10 Things I Still Love About Lockdown (even in grief).
It’s been a month since I blogged about all the things I love about lockdown, with a heavy caveat that my positivity should not to be confused with complacency.
And, sadly, my family has not escaped the deadly touch of this awful virus. My 97-year-old Nan, Netta, passed away peacefully on May 1st after contracting Coronavirus in her care home. Like so many others she was just too old and frail to fight it. And, boy, was she a fighter. In the last few years doctors and care staff have gently warned my Mum that Nan was “end of life” several times. And she just kept bouncing back, seeing off pneumonia and several nasty chest infections and always emerging from her battles with a smile and a chuckle. Mother Nature had to go to a lot of trouble evolving a brand new life form to finally persuade my Gladiator of a Nan to let go and be reunited with Grandad.
So it has been a sad and strange May so far. How I wish I could go home to the farm and put my arms around Mum. When a grandparent dies you suddenly catch a glimpse of your parents as children, lost and vulnerable and looking for comfort from the one person that can no longer give it. That is the hardest part.
But, by the same token, we’re a family that laughs a lot. It’s how we cope we things and Nan’s passing has pushed us to embrace the one thing that has come to define Lockdown 2020 – we have a weekly family Zoom quiz. And that kicks off my latest list of Things I Love About Lockdown…
1. Zoom Quizzes
When Nan died, we were talking as a family over WhatsApp wondering what we could do to feel closer to each other. Mum said: “I keep hearing about these Zoom quizzes people are doing – what are they? Can we do one? I’d like to do one.”
I don’t know why we hadn’t thought of it earlier. I suppose we Joneses are always a bit late to things. We didn’t get a VCR until DVDs came out and I was in university before they finally got a shower installed over the bath.
So we divvied up the categories – History, Geography, Nature, Music, Film and TV and Sport. And a bonus picture round where you have to guess whose face has been hidden from various drunken family photos. That one gets a bit competitive: “That’s Uncle Roy! That’s Dad on the bunking bronco at Gary’s wedding!”
It takes a whole evening – sometimes it’s midnight before we get to bed – and it does actually feel like we’re all together again. Especially when the wine is flowing.
Question from our latest quiz: What is the second fastest land animal in the world after a cheetah?
Considering most people use it for free, Zoom deserves some kind of award for keeping friends and families together during lockdown, and during grief.
2. The Greatest Online Agricultural Show.
On Saturday, May 2nd, the day after Nan died, I felt very sad and flat. I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything and was moping around the house in my pyjamas. I checked Twitter in the afternoon and remembered the Greatest Online Agricultural Show was in full swing. People were inviting me along to the beer tent. “I’d better show up and support it,” I thought dutifully, without much enthusiasm at all.
But I’m so glad I did. What an incredible event it was.
It was set up after numerous summer agricultural shows were cancelled due to Covid-19. Events like the Royal Welsh Show are, for many farming families, their only holiday of the year. It is a break from the grind, a chance to get off the farms and socialise. Not having these events is an enormous loss for rural communities across the country.
So a man called David Hill, an estate manager in Berkshire, had the fantastic idea of staging an online event with all the stuff you’d expect to find at an agricultural show. Livestock judging, tractors, children’s activities, a beer tent, even a Red Arrows flypast (a video obviously). And if you didn’t see the viral video of three-year-old Barley and her sheep Ethel watch it now and make your day.
I spent most of my time in the beer tent listening to a live DJ playing all the cheesy club classics. I requested Shaggy – he played Mr Bombastic – what more could you want? We joined in the live chat sending LOL emojis and ridiculous gifs, the sun was shining and it genuinely created a summer party atmosphere. Me and Alex even danced to Mr Brightside in our kitchen.
The event raised £16,000 for farming charities and raised my spirits to the sky. So, to David Hill and all the organisers, hosts, exhibitors, sponsors, traders, stewards and judges – thank you.
3. VE Day at Home.
Nan was a Red Cross nurse during the Second World War and my Grandad, Wilfred, was in the RAF in North Africa. They met and fell in love just before war broke out, wrote to each other every single day (my Mum still has their boxes of love letters), married in 1946 and spent the rest of their lives together. It was a true love story.
So the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, exactly a week after Nan’s death, was particularly poignant for our family.
I walked past a socially-distant street party on the way to walk Lucy in the park and smiled at the Union Jack bunting flitting in the breeze. It was a gorgeously hot day. I went home and decided to wash the windows. I don’t know why but that’s what I did. I flung open all the doors and windows, played some 1940s big band and climbed a step ladder with my soapy cloth. We live on a long row of terraced houses and there was something a bit ‘Blitz-Spirit-Call-the-Midwife’ about washing the windows to swing music.
4. Local food and farm fresh milk.
A few weeks ago I directed a film for BBC One’s Countryfile about the dairy crisis and heard first-hand how farmers were pouring milk down the drain or dealing with delayed payments and price cuts due to the Coronavirus lockdown. It’s one thing hearing it on the news but when you’re on the phone to farmers and you can hear the stress, anxiety and worry in their voice, it really brings it home.
It played on my mind for days after the film was broadcast, so I went online to find our nearest dairy farm with a vending machine, where we can buy milk direct from the farmer at a fair price. Naughtily, we did have to get the car out and drive six miles to Old Green Farm Dairy (there aren’t many dairy herds in the middle of Bristol). We bought two litres of raw unpasteurised milk for £2.40 and a dozen free range eggs from their own chickens. We also stopped off at a nearby farm shop for meat, cheese, fruit and vegetables.
It cost a bit more than our usual weekly shop at Aldi but the food was delicious and that milk…oh, wow.
I had a deeply emotional response to my first taste of farm fresh milk. It was like that scene at the end of the film ‘Ratatouille’ when the grumpy food critic tastes the dish and is transported back to his childhood. He sheds a single tear from the sheer happiness of intense nostalgia. This milk was velvety smooth, thick and creamy, unlike any I’d ever tasted – or so I thought.
I told my Mum about the amazing taste sensation I’d experienced. “Oh, you were reared on raw milk for the first seven years of your life,” she said. “Your Dad still worked at The Bryn then (a neighbouring dairy farm) and he used to bring home a churn of milk every lunchtime.”
So there you have it – our taste buds have a memory. Deep in my subconscious I still remembered the taste of truly fresh milk – and it was triggered thanks to Covid-19.
5. Yoga With Adriene.
I bow at the alter of Adriene and Benji. I don’t know where I’d be without my daily dose of YouTube yoga. Sometimes Lucy joins me for a spot of downward facing dog. One morning I filmed her…
6. Discovering urban green spaces.
Before lockdown we were a bit boring and unadventurous with the inner-city dog walking. A country girl at heart, I’ve always been a bit dismissive of urban green spaces. Pfft, the countryside is the place for real walkers! I head into the wild for my hikes! Walking boots aren’t for pavements – they’re for mountains!
Well, I’ve had to eat my words. Bristol has astounded me. And East Bristol at that – an area I’d written off as intensely urban and full of concrete and blocks of flats and roads and people (eurgh – people!)
We recently discovered St Anne’s Wood, the Nightingale Valley, the Avon Valley Woodland, Conham River Park and Eastwood Farm. I cannot believe all of these places are hidden away in our city.
St Anne’s Wood is my favourite. Step off the busy main road and it’s like walking through the wardrobe into Narnia. A green, forested gorge falling away into a rocky stream. The first time we stumbled across it, I looked up into the trees, cacophonous with birdsong, and wept. I was missing the countryside so much and yet here it was. On my doorstep.
The other day we woke at 5am to catch the dawn chorus. We took a flask of tea and just sat and listened. I was knackered for the rest of the day so probably won’t make a habit of that, but still, it was amazing.
7. The allotment.
Just as Yoga With Adriene has prevented me from going mad, the allotment has been Alex’s saviour in lockdown. Having lost all his work due to Covid, he spends hours and hours digging, planting, weeding and building various structures to aid the growth of beans. I am the main beneficiary having enjoyed several rhubarb crumbles, a chard aloo curry and homemade leek and potato soup.
8. Eurovision Weekend.
My dear friend Max always marks the Eurovision Song Contest with some kind of continental beer-swilling ‘drink while they sing’ challenge. Not to be foiled by the Covid-induced cancellation, on Saturday night we all watched the 2016 Eurovision (yes, the whole thing) over Microsoft Teams while drinking beers from each individual country. We had to score each act on their use of pyrotechnics, spinning, furniture and their commitment to social distancing. Tracking down Lithuanian beer during lockdown has been challenging. In some ways I wish I had never found it. I would have spared myself this terrible hangover.
9. BBC 6 Music
About halfway through the lockdown I started to seriously despair at the news. Or the lack of news. Every morning I woke to another identical edition of the Today programme with Nick Robinson parroting the same question to some politician, statistician or epidemiologist: “When will this be over? People need to know! When will this be over?”
And no one ever knew.
One day I snapped and a friend of mine shared the best single piece of advice I’ve received all lockdown: “Just listen to 6 Music.”
And that’s what I did. Ever since switching over to Huey, Cerys, Lauren and Mary Anne my days have been easy breezy. Still no idea what the eff is going on but the soundtrack has been awesome.
10. Tiger King
If living through a global pandemic just gets too weird, if you find yourself fretting and wondering if life will ever get back to normal – simply enter the terrifying parallel reality of Joe Exotic.
The redneck Oklahoma zoo owner who sings country and western songs about tigers and dresses blow-up dolls as animal rights activists before shooting them in the head. Spend some time with Joe and your Coronavirus life will seem boring, mundane and comforting in comparison. Thank you Netflix.
Answer to quiz question: Pronghorn antelope