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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 2 – The New Normal

When they said last weekend would be our last weekend of freedom for a while I couldn’t quite believe it. And yet now the prospect of going to the cafe for breakfast, to a football match and to the pub for dinner and a pint already seems so remote. These simply aren’t things we can do any more. Things are moving so quickly and yet perhaps they aren’t moving quickly enough.

This is the new normal. What will the new normal be this time next week?

I was practically forced into self isolation last Friday, when the football was cancelled and I was asked to work from home. Oh. Well I only ever really go out to go to work and football these days. But frankly I was tired from all the travelling, the football HAD been rubbish in the main and I DID find my colleagues distracting. There’d be no more stupidly early alarms and I’d get to spend more time with Lee. I headed into the week firmly positive.

But what would the reality be like?

The sun was shining and the tempests outside seemed light years away. You know I like some rousing feelgood tunes to start my day. Normally I’d just listen to tunes from my phone in the shower while I let Lee have an extra half hour in bed. But in this new world we both get a little longer in bed. And occasionally we’ll ask Siri or Alexa to play us some tunes before we get up.

When I wake up in the morning, love

And the sunlight hurts my eyes

And something without warning, love

Bears heavy on my mind

Then I look at you

And the world’s alright with me

Just one look at you

And I know it’s gonna be

A lovely daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay

Lee had been starting every day by holding his breath for ten seconds as a test for whether he had coronavirus but, after belting out the chorus to this and holding THAT note, we resolved that we were probably both virus free at present.

I brought my shower speaker out of retirement, as I didn’t need to worry about being quiet in the shower any more, and sang my heart out in the shower to Spin Doctors.

What time is it?

Four thirty

Ha! Not for a long time will I see THAT hour again. Yet another positive to come out of this. Football, travel, commute, alarm clock – I’m NOT missing you.

A few weeks ago, Lee and I resolved to start losing weight. We have a weigh-in every Sunday morning. I bought digital scales when I was living in Walsall and found the readings so random and diverse that the scales were promptly consigned to the bin ahead of my move to Blackpool. Frustratingly, Lee, too, has digital scales, making our weekly weigh-in far more frustrating than it needs to be.

STEP OFF

STEP OFF

THINKING

STEP OFF

STEP OFF

JUST TELL US WHAT WE WEIGH FFS!

Anyway, now we’re practically housebound, monitoring our weight seems all the more important, so it will be interesting to see how it charts over the coming weeks. These figures could prove good motivation to keep active as far as we can.

As early as Monday we realised that, with both of us at home all day, we needed two workstations so as to avoid any conflict. Much as we love each other, being together 24/7 would more than likely bring its challenges and it’s important that any potential stress points are managed. So off we went to Currys to purchase the required tech. We’re trying to nip out once a day just so we don’t go stir crazy. Returning home, we realised we only had one office chair, so ordered another on eBay.

Financially we are in a bit of a quandary. We’re buying things to prepare ourselves for the confinement ahead, so we can be comfortable at home and reduce stress as far as possible. But we also need to slash our bills and spending on an ongoing basis. Whilst I continue to work we do have an income. But it’s not enough to cover the bills without Lee’s earnings. But if Lee goes out to work he puts himself and potentially others at risk.

So what are our priorities here?

My primary fear is losing Lee. He is my world and life without him would be devastating. Therefore having him home and safe is of the most importance.

My secondary fear is not being able to cope financially. Lee not working means our outgoings exceed our earnings. So should Lee go out to work – potentially risking his life and that of others – so we can cover the bills?

How have we found ourselves in a situation where that is a decision we have to make?

Fear of becoming ill myself is the least of my worries. I’m not even concerned about that. That’s not to say I’m not going to do everything I can to avoid contracting this virus. But that’s primarily to protect Lee, the wider community and the NHS.

That said, I have been having slight panic attacks whilst in certain social situations, resulting in shortness of breath, resulting in further panic. For the last couple of weeks in the pub, in the supermarket, I haven’t been at all relaxed. I can see this becoming a real problem for many on the other side of this when we step outside into the new world, which can surely never be the same as it was a matter of weeks ago.

I busied myself in work, which I found a useful distraction from the turmoil of everything else.

When I need a break from my work for a few minutes I potter about the house. It WILL be tidy. I packed away my winter boots and gloves as I realised I wouldn’t be needing them again. ‘Ne’er cast a clout til May be out’ doesn’t really count this year. It’s not as if I’ll be going anywhere this side of June anyway.

At the start of the week I resolved to put my evenings to practical and creative use. I worked through my to do list and things were going well. Without the travelling I felt refreshed and not exhausted at the end of the working day so I was still raring to go. I got more stuff listed on eBay (not only do I have the time now but also a stronger inclination, as we need to top up our income somehow), cancelled my train pass (well I wouldn’t be needing THAT for a while), cancelled my train to Shrewsbury (for Saturday’s postponed match) and made progress on issue 5 of the Blackpool fanzine. Yes I was still intent on producing the fanzine, as I had promised subscribers five issues. Plus I believe people need football content more than ever now.

Come Wednesday I realised the room I was working in was not suitable. There were no windows and no air and it was hard to breathe, which is the last thing I want at the moment, with already fretting about potential pneumonia (was I at increased risk, as a smoker for 15 years, despite giving up 15 years ago?). Spending all day indoors with the heating on I know can lead to a dry cough and thankfully the temperature is rising so we don’t need the heating on too much. We certainly don’t have it on the timer any more, just giving the heating a boost when we get too cold. I want to enjoy as much fresh air as possible. I have never appreciated the fresh air outside as much as I have this week. I really notice it. It’s wonderful. I relocated my office to the bedroom, where the windows open and I can hear the birds singing. My desk is now the dressing table. It’s not ideal, as I can’t see the mirror any more, but you know this is a common problem for me anyway.

On Wednesday evening Lee’s boys came round for the evening. We had tea, watched a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad then engaged in a game of Monopoly. I’d been fretting about money all day so I wasn’t sure this was the best choice of game for me right now, but resolved to join in anyway (I won, which made me feel immeasurably better). As we all handled the same dice, cards and money – not to mention dipping our hands into the same bowl of popcorn – I realised yet again just how unhygienic we all are as a race. It really is little wonder that this virus is spreading globally as quickly and easily as it is. We all have a lot of thinking to do concerning our habits.

Lee and I recently watched James May: Our Man in Japan (a great watch, by the way), which led us to research the reasons why people from some cultures wear face masks. The results were interesting – and not simply linked to hygiene:

https://gogonihon.com/en/blog/why-do-japanese-people-wear-masks/

I wonder if masks may now begin to become more popular globally. Certainly wearing a mask will make us conscious of when (and how often) we raise our hands to our face. And, with social anxiety bound to become a more widespread issue, perhaps masks will help some people feel more relaxed when they do emerge into public spaces both during this pandemic and when it finally passes and we are able to begin physical interaction with each other once again.

My evenings started to become less productive as the week progressed. I found myself flagging at the end of the working day and turning to the tv and social media to switch off.

Big mistake.

Whilst I do welcome Boris Johnson’s daily updates – calm but stern leadership is of paramount importance right now – the timing of these is not great for me mentally. Having successfully switched off from the outside world as I bury myself in my work all day, at 5.15pm I am reminded about the grim reality of how the world is irreversibly changing, with major changes required to our lifestyle and culture to save the lives of our fellow humans. And then, having finished work for the day, I am left to wallow and worry and check the latest coronavirus cases and deaths and scout for news on what is happening in Italy and Spain and France to try and anticipate the measures that might be coming down the line here so we are mentally prepared when the time comes.

Mentally prepared. Is it even possible to prepare mentally for something like this? All I can do is try and manage my mental health as best I can. For me avoiding alcohol is vital. I became dependent on it during my breakdown a few years ago and know it’s a vicious cycle. Drink to escape, to pass out, but wake up feeling worse, then drink when not even really wanting to, because it becomes a habit. Drinking at home curbs my creativity. And it would put my relationship with Lee at unnecessary risk, as my moods would shift and my temper would become shorter. And that’s to say nothing of the cost of the beer. It’s simply not an option for me right now.

As the week progressed, the to do list was abandoned and we spent more and more time on the sofa watching tv. In addition to our weekly fix of Better Call Saul and Star Trek: Picard (both of which are excellent), we watched Blinded By The Light, a film about the influence of Bruce Springsteen on a young Pakistani man from Luton, which was ok but it was no Yesterday or Rocketman. Somewhat against my will we are watching Altered Carbon, which I’m finding very hard to follow. We’ve put the subtitles on now, which is at least helping me make out the words (I struggle with my hearing sometimes) but I’m still struggling with the language and terminology used. I really need to concentrate on this programme 100% (which I suppose is a good thing, as I am prone to drifting off sometimes, which these days means fretting about coronavirus). But we’ve just started watching The Big Bang Theory, which I’m already enjoying very much as some welcome light relief.

Our eating habits have changed this week, too. Gone are my flask of tea on the train, my breakfast sandwich or cereal at 9am, my ready meal (and trifle if I’m having a bad day) at noon and our evening meal around 7.30pm. With no fixed routine, I am eating as and when I get hungry, which seems to involve a mid-to-late-morning snack (usually fruit toast), afternoon snackage and a meal around 6pm. For mental (and dietary) health management purposes I may tweak this to factor in some cooking and a proper meal at lunchtime. I enjoy cooking. I stick some tunes on and dance around the kitchen whilst attending to whatever it is I’m cooking. It will be a good addition to my daily routine.

On the advice of a colleague, I have repatriated Naughty Corner (our stash of sweets, chocolate, popcorn, crisps, etc.) from a clearly visible position on the kitchen counter to a cupboard, in the hope that we will be less tempted to raid it. I am not convinced this strategy is working. Indeed, Lee is prone to stocking it up because he doesn’t have a clear overview of what’s already there. Just to be clear, this is a constant situation and not panic-buy squirrelling.

On Thursday night I resolved to paint my nails. They were badly chipped and, if I had been going out to work every day, I’d have repainted them days ago. I mustn’t let my physical standards slip just because I’m not going out. Lee still sees me every day and I must make an effort for him but also because letting my personal upkeep slide is a sign of poor mental health – and I’m not letting that take hold. I’m not. I’ve already stopped applying foundation and powder to my face but I figure my skin will benefit from that (as it already is from avoiding fondant centred sweets – I haven’t had any spots since cutting these out of my diet). I haven’t been drying or straightening my hair this week either but that’s mainly because I can’t see the mirror at the dressing table any more! Must make more of an effort here.

Because I wasn’t going out, I decided to start using the nail varnishes that weren’t really my favourites. I tend to favour reds and pinks – and tangerines and blues on matchdays at Pool and Chase – but have built up a collection of all sorts of colours that hardly ever get an airing. Well now’s the time to use them up, when no-one else gets to see them.

This is my Halloween colour.

On Friday I found myself working until 7pm. I haven’t worked late since my breakdown a few years ago, for the sake of my mental health. It has been helpful for me to switch off from work during non-working hours. I abandoned my Blackberry (are they even still a thing?) and resolved to use my commute for escapism, losing myself in a book or my writing or studying, meaning work was off my mind except when I was in the office. But I worked longer tonight because I’m finding work is beneficial for my mental health. It keeps my mind occupied and keeps me away from reading the news and social media which, whilst strangely fascinating, is alarming and worrying and most definitely NOT good for my mental health.

But is working late the answer? I have read that one of the perils of working from home is not being able to switch off from work. Now my workstation is on my dressing table in the bedroom it’s THERE as soon as I get out of bed.

I resolved to put work to bed for the weekend. Weekends MUST remain sacrosanct.

Saturdays must remain all about the football. Lee and I spent the morning preparing for this afternoon’s livestream (LCTV @ 3) on Lee Charles TV. This helps us and our viewers maintain a Saturday 3pm routine, providing a safe environment in which we can enjoy football chat with fellow fans.

Today we were looking at alternative ways of enjoying a football fix.

I spent a couple of hours in the morning researching for the show, looking around League One to see what content the clubs have been providing over the last week since the postponement of the football. I became absorbed in this exercise – completely switching off from the current troubles plaguing the world – and found it fascinating. I found trick shot challenges, quizzes, player interviews, matches being shown for free on iFollow, free online match programmes, pop up shops at grounds for self isolators who can’t make it to the supermarket, FIFA challenges – and mascots delivering care packages into the community. Of course football clubs are – and remain – an important part of local communities, irrespective of any football being played.

See below the full round up from League One in our livestream from Saturday afternoon:

Brick football has been unaffected by coronavirus – Lego people being immune – and FC Brickstand matches continue to be played every Sunday evening.

Brick football is now more important than ever before and I would urge you, dear reader, to give FC Brickstand a follow on Twitter or Facebook.

You can also get involved with the club. Membership for the season costs just £5, which will see the Lego you attending all home games at Brick Lane. There are regular opportunities to interact with the club, with events such as regular fans matches, pie tasting and a half time crossbar challenge. Find out more about how you can sign up here:

Join the club!

I was drained after the livestream and collapsed on the sofa. Was another evening in front of the tv in store? Not on my watch! As Lee, seated beside me, started to become frustrated with tech issues (he is a perfectionist when it comes to making videos), I suggested we dust off our bikes and get out into the fresh air for some exercise. I don’t know how long we’ve got before going into lockdown so we’re getting out (without being a danger to ourselves or anyone else) while we can.

NOTE I HAVE A CLOWN HORN AS OPPOSED TO A BELL. IT MAKES ME SMILE BUT CAN STARTLE DOGS.

The roads and streets were deserted this evening, which made for a safe cycling environment. Aside from a handful of rides up to Chase towards the end of last season, I haven’t cycled much as an adult, so I’m not too comfortable cycling on the roads. Tonight was fine though. I think we only encountered two cars (one in each direction).

I enjoyed being out on the bike and found having to concentrate on pedalling, staying upright, navigating terrain and retaining my balance whilst riding one-handed whilst brushing hair from my face in a blowy Blackpool collectively provided a good environment for my mental wellbeing. It’s like running without the shortness of breath.

The one problem I had was that I appeared to be leaning down on my handlebars, with my hands bearing a lot of my weight and consequently becoming painful at the base. I tried to correct my posture, sitting more upright. Lee gave me his gloves to wear, which were more cushioned than mine and this did seem to help. Perhaps my handlebars could be raised a little? Any suggestions to resolve this problem would be welcomed.

We arrived back home exhilarated and hungry. I really fancied a curry for tea but couldn’t justify the expense of a takeaway so we headed to the supermarket…where we ended up spending double what we would have spent on a takeaway, although at least the food we bought would last us far longer than tonight.

GROW YOUR OWN BRITAIN’S GOT TALENT WINNERS?

Asda was quiet, both on the car park and in store. Some aisles were barren (notably toilet rolls and chicken) but there was still plenty of food. There were now restrictions in place, with each shopper only permitted to buy three of any one product, to clamp down on bulk panic buying. We fully understood and this only really impacted on the number of bottles of pop that we bought. However we’ve been drinking more cordial anyway in the last couple of weeks as it’s cheaper and lasts longer. I had a slight panic when I could only find chocolate and fruit cocktail trifles but, as I crouched down to check the back of the shelf, I found a strawberry trifle and all was well. Chocolate trifles indeed. What are they all about?

We headed to the self checkout and I became uncomfortable at being in such close proximity to other shoppers. I’ve felt fearful in crowds for years (most recently coming out of the World Fireworks Championships) but there is an added element to this fear now. My breathing became slightly laboured as I scanned the shopping at the machine (which thanks you after EVERY item scanned which, whilst polite, becomes quite annoying after a while).

Back home I microwaved our meals before settling down on the sofa for the rest of the evening. A combination of my earlier panic, a hot curry, my earlier exercise and the heating drying out the air meant I now had a little dry cough. Lee looked at me in alarm. I assured him I was fine. But of course one can’t help but wonder…

On Saturday night I dreamt about work. And my concern at witnessing my elderly friends out enjoying themselves at a restaurant drinking beer on an overseas holiday. And therefore coronavirus. This is not a good sign.

For days now I have sensed the black cloud forming over my head. Now the voice has come back, whispering in my ear that everything is wrong. It’s going to be a long few months but I MUST combat this. I MUST keep busy. I MUST keep writing. And so, dear reader, effectively immediately I am reverting from a weekly blog to a daily microblog. There is so much going on right now that my notebook is overflowing with daily thoughts and observations. And I need as much routine as possible to help me through this. I’ll crack on with that novel, too. The plan here at LCTV Towers is to come out of the other side of this upskilled in a wide range of areas, prepared to come out fighting on the other side – and with that novel finally written.

I’ll be back tomorrow, dear reader. Please do like, leave a comment or follow my blog. It will be nice to know you’re out there. And don’t forget: THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

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