This is the Time to be Slow

This is Good Friday, the darkest day in the Christian calendar, but there are no services, no masses in commemoration. I am not religious but the cultural significance of this date is deeply rooted. Will organised religion survive the pandemic? Will communities flock to give thanks once it is over? We may not know when it is over. Uncertainty may become our default mode, never again taking for granted the freedoms we had before. The Prime Minister seems to be recovering, but I heard this week of three people in this area who are ill with the coronavirus. Although still waking early, I feel more relaxed, more able to watch a film, knit or read. This seems to be a common experience. We are adapting to a slower pace, although aware that for key workers life is more pressured than ever. Applauding all the medical and care workers on a Thursday night feels good. We connect with neighbours who are seldom visible through the week.

I’ve always been interested in Tarot. Not in a fortune-telling way, but as a tool for exploring unconscious ideas. During my psychotherapy training in the 1990’s I was drawn to the theories of Carl Jung, the psychiatrist who found the imagery of Tarot useful in analysis. From time to time I draw one card from the twenty Major Arcana. (I use the Scarpina deck) This was my random choice on 30th March, just after the clocks went forward. This image is about change and transition; to be fully alive is to accept the possibility of death. Among the chaos of the waves are green shoots of rebirth and hands seem to be reaching upwards.





On a lighter note, Cannyrob has treated us to some lovely Portuguese soaps by Claus Porto, which will make constant handwashing a more sybaritic experience. I will save the wrappers for collage.

On Radio 4 one morning last week, Fergal Keane, BBC foreign correspondent read this poem:

This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until time passes
Try, as best you can, not to let 
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart 
All sense of yourself 
And your hesitant light
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
JOHN O'DONOHUE, Benedictus

Rainbows have been appearing in windows along our street, painted by the children who are at home instead of school just now. This is our neighbours’ window.

Here are some from our immediate neighbourhood. I was touched by them all but especially the one for Gran and Grandpa.

I’ve painted my own version which is darker in theme. The colour inversion was unintentional, but perhaps I can claim it as an unconscious response to the strangeness of the current situation.

The rainbow theme is everywhere. I find I’m wearing my rainbow earrings, made by my talented Younger Daughter who is a jeweller https://ellenkirkali.co.uk The coloured stones set in molten silver catch the light. Here is a matching ring. She is still fulfilling orders. I’m not the only one shopping online.

Rainbow ring

On hearing that the Edinburgh festival and Book Festival are to be cancelled, a friend with whom I usually go commented philosophically:

“We’ll just just take this as a gap year.”

CM

I quite like that idea. Like students taking time out, we can indulge in sloth, wine, video, chocolate and long chats with friends

I heard Brian Cox on Desert Island Discs mention a tip from a drama tutor ‘Always carry a picture of yourself as a child because that’s who you are.’ This is me aged 5, an extrovert, chatty wee girl, who liked to entertain, draw and paint. I loved reading and helping to care for my baby sister. I had a vivid imagination and was prone to nightmares. I was fiercely independent and loved to wander and explore bombsites and neglected allotments. I loved company and had lots of friends, mostly boys, but was also content on my own. I generally returned home hungry and dirty, often with skinned knees. No questions were asked as long as I turned up for dinner and tea.

“Unlike adults, children want to be happy”

Amor Towles. A gentleman in Moscow

This is a comforting thought during these difficult times. Wee Boy seems happy with the more relaxed regime of school at home, wearing his rainbow pyjamas (definitely a theme) for as long as possible, spelling out rude words on the fridge and writing his name in chalk on the path. I parcel up the contents of his treats box and send it, aware that the Haribo and Kinder Eggs may not be edible by the time he visits again. I send him more books: Charlie turns into a Chicken, The Incredible Book-Eating Boy, Funnybones. Cannyrob packs up Little Farmer seed boxes and sends him those.

I have almost finished reading The Mirror and the Light, slowing pace, not wanting my relationship with Thomas Cromwell to end. I have also heard (on Audible) the final chapters of Redemption Falls by Joseph O’Connor, a sprawling collage of a novel set after the American Civil War. I loved it, especially the ending, unexpected and satisfactory. I’ve been listening on my morning walks, now extended to almost two miles, with one stick for hills.

My week is taking shape: Zumba on Monday mornings, Pilates on Fridays, both with Zoom. I have a phone or video chat with friends scheduled for most days. I talk to family more than before the lockdown. Son emails; his freezer has broken down. He manages his life pretty well these days, but still turns to Mum in an emergency! I am relieved to find that AO can deliver and I manage to arrange for a replacement to arrive on Monday. Several food deliveries arrive and Cannyrob makes bread. One morning we watched the LSO perform Verdi’s Requiem, (2016 recording) which we should have been singing last month in Glasgow. My Younger Sister is in the back row of the Chorus.

On Saturdays I sing Beatles songs with my friend B. The time lag is odd but we are getting used to it. It’s a bit like the age gap between us but we enjoy sharing songs that had meaning for us when we were young.

I have stopped buying clothes online, but an exciting parcel arrived from Habitat the other day. Wine racks! We have been planning to buy some for years and Cannyrob has been acquiring some nice bottles. We are waiting for our SodaStream to turn up. How retro! Like the breadmaker, it’s a gadget Cannyrob has wanted for ages. There is something very nice about getting parcels just now. I so appreciate the efforts put in by our postmen/women/delivery drivers.

I met a friend today who said she really enjoyed reading my blog, so this one is dedicated to you, HM! We hovered at the zebra crossing, 2 metres apart, remembering our last chatty dinner at a local pub, glad we’d had that innocent time together. Keep well, stay in touch, wherever you are – Seattle, Australia, Glasgow or closer to home – and of course, stay safe! Subscribe by email if you’d like to get new posts sent direct to you and scroll down to leave a comment which can be anonymous if you prefer. You can also email me privately at timewithelinor@gmail.com

'….there are weeks where decades happen.'

‘There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.’

Vladimir Lenin

It is six weeks since the day of my knee operation, when my main concern was packing the right pyjamas. What an innocent time that was. Today I wake early as usual, a fist of anxiety between my ribs. Lock down measures are now in place, but my friend’s son is finally safely home from his university in Texas and a woman I know has made it back from Cambodia. This area was full of people in holiday mood at the weekend, causing some bad feeling among locals. Younger Daughter, Son-in-Law and Wee Boy are now all at home. Older Daughter has been at the office doing essential NHS work but now working from home. Son is staying in his flat, venturing out only for essential supplies. I am glad to know where they are and hope they all stay safe.

There have been lots of phone and video calls with friends and family. Here are some things that have been said:

I met all my friends last week to say goodbye for now

It’s just the flu

My garden’s never looked so good

I think they will soon have a vaccine

We all have to die some time

It’s a bit like the stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, acceptance

On Mother’s Day a friend sends a virtual bouquet of yellow and red tulips to be shared with others; it is a nice gesture on this strangest of Mother’s Days. I imagine my mother at my age. What would she be doing in coronavirus lock down? She would almost certainly be turning out cupboards, baking, gardening. Maybe even allowing herself the luxury of reading or playing the piano.  She travelled by train every day to work in the tax office in Glasgow during the war, coming home in the black out. She would see this as just another thing to get on with. ‘Worse things happen at sea,’ she might say. Wee Sister says Mum talked about how boring life had been during the war with her siblings and friends away in the forces. Will we be bored? We have Netflix.

Books are a great solace as always. See my post from 31st July 2015 Take no heed of her, she reads a lot of books“. I have only once in my life not been able to read. When I had a breakdown in 2014 I was too physically and mentally restless to concentrate. I carried a book around with me in hospital but could never finish a paragraph, let alone a page. The return of my joy in reading was a turning point in my recovery. I have just finished reading Hilary Mantel’s memoir Giving up the Ghost. Painful to read about her long untreated endometriosis and mourning for the children she couldn’t have.   I was particularly affected by her account of being diagnosed as mentally ill and treated with some of the drugs I was given in the 1970’s – tri-cyclic anti-depressants, minor and major tranquillisers. But what a great writer! I have started The Mirror and the Light, saved up as a deferred pleasure, pre-ordered and in hefty, glossy hardback, with a blue ribbon bookmark. I’ve just read six of Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan novels, about a London detective. Sharp, precise, funny, thrilling…..just found a seventh published last year.

Cannyrob has binned his collection of programmes for cultural events over the next three months. Another reality check. We’re having milk, eggs and weekend newspapers delivered. On Saturday night we had take-away fish and chips from a nearby restaurant, now closed. Cannyrob has arranged a food delivery from a local farm shop and I have now made over 400 failed calls to Sainsbury’s to confirm that I am over 70 and therefore have some slim chance of a delivery slot. Even Click and Collect isn’t available at the moment. Have given up. I ventured into our Corner Shop at 6 am to buy soap powder, tinned soup and chocolate supplies. C behind the counter wore gloves and a mask, didn’t touch my shopping and was happy I could pay with my phone. We won’t be having haircuts for a while. Glad I stopped having my hair dyed (roots every 4 weeks!). Trying to resist the pull of online clothes sales. Ordered a velvet tunic, from White Stuff, now half-price, to go with the full price trousers bought in November. Glam pyjamas for days at home?

Succumbed to Boden 20% off deal and ordered a dress and a t-shirt for the summer. An act of faith? I’ve been buying more books. A parcel of second hand paperbacks arrived the other day; Cannyrob insisted I wipe the covers with a soapy cloth. I wouldn’t have thought of that. He’s wanted a bread maker for years and I’ve been a bit discouraging, imagining it being a space-hogging novelty for a while. Now, of course, it would be a Brilliant Idea but you can’t get them anywhere. NEWS FLASH! He saw that John Lewis had got some in – his is arriving on Friday. It was great to see him smile again!

Facebook and Twitter have been fuelling my anxieties over the past week, so I’m using an app called Stay Focused to block me from accessing them for a week. So far it’s helping. At the same time I’m taking my online experience a stage further, hoping to take part in my first virtual Pilates class. I’m using Google Duo for video chats and have set up Zoom on my Chromebook. I think I could join in. Yesterday should have been my six week review at the hospital. My knee is pretty good. I have met all the targets in my NHS handbook. Waking early, feeling restless, I waited till it was light then went for a walk (with sticks). The sea had its usual calming effect. The streets were deserted. Pubs closed, holiday homes shuttered, building work abandoned. Spring flowers are a reminder, once again, that life goes on regardless.

Do keep in touch: email me at timewithelinor@gmail.com, use social media or Leave a Reply below (Scroll down the page to find the box or in phone view click on Leave a Comment). In phone view, click MENU to see my SKETCHBOOK. Keep well. Stay safe.

PS a technical glitch may have caused some of you receive a post entitled The Burning with just a URL. Just delete. Sorry! My mistake.

All Will be Well

Friday 13th March

by Elinor Kirk

It’s 6am. I open the curtains and the chimney pots are black against the pale streaked sky. Gulls wheel and cry. It’s just like any other morning except my first thought is coronavirus. How many more cases? How many more deaths? More bad news.  Schools in Ireland are closed.  Justin Trudeau’s wife has the virus along with a number of other political figures. The rest of the world begins to shut down.  Children in Italy paint posters of rainbows with upbeat slogans.

photo by Romina Anardo

Everything is provisional. Events, meetings, holidays………No-one says ‘weather permitting’ or ‘God willing’. My drumming group has a lengthy discussion on WhatsApp about meeting tomorrow and from now on.  We make the decision to cancel meantime. Do we go to classes, attend events? How much food should we have in the house? Enough for four weeks? Older Daughter and Son have lots of pasta. Younger Daughter has wholesale quantities of rice. Will milk be available or should we freeze some? We have bought a thermometer online. They are selling out fast. Someone mentioned paracetamol shortages. I am on eight a day just now and would struggle without them. I have requested a repeat prescription.

I think back over books I’ve read on pandemics, fictional and historic. Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen as well as the two featured below and many more. There is comfort in being safely unaffected by the scary events of a story or the distant past. However, as the news increasingly tells us of a world crisis and new measures being put in place, the fiction becomes our reality.

How then do we cope? Wee Boy was briefly upset because his school assembly was postponed today but is largely unconcerned. Minecraft is his default distraction. You can die but immediately respawn. This is Steve, hero of Minecraft, ready to attack a creeper (coronavirus?) with his diamond sword.

As a ‘vulnerable elderly person’ with many friends in the same age group, how worried should I be? Our choir concert tomorrow night for which people have been rehearsing for many months has now been cancelled so we have been spared the decision of whether to go. Younger Daughter phones, very concerned about putting us and her dad at risk, saying that they probably won’t be seeing us for a while and that perhaps we should ‘think about self-isolating’ from now on. After a moment of feeling I might actually cry, I reflect that I’m very fortunate in having such a thoughtful daughter and lucky to have had actual physical contact with all my close family recently. We do keep in touch very regularly by phone, video calling and online. And as my wise child says, although Canny Rob and I both consider ourselves fit and well, we both have ‘underlying health problems’ and it is only four weeks since my knee surgery.

As Baby Boomers we are not inclined to give up taking part in any of the activities we enjoy. The University of the Third Age and similar organisations are hugely popular and many of us enjoy travelling freely here and abroad. In January I was proud to be marching for an independent Scotland and fully intending to do so again in Arbroath in April. Sensibly, this has been put off until 2021. However, our children and younger friends and relatives are concerned for our welfare. They would rather we stayed at home for a while than risk becoming seriously ill. And they are right. Ironically, I had been thinking about my older friends and relatives – the over 80s and 90s if you like – and thinking I should avoid direct contact with them, but there are a lot of us between 70 and 80 who may well develop the more serious symptoms. Talked to Older Daughter tonight. As a data analyst she has a good grasp of the figures, but still admits to feeling anxious. Walking round the block in the sunshine today, I wondered why I felt a nagging bleakness, almost like the start of a depressive episode, then realised that to feel sad and worried was a perfectly normal reaction to events. Someone in Scotland just died.

All I can do is wash my hands properly, stop hugging my friends, stay at home, walk round the block again tomorrow and get on with simple distractions in the house. After four weeks that’s becoming a way of life. At least now I’m off the heavy duty painkillers, I can have a glass of wine and read more than a page of my book before nodding off.

Photo by Elinor Kirk

Spring flowers in the courtyard are cheering. Life goes on. This too will pass. We can have our family Easter celebration in May, or June or whenever. The internet allows us to communicate in lots of ways with the people we care about, wherever they are. I just spoke to my friend in Seattle. She lives in a block of flats and is avoiding the lift. A coughing woman said she had a Gummi Bear stuck in her throat. Very glad to hear from a close friend that she is not travelling to Italy after all but is worried about family there.

On a lighter note, I’d like to share this with you (apologies to Facebook and William Shakespeare). It makes a change from Happy Birthday. Click to play:

Lady Macbeth washes her hands

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