(36) Finding Hope
Updated: Apr 11
Dear Brain, Stupid, frustrating, irrational, fragile, human brain. It turns out to be true what they say about needing to give any urgent work to a busy person. You have all the time in the world right now, with many jobs that you have been putting off; paperwork, clearing out, finishing your wood-stack, writing this blog post... When I worked four days a week in West Lothian, I wrote far more often, snatching an hour here and there, even getting up at 5am occasionally, to fit some writing in. Until recently, when I was childminding and supply teaching and holiday home cleaning and giving piano lessons, I was also able to de-clutter the drawers. It turns out that when you have all month to sort your filing system, it is so much easier to leave it until autumn.
My rational brain is telling my legs to get out of bed earlier, leave the house and run (so many beautiful paths and almost no danger of being spotted doing the hang-loose flopping-foot stride). My rational brain is saying SO MUCH PIANO TIME, get the Snippets properly written onto their treble and bass clefs. My rational brain is saying GET THE FUCK OFF FACEBOOK!! My irrational brain seems to be winning too frequently. My stupid brain is sitting at the computer, instead of getting on with things. It is reading coronavirus stories and looking at statistics. It is watching Boris' father make an arse out of himself by continuing to go to the pub after social distancing kicked in. It is watching video highlights of the Queen's address to the nation. It is predicting what she will say before she says it. All in the same boat indeed. My frustrating brain is immediately wanting the things I cannot have. Pasta has not been at the top of my usual list, but now that cupboard supplies are dwindling and Tesco cannot deliver any, I have a hankering for it. I am quite happy with my own thoughts, but now I crave a dinner party and I want it NOW! I want a rerun of the birthday party we went to, the weekend before the Lock-down began. I want to go at it like I knew it was the last party I would be going to; drink slightly too much and dance, talk to the people I don't really know and usually stay away from. My fragile brain is making me cry. I feel a general anxiety and sadness. I don't want my brother, prone to collapsing lungs, to deteriorate with his bad cough: I don't want anybody's brother to deteriorate with this cough. I don't want my parents to be unable to fight it and end up in a ventilator lottery. I don't want that for anybody's parents. I don't want a family member to be alone in a hospital ward, their last words necessarily to a stranger. I cry for the staff who get to hear the last words.
Mothers' Day was unusual. Katrina had been necessarily self-isolating after being sent home from the hostel, where a boy had shown symptoms. We too had been self-isolating after being in contact with someone-who-had-been-in-contact with someone who had been in contact with someone with a cold. At that point it was unclear what to do with family after self-isolation, and so Isabelle went for a 3-mile 'social distancing' walk with her daughter, who had been dropped off here. I went for a separate 3-mile walk on opposite sides of the road to Katrina. You can currently walk all the way from here to Ian's house without seeing a single person. It is hard to not hug your girl. Unable to hug her, I wrote a Snippet for her. 'I love the little girl who fell asleep to lullabies and fairy tales with favourite toys.... ' It is a brief thank you. There is more to it than I could possibly fit into a Snippet. Our unusual Mothers' Day walk was along the beautiful coast-line, water to the right of us, the Cuillins in the distance. I have stopped posting beautiful pictures online as it seems thoughtless. Here we are, enjoying our open views and endless unpolluted skies, with the privilege of being able to easily socially distance ourselves all year round, and now, when others are limited to one outdoor exercise, we can go out for as many walks a day as we wish.
It worries me how quickly we glared at anyone here who wasn't from around here. Yesterday I was speaking to someone who wondered was this not some form of small scale extreme nationalism - we are alright Jack, but you stay away. We have, across the Highlands, eight people per square kilometre. Sorry Glasgow, even if you have a house up here that you pay your taxes for, stay where you are and do your best to distance yourself from the other 3999 people sharing your square. No matter that you are probably connecting with ninety-nine other people every time you come into contact with just one person.... and forget about the park or the beach just now. My sister queued for two hours last week to get nothing on her shopping list. My friend joined a corner shop queue to witness fights among addicts. However, we are not being xenophobic here. Each region has the number of beds required for its own population (in normal circumstances). If our population is doubled, trebled (easily and quickly done here) at the same time as needing many more times the number of hospital beds that we normally need, then, by escaping Glasgow and camping out on the vast and empty shores here, you will not only potentially increase the speed at which coronavirus comes to us, and the scale of its peak, you will also compete with us for our already difficult to get to Critical Care beds. It is a sobering thought that there is no region at all which has sufficient beds for a worst-case scenario, the one where we all ignore the rules of social distancing.
I went out in the garden last week at 8pm to applaud and to cheer NHS staff, and although we couldn't hear them, other locals were clapping. We felt quite emotional. The images and videos across the news and social media are distressing: nurses exhausted and crying after too long shifts, without decent PPE, with their colleagues dying; patients in hospitals without their chargers, so no communication with anybody they know; hospital staff staying away from their own families, while putting themselves at risk.
Teachers are struggling with new online programs to set work and mark it, while at the same time trying not to overwhelm children and parents. Some teacher friends are volunteering in classrooms for the children of key-workers, trying to stay away from coughing little ones. Friends are fearing they might fall out with their children forevermore after fighting with long division and fractions. Domestic violence is growing. And even if you can use the Silent Solution, and the police come after your 55 dial, it now seems even less possible to leave a violent partner. And then you have Iraq denying that coronavirus exists; you have Bolsonaro saying coronavirus lockdowns should be abandoned; you have Trump with his trumpet. ‘Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion’ he said, having thrown out Obama's pages on fighting pandemics. ‘Anybody that needs a test gets a test. We – they’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful’. Oh Trumpet, you have no idea what you are talking about and no clue what the world thinks of you and your 16000 misleading statements. And you make me very, very sad. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/28/trump-coronavirus-misleading-claims)
I am hearing, in nearby villages, of neighbours turning vigilante, police being contacted when dogs are walked for the second time that day. I personally think in rural areas that we can relax the once-a-day exercise rule. When you don't meet anybody else for three miles, that is not the same as living in Princes Street, Edinburgh. That said, if we are picking and choosing, which rules CANNOT be flouted? We are geographically well placed to control the speed at which COVID19 hits us. We have a better chance in the Highland region than anywhere else in Scotland, to maximise the use of our limited ICUs, allowing a larger percentage of our affected population to use the critical care beds, as they need them - but only if we all take social distancing seriously and help to slow down the spread. I worry that people are flouting these rules.
I seem to have to take my brain in hand more often right now, make new resolutions every morning. It was suggested by one friend that we do actually need to spend time not doing, just being. That is a good thought, and definitely something that we could all get better at. Another friend is relishing this time as a unique gift to spend with her partner, enjoying their garden, their home, longer meals than usual. Another suggested finding the places you love in your house. I love so many places in our house: lined up books (alphabetical, of course); colour-coded spices (not alphabetical); the rocking chair, with the beautiful cat on it.
Best case scenario? - I am going to be an optimist - That we learn something enormous from this. We hear David Attenborough and we actually follow through. We learn to content ourselves more, and value spending time over money. We stop driving up standards and pushing paper. Grow more vegetables. Refuse to carry our goods home in plastic. Find better ways of entertaining ourselves. Value the delivery drivers and the shop assistants and the cleaners. What do you want to do when you grow up? - I want to be kinder and less wasteful.
I think if we don't learn, then we will have missed a most important trick.
Some resolutions for today: Go into the garden. Stand still. Breathe deeply. Recognise how utterly and insanely, unfairly privileged I am.