Life Lately | June July 2020

Monday 3 August 2020

life lately white hat summer shot

Well, hasn't life just been upside down lately? Back at the start of the year, I would never have believed that 2020 would turn out this way. 

Even when we first went into lockdown in the UK, I didn't think we'd be at the end of July and still not back to normal. The world has been very worrying and strange for quite a long time now. 

And while I recognise how lucky I am to have gotten this far without any of the worst case scenarios touching me, that's not to say it hasn't been tough on all of us. For a while it felt like just surviving, not thriving. The shock was huge and I didn't feel there was anything to write about as all the colour went out of life. 

Although there are a lot of things that are very far from how they were pre-pandemic, some green shoots are starting to appear now, so it felt like a better, more optimistic time to talk about life, lately. 

Mental Health And Me

Deep breath time. This is a huge topic and one which has rightly become a big part of the national conversation. I've been lucky to never really have experienced problems with my mental health until now, but currently I am struggling hugely with anxiety. 

It feels strange to even write that. I'm very much of the 'pull my big girl pants up and get on with it' school of thought, but what do you do when that doesn't work anymore? When you can't just set it aside and move on? When you wake up with your heart racing and feeling like an elephant is sat on your chest? 

I started lockdown shaken but determined to be positive. But somewhere along the line, things began to unravel a bit. Issues have piled up while I've been trying my best to ignore them and 'get on with it'. And now I'm having to try to find new ways to cope. 

I can see how it all began. Almost immediately that lockdown started, the company I work for announced redundancies. I'd only started there at the beginning of the year, so I was worried. Thankfully it didn't come to that (this time at least) but there must have been some stress from that which I just ignored. 

Then there was the lower-key but constant pressure cooker of having building work going on in the house, the torturous stop-start of it, and getting caught without a finished kitchen and no running water downstairs when it all kicked off, running over time and budget. Small things, but they all chip away at you. 

The impossibility of having two kids at home all day, under five years old and needing constant entertainment and supervision while both of us tried to work full time. The knowledge that I was falling behind and not doing well at my job as I tried to manage the impossible full time childcare at the same time. Really, it would have been much better if one of us had been furloughed in some ways but that didn't happen. 

We just staggered on, doing a bad job simultaneously at our careers and at our roles as mum and dad, and feeling guilty as hell about it. The balance for working parents is always very precarious anyway, and lockdown meant it all came tumbling down like a house of cards. 

We had some lovely moments with the kids of course, and spending more time with them has definitely been one of the few positives of lockdown, but it would be lying to say there wasn't a lot of yelling, short tempers and impossible stress. 

Knowing my performance at work hasn't been good has also chipped away at my confidence around my job and things started to get into a negative spiral where I was dreading each day. There was no escape from the pressure either - no evenings out or holidays, none of the little rituals that we rely on and look forward to. 

Of course I am very aware that we haven't experienced real hardship, but that's not to deny the truth that we have mentally suffered and come to the edge of being burnt out. On top of that, I also discovered that my mother, who lives all the way down in Cornwall, has been diagnosed with cancer, which was a huge shock. 

All taken together, it's no wonder I began to sink. I had all the classic symptoms of high functioning anxiety - racing thoughts, over activity followed by long periods of procrastination, secret eating, falling asleep exhausted then bolting awake in the middle of the night. I'm know I'm far from alone in all this, but when you're sucked into the raw, nervous edge of it, it's impossible to think straight. 

So I've honestly been fighting a big battle. I'm at a point now where I feel I'm beginning to turn it around. I've learned some valuable mind management techniques and tweaks to my daily routine which are helping enormously, which I'm planning a separate post on. 

But I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the reality of the past few months, and just extend my thoughts to others who have been really struggling. You're not alone. 

Working Solo

Home extension office home based working
Many people have been working from home since the pandemic kicked off, including me. And now I'm going to be permanently based at home, which is a big change for me. 

The company I work for has small pockets of offices up and down the country, so I was travelling a fair bit anyway, as the people I work with aren't based in the office local to me. There wasn't a huge amount of point going in, and each morning was a horrible rush of trying to get the kids up, dressed and dropped off at nursery before struggling into the city - usually walking as there were no available car parking spaces at the office either. 

The lease on that office came up and the company decided to offer us the opportunity to become home workers, although they are planning to have a new smaller space with hot desks and meeting rooms here. 

I'm pretty pleased about it. With Theo starting school in September, being there every day to pick him up means a lot to me (not to mention saving me a fortune for breakfast and after school clubs every day!). 

It will be a bit of an adjustment, but I feel like I'm pretty efficient at managing my time and am well aware of the need to leave the house at least once a day as well! It will definitely be a positive thing that gives me back some balance in my life. 

Plus, the view from my desk is pretty good now! 

The Lockdown Loosens

Restrictions in the UK are beginning to ease up, although it all feels quite temporary and as if things may change at any time. 

Everyone has their own circumstances and opinions on it, but we are of the opinion that as long as we take sensible precautions, then the risk to us is fairly minimal and that we should take the opportunities we can. 

So I went and had my haircut on 5th July, the day after the salons reopened. Oh my word, it needed it. I was already overdue a cut (14 months!) going into lockdown and had been planning to go the week it all kicked off. My hair was very long and dry and it was just suffering. I even made the Mr attempt to recreate my very expensive salon balayage at home with a L'OrĂ©al kit (it actually turned out okay, although I don't think he needs to give up the day job any time soon!).  

Getting a good cut again has made my hair instantly healthier and so much more manageable and easy to wash and dry. The experience was a little strange - I was the only client in the silent salon, and the hairdresser wearing what looked like a welding mask put paid to any casual chat about going on holiday - not that we would have had anything to talk about there! 

We have also been able to finally see our families again which makes a huge difference. We've had a few picnics and mornings out at the local country parks and the kids were overjoyed to see their cousins again. If there's one thing this lockdown has taught me, it's to really value and appreciate the little things in life, as they bring us so much. 

Playgrounds reopened at the beginning of the month, which was huge in our house. The first day they unlocked the gates, Theo and Romilly were waiting by the front door with their shoes and coats on from 7am! 

Explaining to them over the past months why we couldn't use the play area swings and slides has been very tough (especially without wanting to give them too much of a complex about germs!). One of the saddest things to me about lockdown has been seeing the playgrounds empty rather than filled with laughter and joy. So seeing them clambering up to the swings and digging in the sandpit again was a beautiful moment. 

They can both do so much more than last time we visited - Theo finally got the courage to go down the biggest slide and Romilly could climb things without our help. They loved it and it's become a focal point of our free time again - although they now want to go every day, like they think it's going to be taken away again. 

We also took the kids for a day out at Drayton Manor Park. It's just the right size for smaller children and they have Thomasland, which is all themed around Thomas The Tank Engine, plus a small zoo. The kids were so excited to see the animals and go on the rides and honestly it felt priceless to do something like that with them. After all, they have had to make a lot of sacrifices during the last five months as well. 

We all got a lot out of the day, but the park was operating differently. You had to book on to each ride separately, using their app. You get put in a virtual queue and then sent a QR code when it's your turn, which is scanned as you get on. This system didn't work perfectly. The whole idea is to avoid physical queues, but a lot of people were either ignoring the booking system or not adequately informed, because there was physical queueing on top of virtual. 

Unless you plan it carefully, there are pockets of time you can't do anything, and the virtual queues for some of the rides were so long that we skipped them entirely - I did even wonder if the app was glitching as wait times were so high even though the park was less busy than usual. They let less people on the rides at one time, and a couple of things were shut down completely for a deep clean. 

I understand completely and would never complain about, but it can be hard to explain to bored little children who are tired of queuing and just want to get on something. On the whole, we felt very safe. We wore masks and there were hand sanitizer stations all over the park. It was worth any strangeness to give the kids a tiny bit of normality. 

Home Sweet Home

We’ve been adding the final few touches to the grand makeover of our family home since building work was completed a few weeks ago. I’m absolutely dying to do the big reveals, but I want to hold off until all those little details, like artwork, light fittings etc are in place - and those things always take longer than you think! 

One thing I did do recently was tackle my small but nicely formed dressing room, which we included as part of the new third floor master suite. I've added shelving to hold bags, bought a new dressing table, and had a big sort out of my makeup. It’s a little attic space so I’ve been working out how best to set it up and getting the bits and pieces in place. 

I’m so pleased with the finished result as I have wanted a dressing room ever since I can remember and it's such a luxury to finally have a dedicated space for clothes and makeup. A full post on the master suite and all the other renovation work will be coming very soon!

Getting Social 

I've also finally managed to see some friends now that restrictions are easing. I'd forgotten how good it feels to just hang out with people in real life and how much it lifts my spirits. I think all of us will come out of this situation with so much more appreciation of what social connection means to us. 

This year has been one where many celebrations have been cancelled, so we decided to invent one and gave Christmas Dinner in July with friends. We couldn't find a turkey, so we did roast duck and a pork joint with stuffing, roast potatoes and that festive essential pigs in blankets, and I got hold of some Christmas crackers too. We invited our dear friends, the kids godparents, one of whom normally lives and works in the Philippines but is in the UK at the moment. The food was delicious and we had such a laugh, we actually decided to make it an annual tradition. 

I also ventured into the city one night for drinks with a friend. I was really anxious that it would feel like a ghost town with no atmosphere, but it actually just felt quite normal - perhaps a bit less rammed than a usual Friday night, but there were enough people around. 

We tried out a little bar called Secret Garden that is in a small, fairy lit courtyard. It worked really well for summer evening cocktails. We booked in advance and it was all table service - but I hate queuing at the bar, so that suited me. 

We also went to Another?, which is a very cool self-service wine bar. They have these sort of vending machines that the wine bottles are slotted into. You get given an account card and you slot it into the machine and choose either a tasting measure or a small or large glass. There are tasting notes next to all the wines and lively, knowledgeable staff. The bar is in a crooked old townhouse that felt so cosy and inviting. We had a great evening in the end, and it feels important to me to support independent venues like that who have been hit so hard by the pandemic. 

I also had some of my mummy friends round for cocktails in the garden. We opened up the huge bifolds and I switched my custom neon script light on - it's the first time we've used the new extension properly for entertaining and the space worked so fantastically well. It was a lovely evening and lifted my spirits when I needed it most.

Romilly Hero Is Two Wild

I can barely believe it but my bossy, bold, beautiful little girl turned two at the end of July. And what a ride the past two years has been. Romilly has added so much fun and affection to our lives, made Theo into the most wonderful big brother going, and turned us into a real gang. We are so happy with family life at the moment. 

Romilly is enormously strong-willed, kind, messy and fairly reckless. We've always called her our warrior princess and she really is - fierce and tenacious but also a really girly girl. Due to the circumstances and also her being too young for it, obviously we didn't have a big party for her, just grandparents over on the day for a little tea party. 

We got her a purple scooter with light up wheels which she was instantly obsessed with, some puzzles and other little toys and a princess costume to dress up in as she loves frocks, bags and shoes - clearly my daughter! I baked her a tiered cake with special unicorn sprinkles and she unwrapped her cards and gifts. She really enjoyed the day and her celebrations.

Part of me is a little sad I don't have a baby anymore but watching her grow and develop is endlessly fascinating for me. 

I'm Watching 

THE SINNER Season 3 on Netflix

You’d think during lockdown there would have been endless boxsets, but like most working parents we’ve had even less time than usual for that kind of thing. I did watch Season 3 of The Sinner, which is one of my favourites. This series focused on a mysterious figure who developed a sort of cult at college with his best friend - with murderous results. It was really beautifully shot and compellingly acting, but it was my least favourite of the series so far. 

For some reason the only other thing I’ve really been watching is vintage episodes of Rick Stein’s Spain and Far East series. There’s something massively comforting about them as I’ve grown up with his shows, plus it's giving me cooking inspiration and a glimpse at a wider world which is a little unreachable right now. It’s a programme that seems to really calm me, and that’s what I need right now. 

Almost Famous movie poster
The Breakfast Club movie poster

We’ve also been revisiting old films, like The Breakfast Club and Almost Famous, that I really love. I’m feeling very nostalgic for decades I never even experienced! The 70s and 80s just seem like such a hopeful time compared to today’s reality.

I'm Listening

Led Zeppelin band shot

With music, I’ve gone backwards in time. After watching those old movies, it's influenced what I’m listening to as well. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Cream, Heart, David Bowie, Blondie and Roxy Music have been on repeat on my Spotify playlists. 

I feel like music was so raw and exciting in the Seventies, new sounds were emerging and there was this whole movement that must have felt amazing. These classics have been putting a smile on our faces and giving our kids a musical education as well.

I'm Reading 

I’ve been trying to refocus on my goals around completing a couple of books a month after realizing that I was slipping back into just reading magazines. And I have so many books queued up on my Kindle! Reading is something that has both centred me when I’ve felt wracked with anxiety and allowed me some escape in my head. My love of books seems more important now than ever. I’ve managed to read quite a lot lately:

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides -  This classic coming of age tale, set in the late 70s, is intricately woven. Focused on the mysterious existence and suicide attempts of the beautiful, isolated Lisbon sisters, the dreamy Sofia Coppola-directed film was a teen favourite of mine. The book is very similar in tone to the movie. The protagonists are unknowable, we only see and experience them as reflections and half-remembered statements through the eyes of others. The book is a little bit meandering but very evocative of a time and place that’s probably vanished now - the small-town America seen in films like Stand By Me.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - Just wow. My favourite ever novels have been set in stone for years now, and I can’t remember the last time something I read instantly shot into my top ten, but this World War II epic did. Following a few intertwined narratives during the German occupation of France, this book is far reaching in its scope, cinematically written and with real emotion. I couldn’t have loved the writing or the evocative setting of Saint Malo more. With a huge message about the human condition, this managed to combine a rollercoaster of historic events with  real human heart that made each page come alive.  This is the kind of book that makes me want to buy a copy for everyone I love and make them read it.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid -  This biting book is a timely commentary on race and class that has been longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. Black babysitter Emira is stopped at the supermarket for ‘kidnapping’ a white child, which leads to a volatile chain of events as she becomes ever more entangled in the life of her employer, a bleeding heart feminist blogger who misguidedly tries to set things right. There are enough twists in the plot to make it very readable, and it's an interesting look at the dynamics of privilege and finding your feet in the modern world.

The One by John Marrs

The One by John Marrs - This fast paced thriller has been snapped up by Netflix and will make a brilliant series. The central idea is this: imagine that a simple mouth swab could DNA match you with a partner who is your ideal match? This book follows five couples as they uncover the secrets of their DNA matched partner and find out if love really does conquer all. I found it a really intriguing concept and very well plotted. It's one of those books that plays out like a movie in your head as you read, so the Netflix adaptation will probably be amazing.

Chanel's Riviera by Anne De Courcy

Chanel’s Riviera: Life, Love And The Struggle For Survival in the Cote D’Azur, 1930 - 1944 by Anne De Courcy - Like many many people, Gabrielle Chanel is the ultimate style icon to me. From her restrained sense of style to her love of life, unconventional way of living and her quick-witted quotes, I find her fascinating as a person and as a fashion designer. This book is sort of a hybrid biography and geography - looking at the lives of a gilded set of people living on the French Riveria just before the start of the Second World War - with Chanel at the centre. It looked at what happened when the Italians occupied the region and the slant that war brought to the lives of some of these fascinating figures, such as Chanel’s best friend Misia Sert and luminaries like Winston Churchill. It evokes a time and a place brilliantly and is a delicious little slice of social history.

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell - I’ve followed Lisa Jewell’s work for absolutely years, because I just love her warm way of writing and her brilliant characterisation. In a few pages, she can establish a whole world that you just buy into. In recent years, she’s gone from writing quite lighthearted stuff into the ‘domestic noir’ genre, and she’s killing it there. Her mysteries are so well-written and every single one has drawn me into it's universe completely. This follows the tangled lives of two families in a large Chelsea townhouse who begin to slowly descend into a cult. It was amazingly atmospheric and full of intricacies. I didn’t want to put it down, and I find Jewell’s work so easy to read. If you like Liane Moriarty, she’s definitely worth a try.

Face It: A Memoir: Debbie Harry

Face It - Debbie Harry - And now I’m onto my latest book, which is the autobiography of Debbie Harry from Blondie. They are such an iconic band to me and I’m completely drawn to the world of rock and roll in the 70s at the moment. Blondie were there at the birth of punk and completely created their own style drawing on so many creative and musical influences. Debbie Harry had a kind of mystique that I always find so compelling, so it's interesting to hear about the times and the circumstances back then from her perspective as one of the very few female rock and roll stars at the time.

So, that’s me at the moment - doing my best, sometimes struggling, a little fearful but trying my best to manage it all. Life during a pandemic is certainly a challenge, but hopefully we’ll all be able to look back and have it change us for the better. Stay safe, stay kind.

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