Because we humans are (mostly) a perverse bunch, being told I can undertake only one form of exercise a day makes me want to spend the whole day running, jumping, skipping, cycling. It’s not as if I ever did that but, just because I can’t, I want to! In this weird new world where the government is not simply telling me how to live my life but actually ordering me how to do it, it would be so easy to collapse under a pile of negativity or anxiety or to rebel – How do they know whether or not I have already been out once? But actually it’s not difficult to play the game and do what I am told because I know all our lives depend on it, mine included. I have in any case spent the past two years in semi isolation, desperately trying to write a book in the immediate aftermath of my husband’s sudden death and deal with probate, a situation guaranteed to lure anyone into depths of depression even without associated grief. What kept me going was my mantra ‘once the book is done’ I shall be free …. free to spend a week at a spa, free to travel wherever I wanted, free to meet all the friends I have had to shun so rudely over the past two years. Even free to behave badly.
But then, within days of delivering my manuscript, this. And my car was broken into. Desperate times I know. And what’s the worst? I can’t even see my gorgeous growing grandchildren.
So I am taking a deep breath and thinking about some of the things that really matter. Staying alive is number one. Looking after elderly relatives and making sure they (and I) are fit for when we eventually emerge and can say ‘I used the time to do something I never would otherwise have done.’ No wonder sales from DIY shops are booming. We all have an urge to prove, through creativity, we are still alive. And for me that’s the best way to stave off anxiety and depression.
So here are Ten Reasons to be Cheerful in the time of Coronavirus, with the big caveat that I do know I am the luckiest person because I have always worked from home. It’s a necessary condition for any writer to produce anything, although I can’t pretend I like being solitary. I have just had to get used to it over the years, which has been a useful preparation for widowhood. I have delivered a new book after almost five years and soon will have to edit that. I need to be at home, alone, to do this. I have spent all my working life working from home. In a sense there is nothing new about this. On the other hand as a freelancer who gives talks, ten of which have been cancelled, I have lost an important income stream as well as a chance to get out and meet my readers.
Here are the TEN
- The pear tree has dozens of blossoms. I bought this tree as a birthday present for my husband and it never produced any fruit in his lifetime. Last year I had four pears and this year I think there will be dozens.
- I did some gardening and actually enjoyed it. I love looking out of my study window onto the garden, watching to see if the birds are eating their fat balls from the new feeder and straining to see what has started to bloom. My small London garden gives me more pleasure and sense of peace than I could possibly imagine, an inspiration for anyone, and just the right level of minor distraction for a writer.
- I am exercising in different ways. Today I went for a solitary cycle ride along the towpath using my husband’s very old bike. I could hear the birdsong. I even have an old rowing machine, something I thought I was desperate to give away as it was always my husband’s toy. No longer. I’ve discovered I can row and watch television at the same time.
- I have cleared up some cupboards (and found my wedding dress wrapped up in a bag). Lots of other things have found their way into the rubbish bin where they should have been years ago.
- I am learning how to make sourdough thanks to a writer friend I barely knew who kindly sent me my first starter. I shall get very fat but what a lovely way to put on the pounds with homemade sourdough bread.
- I am reading books that have been sitting on my shelves for years. ‘Just give me five minutes to read’ has been my (much mocked) Cri de Coeur ever since I can remember. Suddenly I have fifty five of those minutes. I shan’t read worthy books. I shall just read for pleasure and information.
- I am listening to other books thanks to Audible on big headphones when I walk or from my iphone speaker when I cook or take a bath
- The kindness of strangers. Lots of communities have set up deliveries for the elderly but it isn’t just the old who are in difficulty. My younger daughter is being looked after by her boyfriend’s parents in the country where she is happy and well, working from home to set up a new website for her company remotely.
- I have plenty to eat. I am cooking for the freezer as if it is another person. As a non-meat eater, I depend on fresh fruit and vegetables and keep making enormous vats of vegetable curries, vegetable stews, soups even vegetable tagines. Far more than I can possibly consume myself.
- Think of all the money I am saving… no nail bar visits, no hairdressers, no clothes to buy and even the odd refund from train journeys not taken (although actually that is a battle I am still fighting)
- One more for luck and because I never could count … I was excited to be asked to write an article for Aitken Alexander, the agency who have wonderfully represented me for more than twenty years, as part of a series they have created where authors respond to isolation. Here is what I wrote for them about the calming effects of knitting!
Can we make any of these changes permanent? Being more accepting of what we have is one I certainly intend to keep in my personal armoury. And learning to let go of some things I can really learn to live without.