Monday, 4 May 2020

Staying sane during lockdown

I had an interesting email from one of my readers. It was sort of a great big moan that wasn't a moan. Like many people who have read the blog for a long time, my reader started to read the blog because they wanted to read coverage about what was happening in the wonderful world of Barnet council. They were quite happy to accept my little idiosyncrasies but it had all got too much! Surely many aspects of what the council was doing etc needed scrutiny now more than ever?

Now I totally get that some people are fed up that bins may not have been emptied or the roads are still hazardous due to potholes. But when the true scale of the crisis became clear, I realised that for the vast majority of people in the Borough, in the UK and possibly in the developed world, this was not the biggest challenge we would face. For the majority of us, covid is a mild illness and thus far, thanks to the grace of God, most of us have not had it. But the challenge of the lockdown, the most damaging aspect I believe most of us will face is the mental health challenge. We are not used to being cooped up. Some of us are completely alone, some of us are cooped up with people 24 x 7, who we suddenly find are rather irritating (or worse). What have we got to relieve the monotony? Well there are the facetime/zoom calls to friends and family. I've been getting involved in all of this. Yesterday we had an hour long chat with our best friends, who live up the road on zoom. On Thursday, we had a wake for my 89 year old aunt over zoom. On the upside, it lifts the monotony and is nice to catch up. On the down side, for me at least, it reinforces the feeling of being a prisoner. It demonstrates the isolation. It helps, but I suspect it is no more than a mild palliative for our problems. Then there is the one hours exercise. As a dog owner, this really is what is keeping me sane. Our trips over the Totteridge valley have been a godsend. We are so lucky that the weather has been largely fantastic. Darlands lake and the surrounding nature reserve is such an amazing an beautiful spot, that it is possible to forget, for an hour, the troubles of the world. Having the dogs forces us out and once we are there, I cannot wish for anything better. But even there, I start thinking of the other beautiful places. I have started yearning for fish and chips on the seafront at Brighton and the smell of the sea. When we return, we have a cup of tea and there is a distinct feeling that "well that is today done".

So what for the rest of the day? Well again I'm lucky. I play guitar and I've had more opportunity to practice than I have in the last ten years. I've learned all manner of silly tunes and brushed up on several techniques. If it goes on much longer, I'll break the habit of a lifetime and start exploring weird and wonderful obscure scales (as a punk rocker, these have always been something of an anathema to me). I've also started a little exercise to understand orchestral arrangement properly. To aid this I've been studying orchestrated versions of well known songs and trying to analyse how the arrangement hangs together. I have come across some amazing music. This has given me a lift. Check out this clip of the master in action. I'd never have come across this, if it hadn't been for the Lockdown. 

This is something that can be done in the comfort of your living room or flat. Of course it's not for everyone, but seeking out web content that is of interest and can help your own personal development is a great way to use the time. 

As a blogger, I also have a blog to write. I made a conscious decision to try and post interesting and uplifting blogs for the duration. As my correspondent noted, this doesn't meet everyones requirements for a local blog. I apologise to the loyal readers, but I can only say that if I was focussing on something negative and critical, I think I'd be struggling to get out of bed. The photo collections and video clips I've published seem to have been popular. I've certainly enjoyed putting them together.
Another thing I've been doing is revisiting some old TV shows that I used to love. One of my little projects is to watch the entire series of Gerry Andersons UFO. The series was made in 1969/70. I used to love it, and strangely I still do. The animation looks very amateur these days, with interceptors, submarines etc all clearly being models. Some of the social attitudes are quite shocking. In the first episode, a new form of radar is being transported from the USA to SHADO HQ. This was designed by Dr Lake, who clearly is a highly qualified expert. The deputy boss of SHADO, Colonel Freeman simply comes on to her like a cheap pick up in a bar, as she is a very attractive woman. He'd be straight up before an HR tribunal these days. 

Some of the technology is rather amusing, but as the series was set in 1980, this is excusable. It is interesting seeing everyone smoking at work. When I started work in IT in 1983, I worked for a leading UK software company. My boss had a bar behind his desk, so I admire Strakers bar in his office. 

What I love about the series is how the whole premise is that there is an organisation that is run by the UN, above all national differences, that I solely involved in a huge deception of the public, for its own good. It seems to me that the likes of David Icke have taken the concept far too seriously. What the covid crisis has shown is that countries run by competent leaders have lower death rates. Why people are coming out with bonkers conspiracy theories, when there is such a self evident truth for all to see is beyond me. I suspect that foil hatted conspiracy theorists are having an absolute field day. It is interesting to note how they seem to be getting ever more hysterical and this is really no surprise. Personally I'd recommend TV shows that are entertainment for your fix of such nonsense. I may watch the X-files again when I'm through with UFO.

Another great solace has been cooking. I have now worked out the way to do a perfect roast beef and a perfect roast potato. I am so grateful to have Gerards butchers open, selling high quality beef and other meats. As Clare doesn't eat meat, I've also come up with a rather good recipe for baked aubergine. It has been lovely spending mealtimes at the table together. That has been a real bonus. we have all our children + a boyfriend at home. It has been far less stressful than I anticipated.

All of this aside, it has been a strain. We are lucky that we have a house and garden, so we are not completely on top of each other, but we are now at the stage where I find I need some solitude. Last night, after dinner, I went to my room at 8pm, read the papers and fell asleep at 9.30pm. I just wanted some quiet time on my own, away from the hustle bustle of the house. It occurred to me that there are two distinct types of lockdown. There are those people who are coping with not seeing anyone, and there are those who are having to cope with seeing far too much of the same people. I'm in the latter category. I can't really offer any insight for those of you in the first category, but for those living on top of a group of other people, here are some clues as to how to cope when things start to irritate you.

1) If you are getting irritated, then so are everyone else. Don't get angry, try and de-escalate. Ask yourself what real damage the thing that irritates you is causing. If it is nothing, let it go. If it is a rational issue, write it down. Rationalise it and formulate a polite way to get your worries across in a non confrontational manner.

2) If you have space in your house, have some time out on your own. If you don't, take your hour's exercise on your own. If people want to come with you, as that's what you've been doing, politely say "I'd rather just spend some time on my own today, we'll go together tomorrow" reach compromises.

3) If someone doesn't seem to want to engage with you or is seeking solitude, respect them. Asking people if they are OK can be irritating. If you are worried, ask them if you can make them a tea or coffee and then ask if there is anything else you can do when you've given it to them.

4) Take some time out from alcohol. I've gone back to my three days a week off, and feel better for it. This week, I'm doing five. We will celebrate VE day on the Thursday, with some VE wine (that's Very Expensive). We are going to have a VE day party, to celebrate the end of the war. As my Dad was a bomber pilot with the RAF this means much to me. Rather than drink every day, make the days you do drink, days when you actually get some enjoyment out of it, rather than just habitually quaffing it.

5) Develop 'projects'. They may be only for yourself, but having a focus is a good thing.

What works for me, won't necessarily work for you, but it is important to recognise that anyone can fall foul of what Winston Churchill called his 'black dog'. If it is getting too much, don't sink into despair, seek help.


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