Life in lockdown

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How come I seem to be even busier in these days of lockdown than I was before, when I was following a fairly normal, daily routine…….ah, of course, there’s the answer. Routine. Structure. Doing things at a sort of allocated, usual, habitual time. But now, with our daily framework gone all wobbly, we have to dig a bit deeper and find ways to focus, get through what needs to be done (like washing, ironing, deciding what to use from our food stocks then cooking it, and so on).

Yesterday I felt like the proverbial blue-assed fly, flitting from one distraction to the next like a headless chicken (excuse the mixed metaphors). Having successfully joined FaceBook in order to be able to easily message granddaughter in the US and take part in the Rock Choir daily Keep Britain Singing at 3 pm (I’m a member of Rock Choir and need a singing fix to keep me going), I found I was suddenly thrust into more techno-connections than I’d ever been.

Suddenly people I know were appearing on FaceBook wanting to be my “friend”. With extended French family (our daughter-in-law is French), the combination of choir members I know and French family I know got just a bit challenging at one point when I received a message – in French – from my daughter-in-law’s godmother. I had a bash at responding in rusty French and was part way through when I noticed there was a translate button. So I was able to translate her message into English, and if I wrote in English, she’d be able to translate it into French. Phew. I switched from rusty Francais to English promptly.

So that leaves the daily Rock Choir 20 minute sing to schedule for 3pm, and the Great British Home Chorus being led by Gareth Malone for 30 minutes every day at 5.30pm. That’s before I’ve even got near the on-line PE, yoga and keep fit classes.

Then there’s the WhatsApps arriving from friends and family, the face to face calls, the  phone calls, the chats with neighbours over the garden fence – all at a safe distance of more than 2 metres – the emails and the one daily walk to schedule for us and the dog, who, it seems has cracked this lockdown lark rather well.

He’s even decided to watch the daily sing, but he doesn’t join in…..

The Four Freedoms

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Freedom of Speech by Norman Rockwell

Last week – ahead of starting to seriously social distance ourselves – we went to the Norman Rockwell exhibition at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Because of fast-moving global events around coronavirus it turns out that this will be the only “treat” outing we’ll have while we’re here, visiting family.

The dominant theme of Rockwell’s paintings is Franklin D. Rooseveldt’s Four Freedoms which are extremely appropriate to the state of the globalised world and what’s happening all over it right now. Rockwell painted them during WW2, when they  were reproduced in The Saturday Evening Post for over four consecutive weeks in 1943, alongside essays by prominent thinkers of the day.

The Four Freedoms are as significant now as they were back in 1943:

Freedom of speech – Freedom of worship – Freedom from want – Freedom from fear

Rockwell illustrated each freedom differently; each is powerful in its own way. The jacket worn by the model in the painting shown is on display at the exhibition, and the occasion itself was based on a real event where a man spoke out on a controversial topic at a community meeting, where he was respected and heard out.

But the final freedom – Freedom from fear – at this moment has the greatest charge for me. Fear is rampaging through our world because of coronavirus. I realised today that I’m now more alarmed at what is happening all over the world because of the virus (lockdowns, curfews, panic buying, borders closing etc.) than I now am about catching the virus itself.

Fear is a powerful weapon. It was FDR himself who, in his 1933 inaugural speech said, “We have nothing to fear except fear itself”. Fear is power. If we have fear we’re not fully in charge of our own liberties, we’re reined in, restrained in some way,  not connected to what is essentially good within us.

Two other mentions of fear also come to mind: the book entitled “Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers. It’s a personal growth book which I read many years ago and found helpful. The other book – a big one! – which touches, amongst many other things, on coping with fear is A Course in Miracles.

The quote from the Course which stands in my mind and is the one I go to in times of stress and anxiety, such as these, is “There is no need to fear”. That has got me through a lot of tough, challenging times and as a mantra it has a calming effect. I’ve added the link for this lesson of the course; it may help, it may not. It works for me.

But what of the other freedoms? To be free to speak out, to worship whichever higher being  nurtures our spiritual needs, to be free from want, through hunger or not having shelter are all important. Sad to say all these freedoms are not fulfilled in our current world, making The Four Freedoms as relevant now as they were when they were voiced by FDR.

Freedom from fear, for me, is the freedom which underpins them all. We can so easily be paralysed by fear, which would hamper us speaking out, as would being afraid to openly worship in ways right for us, and likewise we can be afraid of not having enough to survive on.

The world we know seems to be crumbling apart, but as scary and unsettling as this is, there are some good things emerging. People, marooned in communities locked down against the spread of coronavirus are starting to form support groups and organise how they can help each other, especially those seniors who may become isolated. Today, for  about 30 minutes I was distracted and delighted to hear from all my cul-de-sac neighbours in the UK who have formed a WhatsApp help and support group.

Although I’m in Houston and hoping to get a flight back home, I felt buoyed up by the friendship and community spirit as all of us joined in and added our twopenny-worth of energy to the enterprise. The fear retreated and something brighter and more positive took its place.

 

Being kind

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Much is being said right now about being kind. It’s been said before but now that we’re in the grip of a global situation with coronavirus spreading around the world, it seems even more relevant that we human beings all remember that we’re human beings and express kindness and consideration to each other. We’re all in his together.

I wrote a post a short while ago about the book “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesey. It’s full of gentle wisdom and reminders that none of us is perfect, but we can all support and help each other along the way by being kind. To quote from the book:

“Nothing beats kindness,” said the horse, “It sits quietly beyond all things.”

“Being kind to yourself is one of the greatest kindnesses.” said the mole.

Being kind might involve being more tolerant and understanding of others. I gather there is an increase of racial intolerance towards people in the UK who are of Chinese descent or origin –  as if it’s their  personal fault that dubious practises in a food market in Wuhan have caused this virus to break out. To those being unkind to them I ask you just cut them a bit of slack. They’re probably as scared about it as you are. They’re human beings too.

I recently saw the film “It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood” starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, or Mister Rogers, as he was known when he presented his TV show for children. I knew nothing about him; Mister Rogers was not on UK TV in the 1970s. But I enjoyed the film very much because it was almost 100% about being kind to people, accepting them as they are, acknowledging their faults, fears and misgivings and not judging them.

The film is based on a true story, but the facts have been tweaked as film versions of stories so often are. In this case, it didn’t matter too much because the end product was heartwarming, showing us how people could be and how, if they were wounded or hurt inside, this could be overcome, transcended and transformed.

Love, acceptance and being kind – worth striving for, I think.

Lost in the NEC

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Yesterday we went to the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham to the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show, just for a look round and an update on what’s new. Not with any significant purchase in mind. You just have to keep up with what’s currently around.

Our van is just over 7 years old, it’s our 3rd van, and has started to show a few signs of age, with the odd  (and sometimes rather expensive) thing going wrong which needs replacing. So a visit and a day looking at new vans and sussing out the state of the art promised a good day out.

No, we didn’t decide to buy a new van, but we got plenty of ideas on what we might and might not like. It was interesting to note that our tastes and preferences have changed very little over the past 7 or so years, and the van we chose then to be our palace on wheels is still top of the pops for us in so many ways.

When we’d seen enough and had enough van viewing, it was time to head home and make our way back to car park N3, somewhere outside in the vast NEC estate. We’d walked from the car park to the exhibition centre and had more or less followed the flow of the crowd, also going in the same direction. But late on in the afternoon, when the crowds started to thin out, there were not too many people around aiming for car park N3. We got lost.

We looked in vain for signage and directions to the car parks, we followed directions which took us to nowhere we recognised, and we asked for directions from several different members of NEC staff, the press office staff, the bureau de change staff and various stewards on how to get back to car park N3. They were all helpful. Most of them didn’t have a clue and sent us off on wild goose chases. We ended up at the station, then at the airport, then at the main entrance, which was not the one we’d entered by. We looked at a plan of the entire NEC complex and tried to use that to navigate by. We tried to gain access to the Skywalk we needed to cross, but the access doors were locked. It was beginning to feel like us getting Lost in Cumbria all over again. I almost started humming Hotel California – “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave….”

On our second arrival at the main entrance, we asked the security guards for help. One of them vaguely waved directions at us, the other came up with the goods and finally, at long last, we managed to get out of the building and on our way to car park N3.

It had taken us over an HOUR to get out of the NEC and back to our car. As we thanked the security guard who’d come up with the right solution, another stressed out couple were approaching him to ask for directions.

If I ever go to the NEC again I’ll consider taking a large ball of wool to tie to the door I enter by, and keep it with me in my hand to help me get out of the place!

Brexit day: Better to light a candle

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Better to light a candle…..

We light candles to remember someone, to honour them, to keep their memory, essence and spirit alive in our own lives and in our minds. It’s a conscious act, to light a candle. I sometimes do it in a church or cathedral to remember and honour a person who has passed from my life and our world. It’s a bit of an emotional thing to do, but it’s also satisfying. Action has been taken and a statement made.

The saying “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” is said to be a Chinese proverb. It’s been quoted as something Adlai Stevenson said about Eleanor Roosevelt. The first time I heard it said was by  Satish Kumar at a talk he was giving, sometime back in the early 1990s. It struck me as a very powerful thing to do, to take action rather than rail against the darkness, to bring light to the situation. I’ve never forgotten it.

I remember it now, as I write this a few days ahead of the UK’s departure from the European Union. Here in Britain there have been some crazy fund-raising schemes to raise money so that Big Ben – currently silent and undergoing renovation – can be allowed to strike eleven bongs at 11pm on 31st January in celebration of our leaving the EU. A vast sum of money was donated to the fund by one of the donors who is inextricably involved in the dubious promotion of Brexit. But the scheme has fallen flat and Big Ben will not bong. Thank goodness I say. What a crazy misuse of money.

Is the UK’s exit something to celebrate? Maybe, if you voted to leave, especially if the likelihood of new trade deals is believed. But what is to be celebrated? What are these leavers going to get? Sovereignty used to be mentioned as one reason, but we don’t hear much of that word now, although there’s still a fair bit of ardent Union Jack flying going on. The dodgy-sounding mantra “Take back control”, which was the Leave campaign’s motto, never satisfactorily clarifies exactly what that “control” will be. Or maybe their idea of control is putting a halt to immigration, which will leave us in need of British workers who are willing to get out into the fields to pick our fruit and veg. And who will replace the social care workers and NHS staff we’ll be losing out on? The government have made reassuring noises about getting additional NHS staff, but I’m a sceptic and nowadays I don’t swallow a lot of the duplicitous stuff that is promised.

Many people believe that Brexit is done and dusted, but in reality it’s only just about to start. The truth is we don’t know what will change in our country and in our everyday lives .

Trade deals they say – we shall be free to have new trade deals with other countries – but as I understand it, these things take several years to negotiate. In the interim, we don’t quite know what this will mean for the people of the UK; those who voted to leave and those who voted to remain will be in the same boat, the same murky, misty darkness. Some will be hoping for a bright new start, that it will all be alright, we’ll muddle through, we’re British and we won the war! Remember Churchill? Yes, of course we can stand on our own etc. etc. I’ve heard all of these arguments and more, but supported by very little of substance because the truth is, we none of us know what will happen when we move into this new, unknown space.

I read Will Hutton’s article pubished in The Guardian several days ago. As well as analysing Britain’s potential future prospects, he comes up with a sound idea for peaceful action to mark the occasion, saying:

So at 11pm on 31 January, dismiss [Boris] Johnson’s extravagant claims for what lies ahead and the faux celebrations. Light a candle in a window, at your door, in your garden; find friends to do it together. We stand for a European Britain. We will be back.

I rather like that. I feel European, but I’m also British. The two are not mutually incompatible. I wanted to remain, and that desire will not go away; I have a French daughter-in-law and extended family in France because of this, Spanish friends in Spain, colleagues with mutually-shared interests and aims in Germany, former students in Greece, Italy, Malta, Belgium, Ireland, Sweden, Bulgaria and The Netherlands. European countries all of them and in the EU too.

So on Friday I will be lighting a candle to mark the passing of our EU membership, but I will also be lighting it for a European Britain. We may appear to be physically leaving, but in spirit, we’ll always be there.