On Saturday 11th April, the ways in which the lockdown is bringing back memories of the past, and how we’re coping with the present, continued to be a fascinating topic. Four of us who’d returned to the Zoom get together were joined by three others, and our conversations in pairs, followed by a lively group discussion, led to the following contributions written up afterwards. They are presented in a sequence suggested by Jolene, to reflect the up and down nature of our collective experience.
I grew up in Nelson, Lancashire, and as a family we often went for walks in the nearby hilly countryside full of sheep and cows. In contrast, I remember being excited at seeing cabbages growing in fields, and a scarecrow, on a visit to my aunt and uncle soon after they’d moved to a new estate near St Helens in the early 1960s.
This memory came back to me recently, after a neighbour, as a response to being told to stay at home as highly vulnerable person, made a scarecrow she called Charlie for her front garden. Her aim was to provide fun for families out for their daily exercise whilst the playgrounds are closed. She shared a photo on the street’s WhatsApp group and explained that the revival of the Worzel Gummidge TV series makes scarecrows familiar and friendly even to city children.
I made one too, as did two other neighbours, and our four households had fun sharing photos and ideas to take it further. As we’d all added signs about keeping safe to accompany our scarecrows, we came up with the name Scare-crownas (i.e.coronas), posted photos and made children’s quizzes available on local community Facebook groups. We’ve been delighted with the virtual responses, waves through our windows from passers-by, people taking photos and three more scare-crownas appearing nearby. We hope that we’re helping children to find playful ways of acknowledging the crisis, perhaps as others in the past created songs such as Ring a Roses during the plague.
Although the situation we find ourselves in today is unprecedented in my lifetime, memories of the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001 resurfaced when I began to reflect on past events with links to the current coronavirus pandemic and its social and economic consequences. I grew up on a dairy farm in the Pennines near the West Yorkshire village of Slaithwaite.
I was fourteen in February 2001, when foot-and-mouth disease was discovered and measures were introduced to try and halt the spread of the disease. Farms themselves had to do all they could to keep their own livestock safe, and I vividly remember the entrance to the farm, where straw was spread across the tarmac and covered in disinfectant in order to minimise the chance of vehicles bringing the disease in on their tyres. Similarly, there was a “welly wash” – a big plastic tub filled with disinfectant – which residents and visitors alike had to use before coming into the yard.
On the news, they talked about animals within a certain radius of infected farms being culled, and I created images in my head of huge deadly circles getting closer and closer to our fields. But we were lucky. The disease did not reach us and nor did the culling zone, so my family was spared the trauma of seeing its livestock culled and burnt; a trauma endured by so many other farmers across the country.
During lockdown I have set myself the task of spending fifteen minutes early each day to tackling a job I have been putting off. On Wednesday, sorting through some postcards I had received as a student, I came across one of Albert Square in Manchester which was printed in Holmfirth by Bamforth and Co.
It made me smile because I grew up on a farm near Holmfirth. As a seven-year-old (not a seventy-year-old), I would have been sitting in the front seat of a double decker bus looking at the building where the postcard would have been printed. The company were more famous for saucy seaside postcards, and the rights to them are now owned by Mercury Print and Packaging Ltd
Normally, every second Wednesday of the month I travel over to Yorkshire to meet up with friends and family. Seeing the postcard brought back memories of helping at Holmfirth Parish Churches’ Annual Bazaar. Bamforth’s used to donate calendars, with a tab at the bottom, for us to sell. I also remember going out carol singing with the church to the Derek Bamforth’s, the owner’s, house for a mince pie and a drink. His house seemed very grand in comparison with mine.
There is a uniqueness about this present crisis compared to past ones in that, whereas in previous hard times the close bonds of family and community were a source of great comfort the enforced isolation is adding to the challenge of today.
On the positive side there appears to be a resurgence of community spirit which is great to see and at least we now have technology available. The effect of social distancing has made me much more aware and thankful for any kind of connection with other people which less than a month ago I would have taken for granted. In my conversation with Alberto we touched on both fears for the future but also hopes that some effects might bring changes for the better.
However, Alberto reminded me of the powerful wisdom of living in the day. The past is done and “ neither tears nor wit can cancel one word of it” (paraphrased from Omar Khayyyam !) and the future is unknown. it’s better to concentrate on how one is today and value that.
Alberto Velázquez Yébenes
“Every little thing is valuable”. It really touched me that Tony said this after describing how difficult this week had been: Ups and downs. On the bright side, he had a call from Manchester City Football club to check how he was. Hey, not my team but what a nice touch.
It has made such a difference to him to be away from other people. This remarkable change from other difficult periods in time, like recessions or war, really struck me. Alongside, I told him about little silly changes in my routines during isolation. I am very sociable and not actually doing random activities (lunch, sports…) with my loved ones but allocating regular specific daily time for them when I finish work, which is making my week ridiculously difficult to manage. Early days to picture whether that’s good or bad. First world problems.
Both surprisingly thankful to technology, we agreed this enhanced connectivity is an absolute blessing, but we also talked about the impact of these shared emotions in the context of unprecedented uncertainty. We envisage a kind of flexible exercise to face in terms of dealing with automatic thinking around a future full of fears, whilst appreciating the positive aspects of every day at the same time, sharing them with our loved ones.
Mental health issues will be no doubt one of the key scenarios in the medium term, together with, of course, the rest of the impact of the crisis on the economy, unemployment… only after we overcome the terrifying health emergency, first things first. With the hope that, in the end, it will all have a positive impact on how we see, connect and recognize each other.
Lockdown thoughts by Lindy Newns
I am feeling the guilt of the spared. Spared the virus. Spared loss of income. Spared threat to my home. Not quite spared the loss of somebody, but it was a distant friend and, though I know I will miss him, we were not close.
This feels like the calmest days of my childhood. School holidays would arrive and mum had to get me away from the house. She couldn’t manage two younger children and my bi-polar father who talked gibberish one day and the next lay on his bed, silent and remote, smoking one cigarette after another until the bedroom ceiling was black with tar.
Mum sent me to my grandparent’s home in Norfolk which was wonderful. Meals were healthy and taken at a table; I could walk for miles around country lanes without seeing another human being; there were birds and butterflies flitting over the fields. There were shelves full of books to read, and no school, no shouting after I went to bed.
It was solitude of the best kind, and that is what I am experiencing now. I am very lucky, and am sorry that many people are not.