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Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Archive for the tag “Lockdown”

The hen is being needy. The barbecue explodes.

Posts on social media about reclassifying music collections, organising book shelves, oven cleaning, greenhouse purging, and garage clearing have surged like the green shoots of spring. I find them rather demotivating. Instead of spurring me on to do the tasks – all of which need doing in my home – they make me feel rebellious and inadequate. The daughters say I’m being needy. They massage my ego: ‘You do loads. You’re the most active person we know… blah, blah, blah.’ Even so, I know I’m getting credit where it’s not due.

Our hen, Pretty, continues to be erratic. She escaped to B&M again – if you missed out on the account of her first leap over the wall, it’s here. It was the Husband and I who roamed Castlegate at 2am in our dressing gowns and slippers and wearily enticed her home. The following day we cleaned, refurbed and relocated the house the hen has shunned for many moons. The hen, as if the intervening years of outside roosting in trees had never happened, promptly entered her historical home, and settled down for the night.

A room with a view: the re-sited hen house – no longer abandoned

This whole immediate action on the hen house front was, of course, prompted by self-interest. It was okay when the youngest daughter had to lasso the hen in the small hours – less okay when it was us. But things that ‘need’ doing or ‘should be’ done? Often, I spend so long in the small hours planning the things I should do the following day, it seems a waste to spend the day actually doing them. I’ve even struggled to plant veg seeds this year. But I will regret my lack of commitment and preparation unless I get my act together asap. Even the seeds I have planted seem to be keeping their heads down. Maybe, like me, they’re feeling the weight of expectation: after all, we’ve all got to dig deep for victory in these calamitous days.

And so many people are digging deep. Friends are sewing scrubs, making masks from laminating pouches, stitching wash bags for PPE out of pillow cases, delivering prescriptions, returning to frontline jobs as pharmacists and medics, continuing as teachers, supermarket staff, and refuse collectors (let’s hear it for refuse collectors – just imagine how much worse this would all be without them).  And, in amongst this truly credit-worthy endeavour and fierce community spirit, Tory MPs keep telling us to ‘Protect the NHS, save lives’ (as if they invented the concept of protecting the NHS). Each time I hear them, I feel hot fury. Erm, who starved the NHS of funds? And what about opportunities to join the EU bulk-buy scheme?

At the beginning of lockdown, we decided to have themed Saturday evening meals – prepared by all four of us. We’ve had formal (complete with à la carte menu), slumber (pizza and popcorn), Mexican (tacos and tequila). Last weekend was barbecue night. You know, marshmallows, and campsongs by the glowing embers as the light fades. Our ancient rust-encrusted BBQ went to the tip before lockdown. The Husband was charged with creating a suitable outdoor firepit. I pictured a small ground-based stone-supported fire, our homemade burgers sizzling merrily atop. Turns out the Husband’s vision was different to mine. As his vision took physical form, I think I may have expressed some anxiety about safety.

Urban chic? The Husband’s barbecue

The hen, always at the centre of all garden goings-ons, showed no signs of fear when the Husband’s barbecue exploded – a slight hop and then more pecking. The rest of us, having established that the Husband was uninjured, mocked him and cooked indoors. Despite her resilience to household drama, the hen has become what the daughters again interpret as attention-seeking or ‘needy’ since her recent lockdown. A couple of days ago she had the audacity to leap up at the eldest daughter as we were having tea in the garden. This morning she was on my lap, for a crop massage (hen not daughter). Then, as if to keep us on side and claim credit for keeping the whole family machine on the road, she proudly produces a very occasional egg. The government’s daily briefings are more regular than the hen’s eggs, but do they, I wonder, have the same purpose… asking for a friend?

The hen’s progress… need or greed?

Stream of covidness

I wake up with a stiff neck this morning. I squish my shoulder up to my ear and press it down. No joy. I roll my head around and pull faces. I moan about it to the Husband. It still hurts. I go downstairs, feed the hen, put the porridge on and think about the day ahead. Others begin to emerge from the house like woodlice from a fallen branch. The youngest daughter decides to make her own porridge. I use one third milk, two thirds water: she likes all milk. The eldest appears and takes her porridge straight to her makeshift desk. She’s working 12-14 hours in a virtual office world that is a far cry from the tranquil Berwick environment she’s roosting in temporarily.

I scan the Covid news briefly. I’m finding it harder to look at it as time goes on. I don’t think it’s because I’ve lost interest, I think it’s because this is it. This is what we are living. I wonder how it feels to be lumbered with Trump as your leader right now. The youngest daughter and I discuss briefly whether he has an ideology – the Husband says not. I suggest it’s all about self-aggrandisement and project Trump. He has made it clear in the past that he believes anyone who doesn’t grab what they can and take opportunities to increase their wealth and power – even if it’s against the law or hurts others – is an idiot. So, I guess he’s living the dream. Why do people trust him?  Does anyone seriously believe that now is the optimum time for the States to withdraw funding from the World Health Organisation?

It’s a long time since the two daughters and the Husband and I have all lived together. The mini Trump in all of us is beginning to emerge. Instead of answering questions or responding to the point in hand, we toss casual insults at each other: ‘What’s he doing now?’ ‘Yes, look at him. Staring. That’s what he’s doing. Just staring.’ The girls lurch from hugging each other lovingly, to mocking each other’s knees, toes, noses, hair. They even bite each other. I am told to stop making everything into a lesson and accused of being over-sensitive.  It’s just like being a family again. We focus on memories of small injustices. Turns out the Husband tortured the eldest daughter by forcing her to have celery salt on her quail’s eggs as a teenager. What an arse. She hates celery in all its forms.

I hear the news on the radio that there are cases of Covid in the camps in Yemen. I feel sick and anxious. There’s a wobbly ceasefire there which is pretty much being ignored. The UN predicts that 93% of the population could become infected. I distract myself by pulling up some weeds in the garden.

A dear friend’s dog had to be put down yesterday. He had been poorly for sometime. I’m not a great dog lover but I did love Cuddy. I was one of his walkers – along with a stalwart crew of other locals who ensured he got his exercise twice a day, rain or shine. It will be hard for my friend not to have her lovely canine companion. I wonder if she will be able to get another dog and if I would help with walking it if she does. I’ve felt guilty not walking Cuddy during lockdown.

Farewell Cuddy: a wonderful companion and all-round super dog

The whole celery torture thing came up because I felt compelled to cook the celeriac mouldering on the shelf: it would be a crime to let any food go to waste right now. Although, why now and not before…? I’ve taken to gathering onion skins and other vegetable offcuts in a bag in the fridge and using them to make veg stock for stews, risottos, soups etc. We are also working our way through the ice-encrusted weird and wonderful offerings that the Husband has secretly stashed in the freezer over the years, hoping I won’t notice. Well, I’m finding them now! He froze yoghurt. Defrosted, it became a curdled liquid mush. We made him eat it on his porridge.

I squeeze my shoulder up to my ear again. Ouch! At some point my stiff neck will magically disappear but, until then, it’s really painful. As the pandemic continues, I wonder if more American people will notice the painful truth: Trump is as insane as any James Bond villain.

I have to win at table tennis

You’d have thought that spending more time with your family would be a positive thing – and for many of us it is. But it’s amazing how small things can cause domestic discord. According to reports from home and other countries, lockdown will see a huge increase in cases of domestic abuse and many of us are already planning to divorce our partners: ‘when this is over’.

If you’ve not read Italian novelist Francesca Melandri’s piece in last weekend’s Guardian: ‘Letter to the UK from Italy: this is what we know about your future’, it’s worth a look. It’s a raw insight into the emotions and actions of a lockdown society. And the foibles and contradictions of human nature under duress.

Our table tennis table made the journey when we moved from north London to Berwick-upon-Tweed 10 years ago. During the spring and summer months, ping pong became a tea- and coffee-break activity for the Husband and I when we paused our desk-based work activities. The battle of the table continues to be as epic as the battle of the skies: as soon as we wipe the table down a marauding flock of screeching herring gulls craps on it. And the Husband’s out with his hose cursing and fist-waving. One day, the gulls got him twice in a row – the second when he was fresh from the shower after the first. Once, three of us were chatting on the lawn and a gull scored a simultaneous bullseye in all our cups of tea.

The freshly hosed table just before the Husband’s victory this morning

The Husband has now retired and taken up activities such as badminton. He has become fleeter of foot and, as if blossoming back into the primary school child he once was, improved his hand-eye coordination. I’m not saying I’m not pleased about this turn of affairs. But I’m happiest when he’s fighting the losing battle of the gulls and I am maintaining my rightful place as Queen of the Table.

We bought the table as a family bonding exercise – specifically for our then teenager (now 32) to enjoy. Purchase day was fraught: Finsbury Park in north London to Surrey Quays south of the river is not a jolly journey at the best of times and, what with the toddler and the teenager in the back of the car, it definitely wasn’t jolly that day. But good things do come from inauspicious beginnings. Once home, that table tennis table delivered above and beyond. It took over most of the garden and was the centre of gatherings: from baptisms to birthdays. It was played on and under; it was eaten off; and, on one memorable occasion, became a racing track for snails. It’s not something I’m proud of: the snail thing took place when we were in a South Korean reality TV show about families coping with no TV for a couple of weeks. A screen lockdown if you will. And, let’s face it, it’s amazing what you resort to to fill in the gaps. In our defence, we put the snails back on the ground when we’d finished.

Nowadays, the table tennis table is a firm feature at our Open Garden event here in Berwick (beginning of June but postponed this year). Children often enjoy a game while their parents peruse the garden. Then the parents wander back, grab a bat and thrash the kids – a là Competitive Dad from ‘The Fast Show’ – just to show them who’s boss. Or perhaps to remind themselves they’ve still got it in them. Anyway, there’s usually tears involved.

For us, it’s still a daily routine to grab a game or two of table tennis to distract us from whatever we’re meant to be doing. Or whatever’s going on in the world. But something’s shifted. The Husband’s upped his game. And I’m feeling the strain. It’s like a rainy day versus a sunny day. Beating him makes me happy. Losing to him makes me grumpy. And if I’m grumpy, family wellbeing could be at risk. I know some of you will be thinking this is overt competitiveness or even sour grapes. But it’s all about domestic harmony. I have to win at table tennis.

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