When I finally woke from my three year coma everyone said I hadn’t missed much and proceeded to gabble on about Covid and lockdowns. i had no idea what they were talking about.
It seems they had been talking to me a lot ’once restrictions were lifted’, another mystery. I do not remember a single word they said, so that was a waste of their time. Only my dearly beloved had the sense to give up early on, no great loss, though apparently ironic as the accident was his fault.
They insisted on showing me The Facebook Page. How embarrassing, I didn’t know I had so many friends, or maybe everyone feared not being seen as caring. Celebrities, what was that all about? Why on earth would I want some gloating multi millionaire author pleading with me to get better and finish my novel? From what I recall it was a load of rubbish. As for the music, who on earth thought I loved Andre Rieu and Andrea Bocelli?
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.’
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!
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?
‘Oh it’s just that I, we were wondering… we haven’t been able to contact him.’
‘Why do you need to contact him?’
‘We don’t, we just wondered why none of us had heard from him and they missed the quiz evening again.’
‘I didn’t know my brother was so popular.’
‘Perhaps I could ring your mother?’
‘I hardly think so as she’s been dead for eight months.’
‘Oh er I am so sorry, she looked fine at the wedding.’
‘She was fine at the wedding, anyway, I must cut you off, conference call coming up…’
‘Louise, Tina’s sister, chief bridesmaid, top table?’
‘Louise, of course, sorry I didn’t get back in tou… answer your messages.’
‘That’s not why I’m calling. Have you seen Ben?’
‘No. I’ve been ringing round everyone, no one’s seen or heard from him, phone’s dead.’
‘Oh Ali, I’m really worried now, same with Tina, she hasn’t been on Facebook for weeks.’
‘You were right to call me, but don’t panic; what about your parents?’
‘They’re worried, I mean we’re not one of those families who call all the time, but she’s not answering in our WhatsApp group or anything.’
‘Has anyone been round their flat?’
‘No, Mum and Dad are isolating and I’m on a Scottish island.’
‘Oh so you did get that croft? What about her work?’
‘Now don’t worry, I’ll get in contact with Ben’s company, even if he’s still working from home they would know if he’s on leave. ’
‘Tina would have said if they were going on holiday, she was always talking about going on a proper holiday again.’
‘TG Services, how can I help?’
‘Can I speak to Ben Chambers please?’
‘Chambers, chambers… ben? Chaos here, everyone working from home, except me… I don’t know the name, what department?’
‘Actually I’m afraid I have no idea, can’t you look him up on the computer records?’
‘No, confidential records cannot be shared with members of the public…’
‘Tom, it’s Ali, have you had any luck? No, nor have I, not a trace of either of them. Have you been round their flat? No of course not, you would have popped round last week if you weren’t in Belfast. I’m a hundred miles away so who’s nearest… Gemma’s in hospital, what happened to her? Call the police? I don’t think it’s that serious yet, I mean they could have gone on holiday, stuck isolating goodness knows where and we’re panicking for nothing. Okay, okay, I’ll drive down tomorrow morning make a day out of it. Have you got their new address? No, nor have I, have to message Louise, no I didn’t see her again and now she’s on some bloody Scottish island.’
‘Louise? It’s Ali again. I’m in their road, the neighbours are already regarding me with suspicion. I couldn’t even get in the building let alone find their flat, yes used to be the old asylum, very smart. I have been lurking to catch anyone going in or out, no luck so far, nobody seems to know them, so not likely to find a friendly neighbour with a spare key, not that you can just go waltzing into someone else’s home uninvited… and what did the police website say? Surely the only option is to have them break in and … no I’m sure they are fine, but there could be a clue where they have gone on holiday, somewhere warm knowing them. Not that warm, no, I’m sure they didn’t end up on a Mediterranean island with a wildfire raging. You call the police then, more likely to take notice of a relative, and you will have to give permission for a search… ’
Lonely in Lockdown? No need to be, the new Minister for Fun, when interviewed today, said there was no need for people to be lonely in Lockdown just because they are not allowed to see real people, they can make new friends. You can make new friends out of anything and on the government website you can see some suggestions – here is a sneak preview.
I never get invited to be in documentaries. I was watching a documentary about a well known artist the other night, admiring her garden as she wandered down the path to her interesting studio. Then into the studio saunters a young man and on the screen appear the wordsFred Bloggs ( not his real name, which I forget ) friend and writer. I have no idea what he has written, perhaps I should have heard of him and read all his work. But it doesn’t matter, he enjoys a certain kudos just by being a friend of a famous ( and infamous ) artist. Did he just turn up or did the producers plan his role and coach his lines to the artist ‘Have you got time for a cup of coffee?’ Luckily she had and they chat about her work, not his writing.
How do you get to appear in someone else’s documentary? It helps to actually have a friend who is a famous artist, or any friends at all. I do have some artistic friends, but nobody has made a documentary about them.
It also works the other way round. I was watching a documentary about a writer last night and lo and behold, we pan to a studio and there is someone else whose name I forget; the screen says Joe Smith, friend and artist. A great asset for the film makers because they can film him painting a portrait of his famous friend. Now I just need to find an artist who paints portraits and wait for someone to make a documentary about me.
If you enjoy visiting galleries, why not visit my Covid safe gallery.
Since the start of the pandemic many people have found themselves being carers for the first time; isolated with granny, uncle’s paid carers not able to visit or caring for Covid survivors in the family. Happily most people seem to have risen to the challenge, but it takes real skill to become a Careless Carer.
Some of you may have become carers without even realising it…
HOW TO RECOGNISE IF YOU ARE A CARER
You are a carer if you are busy gardening and a cup of coffee does not appear at the back door.
You are a carer if you yell DOORBELL! And nobody goes to answer the front door.
Ditto if you yell PHONE! And nobody goes to pick up the landline or the mobile phone left upstairs.
WHAT WILL A NORMAL DAY BE LIKE FOR A CARELESS CARER?
Take water, the wrong tablets and a cup of tea to the special person, who will remind you they always have coffee in the morning. Tell them you will be back in ten minutes to help them shower.
Now it’s time for you to have a quick cuppa ready for a busy day – take your time and check all the social media on your phone, share some Facebook Covid jokes, go in the garden and take a few pictures for Instagram, phone friend to tell them how busy you are… forget to turn shower on to warm up…
It’s important to answer the phone promptly, it could be a medical person to ask how things are and tell you no one can come to visit. Or it could be a friend and now is your chance to be properly careless, have a good chat, maybe they are lonely, fed up or hating working from home, discuss last night’s drama on television. Can you believe the time and you haven’t even got breakfast ready yet… then you remember you left your caree in the shower!
Ask the precious one what they would like for breakfast, even though it’s nearly lunchtime and forget what they said by the time you get in the kitchen.
Forgetting is a key attribute of the Careless Carer and the opportunities are infinite;
Forget to turn on the radio or television
Forget to turn off the radio or television
Forget to open/close curtains, windows, doors.
Forget to bring or put within reach glasses, newspaper, book, TV controls, mobile phone, ipad and the cup of coffee you forgot to make an hour ago.
If Sonya had known her ex husband would survive a good deal longer than two months she would never have let him come back. If Sonya had known a pandemic would come along and trap him in isolation with her, two weeks after he moved in, she would never have let him over the front door step.
When he had phoned her early in March and told her he only had two months to live, she was shocked. Sonya hadn’t seen him for years, didn’t even know his second wife had booted him out and kept the house. It seemed a Christian, a human thing to do; she imagined the alternative, the father of her children found in two years time, mummified in his dreadful bedsit. To care for him in his last weeks would bring closure to both the good years and the bad. One of her daughters said she was insane and on no account must she let him anywhere near her home. The other daughter said of course she must help him, he was her father after all and she would soon be back from Thailand to help. The kindly daughter was still in Thailand and the sensible daughter still in New York.
At first he did a few DIY jobs, they Facetimed the girls together and he made a good job of settling his few possessions in the back bedroom and making it homely. He assured her various medical teams and charities were on his case and all she would have to do was a bit of cooking.
Then he got his letter from the Prime Minister telling him he was very vulnerable and must not leave his house. Her house Sonya pointed out to him. The letter reminded him how frail he was and he couldn’t even help wash the dishes. His medical support teams could not visit because of Covid 19 and he no longer qualified for help from the charities as he was no longer homeless.
A new routine was soon established, as if they had always been carer and invalid in the midst of a pandemic. Sonya was heartily grateful for her rescue dog, the perfect excuse to get out of the house for exercise and a chance to have socially distanced chats with neighbours and other dog walkers. Vivienne down the road she had hardly known before, but now she and the dog would pause by the front gate when Vivienne was in the garden and discuss on line shopping. The other woman would complain about her divorced son who had moved back in and Sonya would regale her with the latest domestic dramas.
Her ex husband had his good points, well she vaguely recalled he did in the early years of their marriage, sense of humour, carefree attitude to life. That young man was long gone and his most irritating features were enhanced by illness. The husband who had once been glued to the television with football, war movies and endless crime dramas involving noisy car chases and shootings, now complained about the noise if she listened to Jeremy Vine on the radio and griped that the television was doing his head in if she tried to watch Celebrity Chef.
When he received another letter from the Prime Minister saying he could go out and about on the first of August, he showed a rare spark of life and decided it would be good for him to come out with Sonya and the dog. This was how she found herself today, plodding wearily back down their road, trying to hang on to the dog’s lead and being told to mind the bumps as she pushed his wheelchair. She had not seen Vivienne lately, only to be expected as Vivienne’s daughter and family were staying. A large camper van was parked outside her friend’s house and the door suddenly swung open as they passed, just missing the wheelchair. Two children tumbled down the steps and flew through the garden gate to the front door, yelling to be let in.
‘Bloody children, bloody camper vans’ said Sonya’s ex husband in a loud voice, just as Vivienne opened her front door and waved to her friend.
If you have any sense you will probably have used the world wide pandemic to avoid socialising at all, thankful to avoid seeing your partner’s friends, your in-laws or your children and grandchildren. If you had any friends of your own, you probably have none left by now.
However, if you still feel the need for the occasional human company how do you work out who you can see and under what conditions? Government advice changes twice daily, whichever country you are living in, so the best policy is to not let anyone inside your house, this has the advantage of not having to do any cleaning or tidying up.
A picnic in the garden is ideal, especially if they bring their own food and drink. The thoughtful host provides welcoming signs, you can probably nick one from somewhere.
Don’t worry if it rains, you can use all those large Amazon boxes left over from your Compulsive Covid Comfort buying, ideal for making Wendy houses, though perhaps the over twelves might not be so enthusiastic.
Before you phone or message your visitors remember to keep up the pretence that you still cannot leave home, at all, for the rest of the year, despite what Boris may have said about August 1st. Your visitors are sure to ask if they can bring anything, take full advantage of this; today’s newspaper, your favourite chocolate you couldn’t get in your Tesco shop, the milk you forgot to put on your Tesco order and yes a bottle of wine would be much appreciated. Every guest is bound to say, when you ask how much you owe them, ‘Oh don’t worry.’ Added to the money you have saved by not going out, eating out etc, you should be making a profit by now.
He still had the same smile, sitting on the bed, arms open in greeting.
‘We found him in a bag in the loft when we were moving.’ My mother’s voice startled me.
Teddy was the only recognisable object in the bedroom. Just back from a year in Australia, I had no choice but to stay with my parents while I searched for a job. During my absence they had downsized. I was consigned to the tiny guest bedroom.
‘I’ll go and put the kettle on.’ Mum retreated to the kitchen and I picked up Teddy.
He never had a name, but once upon a time he had been my best friend and I used to wish that he could speak. Mum assured me that if I held him close and listened carefully I would hear him. I responded by repeating his conversation, perhaps I really believed he spoke. Teddy was a poor substitute for a brother or sister, but I told him all my secrets.
Now I had other best friends and 677 Facebook friends.
‘Is it okay if I use the computer?’ I asked after dinner.
My father’s new computer had been given a bigger room than me.
‘You can borrow your mother’s lap top, we’re on Wi Fi now.’
‘No one goes in Dad’s den’ laughed Mum.
‘It’s only till I get a new phone; you’re not on Facebook yet then?’
‘Load of rubbish,’ said Dad ‘we only got e-mail to keep in touch with you.’
‘We Skype Aunty Dot in Canada’ added Mum.
Things had moved on since I’d been away.
I spent a busy evening checking e-mails and looking up old friends instead of career opportunities.
By the next evening I was trying out my new smart phone, the latest model. After a few phone calls I checked out Facebook. You have one new friend.
Strange, I had not accepted any new friends.
The new friend was born 5th June 1987, a week after me. There was a picture of him with that familiar smile. It was Teddy. Who was playing a joke? Only my parents knew about Teddy, but they didn’t know how to get on Facebook and they didn’t have a sense of humour.
I scrolled down to see what other friends were up to, hoping I had imagined Teddy. Parties, weddings, jobs and feeble jokes, plenty had happened since I had been in the internet café in Sydney. I scrolled back up. Teddy had made a comment. I’m back, the dark days are over.
I left Teddy on the windowsill where I had put him last night and went downstairs. My parents were watching a ‘Nordic Noir’ drama.
‘I thought you said you didn’t do Facebook, which of you put Teddy on?’
They were too busy reading the sub titles to take in what I was saying.
‘Oh people put such rubbish on the internet.’
When the titles came up they came back to life. ‘Any luck yet? It’s not easy for anyone to get a job at the moment. Have you been in touch with your uni. friends? You have to network these days.’
I retreated with the genuine excuse that I was still suffering from jet lag and went to bed with a book, but I could not resist one last look at my phone.
New e-mails; Come over and see my new flat, Dilly. Welcome back, do you want to meet up for a drink for old time’s sake? Tom. Where are you staying? P.S. Like your new Facebook friend, L.O.L. xx Tim.
I went on Facebook. Teddy now had 5 likes and 1 comment from Tim. Welcome back Teddy.
I logged out and tried to get to sleep, Teddy was still smiling on the window sill.
I slept in, woken by my phone ringing. It was Kate. Sorry to wake you, but there’s a position going at my place, thought you might be interested… is everything okay, only you unfriended me on Facebook.
The house was quiet, my parents had gone to work. Teddy had not moved since last night. I sneaked into Dad’s den, perhaps on the large screen everything would be normal. You have been tagged in Teddy’s picture.
A picture of us together when we were both the same size. I went into the tiny lounge. They had kept the best bookcase and in it were the precious photograph albums. Amy, one week old, with new friend.
There I was lying on the sofa with Teddy. There had to be a rational explanation. I returned to the screen. My bear now had 35 friends, my friends. I looked up his details. Work and education: St. Bear’s Infant’s School. Interested in: Humans Activities: Chillaxing at home.
Teddy had been the only pupil at St. Bear’s, I was his teacher.
When I glanced back at the page he had posted a message. Ho Hum, sitting on the windowsill…
That was how he spoke to me when I was a child, he always prefaced each sentence with Ho Hum when he whispered in my ear.
Another phone call; friends at a conference nearby; a proper evening out with sensible adults, but when I got there I did not get the warm greeting I expected.
‘What’s going on Amy, you’ve unfriended us all on Facebook.’
‘No, it’s a great joke, I’ve got a teddy bear for a friend’ said one of the guys who had drunk too much, already keying into his phone. ‘Another message’ Ho Hum, all on my own, Amy’s gone out. ‘Hey, you’ve been tagged in his picture… I like the underwear.’
Despite my best intentions I had taken my phone out of my bag and logged onto Facebook. Teddy had posted a picture of me in the bedroom, about to put on the dress I was wearing now. On the windowsill behind me he sat smiling. Teddy has 196 friends.
I checked my details. You have 1 friend.
‘You Have One Friend’ is one of the stories in Dark and Milk – download for only 99 pence.
It’s hard to believe, but there are some people who are not on Facebook. Think of what they are missing. These are some of the things I have learnt from Facebook. Cats and dogs can get on together. Lots of people like cats, lots of people like dogs. Horses like visiting people in hospital. Baby pandas just wanna have fun. Walruses like sleeping on submarines.
You can also learn about people on Facebook, what they are eating at the new restaurant or what got stolen from their van last night. You can even find out about people you actually know. In fact Facebook is the only way you will find out what your family are doing – if you can decipher the cryptic messages and pictures. Are they still stuck broken down on the motorway. Is that their Pyrenean Mountain Dog puppy or their friend’s ? What on earth are they doing at Sheremetyevo International Airport?
What do you post on Facebook? There is no need to bother catching up with emails and phone calls to numerous friends and relatives. If you want everyone to know your latest news just post an enigmatic message. ‘Another hot day on the Nullabor Plain.’ Soon you will be inundated with messages from long lost friends.
Hey hun, what’s up, didn’t the job in Northampton work out?
Or post an ultrasound picture of a black and white alien with the words ‘Tabitha is going to have a baby brother.’
Hugs hun, sooo pleased for you.
But Facebook has more than one page to scroll down; if you are a writer you can have an author page, if you run your own business you can have a page promoting your fantastic products and services. The advantage is that everything on that page is yours, unlike the rest of Facebook, full of boring other people. The only drawback, probably no one is ever going to see it. But just in case anyone accidentally finds themselves at Your Page, make sure your profile picture is sophisticated and professional.