A friend just emailed me: ‘Lockdown is suiting you’. I don’t think it’s because I’m under house arrest. Although, maybe it is. Most likely it was because I’d emailed him a list of projects I’ve been filling my time with during these distanced weeks, and made them sound more exciting and extensive than they are.
None of my projects is making face masks or anything useful to the corona-effort. Maybe that’s one reason why I’ve felt rather empty this last week or so. Could I be ‘making a difference’? Should I be? The youngest daughter has also been out of sorts, what she calls ‘low morale’. There’s a curve often experienced in challenging times: a surge of energy and activity, a dampening of spirits as the crisis continues, and a sinking into lethargy and inactivity as a sense of pointlessness pervades.
On the upside, the eldest daughter shared a Teams (online meetings app) story. On these apps, you can share documents or your whole computer screen with others. The daughter’s colleague (presumably inadvertently) shared their online lingerie shopping with a meeting of ten people. Literally pants for the colleague, but light relief for everyone else.
As if to echo my dip in spirits and the exhausting uncertainty of ‘staying alert’, my skin has literally gone into meltdown. My hands have thrown out a weird form of intense eczema and a lesion has appeared in the centre of my forehead. The sort of thing that my mother would have enjoyed telling me: ‘It’s your badness coming out, Jacqueline’. Obviously, it will make it easier for me to be a zombie at the family’s forthcoming fright night this weekend. So that’s all good.
Sending photos of my crusty forehead to the doctor was quite gratifying. He was most intrigued – maybe even a bit delighted by something ‘so very odd’. He was incredibly gracious and didn’t let on if I was distracting him from more weighty cases. We had three telephone conversations before I was given a prescription for a cream that ‘has a bit of everything in it’ which the pharmacist described as ‘like an ancient remedy’. I’m glad ancient remedies still exist in mainstream life. I’m sure we’ve lost some grand skills and insights in terms of therapeutics and healing. Although, chopping up meat and burying it in the garden to get rid of warts (something I vaguely remember my mum doing when my brother’s hands were covered in the blighters) is maybe a good loss.
The valuable make-do-and-mend efforts around making scrubs to prop up the NHS are not, of course, entirely altruistic. Another symptom of a national crisis is the need for individuals to feel they have an active part to play. A contribution to make to the frontline effort. And to fill the time that would usually be filled with ‘normal’ activities with something that feels significant. It all helps keep that tricksy morale on an even keel. As long as we’re doing something, we’re dealing with it. Whatever the ‘it’ is. Which sounds a little like a speech our Prime Minister might make.
I felt quite bewildered about the VE Day celebrations. I guess my feelings were all mixed up with Brexit angst, Covid19, a general sense of being played by government and media, and the fact that VE Day came just after the UK announced the highest coronavirus death rates in Europe. Don’t get me wrong, remembering and acknowledging the privations and sacrifices of generations past (and generations present) – and why they made those sacrifices – is important and appropriate. The freedoms won in Europe through the Second World War are fundamental to human rights and equality. I guess today’s parallel paradox is that, even as some are declaring lockdown as an infringement of their freedom, others are putting themselves at risk because they either have little choice or are being encouraged to do so for the greater good.
With VE Day, there was a dissonance between being encouraged to stay home to save lives or whatever it is now; and being encouraged to hold street parties (albeit socially distanced ones). The long-cherished personal stories of uncles and aunts, parents, and grandparents remembered and shared on all media were, as always, moving and inspiring. Hearing the account on BBC Radio 4 of the two princesses joining the cheering throng outside Buckingham Palace back in 1945 made me think of my mum. I think she loved the slightly romantic idea of those two young women breaking with convention to be ‘with the people’. At 11am, our household members toddled onto the doorstep to observe the two-minute silence – as suggested in the VE Day official schedule. Berwick streamed by in full spate. My VE Day malaise, I think, was more about what we were actually being asked to celebrate in our Union Jack swathed streets. Was this all a bit of a call to some Trumpian-style nationalism, rather than a straightforward celebration of historic lives and deeds on a day that is, after all, celebrating a European union as well as a national triumph?
Ultimately, many lockdown activities are a distraction from the uncertainties of the moment. And many of them provide hope in what’s to come beyond the immediacy of living with coronavirus and its unfolding impact on our lives around the world. A friend and I recently joked that we’re focusing on the three Ws during lockdown: Working, Walking and Wine-ing (whining?). ‘Cheers!’.
I can identify with so much of this (not the lesion…yet..but my skin is not exactly great atm)
I am just reading an excellent book, ‘Ghost Trees’ by Bob Gilbert. The subtitle is ‘Nature & People in a London parish’ – the parish being Poplar, to which Gilbert and his family moved when his wife was ordained as an Anglican priest and assigned to the church there. As well as all the observations about nature and wildlife (he is passionate about showing us the amazing resilience of plants and animals in the inner city) Gilbert has dug up some fascinating stories about local history, and about the medicinal properties of plants.
There was very little overt ‘celebration’ of VE Day here, though I happened to be in the supermarket at the time and they did do the 2 mins silence. I was happy to observe that but I found all the jingoistic street parties and Brexit-style nationalism that seemed to go on elsewhere abhorrent. Like you I think we should be solemnly remembering the millions who suffered across the world, but the government (and many people in England) seemed to want to turn it into something quite different. Someone said on twitter that she could hear her neighbours playing anti-German songs.
I too am not really making any contribution, so I am writing as many book reviews as I can, as it’s the only thing at which I am even vaguely competent. That and checking in with my mother, sending parcels of treats to her and several of her elderly friends, and keeping up with the children and my friends, seems to take up most of the day. I do sometimes find myself wondering how often i actually went out before this – am I just looking at ‘normal’ life through a haze of nostalgia? I do miss coffees out, meeting my friends, and browsing in charity shops, and I would love to see my children, and to take walks a bit further away from here, but I am lucky to have the countryside on my doorstep, and I do speak to my children almost daily. (Two of them are still working.)
I enjoy your posts – so that is a contribution in itself! Keep posting 🙂
Best wishes, Rosemary
Thanks for your thoughtful comments and encouragement, Rosemary. The Bob Gilbert book sounds fascinating – I may have to order it up. Stay sane and safe – and here’s to those coffees and face-to-face meet-ups with family and friends. x
You echo so many of the feelings I’m grappling with right now – a wonderful post, thank you.
Thanks Juliet. I guess many of us are in a similar weird space. Take care.
You have expressed so aptly a lot of the feelings I have had during this crisis .Reading your experiences , I don’t feel alone , having had a nasty eruption on my back . I had extreme difficulty in taking pictures to send to the surgery but the doctor and receptionist were extremely patient and kind and I didn’t have to wait in a crowded surgery .
If we had street parties on VE Day day here , I still would have sat in solitude in my front garden . I wish I had seen the Red Arrows fly past though .
Thank you Jackie for sharing your thoughts in such a special way , keep writing x
Thank you, Pat. The Red Arrows would have been uplifting to see! Your garden looks a wonderful place to sit. I’m glad that your drs surgery was, like mine, helpful and sympathetic. Take care and stay safe x
Another fascinating and insightful article, Jackie. I too felt ambivalent about the VE Day celebrations, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. You explain it so well. We stood on our doorstep in respectful silence at 11am and I baked for my neighbours, but then spent the afternoon weeding and didn’t attend the afternoon tea.
Although I am not doing anything to contribute to the ‘war effort’, I do understand that basic human need to feel useful when everything else is beyond your control. When my eldest son was very ill and I couldn’t kiss it better, I scrubbed his little flat until it there was almost nothing left … some sort of displacement activity. I did exactly the same when my youngest had his hernia op.
I hope your eczema improves soon. We must have a conversation about our ‘mums’ one day. Your reference to your mum made me think of my own. Mine was rather fond of babies but not too keen on children! Looking forward to your next instalment. Sue
Thanks for taking time to comment so thoughtfully, Sue. Oh, how we shall all natter away when we next see each other – about mums and all sorts! X