Covid-19 and Other

Covid-19 and Other

So, it’s been near enough four months since my last post, and while I’m still finding reasons to be cheerful, I’m not beating Covid-19 with optimism. It seems none of us are – certainly not the us in the UK.

This isn’t going to be a rant about how rubbish our government are. Well it might be a little bit. The main part of this post is a copy of an email that I’ve sent to my (Conservative) MP; the third one I’ve sent – he hasn’t answered the other two!

There are a number of reasons why I haven’t posted anything for months, and most of them are really good, as in happy reasons: I’ve been busy with my granddaughter – always a pleasure, sometimes a pain; I’ve been busy with school work – nearly always a pleasure, sometimes a pain; I’ve been doing lots of reading – pure, pure pleasure; I’ve been writing my novel – pleasure and pain in equal measures. And in between all of that I’ve been WhatsApping friends and family. So it’s been pretty good.

I have also during this time experienced personal losses to Covid, and a fair amount of fear, exasperation, and horror. But I’ll let the text of my email to my MP speak for some of that.

Dear Mr Jupp,
This is the third email that I have sent you regarding the government’s handling of the coronavirus situation and my concerns regarding the specific impact in schools. I sent the first email in May and to date, I have not received a reply. As I sent the previous two emails from my school email address, I have decided to send this from my private email address in the hope that I receive a reply.
I am one of your constituents; I also teach in a school in your constituency. I write to you  as a concerned teacher, grandparent and as a citizen of this country. I want you to put a very serious question to the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s Questions on my behalf: why has there not been more specific planning for the safe return of pupils to schools in September? Or if you prefer, you could word it like this: how can my constituents who teach or have children in school, feel safe when the schools re-open in September given what we already know about Covid-19?
Children have to return to their education. That is not in question. But it has to be done as safely as possible. And at the moment it seems that we are being asked to return on a wing and a prayer. In order for our children to return to school safely, time, effort, money and proper strategic planning needs to be put in place. It seems that all of this is just too much of a faff for our government.
When I return to school in September, I will see over 150 students in one week, in an enclosed classroom, with no PPE. As I teach Years 7 up to 13, that means that in reality my contact will be much wider than that. Our children are going to be kept in Year group ‘bubbles’ as far as we are able to do that given the constraints of school buildings and the timings of the day. So, the children in each year group class that I teach will have been in different groupings in other subjects, meaning that I will in reality be exposed to far more than 150 children.
We are now being told that older teenagers transmit Covid-19 at the same level as adults. We also know that they are often asymptomatic if they do contract the virus. As there will be no weekly testing, we cannot possibly know how many children currently have the virus. However, what we do know is that young people are now getting together in larger numbers and are often not observing social distancing.
I am very rightly required to wear a mask to go shopping in a supermarket both for my own safety and for the safety of others. And yet the danger to me in a supermarket will be minimal compared to the situation within a school once all of the staff and students return.
Can you understand my anxiety? I am fifty-five and I do not have any underlying health conditions. But younger healthier people than I have died of this terrible disease. And the numbers of students that teachers are going to be exposed to in an enclosed space could lead to exposure to multiple students with the virus. This we know would increase the danger of the virus itself.
And if we look at the wider picture, every child who becomes infected will potentially be spreading that virus to their own families and on into the wider community. How are the government going to protect the NHS, the elderly, the vulnerable, and the community as a whole in the face of their gung ho approach to one of the most important issues in our society?
Please, please ask the Prime Minister what will happen if we have a wave of the virus sweeping through a school. Is he prepared to accept responsibility for the lives lost? We are already looking at the terrible tragedy of tens of thousands of deaths in this country. Is the government prepared to add more deaths to that figure for the want of forward planning? We need extra buildings, volunteers, a wider and more far-reaching strategy similar to the one that built the Nightingale hospitals to allow schools to continue to operate as safely as possible for the children and the people of this country.
I wonder, would you be happy to walk into a classroom full of teenagers day after day with the chance of this invisible killer lurking hidden from view? Would you be happy for a relative of yours to be put in this position? I’d
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that students have to return to school. What I am stuck on is the fact that there is nothing at all in place to help them to do that safely.
I look forward to your response. Please do respond to this email. Don’t leave it unanswered as my previous emails have been.
Yours sincerely,
Sarah Fisher

 

Reasons to be Cheeful – Beating Covid-19 with Optimism – 6

Reasons to be Cheeful – Beating Covid-19 with Optimism – 6

When I started these posts, I wondered how long it would take before my reasons to be cheerful started to diminish. And although I know it’s only still early days, I’m happy to say that I’m not there yet.

That is not to say that I’m not listening to the news, and feeling fear and horror at some of the stories that are emerging. Nor is it true to say that I don’t have the desire to have a good long rant about how aspects (maybe all) of this crisis are being handled. But they are for different posts.

What is heartening is how the human spirit deals with situations of crisis. Yes, there are and will always be people who show the very worst sides of human nature, but, in my experience at least, they are far outweighed by the huge number of people who are selfless, caring and full of kindness.

Yesterday, I took my granddaughter on a bear hunt around our street. We have a Facebook page for our street and a number of people put teddy bears up in their windows. It’s such a simple thing, but so lovely. Who would have thought that so much fun could be had walking around the street that you live on spotting teddy bears in windows. My granddaughter loved it, and what made it really special was the warmth and friendliness – from a safe distance – of the few people we saw as we walked.

Today we went on a rather longer walk. I felt we both needed some nature and fresh air. Predictably, my granddaughter didn’t want to go – the lure of TV, tablets, and Trampoline (sorry, I couldn’t resist an alliterative group of three there) – all beckoned. But I insisted; she relented, and we set off. What is striking, apart from the joyful sound of bird song, and the many lovely plants and flowers that we spotted, is how much we both enjoyed it. My granddaughter gave me one of her swift, strong hugs – something she does when she’s particularly happy – and declared that we were to go on walks like this every day. When all else is shut down, there is still a lot to be said for the simple pleasures in life. I would like to note that although we live in Devon, our walk was a very prosaic one through the park and around the block. We didn’t head out to one of the many beauty spots around; we didn’t need to. There is so much to be enjoyed out and about in the streets around us.

I’m not the first to say; I certainly won’t be the last – but let’s hope that both as individuals and as societies, we are able to learn some key lessons from this. Appreciating what we have being one of them.

Reasons to be Cheerful – Fighting Covid-19 with Optimism – 5

It’s been a week since my last post, and, for all of us, so much has changed. No more trips to the school to pick up my granddaughter, no more casual trips anywhere. It’s a strange and scary new world.

It’s also a world in which optimism feels easier than it did last week. Why? Because when the going gets tough, people get wonderful. I’m not considering the underbelly of society here; I’m focusing on the many, many wonderful people who are out there reaching out to others.

My granddaughter and I took our daily 30 minutes outside walking round our street. It’s a big looped cul-de-sac. We were very careful, and didn’t go within even four metres of anyone else. But it was important that we walked around the whole road because we were looking for green cards in windows, and we were on alert for any red cards.

These cards were posted through everyone’s letter boxes by one of our neighbours three days ago with a note telling us to display the green card if we’re okay, and the red if we need help. She left her number for anyone who needs anything, and as a key worker is out there on the frontline, she offered to pick up shopping for those who can’t get out themselves. The cards were the idea of another neighbour, who, like many others around the country, has also set up a Facebook page for our road.

So now we have a network of wonderful people looking out for each other throughout so many neighbourhoods in our country. Add them to the half a million who have signed up to volunteer for the NHS, plus the countless others who routinely give up their time, money and energy to help others, and you have some very good reasons to be cheerful.

I’ve had more, remote, contact with my neighbours in the last week than I have in the previous 14 years that I’ve lived here. There is a great sense of helping and looking out for each other.

We didn’t see any red cards on our walk, thank goodness! What we did see along side the green cards was a large number of rainbows in windows as messages of hope. Add that to the tremendous clapping for the NHS last night and there is plenty to make you feel optimistic.

I’m not trying to underplay the seriousness of this situation; I just want to keep my mind focussed on the good. And there’s a lot of it about.

Reasons to be Cheerful – Fighting Covid-19 with Optimism – 4

Reasons to be Cheerful – Fighting Covid-19 with Optimism – 4

Luckily for me, and this blog, as the bad news mounts so do the reasons to be cheerful. Yesterday I picked up my granddaughter from school for the last time for who knows how long. As I approached the playground, I could hear music and clapping – again.

The children were singing Bob Marley’s  Three Little Birds as their goodbye to school: it was beautiful and there were quite a few emotional tears from children, staff and parents. I left there feeling upset but again uplifted by the shared spirit of hope.

Sadly, it didn’t last! Since writing the above I’ve had a definite wobble.

I intended this blog as a way to counteract the moaning and negativity that has come from some quarters as a response to the current crisis. My aim was to remain positive, and find the good. And I will keep trying to do that; I promise.

It’s just…

The picture above is how I would like to be greeting Covid-19 and all the attendant chaos that is building at a horrifying speed, but the reality is a little more like this:

Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up coffee

Last night I had a rushing sense of panic sweeping over me, and the only way I could calm myself down was to think about Lloyd Bridges in Airplane – with his ‘Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up coffee!’ So I think that he needs to feature here too. The above was definitely me last night – although in fairness, the drink may have been red in colour and distinctly wine flavoured.

Today has definitely been a day of mixed emotions. A day of good intentions – let’s all go for a lovely walk, and a day of irritable bickering because we’re all feeling weird and a little scared. My granddaughter aged eight, who lives with us, is very upset about not being able to see her friends. Although as we’re both key workers, she will have some contact with other children at school – albeit it limited.

My husband and I, in all honesty, are not one of those couples who finish each other’s sentences and exude comfortable companionship. So it’s going to be interesting to say the least.

But although this isn’t quite as simply positive as the previous three posts, there have still been a lot of reasons to be cheerful.

I’ve spent most of the afternoon high on endorphins from yoga followed by weights (it was 45 minutes of power yoga courtesy of Yoga with Adriene. If you haven’t found Adriene Mishler’s Youtube channel – Yoga with Adriene – stop reading this immediately, and search for it in Ecosia (green search engine that plants trees from the revenue that they earn – another reason to be cheerful.) She is wonderful, truly inspiring, and her dog Benji adds a whole new dimension to online yoga. He’s generally asleep next to her mat.

Added to the joy of endorphins, is the fact that I’m currently reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for probably about the 50th time (conservative estimate). And if there’s one thing guaranteed to make me happy, it’s Austen’s wicked irony – sharp, hilarious, cruel – but most of all, joyous.

Not everyone’s cup of tea – either yoga or Austen – but the fact is that there will be something or someone on the internet who can bring something valuable into your world at the moment.

And, even if you’re not a reader, there’s always Netflix, Iplayer et al – endless box sets of pleasure to immerse yourself in – not forgetting the 1995 BBC adaptation of P & P.

Reasons to be cheerful indeed.

 

 

Reasons to be Cheerful – Fighting Covid-19 with Optimism – 3

Reasons to be Cheerful – Fighting Covid-19 with Optimism – 3

As each new day opens and we move into a new stage of this situation, the need to fight this invisible enemy with optimism grows.

Yesterday a friend sent me a funny message on WhatsApp – you may have seen it – the 2020 Cancelled missive that is from the Management. It starts: ‘After careful consideration, we have decided that it is no longer in the best interests of everyone involved to proceed with 2020.’ and continues in that strain. I loved it because amidst the stories of panic buying and a multitude of other things that we could point to and shake our heads in dismay, there will always be people who take the time to produce something funny and irreverent that will make at least a few people laugh out loud. And the great thing about the internet is that you can pass on anything funny that gives you  joy, and still have it yourself.

I immediately sent it on to a number of other friends who then responded with laughter emojis, messages, and, in one case, a decision that it was going to form the last language lesson that would be taught to Year 13 before they leave school and venture out into this strange and uncertain world. I love the fact that one of their last lessons will be around the use of humour in crisis. I like to think that is as good a message as any to send them off with.

And then, what joy when I dropped my granddaughter off at school this morning. There was a huge speaker blasting out music in the playground, and the teaching assistants led everyone in a co-ordinated dance. Never loath to jump about, I leapt straight in. It meant that I walked out of the school gate smiling, and I was still smiling when I got to the car.

And if none of that makes you feel any sense of optimism – after all, we don’t all have the same sense of humour – then read up about the number of newly retired doctors who are returning to work. It’s inspiring.

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Reasons to be Cheerful – Fighting Covid-19 with Optimism -2

Reasons to be Cheerful – Fighting Covid-19 with Optimism -2

One thing that has struck me today, is that as we venture into the unknown, we are going to have to do more than stay cheerful, or even find reasons for staying cheerful: we are going to have to be creative about how we do both.

I’ve always loved jigsaw puzzles. To me, there is something so cozy about them: they are both simple and complex as a form of entertainment. You can do them on your own – and you can combine them with listening to the radio or a good audio book. What’s not to love! Also, as you piece together the picture, you become part of it. Which is why I’m looking forward to doing the sea view puzzle pictured above.

If you’ve never completed a jigsaw puzzle in your life, now could be a very good time to start. And this leads onto another big reason for being cheerful through Covid-19. On one of the many pages on Facebook that have been set up in local communities to help those in need, I saw a post from a woman who is having to self-isolate asking whether anyone in the area would be prepared to drop a jigsaw puzzle to her house (leaving it safely outside, of course) for her to do. The response from people in the Exmouth community was immediate. And she has since posted to say that she now has several puzzles which she will be paying forward as she has finished with them.

So, if you’re not on Facebook, now may be a good time to create a profile – you can use it purely to connect to the many support groups in your area. And, if you’re so inclined, to get yourself a jigsaw puzzle or two. They really can be very therapeutic. And anything that takes us into a more positive place, and asks our brains to do something that they may not be used to doing, can only be a good thing.

 

Reasons to be Cheerful – Fighting Covid-19 with Optimism.

Reasons to be Cheerful – Fighting Covid-19 with Optimism.

Like many, if not most of us, I feel that I have woken up to find myself in a Science Fiction film. I am guessing that in terms of a normal film’s life, we are about a quarter of the way through it: the crisis is building; the world’s governments are trying desperately to overcome the enemy, and we are all trying to work out how we need to act in the face of the unprecedented situation that the world finds itself in.

So, how do we act? We’ve heard about some responses – panic buying etc. But I don’t want to focus on that. What has also been happening are people setting up community groups to help those who are most vulnerable; people knocking on the doors of elderly or at risk neighbours and offering, at a distance, their help and support; an increase in donations to food banks; people smiling, chatting and laughing together in supermarket queues, instead of all looking down at their phones, and people carrying on in the face of these scary times.

These are the things that we need to keep in our minds now. Particularly those of us who already suffer from anxiety. If you’re going to go onto Social Media, try to stick to the sites and posts that are positive, and skip the ones full of gloom, doom, and moaning.

I am going to try to share something positive most days. And today, in addition to all the above – the sun is shining and Spring is in the air. And while we need to try to avoid social situations, a walk or even sitting outside in the sunshine can help to make us feel more hopeful. Even if you can’t get outside, you can sit by an open window and look up to the sky.

 

Ethical Eating for the meat eaters who want to do better.

I’ve been circling around the idea of veganism for a while now. All that I’ve read and heard tell me that it’s the right choice for so many reasons: health, planet and heart. But. But. But. I’m not quite there yet. I want to do the right thing, but I’m struggling with it.

I like eating meat but to be honest, that is only a small part of it. For me at this point in time, it is all about just that: time. I know that if I want to do it, I have to do it properly. And I’m not sure that I can. I have a very, very stressful and ongoing family situation that takes up a lot of my time and emotional energy. I have a husband who is definitely not ready for this step yet, and I know that to do it properly will take a lot of re-educating myself on how to prepare a healthy and balanced diet. So, what to do…

The answer, for me, is to make sure that what meat I do eat is as far removed from the appalling factory farming as it can possibly be. And of course this is expensive. Very expensive. Free range and out door bred is not enough: a free range chicken from a popular cut price supermarket costs under £5, but that price tells me that the rearing of that chicken would probably not stand up to close scrutiny.

So it’s got to be organic, properly free range, slow reared, and no nasty hormones, antibiotics or any other such disgusting, and frankly mind boggling practices that are taken as the norm in factory farming. Hence the expense. Right at a time when I’m on a serious budget. So far, that has put me off a little. I know, I know, what price ethics. But now, I’m seeing the cost as part of the appeal. If I’ve got to pay nearly three times the amount for my meat, I’m not going to be eating very much meat. And what I do eat is going to be the very best quality.

Last week, on Tuesday a beautiful box of organic meat was delivered by Riverford Organic Farmers. It has to be Tuesday because that’s the day for my area (more green ethical brownie points). The contents of the box were small – budget – but so very delicious.

The limitation of the delivery day also meant that when we had friends over for dinner, instead of getting in meat, I used quorn, and it was lovely. And btw, I also served up quorn nuggets to my granddaughter who is a big fan of chicken nuggets – which most definitely are not anywhere near organic or free range – she loved them.

Now I know that a lot of people are going to knock me down for eating meat and animal products and using the word ‘ethical’ in my blog, but do you know what? If we all ate truly ethically sourced meat, I’m guessing that the impact on the planet would be significant in terms of the benefits. Many of us would not be able to afford to continue to eat meat in the quantities that we, as a country, are currently consuming it, and that would be a good thing.

The animals would be a lot happier too.

So that’s it for me. Riverford will be delivering fortnightly, and I can eat their delicious organic, slow-reared, free range meat with a clearer conscience. And safe in the knowledge that I’m not filling my body with disgusting chemicals. I may not have made the move to veganism, but I’m feeling a lot better about the choices I’m making.

The Joy of Discovering New Authors

I am aware that I haven’t posted for some hundreds of years, and that is due to various reasons: rubbish blogger being the top one; completing my MA being second; and family-issues-like-you-wouldn’t-believe being the third. Still, here I am. And the reason for this return to WordPress? Reading and Writing of course.

I’m still worrying away at trying to be a writer, well writing – a lot. And, in my quest to find, and polish, my voice as a writer, I am spreading my reading net to catch new styles, and find new (to me) writers.

The Booker prize seemed to be a good place to start – and I thought I’d go back before I went forward, so I started with Penelope Lively Moon Tiger. I’m really looking for narratives that move back and forth in the protagonist’s life as this is what I’m trying to do in the novel I’m writing at the  moment. I want to look at how that is achieved in a way that doesn’t feel clunky or jarring. And Moon Tiger is a beautifully evocative example of a narrative that does just that. In fact, Lively does much more than simply move between the different events in her protagonist’s life; she also moves between narrative perspectives. So that we get the same, often quite small event, through the eyes or voice of each of the principal characters involved: sometimes this is through first person, and sometimes through third person. It is beautifully, brilliantly, and deftly done – with the narrative moving seamlessly often from one paragraph to the next.

Further, and this is something that I am also concerned with, she somehow manages to paint her self-centred, hard-edged, and judgemental heroine in such a way, that the reader cannot help but be drawn to her.

It was a pure joy to read, and the perfect book for a writer in training. Ideal in that, as the narrative moves elegantly between narrative perspectives and voices, you can examine the craft of writing from many different angles. As Dorothea Brande states in Becoming a Writer ‘…technical excellences can be imitated, and with great advantage. When you have found a passage, long or short, which seems to you far better than anything of the sort you are yet able to do, sit down to learn from it.’ I would certainly recommend that any one wishing to learn, or at any rate improve, the craft of writing, to have a read of Moon Tiger.