No Sweet Home

On BBC Radio at the weekend they talked on the phone to a family who have taken in a young Ukrainian man. They sounded like one of those larger than life families who are so fascinating to we lesser mortals. The parents are both vicars ( one was in training ) and have five children and numerous pets. As Christians they have always used their spare room for whatever needy person has come into their lives, not for them the valid excuses of not enough room or too busy. The children love meeting new people and their new Ukrainian is having lots of fun and improving his English.

Meanwhile on the home front my younger son and daughter-in-law have just bought their own place and I am on my own again. Lots of their stuff is still here so I might not have room for any refugees just yet, especially as the rest of the family want to come and see the many improvements they have done – that’s for another blog.

But far from the terrible war in Ukraine and Chez Tidalscribe, two stories in the news caught my imagination, one local tiny tale and one big story on the other side of the world.

Before Christmas there was a fire in a block of flats in Bournemouth, luckily the elderly residents were safely evacuated and quickly transferred to the Premiere Inn next door. But a News South story the other day revealed they were still there; so close to home and yet so far. They are being well looked after, have their friends and neighbours close and don’t have to bother with cooking. But it’s not HOME. Premiere Inns are usually reliable ( all look exactly the same ) and comfortable as long as you like the colour purple. Very handy as stopovers on long journeys or to stay near relatives who have a full house, but you would not want to live there for months on end. Ensuite bathroom yes, but the furnishings are basically a few shelves, some coat hangers and a hard chair. A lady of 93 was shown sitting on the big bed knitting, much the same position you would find me on a short Premiere break. I prefer to avoid the hard chair, gathering all the pillows and lounging with my knitting, book or iPhone. With all that’s happened, the last place I actually stayed away from home was Margate Premiere Inn Christmas 2019, a handy location twixt railway station and beach, overlooking the shelter where TS Eliot wrote The Wasteland, which still lies languishing on my Kindle… you can read more about the delights of Margate in this blog…

The Wonder of Wetherspoons | Times and Tides of a Beachwriter (tidalscribe.com)

A more chilling story came from China in the news one evening. Anyone testing positive for Covid was being forced into quarantine in the most basic facilities ( or lack of facilities ) but the people screaming and fighting ‘security forces’ were not being taken away for quarantine. They were being evicted from their flats, their homes, so the whole block could be taken over as a quarantine centre; perhaps an effort to improve accommodation for the quarantees! Where the residents were going to live was not clear, but there are so many ways to lose one’s home. Never take your home for granted, one day you may have No Sweet Home.

New Friends and Old

Covid has not gone away by any means, but officially in England we are back to normal; yesterday was the second anniversary of the day we went into the first lockdown.  I have had my end of treatment visit to the oncologist so officially I am back to normal. For all of us the past two years have been strange. Perhaps because it is spring, or because Ukraine makes us appreciate our mundane lives, but everything seems more vivid, interesting, exciting even. I haven’t been further than a walk round Poole after my hospital visit but every walk, every coffee stop is ‘an experience.’

Poole Twin Sails Bridge

But we do have to face the fact that our town centre shops were already in decline and life is going to be hard and drab for many people with the economic disaster of Covid and Ukraine. Shopping therapy is going to be a thing of the past, though there is still coffee…

Looking on the positive side people have made new on line friends, got to know their neighbours better and become more empathic, helping those who have been isolated and those whose financial struggles were made worse by Covid.

For those of us who have lost partners and loved ones we see the proof that life always does go on, returning more and more to our previous lives doesn’t seem right, but unless we move to a different place or go sailing round the world, it is almost inevitable and a comfort.  Some parts of my life have been rejigged while others miraculously slot back into place. Our writing group has resumed in the library; our tutor and founder is now ninety, recovered from a broken hip and more on the ball than the rest of us!

Tea at Poole Museum.

A few weeks ago my friend was making coffee for the new monthly coffee morning at my local library – one of their activities to welcome real human beings back into the library. I went along for moral support, just as well as only two others turned up, both mature chaps who have just returned to England. We had a really interesting hour and it turned out one of the men, Mike, went to a writers’ group back in the USA.  I told him about our weekly group and he turned up the next week and has really enjoyed his two sessions. Our tutor was glad to have someone else who also remembered the war ( WW2 ) for our new chap was born in 1935 and spent fifty years in the USA after he and his wife emigrated. He is adamant that he is back in England for his ‘last years’ ( he is very spritely so there could be a good few last years), despite leaving all his family behind; a story that is his to tell not mine, but he is obviously making new friends as well, with the philosophy that every day he is going to engage in conversation with a stranger. This week another new bloke turned up at writers’ group, invited along by Mike.

It has been a strange few weeks. I received an email from my old high school friend in Australia who I have not seen or heard from since we were teenagers at college; fifty years of having no idea how both our lives panned out. She is helping with a research project on founder members of the college and with some difficulty ( as with all the girls who had married and changed their names ) managed to track down this website and found my email address on the contact page; I think that is the first time someone has used the contact page! It was really interesting catching up, though I have no idea what she looks like now!

If you walk dogs, walk or cycle everywhere and work in your front garden, you see familiar faces and smile or chat. Since Covid people seem even more likely to engage, with the silent sub text ‘Isn’t it nice not to be wearing masks and be out and about?’

A lady often passes by on her bicycle with a sweet poodly dog attached alongside, ears flying in the wind. I can’t help but smile and she gives a cheery nod. The other day she was on foot as I arrived back at my front gate and stopped to admire my front garden. It is hardly worthy of Gardeners’ World, but has burst into colour with bulbs out and the addition of the ubiquitous primula to fill in gaps in my tubs.

‘Are you a friend of Carolyn?’

I was pretty sure I didn’t know a Carolyn.

‘Carolyn and Amos round the corner?’

‘No, I definitely don’t know a Carolyn and Amos.’

‘Oh, you would certainly remember if you did know them. You look like one of Carolyn’s friends.’

I am still pondering if I have met Carolyn and Amos, perhaps anonymous faces I pass by often. And did she mean I am a twin of a particular friend or just look like the sort of person who would be a friend of Carolyn’s? Has the lady with the bouncy auburn curly coated dog only been greeting me for several years because she thought I was a friend of Carolyn’s?

Do you feel your life is back to normal, have you made new friends or found old ones during Covid?

February Flash Fiction – Lens Lovers

‘…so next week it’s back in the hall; of course you can wear masks if you feel more comfortable doing so and the chairs will be spaced out.’

The chairman’s announcement was greeted positively by most members at the zoom meeting of the Lens Lovers camera club. Down in deepest Devon the local village hall was slowly coming back to life with activities, from Beavers to barobics, that had last been enjoyed early in 2020.

Paul Gibbons, New Member of the Year 2021, was horrified by the news, how was he going to get out of this? That he was a brilliant photographer was never in any doubt, all the images he shared on screen were his. The travels financed by his ill gotten gains had provided the opportunity to snap polar bears before they snapped him as he liked to joke. He did not mention that he was in a helicopter at the time. From the sands of Namibia to the trains of Siberia, from the Antarctic research station to local Devon scenes, he had tantalising tales for show and tell and had given regular talks far more interesting than their guest speakers.

It was Paul’s mother who had passed on the link to Lens Lovers’ zoom meetings; a friend from the old holiday home days had thought she might be interested. She wasn’t, she never wanted to see a camera again after her husband’s photography fatality, but she thought it would be an excellent diversion for her son during his lockdown. She had assumed he would tell the members he didn’t actually live in Devon.

Paul had not intended to deceive the club, but he had looked up their website and saw members had to live within a fifteen mile radius of the village hall to join, even for zoom meetings. At the time it had been a bit of a laugh, but he had become pathetically addicted to the fortnightly meetings. The many photos of socially safe lockdown rugged walks brought back childhood memories of more innocent times and then later the happy family holidays with his now ex wife and estranged children.

Zoom camera club hardly compared with his world wide adventures, but it was more exciting than Facetime with his mother and the weekly ‘Moving Forward’ sessions with the group. With digitally produced scenic backgrounds anyone on Zoom could be anywhere and his tropical island setting gave no clue to the cramped misery of his bleak bedsit.

Paul put on a smile for the squares of friendly faces as he rubbed his chafed ankle.

‘Yes, great news, though I might not be at every meeting, I think it’s time I booked a holiday.’

‘Oh well done Paul, does that mean you’re in remission?’

For a moment he wondered what Barbara was talking about, then remembered he had implied he had Multiple Sclerosis to explain why he had not been on the local outdoor shoots for fit, covid free members. Why had he mentioned holidays, he could have got away with implying he was still CEV, clinically extremely vulnerable. Though last week he had lied that he had just had his fourth vaccination.

‘Lucky you’, said Eddy, the oldest member ‘the only place I’m going is down Memory Lane.’

Well we are looking forward to meeting you in person Paul’ urged the chairman ‘and the hall is very disabled friendly, no trouble with your wheelchair and you can bring a carer, even if they are not a member.’

‘Oh thanks, all being well then…’

The only place Paul would be going on holiday was Memory Lane.

He glanced down at his electronic ankle tag, as if it might have miraculously disappeared. Even if he was living in Devon and not hundreds of miles away in a dreary city suburb, his curfew did not allow him out in the evenings.

Normal Reality and Real Normality

Is getting back to normal life post Covid realistic? Are we Post, what is reality and what is normal life? No, don’t know and goodness knows…

Pandemics, epidemics and natural disasters have been normal for humans since we started wandering around, or at least wandering around in large numbers. Natural disasters were not disastrous before there were human settlements to destroy. Unless you were a dinosaur; even for them, getting back to normal life after a meteorite collision was never going to happen. Even Gaia was probably upset with giant meteors, just when she thought she controlled everything.

But for those of us who thought we were leading a privileged, or at least comfortable safe life before Covid, getting back to normal is what we both crave and fear. Some of us cannot have our old life back, while others are glad of the opportunity to start a new normal. Few of us believe our leaders have handled the crisis well all the way along. Every nation and state seems to have had different rules and while England is rapidly dispensing with restrictions ( I think, unless it’s all changed again ), on the other side of the world ‘Saint Mark’, Premier of Western Australia Mark McGowan, continues to try to protect the citizens of the Hermit Kingdom from Covid and the outside world.

‘In Western Australia, where there has never been a major Covid outbreak, Mr McGowan warned WA residents more restrictions could be implemented as new infections rise. With the state’s grand February 5 reopening now shelved indefinitely, tourism companies on the west coast will be unable to benefit when the rest of Australia flings open their doors to foreign tourists on February 21.’

https://www.wa.gov.au/government/covid-19-coronavirus

Of course it helps when your state is bordered by ocean and desert with only two roads in. Life has carried on more or less as normal. I don’t think people have been prevented from leaving, but they might not be able to get back in.

So where is normal life happening? The fewer restrictions the more worried are the hierarchy of the vulnerable. Clinically Extremely Vulnerable at the top perhaps, CEV a term to distinguish from those merely immunocompromised? However people are classified and however many jabs they have had – we’re up to four now – those worried about their health or their loved one’s health are still sticking to Zoom meetings, shopping on line and isolating.

But going back to normal is not good for the planet. However heart breaking this pandemic has been, Covid will not reduce the population enough to save Gaia, or rather keep her safe for us to live on. Have most of us forgotten we are meant to be saving the planet, have we forgotten how sweet the air was during that first world lock down, when streets were empty of polluting vehicles and people saw mountains from their city windows for the first time?

The new normal is unlikely to be a return to the simple life, or a rapid scientific breakthrough to heal Gaia while keeping our lifestyles. So it’s back to reality, unless you want to hide from reality with all the new skills you learnt during lockdowns. Have a pyjama day and hide under your duvet watching Netflix and ordering delicious meals from Deliveroo.

Naturally Laterally

I had a hospital appointment the day after our delayed Christmas, for planning, which sounds more like a council department, but is to measure up for radiotherapy. Handy hint – always re-read your hospital letter the night before. I was supposed to do a lateral flow test. I had never done one as I have had regular PCR tests at oncology outpatients during chemotherapy. Luckily Team AK had half a dozen boxes someone had given them as the tests were hard to acquire over the Christmas season; the whole country had been told to do them frequently before visiting. Luckily Team H were still with us, with school and work they do them all the time. Fortunately I wasn’t on my own as chemotherapy has left me with peeling finger nails and peripheral neuropathy, making undoing or peeling open anything difficult. I read the instruction booklet carefully, set the kitchen timer and announced I must not look at the test result for thirty minutes. ‘No, twenty minutes’ said someone. ‘You have to check for the pink line after five minutes’ said another.

‘What pink line?’

There was no pink line, the test was null and void. It was suggested there was not enough magic fluid in the squeezy phial. Two more test kits were opened so we could use two phials. The pink line appeared and in half an hour I had a result. My son-in-law said I had better photograph the result in case I needed proof. It had taken a team of five, three tests and two self assaults on my throat and nose to get a negative result. Thank goodness I had not left the procedure till the morning.

Not all tests are exactly the same I gather and they probably have different names according to where you live. I wonder how anyone living alone with bad eyesight or hands that don’t work one hundred per cent manages to do these tests, let alone busy parents who are expected to test their children every time symptoms or contacts occur. I have also concluded from my limited circle of family and friends that we are divided over testing, the same as we are divided over mask wearing. Some families test continually and demand the same of visitors while others have never taken a test.

Parents with school children are testing frequently. Fortunately a positive result in children usually means mild symptoms and time off school, yet again…  A recent survey reveals that since the school term started three out of four grandchildren now have Covid…

Christmas Cancelled – NOT

We had our second, proper Christmas on Tuesday 28th as Team H felt well enough to drive 180 miles on Monday and had negative results. People still get coughs, colds and winter lurgies nothing to do with Covid. It would have been a waste of totally rearranging and child proofing the house if they couldn’t have come at all! With my son and daughter-in-law living with me it has tripled ( octupled? )  the amount of equipment needing protection from three and six year old boys, not to mention the mountain of Christmas presents they had given each other.

Traditional chocolate Christmas cake.

A favourite children’s present, sent by Nanna in Spain via Amazon, turned out to be very popular. Seasick Sam is a game, along the same idea as Buckaroo, but they just liked playing with Sam. You see how much food you can stuff in his mouth before he is sick. We five adults had Secret Santa with all presents to be bought locally or in charity shops and we all came up with a great selection.

Writing did not take a back seat as six year old wanted to write his own Frightened Freddy Lego story and being six it revolved around vomiting, with Seaside Sam having a starring role and toilets. We took lots of screen shots and edited the pictures on the computer. When I suggested we start writing the story he said ‘I think I’ll make the story longer…’ who would be an editor!

The next day we edited more photos and whittled them down to 33. Then he narrated and I typed, no easy task with someone who bounces around like Tigger the whole time, whilst leaning on my desk… We printed it out and sent the photos to his mother’s ipad in time for the deadline of going home .

Reviews and Resolutions – NOT

I can’t abide reviews of the year, any year and especially not the Terrible Twenties! Sport, politics, war, disaster or disease, I don’t want to see or hear reviews; it started days before the chimes and fireworks …

Revitalizing, reviving and rambling is what we need. You can ramble around having exercise or you can ramble on when you are blogging…

A BOXING DAY RAMBLE – FOR ONE DAY THE WEATHER WAS PERFECT and I was going to write a blog about it... but

I haven’t completely left 2021 behind; Christmas was delayed for three days Chez Tidalscribe, so I am a bit late arriving in 2022 and I have only just started reading the book for tomorrow’s Zoom book club.

Two days later… well it turned out only one person in the group had read the book and the lady who runs the group had not even opened it. Everyone cited Christmas as the reason.

Four more Christmas cards just arrived, one of which I will definitely have to answer with a review resume an update on 2021. Just when you think the Christmas card nightmare is over… remember those days in the December twenties when you realise you have not sent out cards early to tell old friends and relatives you have moved, got cancer, been widowed, made redundant… or you realise you did not reply to those old friends and relatives who wrote last January to apologise for not sending a Christmas card because they had been widowed, busy moving house, got a cancer diagnosis, lost their dog …

Covid has given us a whole new string of excuses for not sending cards, or more importantly getting out of actually seeing anybody next year…

We must get together when things settle down.

Would love to take you up on your invitation to come up and stay, but I’m working 24/7 at the hospital.

Just tested positive so New Year’s party is cancelled.

I’ll send you the link for the Zoom funeral, such a shame you can’t come, Dad would have loved a good turn out…

Christmas Crackers

CRACKER LIFTING

CHRISTMAS EVE – THAT GREAT BRITISH TRADITION; A CLIFF TOP WALK IN THE RAIN FOLLOWED BY MULLED WINE AND LUNCH AT THE BEACH HUT.

THE OTHER GREAT CHRISTMAS EVE TRADITION IS THE MORNING PHONE CALL… WHICH STARTS WITH ‘BAD NEWS..’ AMIDST ALL THE COVID TESTING, BOOSTING AND WAITING TO BE TRICKED BY THE PM INTO A LAST MINUTE LOCKDOWN, THERE ARE OTHER WINTER LURGIES LURKING. NOW WE ARE DEFERRING CHRISTMAS FOR A FEW DAYS UNTIL TEAM H HAVE NEGATIVE PCR RESULTS AND FEEL BETTER.

ELVES ALWAYS ENJOY CHRISTMAS
BUT SOME GET A BIT TIRED OF THEIR COMPANY…

IT’S STILL RAINING BUT WE’VE HAD A GOOD DAY, GOOD LUNCH, FACETIMED, WATCHED ‘ARTHUR CHRISTMAS’ AND EVERYBODY GOT MORE LEGO…

I HOPE YOU ALL HAD A PLEASANT DAY WHATEVER YOU PLANNED OR HAD TO REARRANGE…

Friday Flash Fiction – 550 – Through a Glass Darkly

Geoff opened his eyes, what just happened… a funny turn and where was Jill? The living room looked strange, not straight, his eyes, should have made an appointment about that headache, but surgery busy doing Covid boosters… opticians, ring tomorrow.

The rest of him felt odd, don’t say he had Covid, Jill would kill him just before Christmas, only a week since he had the booster, not kicked in yet? He wished now he had bothered to get some of those lateral flow tests, could check, eliminate that before panicking. Right, let’s see where Jill’s got to. Ow. Geoff bumped his nose on something. He tried to put his hands up, but couldn’t feel his arms, or his legs. A stroke, God no, not a stroke, vegetative state and all that. Surely Jill would come and call him for dinner, call an ambulance, speed was of the essence, but all the ambulances were queued up at the bloody hospital, full of patients waiting to get admitted. Jill – illll – no use, he couldn’t talk.

It wasn’t painful, the opposite, he felt as if he was floating. But why couldn’t he hear the television, the news was on when he got up to check the pump in his tropical aquarium. There was Jill, sitting on the sofa doing the crossword! Bloody hell hadn’t she noticed what happened to him? She did look strange. If he took a deep breath perhaps he could summon the strength to yell. His breathing felt odd, he was feeling warm and sleepy…

Something nudged Geoff’s shoulder, paramedic at last? He half turned and let out a silent scream. This wasn’t Jill towering over him, or a paramedic; it was a mermaid. Staring, unmoving, he recognised her, that red hair. Huge plants waving round her shoulders and behind her a gaping mouth, an ugly creature that could only have come from the depths of the ocean.

Hallucinating, that’s what was happening. Intensive Care, Stroke or Covid, didn’t make much difference, still helpless, but if his mind recognised what was happening he could fight for survival. Jill sitting nearby, nurse looks like just like that ghastly mermaid ornament the grandchildren gave him for the aquarium, had to put it in to please them, no wonder it was giving him nightmares.

Noo… keep away, yellow and black stripes, those bulging eyes…  sharks as well… I know you’re not real…

Oh hello Marica, no I’m not busy, glad you called. I’m just relaxing doing the crossword, watching the fish. I never took much notice of them before, but they are very soothing, except for that new one the grandchildren bought me after Geoff died; it keeps staring at me. No I am feeling okay, I’m just worried the poor fish isn’t settling in. I know it’s only a fish, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have feelings. It circles that ghastly mermaid ornament then comes back to stare at me. No of course I don’t believe in reincarnation and nor did Geoff. At least you had time to talk about the meaning of life with poor Mick. Geoff didn’t have a chance to talk about what he thought, gone just like that. I went to tell him dinner was ready and there he was lying on the floor by the fish tank.

FOR MORE TALES WHERE ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, CHECK OUT MY SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS.

Idle Thoughts of a Tidalscribe

Why Omicron, what happened to the other letters before that. I keep forgetting what it’s called… Omicrom, onicrom, Covicrom… What is your favourite Greek letter? I rather like Epsilon.

For ordinary folk everyday chit chat is banal, but the life blood of family, friends and hum drum jobs; the antidote to World Crisis, disasters and politics. It means nothing to outsiders and sounds very dreary.

Six boxes short on the crisps and they haven’t delivered the sandwiches!

Hardly a Global Crisis, but to the three workers on the team it is a big drama.

I saw Phil when I was in Aldis!

A remark full of significance when you relate your shopping trip to your friend, in fact you messaged her before you even left the store.

Our regular banal conversations are now littered with remarks that meant nothing two years ago, testing positive would probably have referred to pregnancy.

Sharon’s tested positive. Have you had your results yet? Evie’s going back to school on Friday. No she can’t think where she got it from and her friend had to come and collect the dog.

Covid, Christmas, Chemotherapy and restricted lives bring vivid dreams as our brains take themselves on holiday. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley camera club in the church hall – in my dressing gown and pyjamas. Next minute a fellow blogger ( who doesn’t even blog about cooking ) was concocting the most delicious recipe, deep frying rich wraps of hidden delights. The food fantasy is understandable when chemo and sore tongue make food tasteless or vile. I am obviously missing an ideal opportunity to ascend to a higher spiritual state in which food is no longer important, or even vital. I do not have what it takes to go into the wilderness and live on leaves, but at least I have found that out now before going up a mountain or into the desert. The fact that millions of people do not have enough food does not stop me being filled with lowly envy when people drop remarks like

‘No, we’re fine, we stopped off at MacDonalds on the way.’

I hardly ever have MacDonald’s and have certainly never ordered a cooked breakfast from Tesco to be delivered to my door, but these are now things on my wish list for 2022. I have learnt a few things though. Expensive and fad diets are pointless, if you eat less you lose weight. If you want to try this without chemo, just picture honestly what you have eaten and drunk at the end of each day and cut out the sneaky biscuits, fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate ( insert your favourite treats ) the next day. I do now have an insight into young children at meal times, or people with eating disorders; putting something into your mouth when you have no idea what it will taste like or cannot bear the idea of anything passing your lips. We glibly tell our children they are going to like strange textures and flavours with no notion what their tongue is telling their brain.

Your body in good health is a marvellous machine that repairs itself, with your skin and nerves protecting you from the outside world and your internal organs function efficiently without having to be programmed by a computer. You do not need expensive moisturisers or exotic food supplements. But there are the odd benefits to chemo interfering with your system. After decades of barefoot and sandal wear resulting in as many decades of pumicing and moisturising my heels ( in fairness to our bodies, the feet naturally grow tough soles to walk barefoot, much healthier than wearing shoes ) my heels just fell off, revealing the feet I had not had since I was  baby…