Lessons in the Time of Corona

The global phenomenon of COVID-19 has impacted many millions of people, in many millions of ways. There are millions of stories with a myriad of changed lives; and so too, there are people whose existences have carried along, pretty much undisturbed.

If I think through my own trajectory of this time, I remember that at the beginning I was blasé about it all. It was the joke du jour amongst many people I knew that when someone would sneeze, everyone would jocularly say “Uh oh! You’ve got Coronavirus”, ha ha, hee hee…

And the news of a possible pandemic bought out anxiety for some I knew, scared of something they felt they could not control. Not me for though: I was sure that I would learn all about it, as inevitably I would have to incorporate it into my work somehow; but apart from that, everything would be fine. I had after all survived swine flu and bird flu. And I wouldn’t be ‘self isolating,’ any time soon – I had a busy life to lead. My year was all mapped out – I had holidays planned, I had weddings to go to. This COVID thing was all just news spin – a Media induced panic that would eventually blow over.

I discussed what was happening in the world with family and friends, but the turning point for me was someone explaining that self isolation, as a means to stop the spread of infection, was being mooted because it would save a critical drain on the country’s health service, which was simply not designed for such a catastrophe and did not have the resources to cope with a massive onslaught of cases. Suddenly my world view became different and I had now grasped the global gravity of the situation.

Yet still I was living a ‘normal’ life; but now it was coloured COVID and I started to feel uneasy. Like millions of others, I pried online, looking to buy gloves, masks and hand gel. I read up on infection rates and prevention techniques.

Then, one languid Sunday in March, a close friend telephoned. “Come out to lunch” she said, “it may the last time we can do this in a very long time.” So I got in my car and drove to a local pub for a roast dinner. There were 5 of us round the table – 3 generations, all of whom I regard as family. We were upbeat – all happy to be together – to chatter about and ‘chew the cud’ of our life and times. The place was quiet for a Sunday and the waitress who served us wore plastic gloves, but all else – the sights, smells and sounds, were as they had always been. Later on, when I thought of it, the memory of that day felt pre-apocalyptic…

Soon the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the lockdown gate was about to be closed and suddenly everything became serious. From being blasé, now I was anxious – it was as if my world was a triangular house built of playing cards, now collapsing and blowing away in the wind. The cards fell down one by one, starting with the social group I was an organiser for cancelling all events before I’d even managed to voice an opinion on the subject.

The week stretched on, whilst the world was shutting down. By the end of it, I was looking forward to my Friday evening ritual of going for a long swim: I swim solidly for 40 minutes, mentally working through my week and then letting it go, so I can wind down and relax into the weekend. As I left work that day, with my gym back packed, I checked my phone to find a message telling me that the Health Spa had just been closed till further notice. And that was when it all really hit home for me…

Suddenly, so many freedoms I had previously taken for granted were gone. Work became more and more frantic as all the economic and organisational ramifications hit home. All around me people were losing their livelihood; old and vulnerable people were suddenly stranded and the infrastructure that surrounded my life seemed to be crumbling. As the walls of my life closed in around me, I decided to take some decisive action.

I self-isolated. I avoided going out, even to shop, as much as possible. When I had to of necessity, I wore washable masks and gloves. These were things I had control over; yet from having felt so laisse fair at first, I now started to feel panic, breathing in the mass hysteria of a world in free fall. My mind would spin… as an asthmatic, what if I was put on a ventilator…?

In my ‘adult’ life, as a senior manager in global business, I had some empathy with the authorities, although too, they befuddled and muddled much of the messages they put out. I don’t praise or condone the actions of the UK government. But the world and I had never experienced anything like this, so from moment to moment, we largely had to make it up as we went along – cobbling together what previous experience had given us and inventing everything else from a combination of expertise and ineptitude.

As for the things I can control, I know from experience that I’m stronger when I support others, and to do that, I have to first take care of myself. Basically I had to stop panicking and make my peace with what was happening to the world, then decide how I was going to negotiate it. As such I consciously choose to control the things I could, doing my best work and ensuring my own safety and by extension – that of others.

At this time too, I made a pact with myself that if the thought of someone passed through my mind, then I would reach out to them. So it was that I messaged, emailed, texted, called and WhatsApped friends I haven’t seen for decades, Christmas Card only family members, old work colleagues and even an ex-boyfriend. Some of the responses were warm, some dismissive, some were guarded, whilst some opened up and poured out their hearts. It was a sweet and cathartic process, this reaching out and gave me a sense of doing something conscious and constructive.

Having more time to navel gaze – I navel gazed… picking up on my intermittent practise of meditation and returning regularly, to my infrequent writing of blogs and of editing my seemingly endless novel, which has been part of my life now for over 6 years.

Now that my recreational walking and swimming had been taken away from me, I had to look for new ways to maintain my physical fitness, too. Having been to group yoga classes for several years, I now moved online, practising poses and mantras on my living carpet via Zoom calls and practising workout programmes which my phone dictated to me.

But somehow it wasn’t enough. I felt I needed a challenge and so, I turned to the physical thing I hated worst of all – running. Running for me was the very antithesis of enjoyment. It’s been for most of my life an occasional, necessary evil. For decades I have taken my exercise within my own prescribed comfort and happiness zone, either doing just enough or what I loved…

But running was a stretch and it was also ‘easy’. Just pull on a pair of trainers and go… I downloaded the Couch to 5K App onto my phone, which then coached me through running for intervals of 90 seconds, until eventually I hit 20 minutes. So it was that I joined the throngs of runners, walkers and cyclists that suddenly were every where, instead of the occasional smug and svelte athletes I use to drive past with mild, seated irritation.

Despite all this exercise I was barely losing any weight. My next mission therefore was to focus on my nutrition, which was already quite healthy, but just, somehow staid. Weight loss though took its toll on my energy though, which slowed my running down to a near stop. Suddenly, having running taken from me, I decided to get educated; get all the kit; join online communities; and eat to run. As a result I devised my own running programme and gradually built my running up to 30 minutes at a time. As an asthmatic, only a few months before, running for just 90 seconds had made me feel sick and tearful. And whilst I would never claim that my running journey has been easy, it has shown me what mental mastery as well as physical training can achieve in a relatively short space of time and the sense of achievement (especially at the end of a run!) has been immense.

So, having graduated from Couch to 5K I stepped on the scales and along with everything else that I had lost in life because of Coronavirus, I had also shed a stone in weight. Having achieved that, my new challenge is now to improve my speed and distance.

And life despite lockdown, has gone on… I’ve continued to work long hours as a Human Resources Manager. My god-daughter had a baby girl. My cousin died. All things I have chronicled in other COVID blogs; all impacted by the parameters of contact and context. Yet all somehow negotiated and come to terms with, in my world.

And through all this, I realised that I had found a surprising contentment, by turning in on myself, spending time with my thoughts and working through the kinks of a strangely seminal situation. In my own sweet COVID cocoon, I felt safe and in control. As a mix of extrovert and introvert – whilst my extrovert felt stifled at first, my inner hermit was only too happy to retreat into her cool, safe cave, alone.

So at the time of writing, the lockdown gate has started to lift and with that comes the gratitude of such simple pleasures as meeting a loved one for a socially distanced walk and meaning that I was able to celebrate my birthday, in my garden, with a legal outdoor ‘gathering’ of six people…

I wonder just how long it will be before I get to take these things for granted again? I wonder too if things will ever be entirely ‘normal’ again, what ever that is. In fact I’ve already decided that the world will find its own normal again, as I will – either to be interrupted or cancelled or continuing on into infinity.

Yet part of me too wants to carry with me constantly what Coronavirus has given me, trusting that when I leave my COVID cocoon, that the positive impacts I have chronicled here, will imprint on me for ever.

From Sandra – student, jogger and believer…

PS: You can buy the paperback or Kindle edition of the book of ‘Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life on Amazon or you can get an author signed copy on my website for just £7.99 including P&P.  You will also find the book on all good book selling websites around the world.

Featured on the BBC, as well as local and national media (including Psychologies Magazine and The Lady), the book was also honoured as a Finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards. 

Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life’ takes the best posts from this blog, adds new content and wraps it all together in a sweet bookish structure. 

If you want to get in touch, you can contact me by clicking here

A Birthday & Scrambled Eggs in the time of Corona

A BIRTHDAY GIRL IN THE TIME OF CORONA or…
~ Grandma Peachey’s Recipe for Scrambled Egg

By the time she passed away in 1983, my grandmother Adelaide Peachey had around 26 descendants – children, grandchildren and great grand children. As a devoted Christian she prayed for each and everyone of us, every single night, before she went to sleep. I always remember that, with warmth – that I was / am loved. That I’m part of something bigger than what is just beyond my inherited Roman nose.

I knew snippets of Grandma’s life story from family anecdote, including that she grew up with her own (maternal) grandmother. And she only told a few tales of her early life, one being how, working and living in the fair grounds, her best friend was a giant shire horse she called ‘Baby’.

She left the travelling life to marry my grandfather, a horse dealer. My cousin Janet recounted how Adelaide’s new mother-in-law was less than delighted, when Adelaide started a fire in the garden to make the first dinner of her married life, not being used to the indoor contraption of a cooking range.

Only later on when I drew the family tree did I realise how hard her early life must have been. She was orphaned by the age of 6 and the family tree shows that she named her own four children (mostly) after her own siblings. And life did not go in a straight line for her after that time. My grandparents divorced after the end of the First World War. A very rare occurrence and a huge cause for scandal in those times. My father, his brother and 2 sisters were then raised by their paternal grandmother.

Yet time moved on and in 1939, my grandparents remarried and stayed together, till death did them part, some 30 years or so later.

My Grandparents

So many of the stories of Adelaide’s life are lost or stored as fragmented memories throughout the branches of the family tree, as is the simple way of these things; but here is one little legacy… The recipe for Grandma Peachey’s scrambled egg.

This comes to my mind today as it’s my birthday. A day to be spent in the semi exile of a life in lockdown.

Over the past few days, my COVID hovel of a home has been cleaned and tidied; my garden clipped, organised and mowed into green respectability.

So I woke up on the day, blessed by glorious sunshine at the zenith of a beautiful English summer. All around me was clean and calm. I fed my 3 cats a luxurious breakfast of prawns and then pondered what my own birthday breakfast should be. I have a little ritual that I will make myself a cooked breakfast and sit in the garden to eat it, soaking up the sunshine and birthday bonhomie.

And today I remembered Grandma Peachey’s method of making scrambled egg:

* Break 2 eggs per person into a bowl.
* Add a teaspoon of milk, some mustard powder, salt and pepper.
* Whisk thoroughly.
* Gently heat a frying pan or saucepan and pour the mixture in.
* As the mixture starts to solidify, add some butter into the mix.
Don’t mess or fuss with it. Just stir occasionally and gently with a wooden spoon until it is cooked through and ready to devour.

A royal breakfast

My own version of this family favourite has evolved over time… I’ve substituted grain mustard and cream. Two slices of sourdough bread are started in the toaster, later to be slathered over in goats butter. Then I cook the eggs in my microwave – literally 2 blasts of 40 seconds and I have a feast fit for a birthday queen. And as this was a royal occasion, I garnished it with deliciously regal strips of smoked salmon. It was then carried ceremoniously out to my garden table, where I ate it in the sunshine, joined by my prowling, posing cats.

As I reflected on the start to this day, my thoughts were this:
I wasn’t concerned that COVID had tempered with or short changed me in any way. The day was what it was and I accepted that – not passively, but with grace and by choice. And I prepared for it so that I could pause in it – I didn’t set the day up to be special; simply settled into it, as it was.

In this time of Corona, for me, this is about accepting where and who I am right now; and what ever day in the life this is, that I always have so much to celebrate and learn.

This years birthday was a day of slow, easy joy. I had the company – socially distanced, in my garden, of a handful of people that I love. And it started out with my grandmother’s scrambled egg, so I got to spend some time with her again, too…

So really – tell me, what could be more perfect than that gorgeous little eggy legacy?

And with that start to it, the day could just gently unfurl as it would… My big brother and 3 of my best friends met me in my garden… I ordered up a delivery of afternoon tea for lunch and we chomped on Chinese takeaway for dinner. We slurped tea, quaffed champagne, chatted, walked, and we basked in the sunshine.

And then I was another year older…

Birthday Girl

With best wishes, from Sandra – Birthday Girl xx

PS: If you are moved to make scrambled egg by suggestion of this post, I’d love to know…

PPS: To experience more of my take on life, you can also buy the book of blog, where my ‘Love Letters to Life’ explore and celebrate the tiny and titanic aspects of life:  ‘Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life’ is published in both paperback kindle.  And for a special offer of a signed author copy – click here to go to my website now and buy the paperback for just £7.99…

Farewells in the Time of Corona

Well, life in lock down carries on… But sometimes of necessity, I just have to leave my cosy COVID Cocoon. So it was, a few days ago, that the time came to tame my rabid COVID hair – to put ‘my face‘, a smart dress and shoes with actual heels on, and drive into town.

One Blogateer, ready to face the day

This was the day to celebrate the life of my cousin Alan, who had recently passed away. He was the son of my father’s brother and one of three children, himself. Al was a husband, too; father to a son and daughter, and also grandfather to 6.

Due to the pandemic, much of the closest family were unable to be there, so there was room for his little cousin, who sat at the back of the crematorium chapel.

There were 14 people in that place to say farewell and celebrate – all sitting carefully apart, intent and socially distanced. As one of them, I was asked by some of the family who couldn’t be there, to stream the service online.

So I arrived, a few minutes late, trying to not curse myself, but to be calm and focus on the task in hand. I proceeded to unpack my laptop, and fiddle awkwardly with the settings, conscious that out there in the ether, members of my family waited and watched on…

There was no where to stand the laptop so I balanced it precariously on a shelf, holding up one corner and praying that my shaking hands would not affect the quality too much.

The minister spoke movingly and told of Alan’s life, also reading out contributions from his five eldest grandchildren. At this point my tears welled and I let them fall, so as not to shake the laptop anymore than I could help.

The words all told of a family man, a tradesman, a business man, a fixer / mender and clearly someone beloved by all. As a hymn played out, I swivelled the laptop around to take in everyone in the room, for those outside of it. Then we stood up to say a final prayer. Suddenly it seemed, the service was over and I whispered my goodbye to the coffin.

Al, at his wedding, in the 1970s

Having said our goodbyes to Al, we left the chapel, to go outside and look at the floral tributes. Out in the daylight, Al’s son met his fiancé who pulled him in for a tight embrace. In the pram next to her lay their 2 month old baby boy – Alan’s youngest grandchild.

I spoke with Alan’s wife Marilyn, who told me that the female minister who conducted the service was from the same church she and Al were married in. “I was there” I said and so many of the others there on that day were here on this day too, many moons later. Now we were marking a different tidemark, whilst chatting at the strange 2 metre distance that we are now all so familiar with. And in this time of Corona, there were no hugs and no wake with tea and cake. Instead we lingered on the pavement.

The next funeral was already about to start. A hearse processed slowly up the driveway with what looked to be more than 30 people, dressed in black and walking solemnly shoulder to shoulder, behind. The coffin was carried into the chapel, whereupon most of them wandered back towards the cemetery gates.

“No social distancing, then,” observed Marilyn without rancour. We turned away and carried on talking of our own connections and reminisces, instead.

So then the sharing was over – it was time to slip away, returning to my COVID cocoon and scruffy sensibilities.

Back at home, I pulled out my late father‘s collection of family photos and rifled through them to find a childhood history, some of which I’ll share here, with contributions from other family members.

A childhood picture of Alan (middle)
with his brother and sister

As is the way of life, the family tree has been shaken and now our lives continue, segwayed – Alan is gone and we all, go on…

Brothers and sister now all grandparents, smiling at the camera again

So it was a strange week in the life, not only with Alan’s funeral, but a close friend having a breakdown, which I could only support at a distance, making many calls and messages to her and her family. Then there was the business of having to carry on, with life and work, day after day…

Alan and his wife Marilyn, Christmas Day, 2019

By the end of the week I was exhausted, but Friday came round and still I couldn’t sleep. Instead at 1.00 am I found myself watching and worshipping the luscious full moon, seen through my open bedroom window.

Looking up into the strange night sky was a heady contrast to what had gone on in the days before. The moon was magnificent – so sharp and silver to see. Even with my gravity-weighted feet, planted on the earth an infinitesimal distance away and separated by space and stars; I saw her craters and crenellations.

I stood, captivated, bathing in her rays, watching as the clouds rushed and scudded across her face, veiling and then revealing her ethereal, eternity beauty. As I breathed all this in, I decided to feel rather than think, and lose myself for a little while.

And hours later, the new morning arrived, as they always do. I stayed in bed to save my energy, sharing the space with a small cat creature called Sophia. I have 3 felines and they are normally banned from the bedroom, but not today… She sat with me for nearly 2 hours and didn’t stop purring in all that time…

Sophia

So it was a small, gorgeous benediction, this creature’s simple, purring joy; yet it was one I chose to soothe my soul with on this particular day.

And finally I wish you benediction and connection too, across the ether between us, wherever you find yourself in this curious and closeted time of Corona.

PS: My first book – ‘Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life’ gathers together the best blogs here into a neat paperback package that you can read from cover to cover or else dip into at whim. It’s evocative, entertaining and will make make you reflect – so you can embrace and enjoy your life – more.

In 2015 the book was a finalist in the International book awards. It’s also been featured in Psychologies mazagine, and The Lady, along with other national and local press.

Buy the paperback on my website – here for just £7.99 including P&P… 

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