For everyone who has asked why I’ve not written much this year.
A year of such promise. I’ve just been looking back on all the stuff I wrote about so enthusiastically at the beginning of the year. I was so keen to keep a diary of all the exciting things I would be doing on my second gap year. I was going to do some teaching and some walking, lots of reading and art galleries and museums. I was going to keep up with old friends and possibly make some new ones. I was going to explore my family history and sort out all my photos.
I was going to visit my mother-in-law in her care home in Poland more often. But on March 14th the borders in Poland were closed and we didn’t get to see her for her birthday. The last time we saw her was when we went in February, with my youngest daughter and her boyfriend. Unfortunately, my mother-in-law wasn’t feeling too well at the time, though she made an enormous effort for Alex, that handsome young man!
But life has a habit of getting in the way, and this pandemic hit us all for six. I’m afraid I did not spend my time learning a new language or new skills. I did not write that book or even that poem, or even that letter.
I started but did not finish a few craft activities. I could not get on with Zoom or What’s App or Teams. It is very stressful looking at myself on screen – or at least the top half of my head, as I am quite short and noticing that my hair needs re-dying, whilst trying to make polite conversation to a group of usually quite disparate people, even if they are close family or friends. No. I didn’t want to do any of that at all. What I wanted as to see people, to hug them hullo, to kiss them goodbye and to behave normally in between.
Yes, I went for one or two walks, but how can you talk normally in a mask? In the end I have got so accustomed to the mask that I don’t really want to take it off outside. It keeps my face warm even though it plays havoc with my lipstick. (I’ve written about this before.)
You’d have thought that I would spend all this suddenly spare time reading – but no. I feel quite guilty still if I read during the day. Reading is something I have always done first thing in the morning, or last thing at night. Not between the daylight hours of eight and eight.
So, I didn’t read. But why did I not feel guilty looking at Facebook or doing crossword or rather codeword puzzles and sudoku? Who was I trying to kid that I was expanding my mind? Had it really shrivelled so much that a quick burst of a word game was going to keep me intellectually on a level with Einstein or his descendants? Obviously not.
I was not depressed exactly, though there were moments when I felt quite low. But it was more a case of frustration, I suppose, of not getting my own way all the time. It makes me sound very spoilt, I think, but I found having a lot of my time at my disposal very hard to get used to.
At the first whiff of the pandemic the lovely lady who de facto ran my house for me flew back to Poland, preferring to isolate within reach of her own family. Of course. But she left me in the lurch as the song goes and all of a sudden, I found I had to relearn how to do things I hadn’t done for the last thirty years or so. No bad thing, you may say, and you may well be right. After all, I wasn’t working – can it be that I have actually retired now? I suppose I am getting my pension, but that is not quite the same.
So, the first thing I did was to buy a new vacuum cleaner. I feel so guilty because the lady in question asked me several times over the years for a new one. We didn’t react to her request. Then I discovered I couldn’t even lift the one we have, let alone carry it up and down the stairs.
The ironing! Tons of it. I started with good intentions but then we found out that the man in the dry cleaners (an essential service) would deliver and gather all the shirts and dresses etc. Brilliant.
Shopping! We couldn’t get deliveries for weeks – not old enough! So, I went every day to the local shops for food. Exercise and usefulness in one. Also, this became my only social life, as I stood in queues with generally the same people every day. Soon we recognised each other from the bridge of the nose upwards! Some people whom I knew before, in the days when you could actually see facial features, I no longer recognised at all. I have something that is known as face blindness, so in a way mask wearing makes things easier for me, as it means fewer differences to memorise.
I began to look forward to my daily visit to the shops.
My husband began working from home. That was interesting. Suddenly we were together 24 hours a day. We quickly established a useful and pleasant routine. He would work from 7 am to about 4 or five and we wouldn’t see each other at that time. I should have used that time to read and write and talk to my friends. Somehow, I couldn’t make myself do it very often. I was really suffering from feeling useless.
And then I hit on the bright idea of climbing Kilimanjaro. My husband is the president of the Polish Section of St John Ambulance in London, and they were raising money, as because of the pandemic they were unable to acquire funds in the usual way by attending sporting events and concerts etc.
So, having read somewhere that someone had done this in a month by climbing the stairs at home I thought I could do it too. After all we have plenty of stairs and now that I had hoovered them at least once…
I enrolled in Just Giving, made my case for sponsorship and started climbing. Five months later I was still climbing. I discovered podcasts. lifesavers from boredom! Eventually I reached the peak and raised over £2000. Thank you to all my readers who sponsored me. It was such a pleasant surprise that people who only know me through this blog should have delved into their pockets. It makes me feel very grateful.
Once I achieved that, it actually made me feel better. I began to talk to people more and some of my friends came up with jobs I could do for them, research etc and then I offered my services to some Polish groups on Facebook as a translator of documents from Polish to English. It’s not as if I don’t have enough of my own to do. My family’s papers are languishing in all sorts of drawers. But much easier to focus on somebody else’s!
So, things began to look up. House arrest was eased and though we couldn’t travel I managed to overcome my horror and fear of the tube and actually go to central London once or twice. I saw a couple of exhibitions and met a friend for walks in the park. I saw one son and one daughter a couple of times.
I signed up for a vaccine trial at Chelsea and Westminster hospital. When the chief doctor asked me why I had offered I said the truth: to get out of the house. I have rarely seen anyone laugh so heartily. She said that most people say it is to help others etc etc. I’m afraid that I had no such altruistic motives at first.
So now I have been jabbed twice – possibly with saline, possibly with this American vaccine. Who knows? I feel fine. Still a couple of blood tests to go for and then we shall see. Maybe I will be offered one of the English approved ones too.
I was also so excited about Christmas. A five-day reprieve for good behaviour. Except that the behaviour was not good enough and we were down to one day. In the meantime, my eldest daughter was going to come down to London from her exile in Bolton for one day and we were going to meet for the first time in almost a year. I was devastated when that particular rug was ripped from beneath my feet.
The pandemic was – is -one thing. Dreadful, people have been very ill, and many have died. I have known a few in the first category and of a few in the latter. It is very sad and at times overwhelming.
But the other great disruption, to put it very euphemistically, is of course, Brexit.
And this is the root cause of all my sleepless nights. The worry, the disappointment, the almost utter despair I have of a world which used to preach unity, cooperation and working things out, now seems to teach only: me first, me best, and f the rest.
No more moaning. On to the positives.
Two daughters engaged to be married. Absolutely thrilling news. Both their partners are wonderful men and will be perfect sons -in-law!
I have begun to read and write a bit again. That makes me very happy. I received lots of fabulous books for Christmas, so I am going to read them during the day!
I am going to make more positive contacts with all the people I haven’t talked to this year with no excuse. I have made a little list. (Rather a long one actually)
This has been rather a long account – hardly a reflection – of this unfortunate year. Has it made me into a better person? I’m not sure. It has certainly made me slow down, but has it made me think?
What it has done, is that it has made me very grateful for my health, my family, my overall well-being. Yes, there are things that I miss, but as my son reminds me from time to time, we are not actually at war, we still have communications, and flushing toilets and enough to eat. And the charity shops will open again soon. (Did I mention how I miss them?)
Well, this has been quite a romp through my year. If you have managed to get this far, or even if you only started in this paragraph, I wish you a very happy, healthy and fulfilling 2021.
What are your plans?