won’t remember it.’

You can almost see their heads being rapidly buried deep in the sand.

I know that this springs from a fear of the unknown. People naturally don’t want to appear stupid, and in some this manifests as being disinterested or dismissive.

Really in the vast majority of cases it just means ‘I’m scared because I don’t understand and I’ve left it too long to ask so I feel silly.’

My immediate (and polite) response is that it’s difficult to absorb new info if one is unwilling to listen, but that if they don’t want any help I can instead boil things down to the bare minimum and only tell them the basics of what they need to understand.

They always agree to this.

After all they do not want to be overburdened and need what I have to give them. It seems like a good deal.

What they don’t realise is that I view a refusal as a challenge, and immediately drop into a lower, slower vocal tone. With this quieter voice (which they must also be quiet to listen to) I proceed to tell them (very slowly and patiently) exactly what I would have told them in the first place, but instead I lay it out in bite sized chunks.

I periodically stop in between segments to check their understanding of the current topic, answer any questions, counter any objections, make a joke, get them to try and repeat what I’ve shown them – and then move onto the next topic.

Despite their best intentions very few leave my appointments without me telling them exactly what I need to in one format or another.

I love the mental challenge that such people represent – and discovering how to break down their walls of fear manifesting as disinterest is a puzzle I always relish. Sometimes you have to be politely robust – but almost always jokes and humour grease the wheels of education.

Laughing people often find themselves accidentally learning something.

I feel I used to be better at this though – and the last two years have left me feeling both physically and to get back to where I started at the beginning of this post I feel mentally older than I’ve ever felt before.

I have a plan to address this though.

I’m going to power through the worry that I now resemble the Michelin man again, try to not get preoccupied with what people may or may not think of me, reconnect with them wherever possible, enjoy their company, lift myself out of the funk I’ve let myself get into – and hopefully do the same for them.

It just so happens that the people I work with with don’t care whether or not I’m fat (they’ve said as much when I’ve outlined my worries) and I don’t care if they are either.

I don’t care what colour, size or creed the people I help are either – and they don’t appear to be judging me when I make them smile under their masks.

The truth is that it takes all kinds to make a world.

Some want to savour every moment, learn about new tech, peer into sealed boxes and find out what’s inside – and others are often afraid. They (like me) don’t know that they need to be re-assured and led by the hand occasionally.

When they (like me) allow themselves to shown the way they often end up smiling, and sometimes also leave with new skills.

People are ace – whatever they’re like and I aim to reconnect with them – and in doing so reconnect with myself.

Davey

Six Years

I’m getting to the point where I forget what this time of year means now – and that’s both a good AND a bad thing because for some time the end of January (specifically the 26th and the 28th) has represented some big annual milestones.

Although I haven’t been particularly prolific with regard to my writing these days I have often blogged about these two anniversaries and laid down thoughts regarding their ongoing impact.

Why should this year be any different? It’s cool to look back at those posts and see who I was at that moment in time. It’s also interesting to see how my perceptions and memories have shifted and changed as the years have passed.

The 26th January 2016 is when I stopped drinking and then two days later on the 28th my mother died.

Given the fact that I’m once again struggling with my weight (and that a lot of old behaviours returned during lockdown) I am pleased to say that when I put down my (metaphorical and physical) glass down six years ago I managed to never pick it up again.

In truth many may be surprised that I remained completely sober throughout the period of arranging my mother’s funeral, as well as the following house clearance. They may also be impressed that I continued to remain on the wagon while I dealt with the months that followed.

The stress and pain of laying someone to rest that loomed very large in my life did not go away quickly – and even now when I see the relationship that my partner has with her mother it boggles my mind.

Firstly I’m in awe of the fact that they love and care about each other so much, and secondly I can’t believe that there’s no animosity, undercurrent of simmering hatred, hidden agendas or lies.

To me that’s all that a mother represented, and sadly – at a knee jerk emotional level – is still what the concept means to me.

Sure, I know deep down that a mother’s love is usually different to the experience I (and the rest of my family) endured.

The problem is that I can’t truly imagine what it would have been like to receive unconditional and nurturing support with no malice or manipulation involved.

When I see it happening (and what’s more enduring) it’s just odd.

I still sit on the outside looking in, often feeling like a casual observer of other people’s family bonds, but never truly ‘getting’ them, or understanding how they’ve formed.

Of course – long term readers will know that whilst I wasn’t sad when my mother passed away – the resulting relief (my overriding emotion at the time) caused its own kinds of problems.

Instead of missing a loved one I was instead left with a hole that hadn’t suddenly appeared, because it had always been there.

I mourned what may have been, rather than the loss of what was.

When I laid my mother to rest at her funeral the coffin did not contain the body of someone I loved. What was cremated instead was the burden of being her son – and in the suite of feelings this provoked heralded the start of a really difficult period of soul searching.

There’s a guilt that never leaves you when you accept that your grief is not because you miss someone – but because you never had something from them and felt cheated.

Furthermore – when you’re glad they’re gone it’s even worse.

I’ve come to accept that these are natural emotions – but it’s hard not to berate yourself for having them or feeling like you’re cold and selfish.

After all society teaches us that you should care and feel sad when your mother dies.

When you don’t – well that’s a whole other set of problems to unpick.

So with that in mind (for the readers that message me to say they still struggle with alcohol related demons and read my posts to find out how and why I stopped) I guess the moment I gave up drinking represented a conscious choice to distance myself from her, before the choice was taken away from me.

It wasn’t so much about the booze – it was a need to not be like her and not throw everything away like she did.

To remain sober back then oddly didn’t seem like a physical problem – but a mental one.

What on earth did you fill your time with? I’d become very used to managing everything with alcohol.

Bored? No problem – have a drink. Time passes pleasingly fast.

Unhappy? No problem – a few drinks will cheer you right up.

Stressed? No problem a glass of wine will calm you down after a difficult day.

Happy? No problem – let’s celebrate your good mood with a few cans.

The list went on and on. Even sleep and pain management had become inextricably linked with alcohol by the time I’d stopped – and it left a huge void to begin with.

The truth was that I didn’t really plan in advance to give up and had no particular strategy to do so but aside from my mother issues I’d also reached another tipping point.

Fundamentally I hated myself and what I’d become so much that for some reason (instead of taking a long walk off a short cliff – which at times I genuinely wanted to do) I just stoped drinking three bottles of wine a night and didn’t start again.

Physically, there were no shakes, no withdrawal, nothing that one may expect to accompany the cessation of drinking huge volumes of alcohol.

Emotionally however I had failed to appreciate just how much I’d used it to manage the feelings surrounding many different kinds of things, and because of this how woven into the fabric of my life it was.

For a start off – what do you do with the yawning chasm of time that’s suddenly present in the evening? What was all the space after work for?

How would I sleep without being drunk in my armchair?

How did I celebrate?

How should I process anger and stress?

It was all a learning curve for sure – and whilst I wasn’t an emotional moron (it has been said I can be quite reflective) what I’d never been very good at was dealing with emotions in the moment that they happened.

These days I’m much better at this than I used to be – although I’d say that from the perspective of stress, I’ve never fully learned to let things flow over me and not take it home to mull and stew over.

I don’t pack it all away and hide it though.

Thankfully these days I have the release valve of a relationship to vent this kind of thing into, and as much as I’m able to turn my partner’s frown upside down she has a rather transformative effect on me too.

Few can crack my grumpy moods when they arrive.

In truth my advice to those expected to endure them in the past has been not to worry. After time they clear up and pissy Davey will magically become shiny happy Davey once more.

All you have to do as an observer is leave him alone to grind his teeth for a while and then he will be as right as rain.

The problem with that approach is essentially when you withdraw to let things blow over you’re not sharing or letting anything out but stewing and not letting anyone in. You’re in essence saying to anyone around you that your pain and frustrations are more complicated and important than theirs and that only you can understand them.

Which is bollocks.

It’s monumentally selfish to expect someone else to cheer up when you speculatively tickle them, or place a well meaning cup of tea nearby with a smile, but then refuse to do so when they try to do the same thing.

Back when I was beginning to learn my ‘post bottle’ coping strategies though my partner wasn’t on the scene. Thankfully I had a lot of friends to talk to, as well my blogging to help me understand myself.

I had to inflict many many introspective posts upon my readers whilst I worked through the process of exorcising feelings that (at least for a long while) seemed like they would never leave.

Much of that is now the subject of conversation at home, and whilst I’ve neglected my writing of late it hasn’t meant that I’ve had no outlet.

Quite the opposite in fact.

Six years on I’m still sober because I’m happy.

Stress is still a thing, but when we experience it we deal with it together – and share lots and lots of cups of coffee and tea whilst we do so.

Whilst this post is fundamentally about alcohol and my mother let me segue temporarily for a moment.

One of the things that’s always made me smile about my other half is that when I met her she seemed amazed that I was happy to ‘let’ her be her ‘geeky, nerdy self’.

Firstly (even if it was possible which I doubt it is) why would I stop it?

Sure – we could be geeky about different things but that’s what made it interesting.

There’s no point trying to make someone be who you want them to be if they aren’t already that person. If you want to breed resentment in a relationship then tell your partner you love them and accept them, before trying to change everything about them bit by bit behind the scenes until they fit the model of your perfect person.

(Hint – they don’t exist.)

In my experience it just leads to one or both of you waking up five years down the line and wondering who the hell you actually are.

I think when we first met what my partner didn’t fully grasp was that I’d have torn my arm off for a woman that was not only capable of sharing this kind of thing with me, but actually enjoyed it as much as I did.

There was nothing to change – and it was her capacity for this – and her tendency for feeling profoundly visible happiness that has recently dealing with pandemic life possible.

Over time I’ve found that you can measure her happiness by limbs and their movement.

  1. No limbs moving excessively. This is contemplation mode and is usually accompanied by Facebook browsing, reading about rocks or crafting little things made out of beads.
  2. 1-2 limbs moving. Usually associated with arms, which begin a rhythmic pumping motion up and down. This signifies excitement at something for the future (a cool movie trailer for instance) or triumph at something accomplished (a particularly tricky beading project or a technical feat in a video game).
  3. 3-4 limbs all animated independently. This is a moment of extreme joy and is usually accompanied by giggles and happiness where the entire facial region is also reserved for a massive grin. Often related to moments of real triumph or celebration, unwrapping presents and the end of movies (Spider-Man – No way home). Causes hopping in a standing orientation, noisily ruffling of the duvet if occurring at bedtime – or fist pumps and leg jiggling if she’s sitting down.

All four limbs‘ is usually how I refer to her in these moments – and when this happens I can see the waves of glee simply radiating around her.

I can’t help but laugh when this happens.

The almost child like capacity that she has to be joyful (particularly how she melts when she’s watching Alsatian puppy videos) just warms every part of me.

That happiness isn’t made by me internally.

It’s no longer my burden to find from it within when I’m low.

Instead it’s suddenly and unexpectedly washing over me in waves – a tsunami caused by a happy little blonde bouncing around on the sofa next to me.

With this going on it’s practically impossible to be grumpy.

No longer do I have to be ‘left alone to let it pass’.

It’s just gone.

So why the segue?

These days I’m less concerned with the question ‘how did sober happen?

From a writing perspective I’ve already covered that topic at length in other blogs and on days like today I’m more preoccupied with ‘why does sober continue?

The truth is that even though she helps even without those four little limbs washing stress away and cheering me up I don’t think that I would go back to who I used to be.

One can never predict the future – but at this moment in time (hangover and guilt free) I can say categorically that not one little bit of me misses being drunk.

Sure there are times that I crave an instant release from feelings – but I know that booze is a false prophet.

It promises much but in reality takes away so much more, and diminishes people under its influence.

There may be those that can have one glass of wine – but I’ve had to accept I’m not one of those people.

I think therefore that this year my twin anniversaries are less about what they used to mean and more about what they mean now.

Over time I’ve let go of a lot of pain.

In the case of motherhood I often remain the same distant, musing man, wondering how someone can speak to their mother on the phone for so long and enjoy it – but it makes me happy to see the strength of those bonds in others.

In the case of alcohol – it’s a distant (even sometimes happy) memory – but it’s in the past.

I’m no longer someone counting the days of sobriety – I’m someone that’s just wondering whose turn it is to make coffee, and what to put together for dinner.

It barely seems possible that six years have passed since I gave up drinkingbut they have.

I continue to struggle with many things, and life is far from perfect in a lot of respects, but it endures.

I find pleasure and happiness in the mundane as well as the magnificent – and I do so with clarity.

So – at this six year point – what is my mother’s legacy and has it changed?

In her own way she’s still around, and helping without realising it. She was a practical person that hoarded for every eventuality and it took me almost four years to use all the washing powder she left behind when she died.

I’m still using her mountains of stamps, bacofoil, cling film, elastic bands, cleaning products of every description – and many many other little things that have proven ‘irritatingly useful’ over time.

I’ve realised though that when I pick these items up and nowadays (instead of being a grim reminder of what we meant to each other) they actually provoke wry smiles.

Whether she wanted to or not she’s helping me in little ways.

If I need a stamp I have lots and if I want to put an elastic band on an opened packet of rice I have a bag full of them that she left behind.

To think that she’s having a tiny but positive daily impact on me is a nice perspective to have when I think about her.

The rest doesn’t matter.

We can never know what will be left behind when someone passes – and feelings change with time. What may be pain and anger one day may be understanding and acceptance further down the line.

It may at some point even become forgiveness.

The point is – you just don’t know where any of it will lead – all you have to do is begin.

Davey

Plug hole

It’s cold.

As I type the sensation of chilly tightness in my fingertips is evident and my laptop is rocking back and forth on a pillow that sits atop a duvet that’s wrapped around my legs. Music is playing in the background and without me choosing a song, YouTube started playing ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO.

Now the the track has flipped to another by Jeff Lynne – and is saying repeatedly ‘Don’t bring me down.’

Maybe this is prophetic. My mood wasn’t particularly sour – but I felt like I needed to write – and this wasn’t because I was filled with joy.

A fellow blogger posted the other day, and she hit a chord with me. I feel the same way she does more often than I’d care to admit and consequently I’ve avoided reading a lot of her and other people’s posts for some time because I didn’t want to confront those emotions.

I’ve deleted practically all of my social media accounts for much the same reason.

I’ve always said that I didn’t want to write unless I was being honest – but YouTube is probably right. I shall try to be positive and not bring you all down.

Maybe there’s a better way of describing what’s going on…

A few weeks ago the drainer in the kitchen sink was blocked. My large rubbery bathroom plunger (usually deployed to shuffle along the clumps of long blonde hair that inexplicably started to block the plug hole around two and half years ago) was just too large to fit in the tiny side sink downstairs.

Irritated by the need for another purchase I had turned to Amazon and procured a couple of (reasonably priced) remedial items.

A large bendy pipe cleaner and a smaller ‘baby plunger’ arrived a few days later, and (as with many things in my life recently) remained in their box completely unopened by the kitchen door for a couple of weeks.

Eventually my irritation with the slowly draining murky soup began to outweigh my unwillingness to fix it.

I finally opened the box and looked at the contents.

Of the two items inside the pipe cleaner initially looked the most likely to have an impact. It was sparkling white, around a foot and a half long and had tough sprouting bristles spanning its entire length.

It clearly meant business and appeared capable of evacuating any stubborn passage with extreme prejudice.

The illustrative picture on the box (with a cutaway of a u-bend filled with easily moved articles) promised much.

However, as I gently fed it down into the hole I was soon became pretty certain that it wouldn’t meet the lofty claims made on its packet.

The network of tiny pipes under my dual kitchen sink seemed to bear more resemblance to spaghetti junction than the gently curving (and suspiciously wide) one in the image on the packet.

As I pushed it further and further down I became more and more certain that nothing could be both bendy and stiff enough both to navigate such a maze of plastic whilst simultaneously clearing a stubborn clot of grease and crap.

Unsurprisingly it stopped dead with around six inches of ‘grapple length’ sticking up in the air.

I turned and twiddled it – but it didn’t seem to be going in any further than it already had.

After some spirited ramming in and out of the plug hole for a minute or two I realised that rather than unblocking the pipe all I seemed to be accomplishing was ripping the plastic bristles off the wire and compacting the clot even more.

Poking the blockage with the tip of a pipe cleaner wasn’t doing a thing.

Rather than fixing the problem I was adding non biodegradable (and very resilient) plastic to the already immovable chunk of ‘whatever the f&&k it was’ in the drain.

I extracted the mangled wire and picked up the plunger, removing its cardboard label. There was no chance it was ever going back to Amazon after I’d shoved it where the sun no longer shined.

First impressions were good.

This new svelte model of plunger fitted the smaller side sink perfectly – and formed what appeared to be a tight seal around the plug hole. I manoeuvred it into place and firmly pushed it down.

Nothing happened.

The water swirled a little in the drainer but the level failed to drop.

I lifted it up again and rammed the wooden handle down once more (this time a bit firmer) squishing the rubber cup rapidly into place.

Nothing moved in the murky soup. It swirled, but once more didn’t go down.

I lifted the plunger and put it back into the sink for another go but it wasn’t working.

After several spirited pumps I was still getting nowhere. I lifted it out, and looked at the underside to make sure there wasn’t a break in the rubber.

It looked fine. I speculatively stuck it to the work surface and it happily formed a seal, then pulled off with a satisfying ‘pop’ when I yanked it away.

I put the plunger back into the sink.

However when I submerged it under the murky water what I hadn’t realised was that I’d failed to align it correctly.

I rammed it down again. This time faster and more energetically.

Without warning a large fountain of murky (and rather old) coffee grounds and grease sprayed directly into my face and all over the front of my top.

I stopped dead, suddenly very pissed off, as well as smelly and dripping.

‘Bollocks.’

“It’s not getting unblocked.’ I called to my partner in the next room.

‘I think we’re going to need a plumber.’ I said, with fetid brown water dripping from my beard.

‘Oh no!’ she replied and came to survey the damp man hunched over a truly disgusting puddle of drain water, brushing little bits of crap from my face.

My recently completed washing up was now covered in clumps of brown ‘something or other’ – and so was I.

‘It’s just not moving.’ I said dejectedly.

‘It ripped all the stuff off that one..’ I said, pointing to the brown, damaged and bent pipe cleaner I’d discarded on the floor by the washing machine. ‘…and this one just sprayed crap in my face.’

I held up the offending plunger and pointed at it to underscore which item was to blame.

It made no attempt to look guilty or accept the gravity of its failure.

She looked at me sympathetically and then slowly moved back to her previous task in the other room.

I sat on my stool looking dejectedly at the sink.

It represented much more than just a drain being blocked. It spoke volumes about my mood and my lack of willingness to face up to problems. Its completely clogged state was a metaphor for everything else that was wrong with me at that moment in time.

Hidden under its murky cold depths there was something far below the surface.

It was possible to visualise what that unholy clump of crap might be, how it might have formed and what its constituent materials might be – but above the surface it just looked clogged and unusable.

At that point it no longer mattered what had caused it. The sink was neglected and just needed attention.

It had been filled with all the wrong things and become progressively more sluggish and slow, until it had completely ceased to function in the way it used to.

My shoulders slumped.

I didn’t want a plumber to come and fix me.

No. I didn’t mean me. I meant the drain. I was thinking about the drain wasn’t I?

I didn’t want a plumber to come and fix the drain. That was what I meant. I’d become lost in thought.

I picked up the plunger again. F&&k you drain. F&&k you.

I repeatedly rammed the plunger up and down. I already smelt of crappy water and had coffee grounds soaking into on my polo top. I couldn’t get wetter and smellier, so I might as well carry on.

Then after several more spirited pumping motions – on the main sink next to the drainer… a bubble!

I stopped and listened.

…..

………

‘Glug.’

Something had moved. A single little bubble popped on the surface of the fetid water in the drainer.

Was it working?

Emboldened I carried on lifting and ramming repeatedly – until all of a sudden THE ENTIRE FETID SINK FULL OF CRAP UNEXPECTEDLY DRAINED AWAY!!!

Practically without warning it was suddenly completely empty!!!

Giggling with glee I called to inform my partner of my triumph (modestly) advising her why we were no longer in need of a tradesman.

Man unblock sink!‘ I proclaimed. ‘Man clever! Man done good!

I put one hand on my chest and looked into the distance, feeling Napoleonic.

‘Yes you have.’ she said, pandering to my fragile male ego – and patted me on the shoulder.

If she was 2 ft taller I’m sure that this would have been a pat on the head, but I was happy either way. I’d unblocked the sink – and for a moment I was a DIY god. Nothing could touch my achievement.

Maybe I could start a plumbing business?

I could get business cards printed and advertise in the local press.

Too far?

Possibly – but my innate talent was clearly evident.

Maybe another day.

I settled instead with cleaning the sink and making the drainer sparkle again – and when when I’d finished it looked lovely.

It was unblocked, free flowing – and (if I do say myself) working better than it had for a very long time.

I also hadn’t called a plumber to fix myself.

I mean the sink – not me. I was talking about the sink wasn’t I?

Or was I…

I needed one too.

I am that sink currently. I filled myself with all the wrong foods again, neglected myself, didn’t handle lockdown, the pandemic or the stress and depression that came with it well and now I have a lot of ground to recover.

Some days I feel stronger than others, and on many I feel weaker than all the rest, but after hitting (what I feel to be) an all time low regarding my self image over Xmas I’ve been on a wagon of sorts for a few weeks now.

I have not eaten any ‘crap’ and each weekend have been block preparing Tupperware boxes full of chopped vegetables as ingredients for meals. I’m hoping that the stresses and strains of the working week will not make me reach for comfort foods if making good things instead seems easier.

Making the right kinds of meals is always easier if you plan ahead – and as my favourite Slimming World consultant used to say, ‘fail to prepare and you prepare to fail’.

I can’t quite face hardcore dieting yet – but I’m several steps closer to being back in the right mindset than I was a few weeks ago. I’m sleeping a bit better, feeling a tiny bit more energetic, and overall a little more upbeat.

All I need to do now is explore the blockages in my head and unpick the reasons why I reverted to so many bad behaviours when faced with the adversities of the last two years.

Maybe if I start writing again and attempt to unravel some of those then I too will start draining – just like my sink.

As if by magic YouTube’s ELO playlist moves on to ‘The lights go down’. I think that it and Jeff Lynn have helped make this post possible. Maybe the universe is still listening…

I’ll try and write more again soon internet. It’s nice to be back.

Davey

Re-Emerging

I don’t take enough breaks – and I really should.

There’s pressure all the time to get things done – but during the working day I rarely take a moment to stop and make a drink – let alone step away from my desk.

Even if I do step away from my keyboard I rarely take my full time allowed.

I know I’m not alone in pandemic life in this respect – and from what I read online my total average hours worked per week aren’t all that bad.

The problem I think is particularly acute when you work in isolation.

When it’s just me banging away in the office all on my own (with no-one else to talk to) I always end up feeling that I might as well just carry on regardless – and by doing so potentially save myself some work tomorrow.

The truth is though that the next day just brings another, bigger raft of things to do – which ultimately means that I’ve still got too much on my plate – but to add insult to injury the following day I’m also just a little bit more tired than I was the day before.

I hate looking at things building up though – and this feeling is even more acute when my work stack (being slightly specialised) is only going to be looked at by me and I know that the only person that will end up having to do it is me.

I do get told off for this though.

Both my manager and my partner are constantly at pains to remind me that I must practice ‘self care’ and not keep doing this.

On the one side it’s nice to be told by your boss that you’re effectively working too hard (the alternative would make me feel awful) and nice to know that my partner respects my work ethic and willingness to do things right – but they do end up pointedly telling me to not work through without stopping.

My manager has recently made me schedule down time in my calendar (which is a very busy place) and mandated that I use these slots for their intended purpose.

I keep telling him (and my other half) that I’ll be a good boy but I always seem to find something that seems really really important and end up doing the absolute opposite of what I promised.

I know it’s partially a problem of my own making – but even this self awareness still fails to make me change my behaviour.

Oddly however I’m the first person to tell other people that they should look after themselves.

I’m continually to be found tutting at the hours my partner works as a teacher (which are waaaaaay longer than mine and seem to be endless at times) and telling her that I don’t know how she does it.

Teachers have brutal schedules and time expectations heaped upon them every day of the week and it’s just not fair. To expect them to continually do 11-12 hour days is simply not sustainable – especially when you hear the negative commentary they get in the media.

Somehow it’s always teachers and their unions that are at fault for a slow return to normality, not the government’s complete lack of any education focused vaccination programme to enable this.

I doubt I’d be quite so angry about it if I didn’t see the reality of what this means for teachers in their home life and the emotional impact that it has when you they are so often forced to make a choice between doing their jobs well and spending time with family and friends.

It’s no surprise that teachers with children often have the motto ‘no child left behind – except your own.’

I’m always in awe of how much effort my partner and her colleagues selflessly put in. I just wish I could make it better in some way other than cooking dinner – but I guess I can’t.

Only the teaching profession as a whole can do that – and they it doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon – along with many other overworked and under-appreciated public sectors.

It’s always easier to try and fix other people’s problems than it is your own though – and when you’re doing so it’s a way of neatly avoiding your own behaviour patterns.

When I’m speaking to my partner (and telling her to practice self care) I’m often acutely aware of the obvious contradiction (and hypocrisy) of the the words I’m spouting – since they aren’t matching up with my own actions.

I can’t really say ‘you should be having a lunch and a break’ if I’m not willing to do it myself.

Maybe I should just lead by example – and to that end I’m going to try and get better.

Working through my breaks and eating my lunch at my desk doesn’t seem to have had any impact on the volumes of things I need to do – so I might as well have a proper rest and feel less stressed.

At least that’s the theory.

I doubt anything will stop me waking up at 3am and thinking (or worrying) about it all until I fall asleep again just before my alarm goes off.

It’s just who I am.

Sigh.

Anyway, if nothing else the weather has marginally improved – and with it my calf muscle appears to be getting stronger – which makes me really really happy.

Now the days are getting longer again I really want to start improving my fitness and pension off my car once more.

After a week or so of parking up half way to work and walking (well – hobbling) the rest of the way in I’m now gradually increasing my distance capabilities once again and am back up to walking about mile without it feeling like it’s pulling or hurting.

I’m a long way away from the fitness levels I used to have – and my Apple Watch annoyingly highlights this when my pulse begins to race on hills. It got up to 139 while walking up a hill last week – and previously I’d have had to run up Snowdon to make that happen.

However – I have to be pragmatic.

Looking back on older blogs there was a time when it took me over an hour to complete a mile – and currently I’m doing it in around 19 minutes.

I’m trying to not think about the distance I have to go – and more about the enjoyment of the journey to get there.

It’s also been an interesting week regarding my blog, because despite the decreased frequency (and some may say interesting content) of my posts there are still some odd people out there reading my thoughts – and in some cases they appear to be benefiting from it more than most.

I found out today that someone that has recently recovered from Covid 19 may have had a better outcome than she otherwise would have if she hadn’t followed a healthier lifestyle prompted by reading my blog a few years ago.

Also someone that I care about (after reading some thinly veiled comments in my post) has decided that having the vaccination is a good idea.

That makes sharing my thoughts (both good and bad) something that’s positive and worthwhile.

It also seems that as far away as Indonesia I have regular (and very welcome) regular readers that wonder where I am – and if I’m OK – when the posts tail off.

In my own isolation and withdrawal I often forget that simply by sharing moments of frailty and feelings of pain, discomfort, isolation and even fear we can prompt hope in others.

The continued effect of this is that the feelings of hope (and kindness) are reflected back, and for every word I write there always seem to be someone that reacts with positivity and love.

As hard as this last year has been for all of us – and as alone as we’ve all felt at times the truth of it is that whilst we may be physically apart there are human bonds that bind us all together all the time.

Even if you’re locked in and bingeing on Netflix (whether you recognise it or not) you’re looking for human contact. You’re watching people going through either fictional or real lives in lieu of being able to engage with them yourselves.

We’re all deferring feelings and pain relating to a lack of human contact until a later date – but they’re still there – and they need to be resolved somehow.

One day we’ll be able to – and I for one want to be fit enough again to walk into town for a coffee with friends and family – before grabbing a baked potato and sitting in the park holding hands with my partner and watching children play.

I can’t help feeling when I write this that I’m re-emerging – and with that in mind I might as well share a recent picture.

I think for quite a while (whilst I was beginning to lose weight in 2016) I struggled with this kind of thing – because I had a very complex relationship with my self image.

Well – actually there was no complexity about it. I truly hated myself.

Then – my image was everywhere and I became proud of how I looked and how far I’d come.

I’ve noticed recently a lot of those old negative feelings creeping back in over lockdown. As my weight management has faltered and I’ve struggled emotionally I’ve found myself withdrawing quite a bit – and that really needs to end.

Once again I’ve found my inner monologue telling myself that I can’t possibly see people again because they will be disappointed in me – or look down upon me because of my ‘failures’.

What I conveniently forget however is that I’d never do that to them, and they’re unlikely to do it to me.

So – here I am.

I’m a bit cuddlier, just as flawed as I ever was, and a looking bit pensive about being out and about.

Whilst I don’t really want to start down the long long road of getting healthy again completely in the public eye I can’t ignore the fact that when I do share things about my ‘journey’ (I still hate the J word!) it helps not just me but others too.

So – in the spirit of that here I am.

Laters internet.

Stay frosty.

Davey

Subscription renewed

Sigh.

It’s the weekend – and I’m looking at my bank account. After a ‘minor tech refresh’ it’s taken a beating recently.

Many of my favourite things had outlived their usefulness and (in my view anyway) needed to be replaced with newer ones. I’d resisted doing this since being made redundant in 2016 – but now I feel settled in my job (I was finally taken on in a permanent capacity late last year) I thought the time was right to dip into my savings and engage in some retail therapy.

I don’t like debt – and I don’t buy things unless I have the money to do so – but when I do I try and make sure that I don’t buy twice.

It’s like painting a wall though. One coat is never enough, and every time you stand back to admire your handiwork you see a patch that you’ve missed and need to touch it up. Once I’d scratched the first itch another arose, and so on and so on until I finally felt the urge subside.

Now it appears that I’ve reached (almost) the end of this particular cycle I’ve been trying to be good and rebuild my savings. Then a text came through, and I lifted my wrist to glance at it on my watch.

‘Thank you for renewing your WordPress subscription’.

Dammit.

I’d forgotten about that. An unexpected £84 charge arriving to irritatingly chip away at my progress.

Not so long ago I saw this as good value. I wrote all the time, felt I had a lot to say, and viewed all of my blogs as a therapeutic diary of sorts.

These days however (in the absence of a world outside) Netflix can seem like a better way to spend my money – but this once again makes me more of a consumer than a creator – and that’s not who I want to be.

Logistically it’s difficult to avoid WordPress’s fees and go back to their ‘free’ model.

There’s too much in my litany of posts now to fit into a standard plan. The photos within them take up gigabytes of storage space.

Since the posts I’ve written were often built around the images I posted they don’t really make sense without them.

If I remove them the blogs I’ve uploaded would be confusing and eviscerated – so in my mind I have one of two choices.

Firstly I can continue paying WordPress to host my recent history and just suck it up – or secondly I remove everything altogether and shut up shop.

It seems a shame though to go with the second option. An awful lot of time and hard work went into the creation of my posts – and absolutely every word I’ve written has been both heartfelt and honest.

I’ve never been so consistently creative in my entire life as when I first started blogging – and one day I want to get back to both the artistic and physical state that I was in back then.

It’s hard though.

I’ve been feeling older lately than I have in ages. A combination of poor choices regarding food, using my car more and reduced lockdown exercise over the last year have taken their toll – and I have depressingly familiar aches and pains once more that I thought were long gone.

These are affecting my willingness to write as well as my capability (and willingness) to exercise.

Who knew that putting weight back on would lead to the same old muscle and back strains occurring all over again?

Chief among these is my left calf – which frustratingly has been pulling more often in recent months than a randy teenager in Benidorm.

It’s no laughing matter though. Walking (or twalking) was my thing – and lately I’ve really really struggled with it.

Every step feels like it’s going to cause another injury – and the stiffer way it makes me walk (as I try to protect my calf from tearing again) means that I force other parts of my body to take additional strain.

Before I know it my left knee starts hurting, then my right hip, and eventually my back.

It really doesn’t help that (thanks to a childhood car accident that left me in traction for a few months) I have one leg that’s 1cm shorter than the other.

This has resulted in a variety of problems with nerves and tendons in my left leg over the years – and my thigh (after a strain incurred whilst working in Amsterdam some years ago) is still completely numb.

Completely numb that is apart from tingling and burning sensations which continually arrive without warning to remind me that I still have a thigh at all.

I’d take numb and tingly over the pain of a torn muscle and the corresponding worry of continual injury any day though.

It really sucks – and its insanely frequent occurrence recently is getting me down a lot.

However – toward the end of last week I’d gradually been increasing my walking radius again – all the while trying to reduce the number of times I have to stop to let it (and other parts of my legs) recover from the odd gait it produces.

For the first time (from around Wednesday onwards) it didn’t feel like taking a step would result in a painful ‘twang’.

Consequently today I’m feeling hopeful and dare I say a bit cheerful.

It also might be attributable to my partner (who plays as my Switch avatar in Animal Crossing) always dressing me in a manner that she believes suits me or makes her giggle.

Occasionally this means that I have a flower in my hair, some star shaped sunglasses and a skirt – but more often than not she seems to capture my ‘inner Davey’.

A couple of weeks ago I was running around catching butterflies in a full Star Trek uniform – but this week I appear to be a plumber…

She does make me smile.

If I’m honest though it’s not just her geekiness (and appreciation of mine) that’s the cause of my bouyant mood.

I suspect that this also corresponds with an improvement in our diet as well. After a gradual return to better eating habits (cutting out little bits here and there over the last two months in the shopping until no crap exists in our house at all) both of us are feeling proud that there’s not a single thing (aside from a small pot of honey) in the fridge or cupboards that could be considered ‘sinful’.

The last thing to remove was granola – which had begun to take up an uncomfortably large portion of the kitchen cupboards.

We told ourself (without bothering to work it out) that this delicious crunchy cereal was better than biscuits and chocolate – but I suspect that the reality from a calorie perspective (especially when 1kg of it could mysteriously disappear in a day) was that it was pretty much as bad as all the other crap.

However – the fact is that my making increasingly better choices bit by bit we’ve moved from a shopping list (during the peak of lockdown) that included cake, chocolate, hot cross buns and crisps to one that once again has only wholemeal pitta bread, potatoes and Weetabix as our last remaining concessions to carbs.

Sure – these all have to be eaten in moderation (which still presents a challenge) but our lockdown ‘taste’ for processed foods finally appears to be waning.

Despite a stressful return to classroom based teaching I’m also proud to say that my partner in crime has completely managed to avoid chocolate, croissants and sweeties.

I couldn’t be prouder of her in this respect. We both have our ‘go-to’ stress foods and if I’m honest I’m pretty pleased with myself for managing to do the same – because hers is not the only difficult work environment.

I am currently faced with such an insane amount of work to do in my job that it’s actually become quite comical.

My colleague and I worked out the other day that the hardware that’s in storage waiting to deploy to users (which the both of us have to somehow manage between us) currently represents the man hours of me and him working full tilt for six months to complete.

That’s without any new technical faults or support requests arising in the meantime…

Oddly though it’s still a rewarding job and I really like what I do working in the NHS. It’s a small chance to make a positive difference in a world that’s been screwed up for way too long – and if I can make the lives of those who look after us a little easier – then it’s worth it.

Plus – there’s a point where any given workload becomes so ridiculously impossible that you either cave under the weight of it all or simply accept that you can only do as much as you can do, step back mentally and just relax into the tasks at hand.

Oddly I’ve often found in the past that having just a little bit too much to do is more stressful than being completely overwhelmed.

Being almost able to complete your allotted tasks but not quite having enough time means you get within touching distance – don’t make it – and then feel like you’re failing at life.

Worse still – If you’re conscientious (like I feel I am) then it often results in you working longer hours ‘just to do that extra little bit more to make tomorrow easier.’

This can be a really self destructive cycle – and I often think that employers rely on this kind of behaviour in employees to penny pinch and avoid hiring additional resource.

If your job is completely impossible then you eventually have to just shrug your shoulders and get on with it or walk away.

It’s difficult for more reasons than just workload though. Last week I was also moved from the location I’ve been in for the last year (itself quite isolating but at least there was someone to talk to occasionally) to another location where I’m now completely on my own.

The offices that I’m in are almost totally empty (since most staff are still under orders to work from home) and now I’m finding that I can spend entire days at a time with no peers to bounce off.

I have customers that come in – and they can be quite lovely to interact with – but the interactions you’d have with a person that’s essentially your client differ entirely from those that you’d have with friend or colleague.

Sometimes I feel that my life is all work (aside from a weekly trip to the supermarket just to break up the monotony) and it presents no opportunity to just chat with friends or colleagues and share thoughts.

Although there was one very nice lady who stopped by and spent the time to talk to me last week.

As we nattered I felt that both of us felt very similar things (she described my own feelings above practically word for word) and that we were both starved of the face to face interaction and human contact that we loved.

The conversation was almost a ‘hungry’ attempt on both of our parts to share as many thoughts and feelings about life as we possibly could before the time to go back to our jobs came and we had to end our chat.

It left me feeling quite energised – but also underlined just how much I miss being around people in the workplace.

I didn’t want our time together to end.

When I managed a team years ago I loved sitting in the middle of them and listening to the chatter. You could spot who needed support and react before things got bad.

It wasn’t just one way either. As much as you lifted them, they lifted you.

These days it’s all about the grind – and how long you can keep going in isolation.

I have to believe that a better day is coming though. I have my 2nd Covid vaccination next week – and although that doesn’t mean I can’t catch it hopefully it does mean that I won’t end up dying from it.

My partner will soon have hers as well.

It won’t be long before we’re both protected – and then I can slowly begin to let go of my continual underlying fear that something bad will happen to the person that I’ve come to rely so much on and care about.

I can’t imagine life without her – and I think that we want to have our second inoculation as much for each other as we do for ourselves.

Sadly though I’ve come across some people who think differently – that want to avoid having the jab (either they mistrust the science – or didn’t believe in Coronavirus in the first place) and I worry what this will mean for a possible third wave of infections.

Lord only knows the NHS (and me) have been ground into the floor by the whole exercise – and even though we’re now in a better place after three months of lockdown it’s difficult not to see the same behaviours causing a return to the rising infection rates that we had before.

It’s not just that though.

If it’s someone you care about, their refusal to go ahead with a vaccination could mean a lot of pain and heartache for those left behind if the worst comes to pass.

I know that people want ‘normality’, foreign holidays and trips to the pub again – I really get it.

I also get the belief that there’s more to this whole situation – even why people might believe in conspiracy theories.

There’s a natural need to make sense out of something that defies logic, to have an ‘answer’ or an identifiable perpetrator.

The world has turned upside down and we need to blame something – anything – to have reason for why our lives are so out of control.

Sometimes events just doesn’t have an answer though – and even if there is an evil Chinese lab in Wuhan to blame does it really matter?

I’d pay through the nose to go to the cinema right now and afterwards to sit in a restaurant having a romantic meal with my partner – but there are bigger issues. We need to have enough people who are immune for our society to gradually re-open, and tentatively step outside into the light again.

Whether by design or accident things happen and without some degree of trust in our leaders (no matter how imperfect or what political creed they come from) ultimately chaos will just take over.

The best we can do is try and navigate through it and attempt to trust those around us – even if it’s temporary.

Politics and opinion is so ridiculously polarised at the moment that rational discourse (where people agree to disagree but crucially remain cordial and willing to engage in dialogue) seems to be on the way out. You’re either right or wrong – and differences of opinion have become intolerable.

It seems lately that you’re either vocally on board with whatever moral outrage is trending or you’re part of the problem. Even worse you’re identified as an offender yourself and torn apart in social media.

In no way shape or form do I think Piers Morgan is a wonderful guy – and neither do I have any particular love for Donald Trump or Nigel Farage, but they have a right to an opinion.

I worry what happens – and what gets forced underground – when we silence their right to speak their minds and their ability to vocalise their thoughts.

As odious and disagreeable as he is – if unelected technocrats can silence the most powerful political voice in the world overnight what happens if they set their sights on something else that we hold dear?

For all the joy I felt when Trump’s twitter account got banned I ultimately felt just as much worry about where he had gone when social media went quiet.

Trump and others like him haven’t disappeared – they’ve just been forced underground, along with everyone that believes the same things. The difference now is that such people feel more validated than ever and now have tangible ‘evidence’ that their world views and ways of life are under threat.

Isn’t this the way that ‘home grown terrorism’ starts?

Isn’t it better for us all to stand in the light and accept that we may not agree?

There has to be a way for us all to talk and for us to be able to occasionally to cause offence (and be challenged constructively if we do) without being instantly fired or invited to ‘consider our positions’.

I honesty think the fault lies with Social Media – and I’ve seen it polarise the opinions of those I love. It’s re-enforced every subconscious worry lurking within and created a world view that completely fits in with whatever they fear the most.

For all the democracy it promised social media hasn’t helped matters.

Mostly because of the way it pushes content to us (Cambridge Analytica anyone?) it’s radicalised both the left and the right, sharpening opinions to the tip of a spear that people can poke others with from a distance – and I have had enough of it.

I’ve practically given up Facebook (you may see my profile removed in the near future) I want nothing more to do with Twitter, and I’m hovering on the edge with Instagram.

I’ll throw the street a party when people finally get wise to the fact that Twitter and Facebook rants aren’t real life.

Until this is all over (as much as I hate it – whether its fake news or not) I’m keeping my mask on, sitting on my own at work (as lonely as it makes me feel) and I’m talking to friends via my phone (as much as I miss their faces and hugs.)

Once everyone is safe however I’m going into overdrive.

I’m travelling to the seaside just for the ****ing sake of it just so that I can sit on the beach holding my partner’s hand & listen to the waves while children play and build sandcastles.

I’m going to sit in a coffee shop, surrounded by people reading newspapers and sipping a coffee like they don’t have a care in the world.

I’m going to re-enter society – and when I do I’ll be breathing fresh air without fear.

If the truth be told I’m rather looking forward to having an aching shoulder from the needle next week.

It’s a reminder that there’s hope for the future, and that this sh*t show of a year is finally in the rear view mirror.

Maybe I’ll keep paying my WordPress subscription.

Maybe soon I’ll once again have something to write about and I can look back on my current creative drought with perspective and remind myself how good things are, when I can see how bad the world got, before it woke up and decided to meet in the middle and shake hands again.

Davey

Infrequent frequency

For reasons beyond my understanding people still seem to be reading my blog posts – even though (for a variety of reasons) I’ve stopped writing them frequently.

It’s now been months since the last one.

I could make up all manner of excuses to justify my reasoning behind this – but the truth is that I haven’t wanted the extra burden of putting my thoughts out into the world when I don’t like what I’m thinking.

When I first started writing my blog my twin motivations were that it would do no harm and also be unflinchingly honest.

I also said that I’d never force myself to write

At times I failed on that third count.

There always was an invisible pressure (sometimes there still is) from people asking why I hadn’t posted or checking up on me to see if I was ok – so at times I felt compelled to write when otherwise I may have just retreated.

However – one thing was undeniably true.

My blog did me good.

It was a cathartic release that helped me purge negative feelings when I felt as if there was no other release valve – and as I slowly rebuilt my life it began to reconnect me with the world in ways that I really didn’t foresee back in 2016.

However – we’re ALL suffering at the moment.

Another voice of despair thrown out into the world complaining about not coping very well (in this case my own) wasn’t something I felt that anyone needed to hear – least of all me.

The truth is (as if it will be a surprise to anyone given my prolonged silence) I’ve not been coping very well for a while now and the inevitable consequence of this is that physically I’ve lost a lot of ground.

A lot of the wins I fought so hard for have been utterly squandered – and after a long long time (practically since the start of the first lockdown) of ever diminishing time outside I find myself struggling with things that had previously become ridiculously easy for me.

Not so long ago it might have simply been a case of ‘pulling up my socks’ and going outside – but now the outside world is dangerous and scary.

Unfit (increasingly elderly) men like myself end up on ventilators every day and trying to forget that every single human being you meet is a potential death sentence is impossible.

The impact that this period of isolation (and corresponding drop in fitness) has had on my mental capacity however is undeniable.

Lockdown brain (like baby brain) is a thing.

I’m forgetting stuff that I would never have forgotten a year ago.

Not just silly things either. People’s birthdays or anniversaries, appointments for things like vaccinations (!), managing household bills…

I’m also far more likely to bury my head in the sand when it comes to my surroundings too – and it’s safe to say that the hoover will not need replacing any time soon.

It’s getting a far easier time of it than my Xbox and TV.

The guilt I’ve been feeling lately is also palpable and I know (especially when my partner looks at me with a loving smile) that she can see the emotional self abuse I’m putting myself through every single day.

It hangs over me like a dark cloud.

When I was Slimming World’s man of the year, barely a day went by when I didn’t feel worthy – and at the time I struggled with the pressure I felt to be a good example to people.

Now I’ve lost a lot of ground it’s turned into a sense that I’ve let everyone that believed in me down – and that I’m once more the worthless person that I felt I was back when I started writing my blog.

My self confidence is in tatters and I’m left wondering how on earth in 2016 I began the process of building myself up from nothing to a mountain climbing hero.

This was one of the questions people continually asked me in group or public appearances – and I never found a satisfactory answer.

The truth was I don’t know what made me so determined back then.

I know not wanting to be like my mother was a powerful motivator but it wasn’t the only catalyst or long term driver.

I just got so low that there were only two options – and I wasn’t keen on one of them.

I’m sure there’s a starting point on the horizon – and at times I glimpse something in what I think or say that reminds me of my old self – but as soon as I spot it it’s gone again – and I’m left looking at a man whose face I can’t currently stand in the mirror.

The question I keep repeating in my head is ‘how many times will you do this to yourself?’ – and ‘how many times will this cycle repeat before there are no more cycles left?’

I don’t want to be a failure – but I also don’t cope very well with success – so I’m not sure where this leaves me in the great scheme of things.

I guess I’m just like everyone else out there.

Flawed.

Almost everyone I meet through work just is trying to get through each day as best they can in the hope that there will be another tomorrow and their loved ones will still be alive.

I’d be foolish to think that others I meet don’t go home and overeat or drink too much, or occasionally want to cry themselves to sleep.

If I’m proud of anything is that I never started drinking again. I’ve been sober for over five years now – and that at least is something to hold onto as a profound win.

Almost 2000 days has passed since I last fell asleep after 3 bottles of wine…

Even so – despite this success – the world is screwed in a way that I never thought it would be in my lifetime. My worry is that it won’t ever get any better – that this is how things are forever.

Now restrictions and fear are normalised and accepted they may never go away.

Will ours always be a world of masks, social distance, ridiculously bumping elbows and driving through streets of boarded up businesses?

How many people will never recover from this period of isolation – and will simply fail to rejoin society even if they’re invited to?

Whilst I’m struggling the one thing that’s kept me sane – that’s reminded that there may be a better tomorrow – is the funny little muffin I’ve chosen to spend my life with.

Far from running away from me and recoiling when I started to struggle she’s doubled down on loving me and telling me that’s still how she feels.

Each and every day.

In contrast last week I spoke to a guy who lost no time in lamenting the consequences of his most recent period of lockdown. He concluded by saying ‘I’ll be glad to get back into the office just to get away from the wife’.

Her continual requests of him (apparently his household skills were not up to snuff) were apparently wearing his patience extremely thin and he said ‘although I love her she does my f&@£ing head in.’

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this and I know of at least two other relationships that have broken down completely. Both of these marriages are now heading for divorce proceedings and the partners live separately.

In contrast for me one of the pleasures of lock down has been snuggling up together on the sofa in front of a film or TV show – or even just sharing a video game as one of us plays (it’s no longer just me!)

I like spending all our spare time together.

I’ve never once felt suffocated – or as if my space is being invaded – and I’ve never felt the need to get away or felt worried about where my relationship’s future is headed.

If nothing else (for all of us) all this continued lockdown has been a fiery relationship crucible. Those that have always been made of the wrong materials have been incinerated – but others have been tempered by the flames and grown stronger.

Without a doubt there are things to be thankful for.

We’re both alive, spring is coming, and there is at least hope for a better future.

I did it once and I can do it again.

Thankfully this time around I’m not doing it alone.

This time WE can do it. Together.

Davey

Fatigued

I can’t think of another word to describe how I feel. It seems to sum up every aspect of who I appear to be as a person currently – and recently I really don’t like who stares back at me in the mirror.

He looks tired, overweight and drawn – and if I’m not mistaken he’s noticeably much whiter in the beard and thinner on top than he was year or so ago.

My other half tells me I’m loved (and I know I am) but I also don’t feel like I deserve it at the moment.

I feel like a complete fraud and failure.

Maybe like many others in the world I’ve lost my usual (trademark?) sense of humour – and given the UK’s recent Tier 5 announcement I can feel myself retreating once again into a place where I do not feel like I’m good company.

I’m much slower to smile, continually struggling to sleep and far more likely to be irritated by things that previously I took calmly in my stride.

Each day is basically a repeat of the one that came before it. All we appear to do these days (if we’re lucky enough to have a job in these crazy times) is work, work and more work in masks – or go to get groceries in masks.

I know that the opposite end of the spectrum is probably worse – and there are many out there struggling to make ends meet either because they’re once again furloughed, shielding or newly redundant – but good grief do feel like I need a break.

I don’t mean from work (although that would be nice in the not too distant future) because ultimately I’m glad to have a job that helps people.

I mean a break from walking out into a world every $@%*ing day where each man woman and child you meet is either fearful of being close enough to you to shake your hand – and who walk around you with a wide berth – or (even worse) they get close enough to make you want to beat them senseless with a broom handle.

I mean a break from half empty supermarket shelves, which have been half emptied once again by people whose sole preoccupation is selfishness and catering for their unhealthy obsession with toilet paper.

I mean a break from a daily news cycle that somehow has made Brexit a welcome and light hearted refrain from every Covid’s worries and concerns.

I mean a break from conversations that start with ‘did you have a good evening/weekend/christmas/new year?’ and end with ‘didn’t do much/very quiet/the usual.’

I mean a break from me – because currently I don’t recognise myself.

What happened to the positive, can do, energetic Dave that was winning at life back in 2018?

What happened to the guy who was always proud of his warm, reassuring handshake and who liked to smile at people?

What happened to the gregarious guy who gave hugs to everyone that seemed vaguely tactile?

He works in a room on his own where his smile is hidden behind a mask every day. His germ free hands are covered in 70% alcohol hand gel whenever possible and his arms remain folded at a safe distance.

He’s been replaced by someone that’s scared of losing everything that is dear to him and frozen into inactivity instead of bending the world to his will by determinedly walking from one end of it to another.

The very air he breathes as he passes someone nowadays could change everything.

Every person I meet at work or in the supermarket could be the one that ruins my life forever.

It’s a ridiculous way to live and view the world – I’m aware of that – but I guess this what it must be like to be hemmed in by crippling OCD, unable to leave the house without going back multiple times to check the cooker or having to flick a light switch on and off 50 times before heading up to bed.

The crazy thing is that I when I was insulated by loneliness and isolation (for many years not even realising that I was) I never feared losing anything. I was the one that was lost and alone – and I just naturally assumed that everyone that was important to me would be around long after I was gone.

Then I changed for the better – and all of a sudden the loneliness was uncovered, brought into uncomfortable focus, and lingered more and more each evening.

That was until I finally found a kindred spirit.

That was wonderful and everything – but it also meant I got smashed in the face with an huge emotional brick.

I started to wonder – what if the universe had a cruel sense of humour?

What if it had made me wait over 20 years for everything I needed and wanted, then let me have it, but shortly after decided to arbitrarily take it all away again?

What if this was the universe’s plan all along?

This thought process was with me well before someone decided to eat a bat with a dry cough in Wuhan (insert your own prejudice/interpretation/conspiracy theory here) and then get on a plane. Even before the world was going to hell I had begun to worry that I could lose all that I held dear – rather than the other way round.

That sensation is dialled up to 11 pretty much 24×7 these days – and I can’t turn it off.

It’s such a relentless hum in the background for so long now that often I fail to recognise that its there – but it is, no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise.

I forget all manner of things I’d normally remember because of it and I can’t really relax.

Not properly.

The ridiculously deadly highly transmissible bat virus from thousands of miles away is now even ridiculously(er) deadly(er) and transmissible(er) then ever before – and my local hospital’s Covid in-patient numbers (which I see in e-mail updates every other day) reflect this.

This link to the official NHS figures shows just how crazy the numbers have become – and point 6 shows just how fast the situation is spiralling out of control.

How on earth is it possible to switch off from this kind of fear?!

Sure – you can get on with life, go to work, try your best to help people and be a good person – but how do you get rid of the constant background hum of fear and worry?

I’m not entirely sure you can.

Not completely

You just have to plod onwards – hoping that a 3rd party website my boss found (proclaiming that my age group is likely to get a Covid vaccination jab around December 2022) is woefully mistaken.

Or go crazy.

One of the two.

We’ll see…

Davey

2020 – the bowl before the flush

I’ve always been good at finding excuses – and 2020 has provided more reasons than most for me to say ‘I will do X because of Y’.

Need to stay indoors rather that go outside? Thats a great idea. It’s dangerous outside so staying indoors is sensible.

Need a new piece of technology? No problem – there’s a pandemic. You deserve it.

Need to over indulge? Well why not – after all you’ve had a hard day and life outside is difficult. You have to find your pleasures where you can.

Although there have been many aspects of the ongoing lockdown/tiering (which has now been complicated by a far more contagious version of Covid – which in turn was replaced by YET ANOTHER more virulent one from South Africa) that have left me feeling that things have changed for the worst there’s one thing that has left me more worried than others.

I feel like something my mind – or rather my memory has changed.

It started in the summer months – when a group of fellow bloggers were suggesting that we do weekly video calls to keep in touch.

This seemed at the time like a really great idea. I love them both to bits as writers and people – and they have been one of the truly awesome aspects of creating a public blog, and the first couple of chats went really well.

Then I started to forget about the weekly meetings, be late or even more rudely – not turn up at all.

This wasn’t because I didn’t want to talk to them – but instead because my mind wasn’t working the way that it normally did and all memory of what I was supposed to be doing had just disappeared.

Moments after the meetings completed I noticed texts or missed calls and instantly started the process of berating myself for being a completely unthinking tool.

My pre-pandemic mental rolodex had previously been comprised of moments when I’d be meeting friends for walks, catching up (dare I say gossiping?) outdoors and generally servicing my primary motivation in life – which has always been communicating with other people.

Now, removed from this schedule (and really not warming at all to the whole zoom/teams/online video craze) I found that my mind began to try and find solace elsewhere, and slid into more insular pursuits.

Reading, web browsing, organising digital media, video games, watching box sets, re-watching movies in 4k (just because) the list went on and on – with other people (not counting my other half who makes life worth living) becoming increasingly absent from life.

My partner and I have watched endless hours of ‘cute dog’ and ‘reckless idiot car crash’ videos on YouTube.

It might sound stupid but speaking to friends remotely instead of all this mental re-direction just reminds me that I can’t see them face to face, give them a hug or be close to them.

It’s almost easier to not see anyone at all than it is to be close but achingly separate from them.

As this (at times legally enforced) stay at home, insular behaviour began to take hold, I stopped producing things (my writing dried up practically overnight) and I once again started consuming them instead.

As the fabric of life outside become greyer and greyer my mental sharpness seemed duller and duller.

What on earth was there to write about now?

I was already sick to death of the chirpy ‘I learned a new language whilst furloughed’ videos or the stories of people playing the piano for neighbours on their balconies.

Bollocks to the world.

All the things that I had worked so hard to enjoy and regain felt like they had been taken away from me.

I had zero willingness to do situps or jump up and down on the spot in my living room so that I could post a ‘how great life is regardless of everyone in Italy dying’ video on Instagram.

Biscuits however… Those were great.

Everything I was thinking about (if put on a page) would simply be moaning about how absolutely catastrophically s%*t everything had become in the world and how awesome hot cross buns tasted.

If Donald Trump, Brexit, Black Lives Matter, explosions in Beruit, and the gradual erosion of public trust in ANYTHING leaders say anymore wasn’t enough then my day to day job (as fulfilling as it is and as lucky as I am to have it) was doing a stellar job of reminding me that less than half a mile down the road from me in a hospital people were dying from a very real and very deadly virus.

I’ve a greater then ever respect for the people I work with in the NHS. They do so much with whatever they have at hand and sacrifice themselves for the greater good every day. Nothing (currently at least) makes them immune to this virus and they too fall victim every so often.

I’ve met quite a few people now that weeks later I’ve found out have been diagnosed with Covid 19 – and many many more that seem at the ragged edge of their nerves because of the workload and the isolation.

Sometimes I call them to help with a technical problem and realise I’m speaking to someone that’s recovering from it at home – or waiting for the results of a test. Sometimes I get tears, and sometimes I get frustration – occasionally even anger over the phone – all caused by inanimate objects that for no apparent reason have suddenly become yet another hurdle to overcome.

If this isn’t enough I’m also reading e-mails with daily statistics about how the NHS is trying its level best to cope with not only an ongoing threat, but a second wave that seems to be hitting way harder than the first.

There simply are not enough hours in my day to deal with the numbers of people that need my support to remain able to do their jobs at a distance and keep patients in touch with their loved ones.

Yet people still seem to think it’s a joke or conspiracy and that maintaining distance in shops or wearing masks is too big a price to pay.

It’s hard not to become angry or judgemental.

On the plus side I feel like I’m in exactly the place I was meant to be at exactly the time I was meant to be there.

I work hard and I already have a sense of pride in both what I do and what I accomplish – but I’m also dogged by the worry (usually at 3am when the other occupant of my bed is fast asleep) that I could do more and that ultimately I’m really rather helpless (and by that I really mean useless).

Like many of us this hasn’t had a great impact on my waistline – and it require a lot of effort to get back to where I was this time last year in terms of fitness. There are now a fair few bags of clothes in the loft that I won’t be needing again for a while.

However – it’s Christmas – and the absolutely amazing woman that I hitched my star to has managed to make me think once again about how life was not so long ago – and what needs to happen in the new year to try and get back there.

One of my presents was a personalised O/S map of where we live along with a checklist (made up to look like a list of XBOX Achievements) that I need to tick off with her as we criss cross and walk around the local area.

One such objective is ‘take a picture in every square of the map’ – another is ‘take the weather with you’ (get out in every kind of weather) and ‘can’t get no relief’ (climb all the hills).

I do love her.

And it goes deeper than just wearing matching slippers.

As time has passed this year and we’ve experienced the reality of this shi$$y new world we’ve never regretted moving in together – and instead have both grown closer than we were before.

Amazingly we’ve just passed our two year anniversary.

It seems like a lifetime ago (no-one was socially distanced back then!) when we randomly met in a public place (standing less than two metres apart without masks!) before flagrantly travelling up and down the country to see each other every week.

What was once ‘our relationship’ would now have been illegal – and we probably would never have met back then – let alone managed to maintain a long distance relationship if life then was anything like it has been in 2020.

Again – things happen for a reason and we were right where we needed to be at the time that we needed to be there.

We’ll get back to where we need to be, regain the lives that we once enjoyed – but in the meantime we’ll just enjoy the special moments together whenever we can get them, walking hand in hand in the park on a nice blue sky Christmas Day.

I for one cannot wait to pull a metaphorical chain on the 31st and watch 2020 stubbornly circle and refuse to flush before finally relenting heading down the U-bend along with Donald Trump.

Happy Christmas everyone – and look after each other!

Davey

Mr Spud we like

In a moment that would only occur in our current climate I froze whilst walking down the road at lunchtime the other day.

I was heading to the shop near where I work and had realised that although I’d remembered my carrier bag (something I’ve always been rather particular about) I’d completely forgotten my face mask.

It’s not yet the law to wear face masks in shops or in public – but I’d promised myself when seeing on the news that at least part of this was going to become compulsory that I’d start doing it sooner rather than later.

I’ve even been a mask to go to the cinema.

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I ultimately made the (wise/unwise?) choice to go in anyway – but felt profoundly guilty when I saw the girls in the shop wearing their masks behind the Perspex till screens.

I won’t be doing that again any time soon.

Going to the shops is something that these days simultaneously feels both normal and abnormal – and even when the world seems to be gradually returning to what it used to be (and that’s both good and bad if you look at the quickly returning McDonald’s rubbish everywhere) it’s never more noticeable that things have changed than when you notice things (that you used to do regularly) now feel profoundly different.

Yesterday my partner and I ventured into Leamington to find that many of the familiar shops we passed regularly have completely ceased trading (or are yet to open up again).

  • Kath Kidson – closed.
  • Charity shops – almost all closed with no indication of when they will re-open
  • Cafe Rouge – closed
  • Carluccios – closed
  • Laura Ashley – closing down
  • Carphone Warehouse – closed
  • Willow (a lovely little eclectic shop) – moved online (after seven years in town)

There is a real effort being made by the council to enable and promote social distancing – and to this end much of the town centre has been temporarily pedestrianised – meaning you can give people as wide a berth as you feel comfortable with.

We eventually ended up in a suitably well distanced coffee shop in the Royal Priors – if for no other reason than to buy a drink and sit somewhere other than home to consume it.

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The day was pretty humid mind you – and I have to say neither of us had particularly been enjoying the steamy breathing experience of walking around town with our faces covered – so it was pretty nice to find a seat indoors by a big open window where there was a lovely breeze with no-one nearby.

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we both sat and just quietly breathed for a moment.

Or rather should I say I relaxed and tinkered with my blog whilst my partner caught up on Pokemon Go! for five minutes.

Although when I met her she was already madly addicted to Pokemon she has really been getting into other video games recently (I knew I’d eventually drag her down to my level) and has recently adopted my Nintendo Switch as her console of choice.

Believe it or not she has now logged more game hours on this console than I have – however this is mostly because Animal Crossing appears to be both incredibly addictive and also something that she absolutely loves playing online with her family.

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Aside from the game creating a need to obsessively catch fish, shake trees and dig for fossils it seems like a really really nice way to keep in touch with people – and one of the lovely aspects of it is how social and friendly it is.

It also never ceases to amuse me how she delights in making her cute little house look more and more like our house.

She’s even created a version of me…

I have my own little island (although I’ve never actually played the game) and she’s filled it with stuff that she thinks I’d like in real life.

Oddly I’m almost always running around the island in my pants – which is terribly embarrassing when she invites her sister over to visit. Nevertheless I can’t help smiling as she (usually giggling) points out little details that she thinks I might like about my fictional island.

Recently (after selling enough digital turnips to generate the ‘bells’ to purchase it in the game) she placed an arcade machine in near my toilet to keep me amused before and after my poos!

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There’s even a log burning stove to make sure my bottom isn’t chilly when it hits the toilet seat!

She’s super thoughtful.

Once we’d finished our coffee (and respective digital pursuits) we decided to go foraging for other items to amuse us – and found an item at a reasonable price in Game that she’s wanted to play ever since she saw her nephew playing it.

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spyro old vs new

I remember playing the PS1 version of Spyro (before it was remastered and made to look like a Pixar animation on modern hardware) and it was a really fun little game. It’s surprisingly difficult in places though – and it took both of us attempting one pretty early level to find a way through!

It’s crazy how similar and yet simultaneously divergent our gaming tastes are – because for the last couple of weeks we’ve both been enjoying (if that’s the way to describe it) the brutal tale of survival, revenge and redemption that is ‘The Last Of Us Part 2‘ on the PS4.

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It’s probably the wrong game to have been playing in the middle of a pandemic – as the premise behind it is that society has collapsed (it fictionally happened in 2013) after a similar world event.

TLOUP2 diverges from the present day pandemic realities however because in its case the infected quickly turn into aggressive zombies whose sole purpose is to pass the virus on to you.

You can either sneak around them or choose to club them to death with various sharp implements if they get in your face – and in this respect it’s quite cathartic.

The choice about whether to not to batter these zombies to a pulp is frankly very reminiscent of the urges I feel whilst surrounded by oblivious (potential) plague carriers in Tescos every week so it’s nice to be able to exorcise my pent up frustrations in a consequence free environment.

We played the first game together (before going through the second one) about a month ago. I’d played it before but my partner hadn’t –  and I wanted her to experience the superb story before I played the sequel. Much to my great delight she absolutely loved it.

So much so that she wanted to go halves with me on part two.

One really interesting was that in my second play through of the first game I found that I was looking at everything with a fresh set of eyes.

Now I found it impossible to ignore the fact that in every single disused and derelict toilet in the game there was a ton of unused toilet paper.

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Did Naughty Dog (the developer of the game) see the events of the current pandemic coming and just knew that we’d suddenly start to hoard toilet paper when the world began to fall apart?

If this is the case then it’s not much of a surprise that there are no stashes of canned goods anywhere in the game – just mounds of mouldy paper to wipe your bottom with...

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Both are great games though – and I highly recommend them – if that is you don’t mind being forced to jump out of your seat every five minutes…

As we left Game (still in our masks and swabbing ourselves liberally with the alcohol hand gel they had at the entrance) we headed to another little bit of normality which immediately lifted our spirits.

Mr Spud.

Mr Spud

This unassuming little part of Leamington Spa has been serving baked potatoes to the public on this corner of the high street for thirty years and I am not lying when I say that when the lockdown first hit I was ridiculously worried about whether or not this small business would survive.

Thankfully (according to the owner) they’ve limped by with financial help from the government – and are just about managing to cover their wages at the moment.

Things are tough – but for the moment they’re surviving – which I guess is all that we can hope for.

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Our ‘usual’ cottage cheese with chive baked potatoes from Mr Spud have frankly never tasted so good – and both my partner and I were still raving about how this had been the highlight of our entire day well into Saturday evening.

It’s crazy how taking something so simple and normal away for a few months makes it so feel extra special when you get it back.

I’m not that bothered by the majority of shops that have closed up for good (although it does make me feel sad when I think about the lives that these job losses will impact and how the high street will eventually look) but this one unassuming little tent and the warmth of their baked potatoes would have cut me to the quick if they’d gone under.

Encouragingly the lady we spoke to said that they had no idea what to expect when they opened for the first time – but everyone was so happy to see them that they were ‘made to feel like rockstars‘ as people crowded around expressing their happiness about seeing them again.

I encourage anyone locally to go and buy a spud from this stall.

They’re lovely, and really really reasonably priced.

Anyway, Sunday is ebbing away and I have things to do – thankfully without a mask.

Stay safe internet – catch you later

Davey

Witzelsucht and Thabo Mbeki

I really really wish sometimes that my mind didn’t work overtime – because it means I lose a lot of sleep for no good reason.

Last night was no exception and no matter how many times I’ve tried to square various (frankly inconsequential and unimportant) circles in my head last night they just wouldn’t change shape. As soon as I am tired of thinking about one then another one comes along, and cumulatively they all conspire to keep me awake.

Yesterday didn’t start in a great place – and after a few days back to back with practically no rest at all I started the day (once again) mentally on the back foot.

Probably because I was so knackered it wasn’t long before a situation arose that enabled me to prove to myself that my worst (and probably nonsense) fears were true and I wasn’t good enough at my job.

There’s little worse than being faced with a situation where something needs to be fixed, there’s only you to fix it, the person that needs help really genuinely needs it fixed – but you can’t do it.

There are many many things I love about my job – and most of them are tied up with the fact that nothing – not one thing – is about shareholder value or capitalism. In this respect it differs from many of the roles I’ve had in the past and mostly because of this I get a real sense of satisfaction from fixing technical problems (albeit in a small way) for people that care for others.

There’s always a need and in my current role I can usually help.

However – there are times when you simply can’t – and it’s galling if it’s because your own (lack of) technical know-how is what stands in your way.

In previous workplace lives I’ve been responsible for managing the restoration of massive intercontinental telecoms failures for blue chip customers – and I’ve been at the sharp end of many a heated escalation related to many well known commercial brands.

I’ve navigated my way through heated conference call after heated conference call over the years – many of which were filled with senior managers that were pushing me hard for resolutions to their technical woes.

Often the impact of outages simply came down to lost money and time though.

Sometimes lorries were delayed or ships got stuck in ports for a bit longer than they needed to be – but only once was there a threat to life that I remember.

Most outages I managed simply halted the production or delivery of something.

Maybe in the interconnected and closely linked ‘just in time’ world that we live this could be considered ‘important’ (everything affects something else) but I ended up feeling that what I was really engaged in was working for shareholders to generate and protect revenue, and in doing so all I was achieving was oiling the gears of capitalism and greed.

The company that I worked for was huge. Its workforce was global, and its often brutal decisions about who should have a job and who should not (based not on someone’s effort or worth but often simply what they cost) left me feeling increasingly disillusioned.

When I was made redundant from my very well paid position I had already wanted to leave for a long time.

Sitting on those conference calls with executives in various countries however bothered me much less than being unable to fix a device that someone needed to do their job in the nhs.

It doesn’t even have to be a life threatening situation either – because practically every piece of equipment I touch is going into the hands of someone that is trying to help someone else.

It’s not about money – it’s about people. Since fundamentally I’m a people person this motivates me – and because I find that I really care I occasionally feel acute pressure.

Still I guess we all have to learn and not everybody knows everything.

Although my day started badly I eventually figured out how to resolve the issue (via several pints of coffee) and everyone lived happily ever after.

Before I figured out what was wrong though I was in a dark place.

My mind was calling me every name under the sun from stupid to useless – and I was muttering to myself quietly (not saying good things I might add) in the corner that I work because nothing felt like it was going right.

You know what though – I’m tired – and working when you’re not at your best is never going to produce stellar results. I need some unbroken sleep and I’ve really not had it for months.

My main reason at the moment for not getting any rest (apart from occasionally thinking about life too much) is my propensity to obsess over words and the way they sound.

This is both a blessing and a curse.

I love words – and see them as puzzle pieces to constantly tinker with in my head. I’m always thinking about ways to slot them together so that they contain multiple messages or meanings.

Probably because of this I’m endlessly making up ‘dad jokes’ too. My partner (already long suffering in this respect) sent me this link the other day – which sounds like it describes some elements of me to a tee.

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If you read this short article you’ll see the theory about why Witzelsucht occurs (particularly in people with brain injuries – such as a subject he discusses called Derek) and how it relates to stimulating pleasure centres in the brain:

Three guys stranded on a desert island find a magic lantern containing a genie, who grants them each one wish. The first guy wishes he was off the island and back home. The second guy wishes the same. The third guy says: ‘I’m lonely. I wish my friends were back here.’

Ok, maybe these quips are funnier when told by a professional comedian. But the point is that each is built around an “incongruity” in the punchline, and your brain must jump through a series of hoops to unpick the logic. You (edit) need to place yourself in the shoes of the people stranded on the desert island. (edit) there’s an element of surprise as you realise the twist in the tale. Resolving that puzzle tickles the brain’s pleasure centres, making us laugh (or at least, smile politely). “The ‘ha ha’ moment is not very far from the ‘aha’ moment,” explains Jason Warren at University College London.

This brain processing appears to occur in a network of regions around the frontal lobes – the seat of more complex, analytical thought and the very same areas that are damaged in patients like Derek. “. “They cannot see the relationship of the punchline to the joke, so they do not show surprise,” says Mendez. Paradoxically, this brain damage seems to “disinhibit” some of the signalling between those frontal lobes and the pleasure centres. So while others’ jokes may leave them cold, their own thoughts and feelings – stemming from any random connection or association – may end up triggering the dopamine kick as they collapse in fits of giggles.

It’s the dopamine kick that I think I get from my own linguistic tinkering – and it’s probably why I feel so calm after putting a blog post together.

My own personal obsession with (and pleasure generated from) playing with words unfortunately also has a downside – and it’s here where not only my sleep but day to day thinking gets disrupted.

I end up helplessly and endlessly repeating random things that come out of no-where.

As an example yesterday I woke up several times saying ‘Thabo Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki’.

These words had been in the back of my mind for a day or so and had refused to budge.

I couldn’t even remember who on earth it referred to – just that the name sounded interesting and the spelling unique. Then (after a quick Google) I remembered he was second the president of South Africa (link).

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Quite why this name – which had been tucked away in my head for years suddenly decided to resurface is beyond me – but this happens all the time.

Thabo Mbeki is similar to the word ‘Oklahoma’ – which Steve Martin hilariously repeats over and over in a sequence of the 1988 film ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ (link). Periodically I’ve been saying this over and over in my head almost every week or month since I saw it thirty years ago.

I also can’t stop whistling ‘Jingle Bells’ regardless of the time of year – and have it continually going around and around in my head whenever I try to concentrating on something. They only way to remove it to start whistling it.

You get the idea.

Either way I’m now facing another day with less than four hours sleep to my name – and I’m typing away in the hope that this will empty my mind and allow me to relax – at least when I’m awake (sleep is a lost cause).

I’m going to have to do something productive with my day to ensure my mood remains buoyant!

Wish me luck

Davey

 

Post coital parcels

I’ve genuinely missed writing my blog of late – but every time I’ve come close to starting a post I’ve been flooded with the realisation that I can’t face up to writing about what I’m mulling over in my head.

At this point in the proceedings I tend to shut down, close off and move instead to other diversionary pursuits. These are temporary fixes that take my mind off what’s truly going in inside my head – and I’m acutely aware that they aren’t really the way forward.

In the long term all this behaviour manages to do is lead to a state of emotional constipation. 

That may sound dramatic but I can’t think of any other way to describe how not writing makes me feel.

There’s still a lot that I don’t really want to put down on the page at the moment though – but not blogging anything at all clearly is not working for me. I can feel the cumulative physical and mental weight of it building every day – so here I am – once again sitting in front of WordPress with itchy trigger fingers.

On the plus side my house is alive with visitors at the moment and currently these provide me with plenty to write about because for the last few months I’ve been wondering why the wheelie bin outside my front door was becoming increasingly plastered with more and more bird shit.

It’s absolutely caked with avian crap at the moment.

For a while I thought it was because below the bin there’s a swarming ants nest – and I assumed that it was this readily available food source that had attracted the birds. I reckoned that (after a hefty meal) the sparrows would unburden themselves prior to takeoff – and it was this behaviour that was making my bin look so unappealing.

I’ve been at war with the ants for years.

Thoughts of their demise filled me with delight.

They’ve survived kettle after kettle of boiling water and for some reason (despite the obvious dangers of sharing their space with me) still march relentlessly under my front door. No amount of stamping, swatting or boiling water has deterred them.

The ants’ usual routine is to traipse through my hall, along the entire length of my kitchen, under the back door, out into the garden, collect some leaves or random fluff and then saunter back to the underside of bin at the front of my house.

I was really hopeful that these ravenous sparrows would solve my ant problem with zero effort on my part.

However – despite all the bird shit – the little sods were completely unmolested.

The industrious legions of marching creatures were still at full strength and it wasn’t until my other half and I returned home from shopping a couple of weeks ago that we saw why.

As we unloaded the bags from the car I noticed a solitary female sparrow peacefully basking in the sunshine on the guttering directly over the bin.

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By the time I’d made my way to the front door with the first two carriers I noticed that a male sparrow had arrived and was sitting on the roof tiles looking down at the rather alluring bird on the gutter below.

As we continued back and forth carrying the shopping to the front door it hopped onto the guttering nearby and stood about 10cm to the right of the female sparrow.

She looked the other way.

Disinterested.

The male sparrow appeared undeterred. He jumped back up onto the roof again, this time hopping around her in a perfect semi circle until he was once again on the guttering – but now he was standing 10cm to the left of her.

She still looked the other way. 

Mr sparrow repeated this process continuously for a few minutes as we watched – swapping from left to right in an effort to catch her eye.

The amorous little fellow was clearly engaged in some kind of courtship dance. and continued his hopping pattern back and forth until the object of his intentions gave in and looked him directly in the eye.

Bingo. 

She’d acknowledged him!

Without any further ado Mr sparrow immediately hopped onto the back of Mrs sparrow – and after several attempts to balance (with some ungainly grabbing and flapping) he finally found the perfect spot.

BOOM. 

It was an impregnation station.

(insert pictures of sparrows smoking cigarettes on my guttering)

After an appropriate few seconds of reassuring ‘don’t worry – I’ll call you’ glances to Mrs sparrow, Mr sparrow (looking supremely relaxed) flew off into the distance.

Mrs sparrow (looking maybe a tiny bit underwhelmed at how the few seconds had panned out) then proceeded to unload the contents of her bowels on my bin.

It suddenly clicked into place.

Every single bird plop represented sparrow coitus.

Whether the bomb bay doors opening is a passive aggressive statement about partner performance or simply an involuntary undercarriage reaction remains unclear. However – regardless of the cause the act clearly has a laxative effect – and I know this because we’ve since seen the same behaviour (and results) a couple of times.

I’m so convinced of this causal relationship that I’ve taken to looking up before I exit my front door just in case gravity is about to deliver a ‘post sexy time’ parcel to me.

Probably because of this behaviour in our drain based knocking shop, birds are wonderfully abundant in our garden at the moment.

Although if I’m honest I think their tendency to spend time having fun in this manner (rather than looking for grubs and worms) has got a lot to do with my partner feeding them on an almost industrial scale.

They’re practically falling out of the trees with their bulging waistlines at the moment, and I swear some of the smaller pigeons used to be sparrows…

I have long had a bird feeder with space for three fat balls hanging from a post in my garden – but since my other half has been working from home (and enjoying the sights and sounds of the garden) she has bought more and more feeding paraphernalia.

We now have space for six fat balls, two huge loose seed dispensers and several (currently removed thanks to hefty pigeons) bird baths.

The birds are all over this plentiful banquet.

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The population of our little avian friends has consequently rocketed – and the dawn chorus in the morning (whilst absolutely delightful) is at times deafening. I’ve not needed an alarm clock for a long time.

Mostly because my partner insists on converting her wages into bird poo the benefits are everywhere to be seen. 

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There are however other visitors that she’s not so keen on – and these also like bird seed.

A couple of months ago (upon returning home late one night in the dark) we turned the light on in the hall and my other half screamed out loud with surprise.

A mouse was sitting by the skirting in the hall, and as soon as the lights went on it scrambled past me looking for cover – heading for the kitchen where it promptly disappeared behind the pedal bin.

My other half is a hardy soul and very outdoorsy (I’ve yet to see a backpack or shopping bag that she can’t carry or tent in a muddy field she’s unwilling to inhabit) but when it comes to spidery eight legged creatures or rodenty four legged ones it’s usually me that gets called on for removal duties.

That’s not to say she has no input mind you – because one of the benefits of shacking up with a Geography Teacher that’s got an extensive history of field studies is that she knows how to trap small furry creatures.

Within days (after finding a few little mouse droppings around the house that confirmed we had unwelcome guests) she purchased some humane traps and vibrating wall plugs from Amazon.

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These were the first to go in – and I have to say I’m absolutely not convinced about them.

They have a blue light to show that they’re on, need to be plugged into a wall mounted socket (rather than extension lead) and apparently send irritating vibrations into the bricks to deter any nesting rodents.

The certainly provide annoyance in some quarters – because we immediately noticed (almost like a magnetic force might move iron filings) that our resident ants appeared to be taking increasingly odder and ever more convoluted paths through the kitchen (or – mmmsk mmmsk mmmsk – were they…. dancing?!).

On the down side there was a constantly annoying blue light in the dark of the house and the mouse poops continued to appear.

So – the humane traps were laid and baited with some of the bird seed.

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Almost immediately we caught one – and to say it was a cute little fellow was a vast understatement. It was so lovely in fact that I felt immediately guilty about the obvious terror it appeared to be experiencing as we held the trap and tried to examine it. 

The poor little guy was breathing like a racehorse after the grand national.

Instead of stressing it out further we wandered over to the garages near my house and released it into a bush.

Although I rather whimsically refer to this as ‘cat alley’ (there are numerous territorial pussycats that patrol this area) I hope it lived to tell the tale.

Then – the next day, another!

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Initially I though that this was the same little guy from the day before – and just to make sure it didn’t come back we released it in some nearby woodland. There was no way it would find its way home any time soon.

However – as I sat and looked at the pictured later that evening I realised that the ears and feet were subtly different and that they were in fact not the same little cheese eaters.

The second one looked younger and more juvenile than the first.

So – there were children…

The trap went back down again the same night.

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As cute as they are these guys are also rather dumb – as three nights in a row we captured their little family and let them loose in the great outdoors.

I have to say (having had a hamster and secretly missing its furry warmth) I rather wanted this to become a regular daily task – but either they learned from their mistakes or the extent of our infestation was only three mice!

Mind you – all we have to do now is find a humane slug trap – because now they’re gone the kitchen has a fresh shiny trail from under the washing machine to under the fridge almost every night of the week.

That’s if I don’t stand (bare footed) in them in the middle of the night…

When they’re not around there are other interlopers, who seem intent on highlighting the fact that I could spend waaaaay more time than I do removing cobwebs…

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All in all there’s a lot to love about lockdown life and the visitors that you start to notice and appreciate.

Whilst some of them would do well to steer clear of kitchen (lest they incur the wrath of my kettle) others (inside and outside) are truly lovely.

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So – here’s to having a somewhat ‘leaky’ house that’s a haven for interesting things!

Long may the birdies tweet and my bin be covered in crap – because I think it’s totally ace!!!

Davey

Still here…

I think it’s fair to say that I (like many others) have not coped with lockdown very well.

Although its myriad of restrictions are slowly lifting I find myself still unwilling (and in some cases unable) to engage with the world again. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure, people seem oblivious to the dangers and I can’t stop worrying about what might happen if a moment of carelessness leads to me losing someone I love.

That may sound overly dramatic – and when I say it out loud or hear it in my head I genuinely feel like slapping my own face – because six months ago I’d have looked at myself and tutted. I’d have viewed present day me as anxious about nothing, worrying needlessly and be rather disgusted about my lack of willingness to go outside unless absolutely necessary.

I’ve been largely silent online because I know that I’m not alone – and that there are far too many people doing exercise videos on blurry webcams, talking about mental health in their dimply lit spare rooms, and sitting metres apart from eachother in a TV studio detailing how people are coping with isolation and financial ruin.

It’s inescapable.

If you’re not worrying about whether you’ll catch something that could kill or seriously disable you then you’re worrying about the people you care about.

Those who know me well (and probably those who’ve read my blog for the last few years) will know that I already had a propensity to over analyse and even obsess over things.

I’ve done this all my life – but back in 2016 I managed to turn this obsessive side of me into an unstoppable force that was hell bent on self improvement. I created structures around me that ensured I was always with people, almost never indoors, continually active and as outwardly positive as I could be. In doing so I accidentally inspired others to do the same and for quite a while I felt virtually indestructible.

However no-one is an island, it’s impossible to be infallible, and dealing with the continual worry related to events you cannot hope to control will have a cumulative impact regardless of who you are.

It’s had an impact on me – and once more things that felt under control now feel out of control.

Old habits are back, and I have struggled to control them.

In some respects life has never been better. I’m still super happy at home, I’m still very much in love and I genuinely enjoy the job I’m doing at the moment almost as much as coming home to someone that I look forward to spending time with.

The world is always out there though – and it seems cold and threatening, even though the sky is blue and the birds are singing in our garden.

I’m trying to go out more though.

The cinema is now open – something my partner and I love going to – but even this feels weird and abnormal. There are one way systems everywhere, taped off toilets, no hand driers, alcohol gel dispensers on every door and both myself and the staff look like we’re planning to rob banks when we meet in the foyer.

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The mask is also a daily part of my working life and it’s donned every time I have to meet someone new. For some time now all I’ve seen when I meet them are people’s eyes – and I find that the most unsettling thing about that is that I’m increasingly unsure how to judge their moods. 

When looking at only the upper third of someone’s face you can’t determine whether or not a wry smile is connected a frown (are they thinking – or is it a grimace?) when someone looks at me. I can’t shake their hands to greet them, say goodbye, or show them that I’m smiling at them through my mask.

Even when I’m around people I’m not me and I can’t gauge them.

For someone who prides himself on being a people person and watching intently what they do and how they act for clues about what they’re thinking it’s infuriating.

Maybe I should just go for a stroll and exercise it off – right?

You’d think of that now restrictions have been lifted I’d be walking, walking and doing more walking – but (probably because I’ve done less lately) I keep injuring myself. As I type I’m nursing the 2nd torn calf muscle in as many months and this one (like the previous one) has stopped me walking back and forth to work for almost two weeks.

‘But the world is getting back to normal now! It will all get better!’ I can hear you all saying…

Only it’s not is it?

Leicester is evidence that us being out of lockdown is almost certainly a temporary state of affairs. Without a vaccine there are millions of us that are yet to catch Covid 19 and all we’re doing is creating peaks and troughs so that when the inevitable happens and even larger chunks of the country do succumb the NHS will still be able to cope.

That’s another thing. Although I love my job in some respects it’s also part of the problem. 

I’m surrounded every moment of the day with others that are dealing with the realities of this very real pandemic. Out of the blue I also meet people (sometimes daily, sometimes weekly) who have either had Covid, know someone that’s had it – or even more worryingly (and with alarming frequency) people that have lost loved ones to it.

They tell me stories about mothers, partners, and grandparents that are now either seriously ill or gone forever – and they have almost all left these people’s lives without a simple hug or the reassurance of someone they love holding their hand on their death bed. 

Although they’re coping now you can see that some day soon the people who are putting us all back together and caring for us will also need to be cared for themselves.

They’re deferring dealing with the pain and grief caused by they’re going through and (like me) are leaning into coping mechanisms that are not necessarily the best ways of dealing with their worry and grief.

Someone recently said to me (also an NHS worker) that when the pandemic ends we’ll all fit neatly into three categories. 

‘Chunks, hunks or drunks…’ 

I admitted to her that the ‘chunk’ rather than ‘hunk’ was the way I’d chosen to go – but thankfully I’d managed to steer clear of the ‘drunk’ classification.

Whilst food (of all the wrong kinds) has been consumed by me in plentiful abundance I’m still four and a half years sober – and there’s still no part of me that wants to go back to drinking three bottles of wine a night.

I’m probably in the minority though. 

The people around me talk lovingly about pubs, and about having a beer or a glass of wine in the evenings. Some even head off from my appointments with a laughing confession that they’re picking up a bottle of spirits on the way home.

We’re all coping the best ways that we can I suppose.

I’m not writing this to illicit sympathy however – because I don’t want any. 

I also don’t really need advice or comments at the moment – because I’ve long known what I need to do to restore balance – I’ve just been running from the reality of it and deferring the decision about when to start.

I’m also not going to be writing about my  getting back into the swing of things or how I’m coping or not coping with eating behaviours in quite the same way that I used to either for two reasons.

Firstly I don’t want the added pressure in my head about succeeding or failing in the public eye. 

Although winning MOTY in 2018 was a wonderful experience it also enabled me to heap insane amounts of pressure on my own shoulders about how I should be an example to others and that I should never again allow myself to fail. 

Doing that in full view of the world and having my image plastered all over papers and the internet was a cage of my own creation – and I’m not particularly willing to do it again – so I will be a bit more reticent in future about the wars I wage upon my waistline.

Secondly I don’t want to be someone that people follow or read about solely because I was either addicted to alcohol or food. 

After a while I realised that my entire social media feed was filled with images of people that posted before and after photos of themselves and plate after plate of healthy food. There’s more to me than that – and I don’t want to be defined solely by my ability (or lack of it) to not put food in my mouth and swallow.

To be honest I’ve always felt profoundly uncomfortable with the fact that I became (slightly) famous for getting to a weight that millions of other people around the world managed to do all on their own without any fanfare.

It’s like being sponsored to do ‘dry January’ and then congratulating yourself in public for not having a drink for an entire month without ‘breaking or cracking up’.

If that’s a win then theres a problem. Those in this category should immediately consider embarking upon ‘dry rest of life’ and forget about asking for sponsorship. Do it because you shouldn’t ever begin to feel that not having alcohol in your life is stressful.

In exactly the same vein (since I’m clearly so judgemental) I can hardly jump up and down in public shouting about how not putting a biscuit in my mouth is a triumph.

If it is then its one thats only possible in a society where we over abundance. It’s a first world problem of our own making and now more than ever I don’t think a world that’s seeing tragedy after tragedy up close and personal needs another fat man agonising about whether he should choose peanuts or salad.

That said – I’m happy to encourage others to be healthy – but that’s no longer my life. I just want to be a normal person that struggles or copes like anyone else.

Sometimes I fail.

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Sometimes I win.

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Ultimately though we’re all just trying to make our way through to the other side of all this madness in one piece – and I can only hope we all emerge as good people standing next to the ones we love who are also in rude health.

Thanks for reading internet (if you’re still out there that is)

Davey

Climbing down from the ceiling

In some ways life over the last week has been both stressful and disagreeable – but in others it’s also been just what I needed.

On Wednesday last week I awoke at about 5.30am with an oddly persistent dry cough that just didn’t seem to want to go away.

It lasted well over two hours and by the time to I needed to leave for work rolled around I was beginning to panic.

What should I do?

The NHS 111 site that’s my partner was checking said clearly if I had EITHER this kind of cough (over a two hour plus period) or a temperature that I should not go out and begin to self isolate.

I didn’t have a fever – but I did seem to have the cough and also generally didn’t feel well.

Additionally my neck hurt and my head ached. Perhaps more worryingly there was a noticeable tightness (and pain) in my chest when I breathed in.

On any normal day I’d take some headache tablets or a Lemsip and just get on with life (and work) but it’s no longer a ‘normal’ world that we live in.

So – after speaking to my boss I began my seven days working from home in self isolation.

To begin with this was stressful.

Much of my job needs hands on work with physical devices – and me being at home instead of in the office has meant that my colleague had even more to do in my absence than he normally would.

I instantly felt guilty – but I genuinely also felt physically crappy.

My other half looked concerned – and although I tried to hide it so was I.

Was it the start of something worse?

What would we do if I was hospitalised?

Had I infected friends when I’d got bits and bobs for them in my shopping a couple of days before?

Furthermore had I brought this home to the person I care most about?

As I tried to focus on my job (despite the awful internet connection I was suddenly faced with) this was rolling over and over in my mind – and what work I did manage to complete was in many ways a welcome distraction from my pounding headache and stiff neck.

Virgin Media appeared to be struggling at times as much as I was.

As I tried to work around this technical nightmare every so often a glass of water and some paracetamol would magically arrive on my desk.

They were accompanied by a gentle hand on my forehead or on my chest to check my temperature.

I was reportedly warm it seemed – but not overly so, and although my chest still felt unusual my cough (as the days passed) slowly abated, leaving behind it an annoyingly sore and dry throat.

It didn’t feel serious though – although it’s hard to tell when you and the rest of the world are compelled to descend into hypochondria.

If this was Covid -19 then it was the lightest variant of it known to man – and my worries about who I’d infected quickly began to shift to deeper feelings of guilt about not going into work.

My absence from the office was not something that could be helped though.

Just ploughing through like an idiot and potentially passing something (or nothing) on to others would have been an epically stupid thing to do.

I’d also like to think that in making the choice I did I’ve been more responsible than some of the people I’ve seen passing my window returning from the nearby corner shop.

Whilst I’ve remained cautiously indoors they’ve strolled by carrying with them such essentials as a bottle of iron brew, a packet of crumpets, or even an individual packet of crisps.

Even more annoyingly many seem to have broken the lockdown for little more than a few cans of beer and some cigarettes.

It’s the height of irresponsibility to potentially spread or catch a virus just for the sake of such irrelevant things – and I feel that with each passing idiot I’m becoming someone that’s infinitely more judgemental than I previously was.

I used to be annoyed by my elderly neighbour watching the bin men like a hawk every Friday – but now I feel as if he’s an irritatingly kindred spirit.

I suppose it’s not up to either of us to evaluate whether passers by have a good reason to be outside or not – but when there are so many with ‘essential journeys’ going on during what happens to a sunnier period than usual it’s hard not to grind your teeth a bit.

I tried to get on with as much work as I could and not think about it – but late on Thursday afternoon the situation was taken out of my hands.

My Internet connection fell over entirely.

This just added to my stress and worry.

I forgot about nitwits with bottles of Iron Bru and my mind turned again to what my colleagues would think of me. Would they think I wasn’t working and just chilling out at home for fun?

My broadband didn’t recover until way past the end of my working day though, so regardless of how I thought I might be perceived I had to just accept that there was nothing much that I could do.

I eventually shut the lid on my laptop, went downstairs sat down on the sofa and breathed.

The TV was useless.

The broadband was unavailable.

My phone’s data allowance was practically on its knees after a brutal two weeks of abuse.

There was nothing to do but have a coffee and relax – and relax I did so until Friday morning – when I logged into my laptop and once more said good morning to my colleagues.

At this point I was informed (unexpectedly) that the managers had collectively decided that I wouldn’t have to work over the bank holiday (as originally planned) and could instead have Friday and Monday off to recover.

There’s a LOT of work coming up for me and others on the horizon and they thought it would be better to have a short break before it started rather than during its peak.

This still came as something of a surprise – and it simultaneously deepened my guilt but (if I’m honest) also left me feeling relieved and happy.

The rest of my Friday was mine to do with as I pleased.

Since this I’ve been recuperating and taking it easy – whilst very much enjoying both the weather and my time at home with ‘er indoors (a nickname I’ve discovered that she clearly loves).

It wasn’t until Saturday rolled around though that I noticed the pain in my chest was almost gone. I then began to wonder just how much of this sensation was stress rather than illness related.

I’m guessing quite a bit if I’m honest.

I’ve missed epic amounts of sleep over the last few weeks and in doing have become a ball of worry and stress. I’ve all too often felt like a cat in hot bricks practically every time I’ve left the house.

When I wake up at 3am dreaming about work or the apocalypse (which has been practically every day lately) I can’t stop myself from immediately checking the news and looking at rising death tolls around the globe.

In the new world order that’s bizarrely not what freaks me out the most though.

Shopping (now a worry for an entirely new reason since I can’t leave the house to do any for a while) has become something that I can barely bring myself to do.

Before I fell ill (specifically because I was getting so jittery and losing sleep) my partner and I had started exercising really early in the morning (when there was no one around) so that she could then give me a lift to and from work to stop me from walking in.

There are quite a few ‘choke points’ on the way to my current office that mean I can’t avoid people coming in the opposite direction – and as they pass me by I’m always struck by the thought that if I can smell their perfume or fabric softener (which I do all the time) I’m almost certainly breathing in the air they’ve breathed out.

I don’t want to be near them – regardless of how much I previously loved being around people.

I’m becoming more shut in and insular as the days go by – and wanting to venture out less and less.

My lunch breaks (before I fell ill) have been spent making up for this by pacing in circles around the car park like a zoo animal.

I’ve become increasingly aware that this physical behaviour is mirrored in my thought processes.

I’ve been pacing back and forth in my head almost as much as I am in real life.

What if this happens?

What if that comes to pass?

How will we cope if blah blah blah?

I’m not alone in this – and after catching up on a video call with some fellow bloggers last night I was encouraged to hear that the constant ‘low level fear’ that has been humming away in the back of my head for weeks was not at all unique.

We’re all finding our own ways to cope – and they’re apparently no different.

In my house food has admittedly become an increasingly unhealthy crutch that’s all too regularly pulled out to help with the added burdens that life delivers on a daily basis.

Sigh.

Food.

You can’t live without it – and I hate the way it still controls me in so many ways.

If I’m not thinking about eating it these days I’m worrying about where it will come from next – and the concern about whether shelves will contain what I need or be instead be devastated when I try to buy things.

For the time being though we have enough to eat for a while and I’m glad that I’m not having to stress about trying to remain socially distant in Tesco – and instead sitting in the garden writing a blog on this fine Sunday morning.

Frankly it’s a blessed relief – and if not going to that horrible place means I have to live on Weetabix with water for a week that’s a sacrifice I’m happy to make.

My previously elevated heart rate (related to this activity) is relatively normal currently at around 48bpm – but even this practically glacial level (compared to others) tells me two things.

Firstly that it’s around 10bpm higher at all times than it has been for the last few years.

Secondly I have to admit this is partly because I’m not as fit as I was before.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.

Less steps and more food = tubbier Davey.

Everything about me is cuddlier at the moment and I have to admit that my favourite trousers have been replaced with a pair bought online that are ‘a bit more forgiving’.

I know at some point that I’m going to have to face up to reality.

What has been done to my waistline in this time of crisis has to be undone.

However that day is not today and I refuse to add it to my list of current mental burdens.

What’s left in the cupboards and freezer needs to be rationed for a while since I do not plan to go shopping at all this week.

That means (despite my guilt for not being diabolically ill after all) I’m gradually climbing down from the ceiling and relaxing.

I’m just focusing on the garden.

The weather is glorious – and as I’ve been dragging this year’s endlessly growing ivy out of the lawn I’ve noticed that once again it’s filled with birds and butterflies.

Since they appear to be getting used to my presence once more they are also chilled enough to allow a picture or two to be taken as they go about their daily business.

As well as the gentle fluttering of butterflies in the periphery of my vision the continual soundtrack of chattering sparrows never seems to abate.

It’s something I’m infinitely grateful for – because the wonderful variety of life that my back garden presents every day is just delightful – and I’m so glad that I have one to sit in during the current lockdown.

It’s also the perfect place for my partner to focus on her creative side – and I’m simply blown away at how industrious she’s been with her chain maille jewellery making.

This morning after breakfast she talked me through all of the different kinds that she’s made recently and showed me pictures of styles that she wants to attempt in the coming weeks.

From left to right the ones she’s already attempted are:

Byzantine

Box weave (this has an extra ring to join the European four in one pattern)

European four in one

Full Persian

Half Persian

European four in one with half Persian

Double barrel weave

Mobius ring (the earring)

2 x helm weave with different colours

Dragon scale

Just watching her join ring after ring together with her pliers relaxes me and it clearly helps her reach her own place of zen too.

Sooner or later I hope life will begin to return to something resembling normality and when this happens I hope that everyone and everything I care about has remained intact.

Further more I hope that people still have jobs, can pay their mortgages, go to the shops without fear, and begin to share good times together once more as well as hugs and laughter.

In the meantime hopefully we can all just take a moment to look around, enjoy this all too brief respite for what it is rather than focusing (like I tend to do) on all of the stresses it embodies.

I want to just breathe in the (noticeably cleaner) air whilst whilst I savour the lack of ambient noise from traffic and aeroplanes.

I can trim my fluffy head and beard another day – maybe when I’m not so content to sit in the garden wearing PJ’s and enjoying the sunshine.

Davey

‘Er indoors

This week I’ve made a concerted effort to stick to the guidance outlined by the government – and when I did my (rather large) shop at Tesco last Sunday the aim was to not leave the house even for a pint of milk until the following week.

Prior to that I have to admit I’d been popping into the Co-op near my workplace a couple of times a week on the way home to get cow juice and other small ‘necessities’. However – when you weigh the need for a packet of hot cross buns against the danger of catching something potentially deadly such tasty treats somewhat lose their appeal.

Therefore this week I’ve only left the house to go to work and to exercise.

One thing I’ve realised lately though is that now the fallback tactic I’ve been using for dealing with stress, life and weight issues for the last four years (namely going for a ****ing long walk) has been rationed I’m really struggling.

Working every day in an isolated and unfamiliar office without people around me can be a lonely and stressful affair. As you might imagine at the moment anyone that’s in the business of enabling or supporting home working solutions is in high demand from their users.

The pressure to not only provide quality but rapid support is ever present.

It’s a never ending challenge – and I go home a lot of the time feeling like I’m somehow not good enough or that I should know more or be better in some way. I’m still new at what I do and it’s difficult having no-one around me, regardless of how industrious I try to be.

I try to throw myself into my job but with no-one to talk to I find my breaks either get later and later, missed altogether, or taken at my desk reading work e-mail in an attempt to catch up.

It’s mostly because I’m a people person who has no-one nearby to bounce off that I’m struggling.

I’m only a couple of weeks into the current working arrangements (which show no sign of returning to normal any time soon) and I’m already preoccupied with wishing it will all end ASAP.

However I’m not completely alone – there are other people dotted about in other rooms elsewhere in the building. Also, once a day I get to say hello to a cheerful cleaner that comes in to disinfect all of the contact surfaces on doors and work tops nearby.

He’s a nice fellow – and has been keen (since I first engaged him in conversation) to share funny texts that his friends send him, as well as amusing songs he’s found that parody the current lockdown events.

On Wednesday he showed me something that I knew I had to take home – especially given the current national obsession.

Andrex Puppy

As soon as I saw the picture on his (2 metres away socially distant mobile phone screen) I knew my other half would be tickled pink by them – and I immediately googled it on my own phone – initially intending to buy a pair for her.

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The moment passed however and I was pulled back into my work.

When I returned home I remembed what I’d seen and showed her the picture from my search (the above pair are from Etsy – the link to the page is here) and to my surprise she matter of factly said ‘I think I can make those myself.’

Really?‘ I said.

‘Yes – I think I have the beads upstairs…’ she replied.

She’s got loads of craft supplies in teeny little drawers – and loves making jewellery so I guess this shouldn’t have taken me aback – but in some respects we’re still learning about each other’s talents.

Making little trinkets is definitely something that she’s really good at, and although my other half still buys earrings and necklaces all the time (we have several special storage areas set aside in the house) she also makes a lot of her own – such as this chain maille bracelet and pendants.

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I remember visibly gulping back when we first started thinking about eachother romantically – becuase she admitted over text that she had a quite a thing for jewelery.

I have always associated this kind of preoccupation with a love for gold and precious stones – and (maybe wrongly) viewed ladies that wear a lot of jewellery as ‘high maintenance’.

We all have our own likes and loves mind you – so who am I to judge?

If I’m willing to spend £1k on an Apple product then why should I expect other people not to do the same with things that they like? However I still find it really hard to dissasociate the ‘high maintenance’ stereotype in my mind from ladies that wear a lot of expensive finery.

Pleasingly none of what my partner chooses to wear is something that you’d find in a regular jewellers shop – and neither is it particularly expensive.

Instead her tastes are really funky and unique and she’s genuinley changed my perspectives on the subject.

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Over the last couple of nights I’ve watched her in spare moments re-create the earrings I showed her and make the design her own,

I’ve been taking occasional pictures along the way – until today when she finally finished them and popped them into her ears to ask me for my opinion.

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How cool are they?!

They’re flipping awesome not just because of how funky and fun they are – but because she made them – and thats sooooooo cool!

Part of life under lockdown is that (perhaps for the first time since we met) my (currently) captive Geography teacher has had time to herself in the evenings that is usually denied to her.

There’s currently no 90+ minutes of travelling followed by at least two and a half hours of marking and lesson preparation every day.

In its place is instead an early start and a reasonable finish time in a home office looking out onto our garden that (at least from the outside looking in) seems to be infinitely less stressful than wrestling classes of teens into submission face to face.

It’s still a lot for her to do though – and I think that we’re both sitting well outside of our respective comfort zones. It’s difficult to adjust to a completely new setting at the best of times – but I’m pretty sure that from a career perspective she has always had a much tougher time than I do on a day to day basis.

Being a teacher is damn hard work – and a month or so back (when we discussed the pressures related to her profession) I worked out that she spends at least 60 hours a week working.

At the moment (although she’s essentially locked up in the house) things are slightly different – and we’ve managed to spend a little more quality time with each other in the evenings and weekends.

When we’re not doing things together we’re pursuing our own interests side by side on the sofa.

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A mutual friend (commenting on her own enforced lockdown with her husband) remarked how awful it would be to be trapped indoors enduring a bad relationship – and resenting the time you’re compelled to spend with a person that you’re no longer in love with.

I’m sure over the last few weeks that many couples all over the world have been re-considering their life choices – but not me.

I genuinely love spending every moment of the day with my partner – and since we became romantically involved we’ve not managed to fall out, annoy each other or funamentally disagree on anything .

I’m not saying that arguments are the sign of a bad relationship – because in the right context a disagreement aired can be a healthy thing – but it just doesn’t seem to happen between us.

This is something I’m still bending my head around – because all of my previous relationships led me to believe that compromise and falling out over mundane things (such as the loo seat being left up) were just a fact of life.

It seemed like every relationship was destined to be this way (all of mine were) but now I realise that it was just the fact I wasn’t with the right person.

As nice as life with ‘er indoors‘ is though – there’s still nothing I’d love to do more today than to go for a long, languid walk and sit on top of a hill with a picnic for two. However spending any time together is thankfully something that makes me happy.

Even doing the gardening together cheers me up.

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I genuinely thank my lucky stars that we met one another almost two years ago – and if the current crisis tells us nothing else it’s that we damned well have to appreciate what we’ve got while it’s there becuase you never know what’s around the corner.

Although there are no picnic capable hills near enough to where we live (to meet the government’s requirement to exercise ‘locally’) we did manage to get out for a walk around the park earlier today.

The sun spent its time periodically creeping in and out from behind cloud cover but our time there was still lovely.

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Maybe becuase the traffic is so reduced on the roads surrounding the park there was a strong scent of flowers in the air as we passed the daffodils and formally planted beds.

I might be wrong but I think this lovely odour hung in the air for a good quarter of the distance around St Nicholas’s ‘measured mile loop’.

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If nothing else – having a sense of taste and smell in the current climate is a positive indication of good health!

By the time we returned home we had around 3 miles in the bank.

It’s not much distance (compared to my previous standards) but it’s better than nothing and I’m grateful that the weather was good enough to wander hand in hand – and pretend for a few minutes that the world wasn’t imploding around us.

I’m also pretty damn grateful that I have a garden – becuase the little tweety birds are industriously busy building things.

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They’re doing this at exactly the same time the television informs us moment by moment that everything is falling apart so it’s nice to have a counterpoint to focus on.

As the grim statistics just got worse and worse (a five year old just died…) this little fellow flew back and forth for about twenty minutes as we watched it (and it watched us) from a respectful distance.

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Again and again this delightful little creature ferried materials back and forth – turning random bits and pieces into the building blocks it needed to create a nest full of little eggs and eventually new life.

I’m going to support it as much as I can – and will be filling my bird feeder to make sure that it’s chicks get the start they deserve.

On that (hopefully upbeat) note I think that it’s time to get something to eat. I should have started cooking ages ago – and my little jeweller looks like she’s in need of a chicken salad.

Who am I to deny her such a simple pleasure?

Of I trot!

Davey

Roll with it

I’ve never taken much notice of toilet roll other than to consider it’s strength or absorbency – but this week I’ve been considering it in terms of longevity.

I was amused (somewhat darkly I might add) by a news article about a Scottish pensioner who (when frustrated in his attempts to find any local stocks of his preferred wiping material) resorted to a more ‘make do and mend’ approach (link).

His innovative solution was to cut his old shirts up into strips that were (post ablution) dropped into bleach and water and left for a day or so before a rinse and repeat procedure the following day.

I guess he’s lucky that in pre-cataclysm years he’d chosen to spend a little more on a soft oxford weave when shopping in M&S – and (probably because of this) reported that the comfort levels associated with this DIY approach were unexpectedly high. 

Furthermore he vowed never to go back to being held hostage by Andrex or their competitors.

There’s an imbedded video on the page in the link above that I haven’t had the guts to click on – but if you’re feeling intrepid and not eating dinner then be my guest.

Mostly because this man reminded me of my own father (who has for many years ripped sheets of toilet paper into strips to make it last longer) I couldn’t help but laugh.

As I mentioned in a previous blog this appears to be something of a global preoccupation – and the current apocalypse seems to have uncovered a primal fear that people seem to have about being unable to wipe their bottoms.

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In my case I’m bemused.

If I got caught short I would frankly just moonwalk to the bathroom and resolve any pressing issues during a nice hot shower.

Despite this overall lack of concern I realised that I had no idea how long a roll would last in my house – just that since my partner moved in a packet that used to last quite a while now went down a bit quicker..

It made sense.

One roll – two bottoms.

#buttmaths

So – on Tuesday morning I ripped the inaugural sheet from a fresh roll and decided to see what happened.

I would at no point be trying to cut down – and if anything I’d flagrantly disregard any thoughts of sheet economics. My derriere would receive the same intimate attention that it always had – and all due diligence would be applied to the task at hand.

By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around (pun intended) there was still a teeny tiny bit left – meaning that in our house a toilet roll lasts almost a week.

One has to ask in this case why on Earth anyone would need 48 toilet rolls (I’ve seen trollies being pushed out of Aldi with four packs of 12 in them). This trolly would last almost a year in my house before I had to resort to ripping up my shirts and filling a bucket with bleach.

I have to admit that thinking about things like this (and the amusement it causes me) is one of the unexpected side effects that the current crisis has had. 

For all the horror and worry surrounding Covid-19 there are certainly things that are capable of making you smile – and I’m probably more likely to see the lighter side of things than I otherwise normally would have today because I’ve had lots of glorious sleep.

Last night I passed out at around 8.30pm and didn’t awake again until around 6am this morning – at which point my beloved and I elected to take our daily exercise in the park during the early morning instead of going out in the late in the evening.

After all – if you’re only allowed out once a day for exercise then it might as well be uplifting – and I’m sick of walking circles around the local area in the cold and dark.

It meant that I was rather sunny side up when I arrived at work today – and since I’m sitting in an empty office on my own for the majority of my day I embraced an approach that I’ve never used before during support calls.

Facetime support.

Although it’s not always appropriate there are times when being able to see what a user is doing when you’re trying to talk through a problem is absolute gold dust – so I unleashed the power of my iPad.

It also had another side effect. 

You can look people in the eye, smile, interact and gesture to them. It also makes all the difference when you’re talking to someone who’s been stuck at home with no-one but the dog to talk to for two weeks whilst they’re self isolating. 

It cheered up me and I think it cheered up the users I spoke to as well.

I was still smiling whilst walking home – and that smile was still there when I got back and plonked myself in front of the telly. Furthermore I actually found myself laughing out loud when I saw this.

The whole of Llandudno is in lockdown – and in the absence of human beings the local goats appear to be making hay whilst the sun shines.

Watching them on YouTube clamber over garden walls to eat the bushes of local residents really made me giggle, and reminded me that even in the darkest of moments there are shafts of light that peep through.

So I guess the message is ‘only buy what you need to wipe’.

(….)

Or it could be ‘there is more than one use for shirts’.

(…)

Or it could be that ‘goats shall inherit the earth’. 

(……….)

I’m not sure what I was trying to say except that goats don’t worry about wiping their asses – and maybe thats why they’re happy to stand on a garden wall, have a poo and just carry on munching the privet.

Maybe we should all just be more goat.

Davey

Not resting heart rate

I’m trying to focus on the positives – because although it’s been at times stressful – today has been very very worthwhile.

It didn’t start so great though – because I think I came about as close as I’ve ever been recently to a fight or flight state.

Those who’ve been reading for a while will know that one of the consequences of my push into fitness and health was that I ended up with an absurdly low heart rate that averaged around 40bpm.

I was really proud of this fact – and I knew that it was related to not only eating better – but moving more.

Over the last few months I’ve slipped (through stress and worry) into some old eating habits – but even though I can’t swim at the moment I’m still walking back and forth to work to get daily exercise.

This was all going very well – until the last few weeks – because lately whenever I look at my resting heart rate it’s been hovering in the high 50’s.

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It’s clearly not this way ALL the time – but the above graph shows quite clearly what’s happening this month to my (and probably many other people’s) state of mind.

This is the physiological impact that worrying about COVID-19 is having on me – and this morning – lying flat on my back in bed (worrying about being around people when I went shopping) my watch told me the grim truth of what this was doing to me.

 

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At the moment my partner is in an ‘underlying health condition lockdown’ so I’m the only one shopping.

To be clear I want it to be this way.

I want her to be as far out of harm’s way as humanly possible – so it has to be done – and I have to just be as careful as I can to make sure we’re both ok.

Shopping loses any joy however when you don’t worry about silly things like whether or not you’ve remembered all of your bags – but instead have to stress over whether or not you can get into the supermarket car park – and who you’ll have to interact with when you’re there.

Thankfully I found some decorating latex gloves this morning in a box under the sink and I couldn’t have been happier.

I grabbed our last bottle of sanitiser to take with me and took a deep breath.

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This was shopping – apocalypse style.

At 9am (on a Sunday) in contrast to last week when it was complete chaos Tesco’s car park was rather quiet (about 1/3 full) – and as I walked to the door I saw an unfamiliar sight standing in front of it.

Several security guards standing alongside a Police Community Support Officer.

‘Are you NHS?’ One of them asked.

“Yes.’ I replied.

‘Can I see your ID please?’ he said – looking at me sterny.

I showed them my (almost brand new) pass, they nodded and waived me in.

As a start to a shopping trip it’s not the best user experience – but it’s encouraging that compared to last week Tesco are now taking things very seriously. Once I’d gone past the guards things started to thankfully chill out a bit. The next hour (the length of time you have to gather items before the checkouts open) wasn’t too bad at all – and I was thankful that I was sharing the store with people involved in healthcare because everyone was keeping a respectful distance.

It did make for some comically polite moments though as we all offered to let each other past and got jammed in aisles where three people really didn’t want to pass too close to one another.

The only downside with this NHS hour is that the people shopping can’t go through the tills until 10am – which means that by the time you reach the tills everyone is already queueing – and that means (since you’re standing two metres apart on the hazard taped lines on the floor) you’re bizarrely about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way back into the store.

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Staff are continually checking these lines to make sure there’s no bad behaviour (which is very reassuring) but it isn’t without its problems

While queueing you are of course standing in front of items that people need to get at – so the whole time you’re waiting there are people (who by now are now now just normal customers filling the store because it’s past 10am) attempting to reach around or over you to get what they want.

It was probably the hardest thing to deal with about the whole experience – particularly because I had unexpectedly been asked to go into work today and on top of this I was clock watching.

Normally if someone suggested working a Sunday in previous jobs I’d have to think long and hard about it – but in this case when my colleague called me the night before I hadn’t hesitated to say yes when he’d told me why.

He needed some support deploying a technological solution that would enable users in palliative care to talk to loved ones at a distance.

Imagine that.

I got offered the chance to help make sure that someone in their final moments gets to speak to their loved ones – and all I had to do was give up my Sunday.

In truth when I went in it was a grind of a task (many technological jobs are simply endless repetition) and took a long time – but by the end of it we had a box full of kit ready to go on Monday morning.

It’s really rare that there’s a task in my IT roles over the years that’s been so satisfying.

It’s wasn’t a rush job because of a corporate complaint or escalation. It wasn’t something to enable more stocks to be sold or provide an office with a video conferencing facility so that their execs could speak face to face in HD.

It was for real people near their end – and I got to have a hand in (hopefully) making their final moments better. After six hours of boring configuration work I checked my resting heart rate.

It had dropped to an average of 48.

It’s not where it should be – but at that moment in time it was a welcome change.

Hopefully I’m going to get used to all of this locked-down-ness soon – and when I do I’m going to fall asleep like a baby and just take it all in my stride.

Until then I’ll just carry on doing my best to move through the world being respectful of other people’s health and space and providing help wherever I safely can.

Stay safe everyone.

Davey

Ballet

If there was ever a piece of plastic that held significance it was the one that I held in my hand yesterday.

It wasn’t a credit card, a games console, a blu ray, or even a laptop – it was my ID card for the NHS – which for obvious reasons I can’t show you but – but you can have a look at my fetching laniard.

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For one reason or another, since I started my job I’ve never had more than a basic door pass that said ‘contractor’ on it – and I’d never really questioned it or been overly concerned by that fact until recently.

I’d just assumed that if I ended up having a more permanent role one would materialise with a picture of my face on it.

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There’s a browsing hour for NHS staff at Tesco on a Sunday morning, where you get to choose your shopping before the tills open – and whilst chatting in the office on Thursday I’d jokingly asked my manager whether I’d ever get photo ID so that I could take advantage of this.

He seemed aghast that somehow I’d fallen between the cracks, and never been given one – and immediately went about sending off a form to the right people. ‘You’ll have it tomorrow.’ he told me and left me with instructions about how to collect it.

I was quite happy.

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After last week’s scenes at Tesco this would be a real help.

So – on Friday I walked through the (eerily quiet) hospital grounds to the support services so that I could have my photo taken and my pass issued.

As I walked back to my office with this I couldn’t help but think about the other words my manager had uttered after my comment about going shopping – because the reality of what this pass really meant had slowly begun to sink in.

You’ll need it if you get stopped by the police and they ask you why you’re out…‘ he said – before pressing ‘send’.

I’d laughed at this – but the truth is that we’re probably not that far away from this happening in the UK. Italy’s lockdown is becoming so tight that there are police checkpoints everywhere. You have to have a seriously good reason for being out and about (Link) and their coppers aren’t messing about.

The UK is almost certainly on the same trajectory – and here people are already being fined for breaking the rules (link). Since human beings will always be idiots – and there are invariably those in our society that really couldn’t give two figs about public safety (or anyone else’s health) I can only see the fines imposed on thoughtless behavious going higher.

When I got back to my desk I looked around the room.

Apart from one other person (who left shortly afterwards) I was alone with little more than a phone, a PC, and a queue of tickets – in which person after person needed some kind of urgent help.

Some it was really pressing – some of it seemingly irrelevant – but all of it in some way shape or form was stopping someone focusing on patient care.

It all needed to be looked at as quickly as possible.

There was little else to do but ignore the fact that I was in a strange building, out of my comfort zone, and just try to get on with my job – which (as regular followers will know) is still relatively new to me. Even without the stress of the world falling apart I still have an underlying worry that I will make mistakes or screw something up.

Despite how unsettled I felt though I just have to do my best and get on with it like everyone else. If I make boo-boo’s (I made a doozy on Wednesday) I just have to quickly learn from them, move on and do better next time.

Usually, in times of stress even a new job would be a comfort.

It can be a safe space where you can throw yourself into a task and avoid worries at home or with family – but in my case practically everyone I talk to, and every piece of work I undertake is for one purpose only – and that’s to support the fight against Covid-19.

Less than a mile away from where I sit people are fighting day and night to save patients who are affected.

As much as I love what I’m doing (I really do) and I know that it’s worthwhile and helpful I wish I could get away from Coronavirus chatter for just five minutes.

I thank heavens I’m not a front line nurse or doctor – because I don’t know how I’d cope.

They have my unending admiration and respect.

The uncertainty and the worries I have about just getting up, walking through the world and going to work with other people (all of whom have now become an abstract threat that needs to be navigated around) is more than enough to cope with.

When there have been people in the office there’s an almost comical dance being played out that I’m either watching from a distance or personally involved in.

In this carefully choreographed ballet unexpectedly nimble dancers are trying to maintain social distancing whilst walking through a narrow corridor, in and out of a little kitchenette, or avoiding holding door handles that others have just touched.

They take a squirt of hand sanitiser after almost every journey they make.

Attempting to go about normal life in spaces that aren’t designed with social distancing in mind causing us all to move and behave in ways that we normally wouldn’t. Suddenly everyone is taking odd routes from A-B that require conscious thought and effort.

You’re suddenly hyper aware that every surface has been touched, every tap has been held and every toilet flush previously pressed by someone else.

You can’t just zone out any more.

Every step has to be planned on the fly and every unconscious hand movement suppressed.

I’m sure that I’m not alone in realising that I’m finding the sting of alcohol based sanitiser comforting as it hits the cracked skin on my eczema ravaged hands.

Nothing is normal about any movement or choices that we’re all currently making.

I watched a woman walking along the pavement with her dog on Wednesday – and then unexpectedly a bus pulled up in front of her.

She froze as people got off and immediately turned to walk the other way, then stopped because she realised that she still needed to go the way she was originally heading.

She waited for a moment.

The passengers headed the same direction that she was originally walking on the narrow pavement, so (at a safe distance) she began to slowly follow them.

Until that is one of the disembarked people changed their mind, turned, and started walking toward her.

She panicked, turned again and walked faster in the opposite direction – pulling her (now rather confused) little dog with her out of the path of danger.

Then to her horror she spotted someone else coming along the pavement in the other direction. She was now hemmed in with someone bearing down upon her from the left and right.

She then stopped dead.

Unable to decide what to do (and surrounded by what she perceived as threats on all sides) she scooped up her little dog, stepped off the pavement, and walked around four metres firmly into the middle of someone’s lawn.

She didn’t look like the kind of lady who approved of standing on random lawns – but her need was great – and she stayed there motionless for a few moments, holding tightly onto her terrier and watching the passers by until the danger had passed.

When there was no-one in sight and she’d looked up and down the pavement a few times the lady placed the dog back on the ground and continued briskly on her way, all the while checking over her shoulders for threats.

I’m sure if it was videoed and set to music (Bolero?) that all of this would make an amusing YouTube video – but I for one don’t find it funny.

I felt sorry for her because (probably because of her age) she felt so vulnerable – and I understand her concerns completely.

I’m a people person that loves working in teams, is tactile and friendly – and all of a sudden I feel like I have an invisible exclusion zone all around me. If people get too close my tension ratchets up and I want to tell them to back away.

At the same time I’m meeting new colleagues and trying to form workplace bonds with people that I need to distance myself from.

It’s like one of those bizarre dreams where you find yourself without any trousers in public, or unable to find a toilet – yet it’s all real – and it doesn’t seem to have any end in sight.

If Italy (and Spain) are an indicator of how bad things are going to get then we’re in this for the long haul, and I just hope that this new normal is something that eventually I’ll settle in to.

I’ll probably get used to moving to people moving desk positions around me or upping sticks to new buildings and unfamiliar desks to ensure we have the appropriate segmentation of support functions and social distancing in place – but I doubt it.

Some time ago, before I was made redundant (from rather a large company who loved making you do largely pointless online training courses) I remember completing a learning objective about ‘stress budgets’.

It was a very ‘American’ way of looking at things – and suggested that we only have a certain number of things we can overload ourselves with. Some stress points in life have a higher cost than others and we only have 100% of our ‘budget’ to play with.

Bizarrely it had broken down the percentages so that you could work out your own personal ‘budget’ and see how comically how much over 100% you were. In the office we all laughed about it – comparing our totals by e-mail and seeing who had the highest one.

Although I don’t remember all of it I do remember that one of the top stress inducers in this (clearly written in the USA course) was ‘changing church’ – which completely bemused me because it had a whopping 30-40% tag associated with it.

Pffft.

Church?!

Illness, moving home, a death in the family or marriage came in pretty close behind  with percentages in the 30’s and 20’s – but further down the list was one that really made my brain itch.

Moving desk.

I laughed at the time because it was all absurd – but deep down I knew that this was actually something that most people (me included) hate with a passion. Ultimately we’re all creatures of habit who find comfort in some kind of pattern.

In the case of all the major stress factors above the one common element is uncertainty.

Even people who like a free life wandering over hills and mountains (before they were told to stay indoors and not go out) tend to get up and have the same breakfast or cup of coffee.

As much as we like to think we can go anywhere, do anything, and be free to make choices on a whim there are always certain things that people don’t like to let go of. Regularity gives us all some level of comfort – and provides (an illusion of) structure in an otherwise chaotic existence.

I like knowing where I’m sitting and having things arranged the way I want them.

In the last week I’ve moved around a lot – and yesterday (whilst trying to support a user who was coming for an appointment) I managed to lock myself out of the (unfamiliar) building that I had been temporarily placed in.

I’d left my phone with the code for the door lock in it on my desk and I had so much going through my head that I’d completely forgotten to put it in my pocket.

I therefore was stuck outside trying to find a way in for about 10-20 minutes – but it just highlighted that my mind was all over the place.

I was trying to remember where I’d put all the things in the huge moving box I’d hurriedly filled with items to do my job – and also complete all of the tasks that I had to finish before the day was done – as well as prioritising them on the fly their order of importance.

My mind being in a million different places at once has also meant that my sleep is still suffering – and you may notice that this post is hitting the press early. 

That’s because I’m wide awake – and have (since 3am) been trying really hard not to look on the internet at any kind of news relating to death tolls as the sun slowly comes up.

This weekend (thanks to the lockdown) I can’t do much but I think I’m going to try and make the environment in which I live a bit nicer.

The garden needs some work and there’s even some decorating that I can engage in. Although my mind can’t currently turn off I’m going to attempt to force a an unexpected exception shutdown (CTRL+ALT+DEL) by wearing my body out.

Hopefully turning myself off and on again will work.

If nothing else I can take time off the ballet for a couple of days before it all starts again next week.

Davey

 

 

 

 

Hemp hand cream – a love affair

I felt almost guilty for being on the street today as I walked to work – but as a ‘key worker’ (a phrase that still somehow doesn’t sound real) I am still walking back and forth to my place of employment with the government’s blessing. I’m keeping a distance of two metres from people on the way – and standing as far apart as I can in my office when I’m there.

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For the most part I felt like rather a lonely figure at 8.30 this morning. Although there were some cars about the roads that I walk down (which are normally filled with often stationary traffic) today they were largely empty.

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It’s amazing what a difference a day makes – because yesterday afternoon I was shaking my head in disbelief as I watched the great British public temporarily give up on hunting for toilet roll.

Other people don’t seem to view the term ‘essential travel only’ in quite the same way that I do – and whilst I walked home from the hospital yesterday I was staggered to see how the customers of McDonalds were handling the news that their favourite restaurant would be closing.

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It’s difficult to understand how people’s minds work at the moment – and whilst these people weren’t leaving their cars I couldn’t help but think that they are almost certainly the same people who packed out pubs and chip shops last Friday on the last night they were allowed to open.

As a friend said to me today – I wouldn’t be surprised if there there’s a huge spike in confirmed cases in two weeks. This newly infected group will almost certainly have another completely incurable condition in common that will probably mean they suffer complications for the rest of their lives.

After all there’s still no cure for being an idiot and I doubt one will ever be found in my lifetime. One can only hope the strain on the NHS they cause is worth the pints and burgers they consumed or the beaches they packed out at the weekend.

Personally I doubt it will be.

It’s really not worth the stupidity – because the strain and worry that’s being caused in those being called upon to look after us in our hours, days, weeks and months of need is all too evident.

They’re without a doubt some of the best people I’ve ever worked with in terms of how much they care for each other and the patients that they look after – but today (not for the first time) I faced first hand just how much pressure these very human people are under.

I spent much of the first half of my day on the phone dealing with staff struggling to get to grips with the IT burdens that ‘working from home’ presents.

They’re almost all a workforce that are used to being in front of patients and speaking face to face. They’re often based solely at an office, a GP surgery or a hospital and technology is something that is usually incidental to their work – or in the worst cases a hurdle to overcome.

Often they defer problems to ‘someone techie in the office’ – but all of a sudden that person is no longer around.

It’s not surprising to hear again and again that people didn’t move into looking after other people for a living because they loved using a laptop. All of a sudden without one (and other mobile devices) they can’t do their jobs – and on top of everything else they have to deal with there’s a sudden and steep learning curve.

To compound this – since some are in high risk groups themselves they’re dealing with these problems on top of the unsettling loneliness self isolation.

To me IT challenges are just logical or logistical problems that can be solved with patience and persistence – but to others (who don’t view these as the interesting puzzles that I do) it can easily be the last straw.

They are trying against all odds to direct all of their efforts toward patient care whilst simultaneously being uprooted from where they normally work or even what they normally do.

They’re trying to do their jobs from their kitchens or empty offices whilst surrounded by children or sitting without the comforting voices of friends and colleagues.

One user in particular was in tears with the frustrations of it all – and although together we resolved their issue (and ultimately shared some laughs) I wish I could have waved a magic wand and made all of their worries disappear.

I couldn’t though.

All I can do is help where I can – and I’m glad (after a lot of worry and moral soul searching in my last blog) that I decided to stay and help the people who really need it. What I’m doing isn’t a lot in the great scheme of things – but it helps and I’ve begun to think once again that things happen for a reason.

I love helping people and furthermore I take a pride in it.

Also my partner agrees that I’m right where I should be, despite how much worry have about how this choice might affect us both in the long term.

I’m doing my level best to stay safe though.

I’m washing my hands all the time, using tissues on all door handles, steering well clear of close proximity to people – and wearing gloves when needed as well as anti bacterial wipes.

For someone with eczema however all of this diligence isn’t easy. My skin doesn’t do well confronted with lots of detergent – and at the moment Body Shop Hemp hand cream is my bestest friend in the whole wide world…

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So – for the time being I’m walking through a largely deserted world, feeling more than a little itchy to do what little bit I can.

I’m still eating biscuits though. Stress is still there and coping with it is still hard – but I’m trying, and I guess thats all anyone can do.

Keep safe all.

Davey

P.S. I wish NOW TV would stop sending me suggestions for things to watch during these troubled times…

This I could do without….

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Keeping my distance

Shopping during the apocalypse has it’s comic side (if you think about the absurdity of toilet roll hoarding) but it also has a far more serious one – and that’s becoming ever more prescient as time goes on.

Social distancing is all well and good if you can engineer a life where you’re not in constant contact with other people – but at the moment it seems to be practically impossible to accomplish. Supermarkets are no longer capable of meeting their online delivery demands and this morning (try as I might) I couldn’t find a single one of them that was capable of delivering a weekly (or even small daily) shop.

Practically the only thing even Amazon has left is pet food.

Moving as far forward to mid April on Sainsburys’ website still yielded no available slots – and others (such as Ocado) had over an hour’s wait just to get onto their front page.

That’s without having ordered anything or even determined whether or not there’s an available delivery slot.

I haven’t shopped online for years – and I really resent having to – because it reminds me of the period when I was a shut in recluse that couldn’t go outside for a walk even if I wanted to.

There are many uncomfortable parallels to my past life at the moment – but for very different reasons.

After a lot of discussion with both myself and her family (causing no small amount of emotional turmoil for both of us) my partner has agreed that – as someone with what’s classified as a significant underlying health condition – she should be following government guidelines and working from home for 12 weeks.

This hasn’t been an easy decision to arrive at – because she’s got a strong sense of civic duty. She’s a committed professional who cares deeply about the children she teaches – and it means a lot to her to be there for the key worker families that will still be attending school from next week.

She absolutely hates the feeling that working from home shifts the burden of this responsibility to others.

For my part I’d already said I didn’t want her to go in. The demographic of her peers is predominantly a youthful one, and her school has many teachers without any ‘at risk’ factors.

To my mind when I said this they will almost certainly weather the storm better than either of us if they come down with Covid 19. There’s no hierarchy in our relationship though and I would never tell her what to do.

I’d voiced my opinion and told her that the decision ultimately rested with her then left the subject alone.

I didn’t walk away from it in my head though. I can’t sleep a wink for worrying about her. She’s so important to me and I’ve only just found her. I can’t do without her any more and the thought of her not being there to give me a hug fills me with paralysing fear.

She’s her own woman though – diabetic or not – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. From the moment I met her pounding her way up a hillside at Cheddar Gorge I was attracted to her individualism and independence.

That’s never changed.

Both of us are free to do what we want when we want – and it’s important to me that there’s no control or emotional blackmail about anything in our relationship.

Consequently until late last night (where there were more than a few tears for both of us – but ultimately no disagreement) she was still planning to go into work next week.

Things noticeably changed though when I showed her the videos coming out of Sky News about what’s happening in Italy’s hospitals.

The cases in this clip seem to be affecting the young far more than medical experts expected – and it’s clear that the death toll is streaking past what anyone (in their very advanced and modern health service) was prepared for.

Yesterday alone it went up by almost 800 people and the climbing mortality rate shows no sign of slowing down.

So – she’s agreed it’s best to be cautious – but for all the relief this gave me it simply opened up a whole new can of worms.

I’m just as capable of catching Covid 19 if I’m out and about in the world every day – and if I do then I pass it on to her.

My mind is practically imploding with worry.

There’s no hand sanitiser, thermometers, gloves or masks to be had anywhere online or in the supermarkets, and that means (even if I’m in a lower risk category) I’m suddenly a continual threat to her health every time I go out – and that’s totally ignoring the worries I have that I might catch this hellish virus too.

My hands are raw from washing and I can’t bring myself to stop unconsciously toughing my face.

I hate all of the unconscious movements my body makes to scratch and touch itself – and when I succumb to it’s decades old programming and habits all I can think about is my mother suffocating in a hospital bed.

I know what this kind of death looks like and our home will make it next to impossible to avoid eachother.

We have one bed, one bathroom, one office, one kitchen, one living room – and although we could start sleeping apart, not touching eachother and tape off rooms  – we live so close together that it’s naive to think this would be enough.

So how do we deal with the situation?

I know I need to think long and hard about what it all means – because I have finally found a job I love – and I don’t know whether the decision she’s made qualifies me to be allowed to work from home by my employer.

I don’t want to lose my job – but not only because it means a lot to me.

I’m making a difference and it feels good (especially at the moment) so I don’t want to put it aside.

On a purely logical level just waving goodbye and leaving it isn’t a good idea either. It was hard enough to find something I felt happy with in the first place and there’s absolutely nothing in the current landscape (or near future) that makes me feel that finding another one like it (or unlike it) will be easy.

It’s no longer a question of finding a job that I enjoy.

The economy is already on its knees – and I think that the 2008 global financial crisis will look ridiculously insignificant in comparison to the final picture when we finally add up the human and financial cost of what’s happening around the world currently.

Finding any kind of job for the foreseeable future will be akin to getting hold of toilet roll or packets of pasta in a supermarket.

You might get something – but it probably won’t be what you were looking for….

(…..)

(…….)

What do I do if I’m not allowed working from home flexibility though?

How much are our lives worth?

(……)

(………)

I can’t believe that it’s all come to this.

I’m a tactile people person who all of a sudden doesn’t want to be within 10ft of anyone.

All this was on my mind when my partner stayed at home this morning whilst I headed off on my own to get our weekly shopping.

I’d decided against Aldi – since my last experience of this had proven to be pretty close quarters. No-one there was attempting to keep their distance – although to be fair in the confines of a relatively small store there aren’t many options open to the shoppers I ended up standing shoulder to shoulder with.

Today therefore I decided on a bigger, more spacious supermarket that was broadly comparable cost wise.

Tesco.

However – there wasn’t a single parking space left in the car park when I arrived at 9.50am.

People had even double parked on the petrol station forecourt over the road and the queue for the front door stretched around the building. There was simply nowhere to leave my car and even if there had been people still seemed uncomfortably close to one another.

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I don’t think I’m alone in suddenly feeling simultaneously exposed and vulnerable.

I don’t want to place my hands on a trolly, pick up a basket, or handle goods that other people have touched – let alone get anywhere near anyone that is likely to breathe on me.

Anything I might catch would travel straight back home with me to the woman I love and that twists my mind inside out.

Instead I turned straight around and went right back home until later in the day when things had quietened down. When I returned after midday most of the food was gone.

Even if you wanted nothing more a cup of tea there weren’t many options.

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I took the last packet of ‘biscuit tea’ (this always cheers my other half up) and tried to find other essentials – managing to get some rice, fresh fruit & vegetables (oddly there was a lot of this) a few cans of tomatoes, a loaf and a couple of boxes of oats for breakfast – but that was about it.

How on earth did shopping become so stressful?

Even though there were notes on the checkout asking customers to stand a couple of metres apart I don’t want to be anywhere near Tesco – or for that matter any other supermarket or public place.

If I’m honest at the moment I never want to see another gathering of people as long as I live.

I want to shut the door, throw my arms around the person I care the most about in the entire world and keep us both as safe as humanly possible.

Davey

 

 

Use the puppy

It’s 2am and my mind is racing.

I can’t sleep – and in any normal blog this would be the point where people would probably roll their eyes and say ‘he’s overthinking everything because it’s Friday and he has to weigh in tomorrow.’

However it’s not a normal blog. Nothing about anything is normal any more and I find that my mind has begun quietly screaming in silence as I’ve slowly watched things begin to turn both inside out and upside down around me.

I’ve internalised my feelings so much more than I have for many years lately because it’s been necessary. I can’t write with honesty and expose the lives and personal problems of others – and for the last two months this has largely been my issue.

Around the time I stopped writing (an unfathomable month and a half ago) a person close to me (not my partner) suffered a serious medical event that has had far reaching and long term consequences for their life.

They’ve moved from being independent to dependant practically overnight – and to see the deterioration whilst they fought to survive in hospital for two weeks was heartbreaking.

This was not just because of the pain and discomfort that they were experiencing at the time, but the emotional torment that it caused, both to them and those that care about them.

I started losing sleep almost immediately – and I’m not sure I’ve managed to sleep properly since.

Now in any normal blog this would be the root of my trauma, I’d talk through my feelings around how worried I am about them, why it’s meant I can’t talk, and why it’s de-railed my eating (which it has).

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Biscuits have been a thing. I’m not going to lie.

Like I said though – these aren’t normal times in which we live and a sudden impulse to indulge in snacks seems to be relatively insignificant – because this person is not just gravely ill now – they’re classified as someone with a ‘significant underlying health condition‘.

With the last two months heralding the arrival of Covid 19 and the world turning upside down this person is also no longer the only and most significant thing I have to worry about.

Since I last wrote, pubs, clubs, restaurants, bars, cinemas, and leisure centres have all been told to close down.

All of a sudden there are people I love with ‘significant underlying health conditions’ all around me – and they all have to self isolate for 12 weeks.

Furthermore in our suddenly virus obsessed world people with a persistent dry cough and a fever have to self isolate for seven days – and anyone in their immediate household for  must do so for 14 so they they don’t pass on the infection on to others.

I’m in a bizarre reality now where it’s a worry to myself and my brother that my 80 year old father is taking public transport to a launderette to do his washing.

The television and radio are drip feeds of fear and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m terrified for what this could mean for myself and those I love.

Day to day I manage to hold it together and I do my job – but when I get home things are different. My partner can see it in my eyes just as I can see the weight of it all in hers. We’ve been sinking into each others arms for increasingly long hugs filled with sighs and occasionally tears too.

I’ve moved from what seemed like relatively minor worries about not having a career or working direction in life to getting a temp job in early January which now (in mid March) places me on the government’s ‘key worker’ list.

This is because my new job (although I never said at the time) happened to be a supporting role for the NHS.

I’m far away from front line that all of the doctors and nurses are on – but I’m close enough to them to get a sense of the scale of what is unfolding in the UK. Like me they’re nervous about what it means for the coming weeks and months as well as what the cost will be for their families, loved ones and personally.

There’s no hand sanitiser left in the world – and even if there was it probably wouldn’t matter.

On top of this the (surprisingly large number of people) I know who are suffering from ‘underlying health issues’ have almost overnight become ghosts and now I have an insight into what’s developing I fear for their wellbeing like I never have in the past.

In our developed and modern world we’ve been in control for so long – and now it seems like that (illusion?) is slipping.

All of a sudden (if like me you try to shop after work) every shelf in every supermarket is empty – and even the most basic items are now seemingly out of reach to normal working people.

Furthermore they are fighting over toilet roll – and it makes my blood boil when every day when I walk past Aldi on the way to work at 8.30am I see people pushing trollies containing nothing but four packs of 12 roll toilet paper.

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Who seriously needs 48 toilet rolls?!!!

It’s darkly comical that in a world where every breath we take contains the possibility of ingesting a potentially lethal virus we seem to be far more concerned about being unable to wipe our asses.

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The memes are everywhere – and yet I’ve found it hard to laugh at the humour of it all.

Almost overnight (relatively speaking) I’ve moved from someone who usually wears his heart on his sleeve to being someone increasingly quiet and with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

I know I’m not alone in this.

As social media organises itself around the problem of sudden and enforced isolation for the majority of the population I’ve seen the words ‘looking after your mental health’ again and again wherever I look online.

There are tips for staying fit and healthy, ideas about how to cope if you’re struggling with the enormity of Covid 19 and online sessions where people are forming choirs, orchestras, self help groups.

There are now and even online weigh ins.

You know it’s serious when Slimming World cancels all groups.

I’ve been off plan for two months now and in this respect things have not gone well diet wise. Loads of bad habits that I thought were gone forever have crept back in and I’m struggling to eat properly.

It doesn’t help when there’s absolutely no fresh food in the shops – but I’d be lying if I said that’s the sole reason I’m not coping with my food demons.

It’s comfort eating, plain and simple.

The mad thing is that this (a situation that would have filled me with a sense of personal failure in the past) is so far down the list of identifiable concerns in my life that it practically doesn’t even register.

I’m walking to work (I still need to go in to the office) along increasingly empty roads, on ever more silent pavements and the people I’d slowly begun to recognise every morning have withdrawn from sight.

The elderly Sikh lady I with oddly bright and clean trainers I passed daily down the road from her temple (presumably on the way to help or pray) is now gone.

The man in a high visibility jacket who rolled past me on his mountain bike always looking hung over near Sainsburys every morning is no longer there.

The student who was always smiling to herself whilst listening to her tunes that I passed by the recycling centre is now no longer walking to college with her brightly coloured blue laniard and badge.

The father and his son who every day sported a cheerful orange anorak (and is always in deep conversation with his dad) no longer walk hand in hand together along the road by the guide dogs for the blind.

The lady by the pub who always seems late and rushes past me to open her garage to get her little red car out is no longer turning the key in her lock.

The girl who stands by her garden wall near my house in a school uniform texting her friends as she waits for them is absent.

There are some people – but the faces I know are gone.

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When I get to work there’s often barely anyone around – and I’m now sitting in a small room largely on my own (with occasional visitors) and working on the phone to try and help people who are just as worried and preoccupied as I am.

One area that I’m sure I’m not alone in though saying that I don’t know how to process what’s happening.

My partner is a teacher – and every single day that I’ve watched her leave for work recently (until yesterday when all the schools were closed to everyone but children of key workers) I’ve done so with a sense of dread and worry.

Five years ago I was alone, drunk, morbidly obese and flushing my life down the toilet. I didn’t have any fear of loss because I was certain I’d die through my own selfish and self destructive hand before anyone I loved.

Now that’s almost certainly not going to be true – and in the coming weeks things may well happen to reverse that stupid assumption in ways I could never have imagined back then.

Furthermore the spectre of my mother’s death suddenly looms large.

She passed away fighting for breath as her lungs filled with fluid – suffering from the side effects of chronic smoking.

Her hospital was calm, organised, well equipped and (despite what we may expect given political rhetoric about pressures on the NHS) well staffed and resourced.

She had a room to herself and the nurses caring for her appeared to be busy – but used to and capable of managing their workloads. They were able to respond to changes in her condition, and (somewhat amazingly) kept her alive much longer than I expected them to.

If what’s happening in Italy is going to happen here then we can expect a lot of very different outcomes and radically different care situations not just for people like her but everyone that needs support.

My primal fear of suffocation is (and has been for a few years) now inextricably linked to how she passed away – and the distress that I witnessed in her as she fought to breathe with her oxygen cylinders has never really left me.

Now it’s all back in my mind – because it’s on the horizon once more.

It’s real – and whilst I want to sit down and blog about positive things at the moment I just can’t.

I’m sorry.

I just need to start writing again, now more than ever – and share that I am struggling just like everyone else, but trying to find a way to cope. I want to reach out to the world once again and begin to talk openly about what’s going on inside my head, because it might help someone else as much as it helps me.

As we become more and more physically distant whilst we lock our doors and move into quarantine we must (as much as humanly possible) remain close and look after one another.

Plus – I’d like to finally blog at some point in the increasingly near future about the reality of what happens when the apocalypse arrives and there’s only one sheet of Andrex left.

Andrex Puppy

Let’s face it – the puppy is soft, absorbent, loves to play in the shower and is infinitely re-usable. Furthermore if you have one with a darker coat (especially a puppy that doesn’t moult) then it’s practically the perfect crime.

So I guess I’ll leave you all (with a no doubt delightful) mental image there. It’s now 5 am and I’m no closer to being able to sleep – so I’m going to play a video game.

Part of me feels better for writing all of this down but I know there’s a lot more to come in the days, weeks and months ahead and I’m probably going to get deeper as time goes on.

I want you all to stay safe, stay healthy, and keep going – if only for the purely selfish reason that it would be nice to have someone left to read what I write when the dust settles and life eventually begins to return to normal.

Keep yourselves safe.

Davey