Weekend of Days 54 & 55 – 16 & 17 th May 2020
“The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself.”
Here we are. It is, I think, the eighth Weekend I have written this though I started on the first Wednesday so this the ninth Saturday of Lock Down. * This is in the UK obviously – for my friends in Spain and France it is considerably longer. In Lagos, yours came and went officially though most of you reading this are still sticking to it. How are you doing, my friends? Some days better than others? Changeable moods during the day? Getting cravings for something, someone? Or, the complete opposite, getting fed up – or stronger – of something, someone? Have you stayed on an even keel or do you feel as if you are coping better now than you were at the start, or handling things less well as it progresses? Do you even know how you feel? Obviously, most of us would have felt some or all of these conflicting emotions over the past few weeks. I have, though I think my ‘roller-coaster’ has been somewhat shallower than some, less real peaks and troughs. Funnily enough, one of the ‘side effects’ of this blog – and it would be the same if I was writing a private diary – is that the process of writing forces me to self examine if I am to be honest in my shared Covid experience.
I have noticed, for example, that I definitely feel brighter in myself on days when I get out for a walk. Just the knowledge that I am not going to go out seems somehow to dampen my spirits. On weekdays I do my daily shopping and exercise walk but I avoid going out at the weekend because the streets, shops and parks are just so much busier and I feel uncomfortable. Having some routine certainly helps my mood and so losing my weekday routine of a walk makes the weekends seem longer.
I do have a balcony and a patio so I am so much better off than someone who is in a smaller flat with less light. It is interesting how that little phrase becomes a mantra in my phone and zoom conversations. ‘It could be a lot worse’, ‘we’re lucky, we could be………’ and similar sayings appear to do two things. First, as per the ‘count your blessings’ exhortation the knowledge that others are having it worse seems to be a source of comfort somehow, maybe just because it creates a sense of ‘I don’t have the right to feel bad when so many others are in a poorer position’. However, secondly, there is a danger that this trips into ‘I do feel bad but I can’t talk about how bad I feel because I don’t have a right to when others are in a worse position’. This of course is understandable but potentially dangerous if it stopped me seeking help or support or just opening up.
In fact, as I write this I recognise that I do tend to lapse into third person. I originally wrote ‘if it stopped someone …..’, which keeps my thoughts at arm’s length and creates a tendency to talk as if this is not happening to me. I think it is important for me, for us, to stay honest as this will make it much more likely that we detect early any signs of depression for example and reach out for help. I do consciously and specifically make a point of mentally celebrating positive things. Even when I am on my own I try to cook healthily and then avoid doing anything else when eating, making sure I consciously enjoy my food. Equally, when son George was staying with me cooking for both of us created a positive focus. (It helps that he likes my cooking obviously, if he didn’t and complained, it would not have been positive reinforcement!) There are signs that I am not quite my normal self but talking to other people these seem to be common. My concentration is weird. I am normally an avid reader but somehow seem unable to sit down and concentrate on a book the way I would normally. I seem to have a shorter attention span when it comes to the television. I have been avoiding putting it on before eight and often nine pm but instead of watching a full length film I seem to only have the desire to concentrate in shorter bursts watching one hour long programmes. In fact, I haven’t even been watching series just preferring one-offs documentaries and the like. My patience seems to be shorter. When I go out for my daily shop I have to check myself from becoming impatient in the ‘physical distance’ queue outside the shops. That’s ridiculous, as I have to remind myself, because it is not as if I have a schedule or somewhere I have to be. I then get impatient when other people get impatient. You know, those people in the queue who start ‘tutting’ and fidgeting and asking other shoppers ‘excuse me, how long have you been waiting?” Fuck off! I find other people’s impatience really bloody annoying! Now, I am aware that over the last couple of years I have turned into a bit of a grumpy old man and I do love a good rant but getting impatient at other people’s impatience is not a good thing. I really have to be careful about getting into a rant on zoom calls. Inevitably about politics – what else – so I do actually try not to talk politics as it invariably triggers me and I struggle! ** So, when I start getting grumpy, it’s good to switch to positive thoughts.
There has been one brilliant outcome of the shutdown for me and that has been the new sense of community along our corridor. There are just 19 flats on one floor in this block. I was friends with a couple of the other residents and on ‘hello’ terms with a few of the others but the shared lock down has brought us together. In the corridor we have had two ‘physically distanced’ music evenings and one quiz evening. About ten of the flats’ occupants, mostly couples and some young families, came out and we sat and stood by our doors and sang along to the accompaniment of two of our residents who are musicians. these have been an amazing ‘release mechanism’ for all of us. On the other side we have balconies and patios that have come into their own for fresh air. Most of the residents are on furlough or working at home so instead of just occasionally using the outside spaces they are now in constant use. One of my neighbouring families includes a five-year-old daughter and the sound of her laughter on their patio is a genuine tonic. There must be many young children who will remember this as a happy time when they had much more of their parents’ attention than normal. Sadly, for many children, the reverse will be equally true, as I will discuss in part two. As I write this, the sun is out so several of the neighbours are outside and the sound of chatter and music come wafting through my open patio doors. Pre-lock down I think I would have been less enthusiastic about the sound and, depending on my mood, treated it as noise. Now, in this situation, I treat it as the sound of community. I tend to be a bit more careful about the sound of my music and TV than I would have done before. Conversations across balconies or along corridors tell me there is a shared recognition that we should keep this going after the lock-down rules relax.
I am also lucky because I am not a natural worrier. Well, we all worry to a point but I know some people are more likely to be obsessive about it than I. I really do think some people make themselves worse however, by being so obsessive about keeping up with the news. Except it isn’t. News, I mean. The vast majority of the noise is opinion and opinion is not news. What some Brexiteer from Tunbridge Wells wants to get off his chest on a radio ‘phone in is not going to make you feel better, ever. A television reporter asking random shoppers in a Gloucestershire village what they think about the lack of PPE Is. Not. News. Yet this is what many, maybe most, of my friends spend their days listening to and watching. It is not healthy and just talks to the absence of intelligence in most news media. If you are a worrier I understand that you are driven ‘just in case’ there is some news and because ‘there isn’t anything better to do’ but there isn’t and there is and you have allowed yourself to get into a negative cycle. For some people who are vulnerable for medical reasons there is clear advice to isolate and not go outdoors. In that case, I will never think of a better reason for taking recreational drugs, putting on the headphones (or just freaking out the neighbours), cranking up the music and dancing. As weirdly, energetically, freakily as possible and ideally, just in your underwear. If you are sharing the space with someone tell them to either join in, or even better, play something else equally bangin’ through their own earphones and create your own silent disco. I personally go for a kind of late ‘60’s Woodstock hippy arm waving style as it has lots of stretching which is good for my hip. If you really want to understand how utterly fuckin’ fatuous that Brexiteer from Tunbridge Wells is, try dancing to him. Alternate between trance one day, heavy metal the next. The variations are endless, depending on your variety of recreational drug, obviously. What? Sorry, the man from Tunbridge Wells has just rang telling me it is dangerous and irresponsible to encourage people to take drugs. He sounds pissed to me, too many pinks gins. Anyway, it is better for your mental health than listening to political phone in radio. In addition, a couple of hours of solid dancing is likely to knacker you out and help you sleep, which is also good for you. Anyway you listen to it, music is good for my mental health, which is why it plays such an important part in my blog.
Anyway, seriously, I recognise that my own mental fortitude is not solely in my own hands. It would only take a ‘phone call to say that a close friend or, even worse, one of my sons, has fallen to the Virus to shake my equilibrium. I know every parent, no matter how old their children or grandchildren would feel that way to some extent. Every one of us has fears that bubble to the surface at some point for even the most sanguine of us. In my everyday current existence on Zoom calls and even writing this Blog I have in the back of my mind not to be complacent, to tempt fate or, as my Nigerian friends would say, ‘not to put a bad mouth on it’. We all have trigger points for stress or worry or worse. I am also acutely aware that I live in a middle class London suburb bubble and economic and geographical circumstances make a massive difference to physical and mental health and that will be the subject of the second part of this blog.
Given the serious subject of this blog I wondered whether to link to a Vinyl but then there is no subject that music can not reflect, explain or illustrate. In 1978 I was living in Brighton, newly single and at the same time a close friend of mine’s marriage broke up in painful circumstances so he moved in for a few months until he got a new place sorted. His response to a depressing time was not to dwell on it, and to be fair, we did put ourselves out and about a bit. Third World’s ‘Journey to Addis’ came out about the same time and I still think it is a great album to dance to – particularly the hit single “Now That We’ve Found Love”.
So just as I ‘recommended’ above, most evenings we did resort to ‘recreational drugs’ once we got kicked out of whatever pub we were in. A few beers, a spliff and we would invariably crank up the stereo and dance around to Third World to the extent that our upstairs neighbour (it was a basement flat) could not sleep. After a few minutes of us getting back he would turn up at the front door in his dressing gown on the basis of ‘if you can’t stop ‘em, join ‘em’. I have a clear memory of Jim (surname and address withheld LOL) dancing on my battered old settee in his pyjamas through a haze of smoke. I leave you to decide if it would be a suitable exercise track. Oh and I should also mention that in 1983 they released a song called “Lagos Jump” reflecting on the time they spent there – I believe recording but not sure which album. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMQn0kXP_k0
*A few people have suggested I am out of synch – actually it means that 54 days of my blogging equals 58 days since Johnson set our shut down in train and XLIII also means I have actually posted 43 times. (Well, you could have organised that better eh? Ed.)
**(Ed.) Say sorry then. (Me) Ok everyone, I am really sorry for ranting about Johnson on zoom, its just that he is such a total …………. (Ed.) STOP! See what I mean!