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Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

The Corona Diaries: Chapter 1 – Football is Suspended

It’s been a funny old week. On the commuter train into Manchester on Thursday the public address announcement advised passengers to wash their hands throughout their journey. I don’t know how often you use toilets on trains, dear reader, but frequenting them when you’re trying to improve your hygiene didn’t seem the most logical idea to me. But I was somewhat unnerved by the announcement. The coronavirus was edging ever closer now and it was about to become real and tangible as opposed to something happening to other people as far away as China and Italy, something we read about online and hear about on the news. And yet it still seems so surreal and distant, almost as if we are in a horror movie. Can this really be happening?

You know I like to live in my own little bubble so, as soon as I’d settled back in my seat on the train, I whipped out my iPad and AirPods and escaped into the latest episode of The Trouble With Maggie Cole on ITV Hub.

https://www.itv.com/hub/the-trouble-with-maggie-cole/2a5883a0001

It’s funny how even seeing a character on a tv show (filmed months ago) shaking hands with someone or putting their hand to their face now makes me feel uncomfortable. I always thought I was fairly hygienic, washing my hands after touching a bin and going to the toilet, and before preparing food. But now becoming hyper-conscious about hygiene I realise I’m really not so hygienic after all. I only need to look at the state of my phone screen and my mouse to evidence that. Now in addition I am washing my hands after using public transport and tissues – and am trying to train myself to keep my hands away from my face. At least we are learning something from this pandemic, which will lead to improved hygiene awareness going forward.

I’ve found myself watching more tv lately, which isn’t helping the novel I’m (not) writing or my mental health. But it’s easy escapism and I suspect the tv ratings will rocket over the coming weeks. But it is so important to remain creative, hence I am resolutely continuing with this blog for you, dear reader, and my mental health. And I will find some joy through these testing times.

As we approached Manchester I removed my AirPods and looked around me at my fellow passengers. A few were silently wiping their hands with antibacterial wipes and no-one was saying a word. Now, dear reader, this isn’t the Tube. This isn’t London. In The North, people have conversations on public transport. Granted, often on this particular service, it’s usually train rage, with more passengers than seats, and a daily struggle to fight our way onto or off the train. But not today. The train was only slightly but noticeably less crowded and no-one was saying a word.

I disembarked amongst dozens of others and we trailed into the city like a line of ants. Still in silence. This was eerie. I was almost in tears by the time I got into work. Why had that journey been so frightening? The virus wasn’t even here yet. Was it? The sense of dread was tangible. But what have we to fear? What exactly IS it that’s coming? What’s going to happen to us? The frightening thing is that we either don’t know or don’t want to believe what we’re hearing and seeing from China and Italy.

I busied myself with work all day and found the distraction helped. Then on the train home, looking for something to watch on BBC iPlayer, I found myself watching Boris Johnson’s press conference. I’m not sure how I ended up feeling more relaxed about the whole thing, having been told basically to take coronavirus on the chin for Britain, we were unlikely to escape it – and it was going to probably be late June (THREE MONTHS) before it got REALLY bad. But somehow being told this calmly by someone in authority (with some great charts) made everything seem almost OK. And the football wasn’t going to be cancelled yet. Was that a good thing, when I was starting to become frightened to even get on a train? Well if it was going ahead then I guess it would be fine. Wouldn’t it?

And then the following day the footballing authorities decided, as players and coaches began to fall ill, that, no, it wasn’t going to be fine – and football was duly suspended for a month. No games behind closed doors that we could watch on iFollow, as was mooted earlier in the week (which I was rather looking forward to – still seeing the matches but not getting cold and travelling hundreds of miles). No football at all. For a month.

Now, given the scientific projections that the virus won’t peak over here until June, I fail to see how football can recommence as early as April. Therefore this month must surely be simply a holding measure, during which time the footballing authorities and clubs decide exactly what the hell they are going to do to settle the outstanding competitions in the light of the country, nay Europe, nay the planet basically shutting down – or at least working on massively reduced productivity – for months on end.

So, no football. We headed to the Fylde Coast Radio studio on Friday evening to host our weekly sports show. We at least had last week’s sporting action to talk about, before discussing how coronavirus had decimated the sporting calendar, then moving on to a spot of nostalgia, covering the Blackpool v Sunderland match from 1975, featuring the famous man in the white coat trying to distract the penalty taker and, of course, the goal of the season from Mickey Walsh.

We had been scheduled to play Sunderland tomorrow, in what would have been a bumper payday for Blackpool, with 4,500 Mackems heading to the seaside. We might have beaten them, too, with the players having had more time with the new head coach, but we’ll never know now.

I wondered if we would be able to continue with the radio show when the virus really took hold. I had been encouraged to practically eat the microphone to deliver good audio, but tonight I was almost frightened to get too close to it. At least Lee does have his own microphones that we can use, so we aren’t sharing with others.

We looked at the holiday planner for the show and the shows that we were going to miss – for a wedding, an awards dinner and a European adventure – were now all events that were likely to be cancelled. I like having things booked in, to look forward to, but this, too, was being taken away from us now. And that’s not to mention the happy couple, the events organisers, the travel operators, the hotels, the caterers…oh the impact is savage. But of course nothing compared to the lives that will be lost.

But what would we talk about on the sports hour show over the coming weeks, with little or no sport taking place? We have some work to do on this. Perhaps an ideal opportunity to get guests into the studio – but would they want to come? And would we be able to cover the show ourselves? Hopefully so, with five of us hosting the show, but would the studio be safe to attend? Suddenly everything seems in doubt. The world is in turmoil.

After the show, Lee and I headed into town to meet up with some friends. The evening was going well until one of them pointed out that he had recently been to Italy. The north of Italy. The regions that had been subject to restricted movement because of the coronavirus outbreak.

‘Er, you might have mentioned this BEFORE you invited us out. Exactly HOW long ago were you there?’

‘Three weeks ago. Just before it went into lockdown.’

I immediately ordered another pint to calm my nerves. Three weeks is beyond the self-isolation period and he wasn’t coughing or anything, so he shouldn’t be a risk. Nonetheless, my breathing started to feel laboured all of a sudden. This wasn’t the first time I became conscious of my breathing in recent days; however I’m pretty sure it’s down to a slight panic attack at the prospect of contracting the virus.

The fear of the unknown is the worst thing. Just what ARE we to expect? Is it a lottery as to whether we get a mild cold, a bad flu or pneumonia? What exactly IS coming to ‘up to 80%’ of us, that is so bad that the world is on lockdown? Here’s some symptoms to look out for if you’re concerned:

https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19

In addition to the inevitable deaths, we will also see a lack of productivity as people are unable to work – and a huge strain on the health services. Is it as much an economic problem as a medical one? This unprecedented global pandemic is so hard to understand and yet fascinating but mainly terrifying.

When we arrived home to our sanctuary, our world, our bubble, all was well. Lee and I thrive in each other’s company and are so pleased we have each other for company for the isolation period that is possibly now only a matter of weeks away. We are able to busy ourselves and forget the world outside, such that we can forget about the coronavirus for long periods.

But this is only the beginning for us here in the UK.

Already there is no football and I am now working from home. Already my whole routine has changed and self-isolation has been practically imposed upon me.

And now begins a new challenge of managing my mental health. I need a new routine. And I need people. And I absolutely need to keep writing. So here I am, dear reader.

In the car on the way home, Lee and I discussed exactly what we were going to do to keep the YouTube channel ticking over without the football. Oh we had all sorts of plans for the close season, involving presentation dinners, tours, European travel and even an international football tournament. But it is likely none of that will come to fruition now. We decided on a livestream at 3pm on Saturday afternoon. It would maintain that 3pm Saturday routine for us and our viewers, who are fellow football fans. We had never done a livestream before but know full well that sometimes you’ve just got to bite the bullet and DO things as opposed to procrastinating. Would anyone even tune in? Well there was only one way to find out…

***

On Saturday morning I kept my appointment with the beauty therapist before meeting Lee for breakfast in a local caff.

THE TOAST WAS A BIT CHEWY BUT THE SAUSAGES WERE NICE

We resolved we were going to keep going out while we still could. If the virus is going to be here for the next six months or longer we are going to need to get out and about and enjoy some semblance of normality while we are free and well enough to do so.

Back home, Lee set to work promoting the livestream on social media and forums, while I set about tidying the kitchen. The house is going to be unrecognisable at the end of this isolation period.

Soon it was time for the first ‘LCTV @ 3’ livestream show on Lee Charles TV on YouTube, which you can watch here:

Despite aiming to talk about the effects of coronavirus on football, the conversation did drift onto general football chat, led by the viewers in the live chat session – and it felt like being sat down the pub having a chat with your mates about the football (which is also how we find the radio show on a Friday night). We really enjoyed it – and the conversation flowed from 3pm until the final whistle at 4.50pm.

We were pleased with how the show went, despite a couple of teething problems. Almost 400 viewers tuned in while we were on air and it was great to interact with them. We really enjoyed it and it proved a great way to maintain human interaction in a safe environment. Do tune in next Saturday if you’re at a loose end at 3pm (maybe even diarise it).

After the show I retired to the (now tidy) kitchen to make pasta bolognese, making use of the beef mince from the fridge that needed using by today. We always have a lot of food in (I always have a full freezer because I batch cook) but ironically we are now almost out of pasta (not unlike most of the supermarkets). We tucked into our tea whilst watching the latest episode of Star Trek: Picard, which I must confess I’m struggling to follow, with Lee having to explain everything to me. I’m not sure whether this is because I’m (a) not concentrating hard enough, (b) struggling to follow the dialogue because I’m a bit deaf, or (c) nodding off during the show (the sofa is VERY comfy, I find myself falling asleep on it most nights and tonight I was having a pasta crash as well).

It had been a good Saturday. I think we made the best of it. I confess a break from the travelling will be most welcome. I was asked during the live chat whether there had been any away games that it was a real struggle for me to motivate myself to go to and I realised that, actually, that had been the case for ALL the away games since Rotherham on New Year’s Day. I had been wishing for the end of the season but hadn’t expected it to come this quickly. When we’d just started playing well, too, and I was ALMOST looking forward to going to matches again (nay I absolutely WOULD have been looking forward to the Sunderland match, if it hadn’t been for that pesky virus).

But I know that staying at home for weeks or months on end will not be easy. I will start to go stir crazy. When I had my breakdown a few years ago I was at home for a long period and became depressed. I found myself doing nothing, just watching tv and drinking myself to sleep. That is not going to happen this time.

Why will it be different this time?

1. I’m in a good place at the outset.

2. I have Lee now.

3. I’m going to carry on writing.

I’m entering this period of not-quite-yet-self-isolation with positive intent. This time can – and I am determined WILL – be used to good effect (while I’m well enough, of course).

1. I can get on with writing that novel.

2. I can finally get my stuff listed and sold on eBay.

3. The house will be tidier and cleaner than ever.

I will still be working, too, for which I am grateful. This will help provide structure to my days and weeks and help keep my mind occupied throughout the week. What with LCTV @ 3 every Saturday until the football comes back (all subject to remaining well, of course), that presents a good start to a routine that I know I need to function and remain sane. I’ll never be short of anyone to talk football with, thanks to Lee, the show and the online forums (not forgetting you, of course, dear reader). And I know I simply MUST continue writing. Lee and I plan to get out and about for as long as we can. We know our routine will have to change. I’m sad that the pubs and eateries will suffer as people self-isolate because they are such an important part of our community. But we still need to eat and drink so expect the reviews to keep coming (even if it does end up being chicken soup and Lucozade).

I honestly don’t know what the coming weeks and months will bring but I feel it’s important that it’s documented, hence the blog will continue in the form of The Corona Diaries until we can get back to the football. If anyone has any tips to share on how to cope (without stockpiling and getting divorced) during self-isolation please do share. We can help each other through this (whatever it is that’s coming). Keep smiling and keep in contact. We need people and people need us. And always remember: THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

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