Life Lately | March April 2020

Thursday 16 April 2020

Beautiful brunette woman looking out in window at home - Healthy State

This is going to be a life update post extremely different to any I’ve ever written.

Who could have imagined even a few weeks ago that daily life would so utterly change for most people across the globe?

The coronavirus pandemic started off as something distant and remote - , a terrible problem but one that seemed far away overseas.

Despite the warnings, I don’t think anyone was at all prepared that in just a few short weeks, we’d be on lockdown, unable to leave the house unless it's to go to the supermarket.

All schools, restaurants, bars and gyms closed, and everyone not deemed a key worker at home from work until further notice.

It still feels unreal - I wake up each day and things feel normal for a split second, then I remember the situation.

We’re living through a time that will be difficult for most people in lots of different ways, and its a slice of social history that future generations might be interested in - so I still thought it was worth recording what life is really like during a global pandemic.

Life In Lockdown

As of March 23rd 2020, the UK was officially placed on lockdown by the government, following in the footsteps of most other nations.

At the time of writing, we have a sort of medium level of lockdown compared to other countries. The official guidance is not to leave the house unless it's for an urgent medical need, to buy food or if your job is deemed ‘essential’ and cannot be done from home.

We are also currently allowed to leave the house for one form of exercise a day.

Police are starting to give fines to people who are still getting together in groups, but only small amounts and it’s fairly light touch so far.

Of course, a lot of people have been interpreting the guidance generously and thinking the rules don’t apply to them, so I think heavier restrictions could be on the way - other countries now have in place systems where you need to text for official permission to leave the house and face heavy fines if you’re caught outside without a good reason.

This is my fourth week of working from home, as our company instructed most people to do this where possible a week before the official guidance kicked in.

I usually work a couple of days a week at home anyway, so I’ve found that aspect okay - but having to also look after the kids is a new element. It’s almost impossible to do both well, even with Mr A-F at home to help too.

I think a lot of working parents are going to be very burnt out by the end of this. We’re already exhausted, and the situation is hard to explain to the little ones as well.

I feel sad for them missing out on their nursery experience, especially as Theo was due to start school in September -  we’re currently unsure what will happen with that, as no one knows how long the situation is going to continue, which is one of the hardest parts.

Life is full of unknowns right now, so I’ve been trying extremely hard to focus on the positive. We are lucky to have a lovely garden which backs onto a river.

So we’ve been trying to keep the kids busy, planting flower bulbs and tomatoes, looking after our chickens and collecting their eggs (which have been a real gift as they’re hard to get hold of in shops), weeding, playing on the swing and sand tray and feeding the ducks, swans and baby coots which paddle up to the back of the garden.

We’ve also been busy making our own ice lollies, baking cookies and chelsea buns, colouring pictures to display in our windows, playing with plasticine and board games, reading stories and watching lots of films like Madagascar.

The kids are a little too young for anything much more structured. We’ve taken them out for a quick walk occasionally -  we are lucky enough to live right next to a nature reserve, so we’ve been doing some outdoor scavenger hunts, bike rides and things, staying away from others.

It’s a tough situation to explain to the children -  of course, Romilly is too young to question anything, but Theo has asked a few times why he can’t see his friends and family and has been a little sad from time to time.

Keeping them entertained and trying to work as well is tough. They gatecrash every conference call, and don’t understand why we have to be on our laptops rather than playing all day.

We’re busier than ever, so I almost feel a little envious of people who suddenly have all this extra time to sort out their sock drawer and read lots of books. That isn’t the case here - although at least it doesn’t leave us a lot of time to get bored.

There are moments when the kids drive us mad of course, but mostly they are actually keeping us sane.

They cheer us up and keep us in a great routine so we don’t just stay in our pyjamas all day. All we can do is try to stay safe, stay at home as much as possible and remember to be kind to each other and ourselves.

Life Before The Pandemic

Pre-lockdown very much feels like another life, but just before this kicked in I was actually travelling a fair amount for work.

I worked at the ICC in Birmingham for a couple of events and I stayed in some really amazing serviced apartments in the heart of the city called ‘Staying Cool at the Rotunda’. They’re  located in a stunning round glass building that offers 360 views of the city skyline.

I was really impressed and when this is all over I fancy going back there for a weekend of shopping and dinner at Purnell’s, which has been on my wishlist for a while.

My company head office is in Bristol, so I was also going down there a fair amount. It was a great chance to get to know some of the people I work with better, as we do a lot of remote working.

I stayed at the Bristol Grand Mercure, which was a really nice hotel right in the centre of the city and only a short stroll through Castle Park to the office. It was decorated in a really quirky, heritage-meets-local-street-art way that I really liked, and there was a lovely bath in my room.

We went for an evening out in Finzel’s Reach, an area by the waterside, and I enjoyed a really tasty (vegan!) dinner at Bocabar and a few drinks. I think Bristol is a great city and I’m looking forward to spending a little more time there through work.

I also went down to The Southbank in London for the Women of the World event on International Women’s Day. This was a really great celebration -  a festival of badass rockstar females. It was opened by the Duchess of Cornwall and it featured some hugely inspiring sessions.

I went to one that addressed how we raise our boys in order to address some of the problems with gender equality and another that looked specifically at women in  the tech industry and how to address some of the issues we face.

The session which really stood out to me was one on the Kindness Method. Led by author and therapist Shahzoo Izadi, it’s about ways to effect lasting behavioural change. I found her hugely inspirational and the workshop had some very useful practical tools which have already made changes in my life.

I would definitely recommend her book if you need a bit of guidance (and who doesn’t?).

Also pre-lockdown, I met up with my friends Kelly and Amanda for a bottomless brunch at Revolution De Cuba, which was absolutely fantastic. You pay for a ticket and you get a meal and as many drink refills as you can pack away in 2 hours.

As we all have young kids, being out in the evenings can be a bit of a logistical nightmare, so this was an ideal way to get together.

I ordered a really delicious Eggs Cubano, a twist on the traditional Eggs Benedict which came with some delicious pulled pork, and we got stuck into the prosecco and frozen daiquiris.

The only rule is that you have to have finished your drink before you could order another, but we had a wonderful waitress who was really attentive and kept us well topped up!

We had lots of laughs and a really great time, and ended up popping into a bar for another cheeky drink after our brunch ended. I could have happily stayed out all night then, but I came home around 6pm to put the kids to bed and was glad I did the next morning when I wasn’t suffering.

But a brunch like that is definitely something that is top of my list to do again when this situation changes.

Ben Fogle | What's On Reading

Literally the weekend before lockdown, we also went along to Ben Fogle: Tales From The Wilderness, where the broadcaster and adventurer spoke about all his varied experiences across the globe, from first taking part in the Castaway social experiment in 2000, to endurances races across the desert, sailing across the globe with James Cracknell and trekking to the top of Mount Everest.

It was a weird feeling at the event - everyone felt nervous and unsettled as the coronavirus situation was accelerating - and Ben was brilliant. He talked a lot about the enormous power of determination and mental strength for meeting challenges head on. He's certainly been in a few life-or-death situations where it looked pretty bleak, so we found him extremely uplifting. In fact, it was probably exactly what we needed to hear, and a fascinating evening.

Easter At Home

One of the moments that has been both bright and bittersweet was the Easter weekend.

We really did our best to make it feel special for the kids and to try and relax ourselves without work to juggle for a few days. I had been collecting small gifts - like a ribbon streamer and hairclips for Romilly, sticker books and a badminton set for Theo - for a while, and they each got a chocolate egg and some other sweets which the Easter bunny hid around the garden for them to find.

They were both so excited it really lifted our spirits, although there was a bit of scrapping over collecting the trail of little sweets - at one point it was a bit like a toddler version of The Hunger Games with added chocolate!

The weather was beautifully warm and sunny, so we opened up the new bifolds and felt those holiday vibes. We made homemade pizza in the pizza oven in the garden and did a big roast dinner in the evening.

We normally get together with family and have the kids with their cousins though, so it felt a little sad as well.

And now that it's over I do feel quite flat, because it seems like there's nothing to look forward to now until this situation lifts.

Our Victorian Home Renovation Grinds To A Halt

I've written a fair amount on the labour-of-love home restoration project we've been progressing with, turning a five bedroom Victorian semi that was formerly three bedsit flats back into the family home of our dreams.

This has been a very long, frustrating process- it took us the best part of a year to get planning permission and now builders have been on site since September 2019, first making a master suite on the top floor and then building a ground floor extension to house a new open-plan kitchen and family room.

With about a week and a half left to go on the internal works, everything ground to a halt when lockdown was announced.

It's a very small problem in the larger context of what's happening, but being so close to finished and yet left without a fully usable space has been quite disappointing.

I'm choosing to focus on the fact we at least have an oven and a fridge or it would have been a lot worse. There are quite a few jobs left to do:
  • Completing the underfloor heating system 
  • Finishing off the wooden floor in the kitchen and family room
  • Tiling the utility room and downstairs toilet
  • Installing quartz worktops in the kitchen 
  • Restoring plumbing and fitting the sinks in the kitchen and utility
  • Installing the downstairs toilet
  • Second fix electrics including the main light fittings and external lights, and the under-cabinet lighting
  • Cupboard doors, baseboards and skirtings
  • Ordering the new furniture and other items

We also need some landscaping work in the garden, including the decking for the bi-fold doors to open onto, and the boundary fence restoring.

It's not really a huge amount of work but it's all fairly critical, and we have no idea now when it might be complete.

We've had to find some workarounds, laying sheets of plywood and cardboard on top of the units and going upstairs for hot water to wash up. It's not a great set up, but we'll have to manage for however long this takes.

Half Marathon A Week Challenge

You might remember me getting back into running after Romilly was born. It's one of the best ways to exercise with a baby at home - you don't need any kit other than running shoes and you can just get up and go whenever you can fit it in.

I'm not a natural runner, but I followed the Couch to 5k programme to get started and found that consistency really paid off.

That was overtaken when I discovered my passion for hot spin. I got a little addicted, going three or four times a week and shedding 8 kilos just through exercise.

Sadly, the gym that I was going to shut down unexpectedly and since then I had sort of lost my way. I wasn't sure where else to join, so the only exercise I got for a while was walking into the office in the city.

Since being at home, I've picked up running again. It's been instrumental in keeping my mental health in check since the Covid-19 situation escalated here.

We are very fortunate to live somewhere there are lots of really good running routes, and I've been valuing both the escape and the mood boost it's given me.

I've pledged to run a half marathon each week (22km) to set myself a little challenge. After completing my first one, I treated myself to a new Nike Aerolayer running jacket and a couple of pairs of new Nike Pro leggings.

My plan is definitely to be fitter after lockdown, as I've also been doing workouts to repair my Diastasis Recti every evening and I'm planning to restart the 5:2 Diet this week.

The goal is to emerge from lockdown feeling good!

I’ve Been Reading

Ragdoll: The thrilling Sunday Times bestseller everyone is talking ...

While most of the globe seems to have had all the extra time to get stuck into a good book, trying to combine work and caring for two under fives means there is less time than usual for that around here, as we are usually catching up with work in the evenings once the children are asleep.

I have been trying to stick to my goal to read two books a month though.

First up, I tackled the very gritty crime thriller Ragdoll by Daniel Coles. I normally stick to the domestic noir side of things rather than novels specifically about police, so this was a little new for me.

It was very inventive and reminded me a lot of an episode of CSI.  It focused on the discovery of a gruesome corpse termed the Ragdoll, composed of six victim’s body parts.

The killer then contacts police to threaten a series of high profile killings on specific dates - ending with the detective who is leading the case. It must have been gripping because I found myself trying to cram in a page or two here and there whenever I could.

Because the world was a bit of a darker place by the time I finished it, I leapt onto something much lighter straight after.

The Wives (Devil Wears Prada 3): Lauren Weisberger ...

The Wives by Lauren Weisburger is about three women who join forces to overcome a scandalous set up one of their husband’s pulls on his wife.

It’s by the author of The Devil Wears Prada and has a couple of the same characters. It’s not my usual choice of book as I don’t really like ‘chick lit’ - but this is a slice of the highest order, polished, glossy and offering the perfect escapism from the present strange circumstances.

Secret Memoirs of Lord Byron by Christopher Nicole

Now, I’ve just started on The Secret Memoirs of Lord Byron - A Novel by Christopher Nicole. I’ve always been fascinated by Byron - poet, politico, traveller and rakish peer of the realm - partly because he was such a controversial figure in his time, but also because his writing is stunning.

His ancestral seat, Newstead Abbey, is in my home county and is a favourite place for a day out. I’ve read a couple of biographies of him in my time, so this book intrigued me.

It’s a fictional memoir written from his point of view, loosely based on fact but with rather a lot of embellishment. It’s quite entertaining but very far fetched, and to be honest his life didn’t really need this much on top as it was already quite scandalous.

There’s quite a lot of gratuitous love scenes that are starting to get a bit repetitive as well, and I’m not sure reducing his life to a series of sexual adventures does him justice.

But I’m sticking with it for now, although I’m actually quite looking forward to finishing this and getting on to something else!

I’m Watching

Who's taking part in Race Across the World series two? | Royal ...

Series are something that I have found even less time to give to than usual.

One thing we have been really enjoying is series two of ‘Race Across The World’. The series sets five couple a challenge to make their way across a continent, racing each other to the finish line via a series of checkpoints, on a limited budget.

It’s been great to see beautiful locations in South America, such as the Costa Rican jungle and Peru’s Rainbow Mountain while we’re stuck indoors. It reminds me how beautiful the world is and lets me imagine travelling again in the future.

We’ve also been making a point to watch a film every Saturday as a way of feeling like the weekend still means something.

Joker (2019 film) - Wikipedia
Uncut Gems Poster" Art Board Print by anitasands | Redbubble

We’ve watched two great ones recently - Joker and Uncut Gems, both really great character studies about deeply flawed men struggling with circumstances, and both beautifully shot.

And we've been trying to rewatch some of the films we really love, like True Romance which is a favourite for both of us.

I’m Listening

The Getaway (Red Hot Chili Peppers album) - Wikipedia
Talking Body - Wikipedia
Tame Impala - The Slow Rush | Releases | Discogs

Our listening has been really eclectic lately. The kids are discovering a love of listening to music and having a dance, and Theo has decided that Red Hot Chili Peppers are his current favourite.

Their 2015 offering, ‘The Getaway’ has been on constant replay in the house. Mr A-F are are both fans but we hadn’t really heard that one, so it's been great for both of us.

I’m also really enjoying Tove Lo ‘Talking Body’ and Tame Impala, especially the track ‘Borderline’ when I’m running as it's more upbeat.

So that is our little world at the moment - fairly limited and strange times for everyone, but we’ll get through this together if we look after each other and remember our compassion.

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