How to Hug

It’s almost ten weeks now since lockdown began.  Last Sunday a neighbour’s son asked me (through the fence) how my week had been.  All right, I said, much the same as last week, and the week before, and the week before that…. The garden project, including rehabilitating the pond, is almost done.  I have painted a broken mirror which I found buried under ivy and used it as a backdrop for fairytale figures collected in my time as a dramatherapist.  I can change the figures and the story.

THE FALLING TOWER is my Tarot card (chosen at random from the Major Arcana) for today.  Another transitional card, signifying change from an outside source (lightning).  Some figures are safe inside the undamaged part of the tower which can be seen as a refuge.  Others leave, acrobatically or stealthily.  We can leave home now, visit family and friends, within strict limits, but the Covid threat is still out there.  Contact tracing may affect anyone. The other night we clapped for carers – the woman who instigated the Thursday night ritual had said this week should be the last time.  It felt a bit sad, although I did feel it was right to stop.  It has been a focal point in the week for neighbours to emerge from isolation and meet at a distance.  But it is time to move on. I have taken down my rainbow picture from the window. Many of the children’s drawings put up in the first weeks are fading now. 

I’m interested in how children are reacting to things. Locally, some have been painting stones and leaving them on walls and windowsills for people to take. I saw an exceptionally lovely one in the next street and went back with a thank you note. It will always remind me of this time.

The other day, on my usual walk, I saw two examples of social distancing. A wee girl, maybe four, on her pink scooter, flattened herself against the fence, shouting ‘Mummy, a lady!’  On the cycle path, an older girl leapt onto the verge as I approached. Her mother, pushing a pram, called, ‘On the grass!’ Indignantly the girl replied, ‘I am!’ A four year old was reluctant to leave the house (like Wee Boy) so her mother explained that the Government said everyone had to go out once a day for exercise. She accepted this and went out for a walk. Later that day, another outing was mooted, but the four year old was adamant that she had obeyed the rules and was on no account going out again. Wee Boy distracts himself by building walls and killing zombies and ghasts on Minecraft, with myself or Cannyrob sharing his progress on Skype. ‘Live’ bedtime stories have joined the video recordings of favourite books as another way of keeping in touch.

I heard someone on the radio talking about explaining to her young granddaughter about not hugging. For lots of us this is going to be so hard. This woman came up with a simple idea. You each put your hand to your heart, hold it out to the other person. Then, still maintaining eye contact, hug yourself as the other does the same. Younger Daughter met a friend with a three year old who wanted picked up and cuddled. She explained the virtual hug idea and the wee girl was very taken with it! See below.

My adult children have coped remarkably well with different experiences of this strange time, keeping in regular contact.  Younger Daughter juggles home schooling with her jewellery business while Older Daughter has been working very hard from home, but finding distraction in her windowsill garden, growing tomatoes, peppers and herbs for cooking.

Son has given permission for me to include some of his photos emailed to me over the last nine weeks recording some moments from his Life in Lockdown.

Visit to doctor’s surgery today for tetanus jab and removal of rose thorn from sole of my foot.  Large older man in waiting area on seeing doctor in PPE remarked, without irony,  ‘You’d think there was a plague or something’

Cannyrob found a review of The Cabinet of Calm by Paul Antony Jones, a book about archaic language. There were two words I particularly liked – worldcraft – ‘the cumulative wisdom of an aged person whose long life has given them unique and much venerated insight.’ I’d definitely like some of that.   Supernaculum – a drink ‘so appreciated that it is savoured to the very last drop’ describes the Italian rosé La Jara we enjoyed in the garden this afternoon. Books continue to be a distraction and a pleasure. Having just emerged from post Roman Britain in Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth trilogy, I am now in 1920’s Calcutta with Abir Mukherjee’s Sam Wyndham in Smoke and Ashes, his third crime novel. I have a stack of books bought online for lockdown, as well as another dozen on my Kindle, so I am unlikely to run out of reading material. Hamnet and Girl, Woman, Other are next on my list.

I had rather expected to be binge-watching Netflix and stuff we’d recorded but we haven’t spent much time in front of the telly recently. Apart, that is, from the brilliant Sex Education, which should be compulsory viewing for teenagers and parents (not in the same room). And old people. New favourite song from the series is Ezra Furman’s Love you so Bad. I’m still singing with B on a Saturday. We are actually meeting up for real today! As well as the Beatles and the Beach Boys, we’ve been doing some Bob Marley. I’m practising Redemption Song.

I feel unsettled by the easing of lockdown. The comforting routine of video meetings with friends each week will change as we begin to go out again. Making decisions about where and how to meet safely, negotiating greater numbers of people, wearing face coverings all make life more complicated. Staying at home was simple. I spotted this in our second hand furniture shop. It’s almost identical to the dolls house I got when I was four. I loved playing with it, even turning it upside down to simulate disaster. When I was eleven my mother said I was too old for it and it was refurbished and given away to the ‘poor children’. I mourned it for years. Does that relate to my reluctance to leave home now?

How are you doing? Are you hopeful that tracking and tracing will work? Are you keen to get out and socialise? Let me know in whatever way suits you. Lots of friends use WhatsApp or you can leave a comment below. But anyone can email me privately at It’s lovely to get feedback. A friend emailed recently, ‘You cover such a range, imaginatively and intellectually which is wonderful’. A few new drawings (Pilates inspired) have been added to My Recent Artwork. You should be able to subscribe by email (see ‘follow this blog’ below) and get next post sent directly.

May Day or MAYDAY?

Hooray, Hooray, the first of May! Outdoor f***ing begins today!

Jilly Cooper

I last wrote on Good Friday. May Day is another marker of time passing. Not much chance of any outdoor pastimes, saucy or otherwise, just now.

This is my randomly chosen Tarot card for today. The Wheel of Fortune is a transitional image, halfway through the Tarot journey. Fate spins the wheel while the figures wait to see where it stops. Free will is of no use. The world is a system endlessly beginning and ending.

Someone suggested we might face another year of restrictions. For those of us over seventy, a blanket ban on contact with family and friends seems unthinkable. One friend says he doesn’t have a year to waste. A fit, energetic man who has spent retirement travelling the world, walking, climbing and interacting with family including six grandchildren, he has much more to do. I feel great sympathy. I miss my family and close friends terribly. I miss physical contact, always important to me. Not something I had much of as a child, it’s been important in my relationship with my children and my close friends.

I was talking to Cannyrob about this and he suggested I look at this http://www,5lovelanguages If you can get over the tabloid tone of the site, there is some useful stuff there. Although it is aimed at couples, I think it applies equally to any relationship. A quiz asks you to find your preferred style of communication.

  • words of affirmation
  • acts of service
  • receiving gifts
  • quality time
  • physical touch

I think about interactions with my children and grandson in this time when hugs are not an option. A parcel arrives from Older Daughter. Always the giver of thoughtful and unexpected presents, she sends us home-made marmalade and two Good Food magazines for Cannyrob. Son emails me photos from his everyday life: his tidy garden, a newly mopped floor. I send him audio recordings of a favourite childhood book. These could be ‘acts of service’. The time I spend on Skype sharing the Minecraft keyboard with Wee Boy is ‘quality time’ for both of us. Younger Daughter passes on Wee Boy’s reactions to a story we read on video. He loved this one! At one point he said , show me the picture and you did. He was amazed. How did Grandma know? Grandma just knows. ‘Words of affirmation.’ All of these things make me feel loved.

We are connecting in different ways, maybe more than we might do under normal circumstances. Once a week I have a video chat with three friends, all former colleagues. In ‘normal’ times we meet for lunch, perhaps every three months. Our weekly chats connect us in a way that reminds me of staff room conversations, often about books, but we also have plenty of laughs. I think these chats bring us closer.

This beautiful connection that’s going on reminds me of how people were in the 50’s and 60’s. People have time now to think of others, to contact them, to keep in touch.

JPG (see below)

Now that we have a kind of lockdown routine, I’ve wanted to do more drawing, play more music. Last Friday in our Zoom Pilates class our Teacher suggested we channel Rubens and imagine we had large pillowy buttocks. I came home with images in my head, did some sketches, found some Rubens paintings online. This was the result (pastel on crumpled waste paper strips 48 x 24 inches)

Nude Pilates

Tomaso del Garbo, a Florentine physician working during the 14th-century Black Death, wrote that those who could not “flee the pestilence must “use songs and games and pleasant stories that do not exhaust the body”. A 15th-century revised edition of Aldobrandino of Siena’s Régime du Corps, which circulated widely during epidemic outbreaks, told its readers to “read joyful and strange things”.

Katherine Rundell, the Guardian

Singing songs and telling stories are things I want to do just now. I played Nina Simone singing Mr Bojangles on repeat on my half hour walk yesterday. I think it will be the song I will associate with this time. The man who keeps on dancing, no matter what life brings.

Quick sketches of Cannyrob doing Zoom Zumba

On television, fantasy drama like The Witcher (Netflix) is absorbing. Cannyrob is enjoying National Theatre productions like Twelfth Night. I am enthralled by The Great British Sewing Bee which lets me know it’s Wednesday. A friend is losing herself in the Game of Thrones books, others are re-reading Georgette Heyer and Susan Cooper. I have Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth trilogy waiting to be read and another favourite from childhood 1066 and All That on order.


Title of notice in pet shop window
Photo by Freddie Ramm

I find myself looking for a theme on my morning walk. This week it has been tulips which seem exceptionally bright this spring


I want to mention JPG (quoted above), a very good friend and fan of my blog. She’s not online, so I send it by post. In response to the last one, she sent me a long, beautifully written letter, such a rare treat. I appreciate all the feedback I get, in whatever form. Please continue to respond in any way that suits you. You can reply below (scroll down) or email me privately at: I have just added a page with new drawings and paintings alongside my older SKETCHBOOK page. You can scroll down to leave comments there too. To see these, click MY RECENT ARTWORK (desktop or tablet view) In mobile view, click MENU then MY RECENT ARTWORK. (Thanks to MC for pointing this out!)

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 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.”


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

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