Day 21 – Let’s Pretend

Day 21 – Let’s Pretend

Today marks the start of our fourth week of mandatory lockin here in Italy, so my household is having a mini celebration with a ‘Let’s Pretend Someone is Coming Over’ day.

We’re celebrating because:

  • We haven’t killed each other yet.
  • None of us have lost our marbles and none of our family have succumbed to the virus. Well, our daughter in London probably did have it, but she’s out the other side of it now and doing fine. So we are celebrating that too.
  • I’m also celebrating that I can still fit into my jeans, though just about. I probably won’t be able to celebrate that next week the way things are going, so might as well give them a good send off. 

A ‘Let’s Pretend Someone Is Coming Over’ day means we all spend a couple of hours cleaning the house and get it done by a certain arrival time. We’ll put a bit of effort in like shaving, getting dressed up in nice clothes and prepare a nice lunch.

I called my 84-year-old Mam in Ireland and virtually invited her over. So she has put on a new blouse she bought before she went into self isolation, brushed her hair and put on some makeup. We’ll both cook a nice lunch and have it virtually together.

This is not something new to me, sometimes I have a virtual dinner like this with our 23-year-old daughter who works in London. We’ll set up our ipads or phones with a video call through What’s App or Skype, we’ll cook dinner together while chatting in our different kitchens, and then sometimes I’ll even set a place on the table and prop up the iPad with her and we all have dinner together.

So maybe think of what you can celebrate today, burn those scented candles you have been saving for a special occasion, cook something nice and maybe have a virtual lunch or dinner with a friend or family member living away at the moment. Enjoy!

Day 20 – Tips To Deal with Fear

Day 20 – Tips To Deal with Fear

Day 20 – Tips To Deal with Fear

The clocks went forward today. I thought they went forward last Sunday so I’ve been living an hour ahead of myself for the last week. Not that it mattered, or anyone noticed. After three weeks in quarantine one of the biggest jokes in our house is when we ask each other to do something, like clean the car and the response is ‘Yeah I will ,if I have time today.’ Or waking up on Saturday and shouting ‘It’s The Weekend!”. Or when we ask ‘What time is it?’ and the response is always, ‘Why do you want to know, going somewhere?’

I’ve realised timelines give us comfort. They stop fear.

A lot of people around the world are just starting their first week of Mandatory Lockdown. This plays with your head a little different than self-isolation which we too had done before it became mandatory three weeks ago. With self-isolation you are in control, you are choosing to do it. With mandatory quarantine you are being told you don’t have a choice. Shops and businesses are closed which before you could have gone to if you so wished and you fi you chose to, you could go for a walk outside your gate to meet a friend. So the seriousness and reality of the situation is just hitting a lot of people now. It’s like there are three stages to this pandemic, the first two stages are; Panic (ahh buy toilet rolls, it’s coming!) and Fear (it’s here, what is going to happen? When will it end?).

It’s the ‘unknowing’ that breeds fear. We’ve all become used to living to deadlines and being able to get answers to our questions immediately, we always know when a result will be achieved, so we can move forward with thoughts and plans. It’s easy to let yourself get scared and anxious without the security of deadlines or when unreasonable ones are mentioned. Such as leaders of countries saying the elderly need to self isolate for four months, others saying it could last until next year, these are scary and stupid timelines to be mentioning. People begin to feel depressed and desperate about not seeing family and friends for that long, when in fact no one knows the deadline. And it is this unknowing that causes fear and anxiety.

What we do know is that it’s a virus and there are hundreds of very clever scientists working 24/7 to find a cure, a way of weakening it, and to develop a vaccine. There’s a race on to be the first, which is being funded by the ultra-rich and pharmaceutical companies, because whoever finds it first will be laughing all the way to the bank and there will be a Nobel prize in it for the scientist. Sort of like finding a Willy Wonka golden ticket. It just takes one genius to find the right formula. They are working hard at it all over the world. It will happen, they’ve done it a thousand times before and it could happen any day now. Once they call ‘Bingo!’ then we can all go back to our crazy hectic lives, see our friends and family and talk about the good old times when we had time to ourselves in quarantine. This will happen, that is one thing we can be sure of, but we still have to get over the insecurity and anxiety of the ‘unknowing’ deadline.

Here are five things that may help:

1. Give yourself fixed dates that are within the next couple of weeks

So for us here in Italy, I have had the 3rd April in mind for the number of cases to start to decrease and a new glimmer of hope to be seen. For the last five days the percentage of new cases has been much lower so I’m looking forward to us reaching the 3rd April in the hope we see continued improvement. Then I have the 15th April in mind. This is when quarantine will probably be extended to and perhaps the curve may be under control by then and the quarantine restrictions eased somewhat. Once I get to these dates, I’ll reassess and set new dates if needs be.

2. Visualise

Visualise the scientists at work and the moment that that one scientist has the ‘Eureka’ moment and finds the cure or the formula to stop the symptoms becoming severe. It will happen. It could be happening right now as you read this. As soon as it does happen, we will all be given an end deadline based on how long it can be mass produced and distributed. The turnaround will be quick – maybe days or maybe a week or two. So imagine you are given a two week deadline from today. Mark it on your calendar – Easter Sunday, perfect. What are you going to achieve in that two weeks? Start working towards that date as being the end date.

3. Realise we will never have this time again

How many times have we longed to have time to do the stuff we never get to do? Sort out photos, paint a picture, draw, write a book, read a book, learn to cook, bake a cake, have a lie-in, watch Netflix all day? Over half the world is on pause right now, told to go home, relax and do nothing, this has never happened before and will probably never happen again. So rather than living in fear that this will never end, know that it will end (remember the scientists) and embrace this unscheduled free time and do those things that you have never had time to do. If you don’t get them done during this extraordinary time, forget it, they’ll never be done.

4. Give yourself a break and stop thinking about it

Limit listening to the news once per day, then turn on music and get on with with number 3. Don’t read sensational headlines or get into rows on social media with people about conspiracy theories or ‘what ifs’. Image those, who you don’t know personally on social media, with a tinfoil hat on their head waiting for alien contact or imagine that they have taken a substantial amount of mind-altering drugs. Would you stop and have a conversation with them on the street? Probably not, so why are you trying to have a rational conversation with them now in your sitting room or while lying in bed? Ignore them and throw them out of your personal head space.

5. Plant seeds

I planted sunflowers the first day of quarantine. I tell myself that by the time they flower this will all be over. I don’t know if it will, no one knows – but I think of the scientists and I think of how my ancestors survived through much worse times, and every time I water them I am watering hope and I feel optimistic we are closer to the time when this virus is less scary and a thing of the past.

At the start of this post I mentioned there were three stages to this pandemic, the first two stages are; Panic and Fear and the final part is Resignation which hit me at the end of week two. Resigning to the fact that this is our current reality and we just have to get on with it. It’s not that bad! So let go and let be, know that this will end, and it might end before you get all those projects done so start working on them, turn off the news and visualise the scientists.

Day 18 – Hair

Day 18 – Hair

There’s a thing going around social media; In three weeks we’ll know everyones true hair colour.

I feel a bit smug about this, as I made the decision to embrace my silver last year when I had two frozen shoulders for 12 months. This meant I could only lift my arms to Frankenstein level. I couldn’t put on my own coat, bras were a struggle and brushing my hair was a challenge. I didn’t touch the top of my head for a full year. I come from a family of early greys and started dying my greys from the time I was 26.

I had played with the idea of going grey several times through the years. I always had an uneasy feeling about piling a load of chemicals on my head every six weeks. And an article I had read years ago, in one of these ‘really, really, true story’ magazines, about a woman who suddenly developed a reaction to hair dye and had a stroke (not a good thing to read while you are sitting in a hair dressers getting your hair dyed) was always in the back of my mind during a dye job.

I started to self-dye when I came to Italy, as my reddish tone wouldn’t have been easy to match and I found the perfect one in a home dye. I’d stockpile two or three each time I went back to Ireland.

When my Frankenstein episode hit, I got my husband to dye my hair. It was not one of those moments where you say, ‘aw you missed your calling, you should have been a hairdresser.’ Far from it. There was more dye on my face, shoulders, neck, dog, than on my hair. I took a photo and sent it to a friend. She nearly called an ambulance. I looked like someone had tried to scalp and skin me alive.

After cleaning up the crime scene and as I scrubbed my skin I began to think, ‘why am I doing this?’

Why are we (women especially),  so afraid of letting ourselves go grey? I had six weeks to think about it.

I ran it past my niece, “Maybe in a few years, it might make you look really old. Like 45 or something”.

I’m 47.

I ran it past an Italian friend, “What? NOOOO! You look so young with your hair dyed, you look 32 or 34.”

“But I’m 47. I have a 23 year old daughter, why do I want to look 32? If people thought I looked 32 then they would think I had her when I was nine, which would be weirder than me having my natural hair colour don’t you think?”

She didn’t answer.

“Why can’t I look 47? ”

She thought for a moment;

“But Italian men love red hair!”

“I’m married 24 years, we’re still doing okay. I’m not looking for an Italian man.”

“Ah but why limit yourself to one man?”

She’s so Italian.

By 47 most of us have been through quite a few life learning episodes. I do feel a hell of a lot wiser then what I was 10 or 20 years ago. I am lucky to get to this age, some friends and family didn’t, so why can’t we all be proud of the age we achieve rather than trying to look a younger form of ourselves? My greys are like my badge of honour for surviving this long.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to let my hair colour grow out. So I am six months into my non-dyed hair phase. And I’m loving my silver! My dyed hair would get frizzy and dry a week or two before it needed to be redone. my silver is silky soft and smooth. There’s a weird sense of new self-confidence and empowerment that has come with it which I haven’t got my head around yet. Not giving a damn what others think of me? Being content with myself rather than doing something for other people approval perhaps?  I’m looking forward to it being completely grey but for now I have a weird, reverse, ombre hairdo going on.

My 17-year-old son was in need of a haircut before the quarantine and has decided to let his hair grow long for the hell of it to see what happens. We’ve discovered he has mad curly hair, not something he had when he was young.

Hopefully we’ll all be out of quarantine before I am fully grey and my son has a full 70s afro.

Day 17 – It’s the Hammock’s Fault

Day 17 – It’s the Hammock’s Fault

“Is that nuclear fallout?” said my husband the other day, opening the bedroom shutters in his Eeyore ‘Nothing would surprise me at this stage’ voice. He yawns.

Is that a usual response from someone who sees nuclear fallout?  I look from the bed, I’m less pessimistic “Noooo it’s… cherry blossom being blown around.” Then we’re both at the window to look closer.

“It’s a blizzard, it’s fucking snowing!”

The cold snap of weather has forced me inside rather than lolling around on the terrace, so I’ve started to do housekeeping activities.

I’ve become a master at fridge revolving. I wake in the morning and think about the meals we will have that day.  Over my morning cuppa, I strategically move items around the fridge like chess pieces, categorised by their best before dates. The veggie drawer is checked. A lentil vegetable stew was made yesterday for dinner with enough to freeze for two other days. Today we’ll do chicken with a cream sauce as they need to be used. Tomorrow we’ll have roasted vegetables and tuna pasta, my chickpea curry the next and the frozen stew again the following day.

We have enough meals for another five days to avoid going out the gate again. As it’s day 17, it marks the day, that if we were carrying the virus when we started quarantine it would have shown by now, this makes us feel cocooned and not want to go outside our gate at all. We don’t want to take any chances.

As we run out of items, they are noted on a shopping list stuck to the front of the fridge. Meal plans are now being done nearly two weeks in advance so we know exactly what we need to buy on that one precarious trip to the supermarket. As a result we’re spending a lot less on groceries and there is a lot less food waste.

I’ve begun to dig deep into the back of the freezer also, something I’ve been meaning to do but put on the long finger – the cats are being fed fish I have had there for about five months, I would’t fancy it for human consumption, but they think it’s Christmas and we’re saving money on cat food. Although, it will probably cost me more in the long run when they refuse to go back to eating tinned food and expect to be fed shrimp and salmon everyday.

While organising the fridge this morning I realised why this cold spell was happening. Of course, it was because we took out the hammock last week when it was 20 degrees. I joked at the time, “It always rains when we take out the hammock, but the way 2020 is going, it will probably snow!”

So I’d just like to apologise to Italy for taking out my hammock and thus causing it to snow. I’m sorry I broke the weather.

Day 16 – Free Falling

Day 16 – Free Falling

Well this is an iconic day for me. Something has happened to me that hasn’t happened in 20 years.

It’s a strange feeling.  A feeling of being wanted and not wanted all at the same time. It involves my box. For 20 years I’ve been at it, but no amount of hours I put in satisfied it. There was a constant demand. Sometimes 60-80 times a day. My finger muscles would be so sore but I’d keep at it trying to get the desired level of satisfaction but in all my years as a working woman I never achieved it. Weekends, holidays, it didn’t make a difference, if I took a break, it just made it worse.

But this morning I got up early and it happened. Yes… my inbox is empty!  I have answered all my emails, filed them and for a full hour it remained empty. It’s astonishing, a sight to behold!

As a self employed wedding planner, normally this time of year would be crazy busy with couples coming to view venues for 2021, this year’s clients coming to do menu tastings and finalise details. I’d be busy working on schedules, organising vendor payments, working on guest transport planning, creating song lists and table plans. It wasn’t unusual to be dealing with 60-80 emails per day.  But two weeks ago my workload ground to a halt. Last Tuesday I had one email to send, it took me two days to get around to it. Why? I don’t know! Procrastination struck big time. Maybe my mind was saying, “Careful now, if you send that email, you have no more work to do, what will you do with me then? We might have to relax, and I don’t know if I can do that, it’s been a long time. I might like it too much and never start again.”

I haven’t taken a proper holiday in years. I am not complaining, I created a business so that I could live in the beautiful place others spend a lifetime waiting to visit, so I never feel like I need to go anywhere on holiday, Italy is not somewhere I want to get away from. Not even now.

But I never take proper time off, my emails are always with me. My laptop is always with me. I do practice some self discipline and delete the mail app from my phone during winter months so that I am only available during work hours and not tempted to check emails in the middle of the night, but this current quietness is a completely new experience for me. And I think I might like it.

I haven’t let my head go to the place of what is going to happen when this is all over. There’s no point. All my work in the last two weeks has involved postponing weddings to later in the year or to 2021, some have had to cancel unfortunately. It’s going to be a quiet summer.

As a born planner, I like to know deadlines, dates, timeframes, but this quarantine has challenged that. I found the unknown timescale scary for the first few days – it was like falling down a dark hole and not knowing how far the bottom was. It is still like that, but I’m getting more comfortable with the feeling of free falling, I’m breathing more deeply, starting to sleep better, I’m learning to enjoy the fresh breeze it is creating and living in the moment again. Hopefully, we’ll all land on a soft bed of feathers and come out all the better for the experience.

Day 15  – Sheep and Leaders

Day 15 – Sheep and Leaders

It’s like we are living in a weird Sci-Fi war movie. In ‘normal’ war situations it is the young adults and accomplished soldiers who go off to fight, with a supporting medical team in the wings, while the old stay at home and grieve the dead. In the Covid War we have the elderly generation and medics in the front trenches with the army playing the support role while the young stay at home and grieve for their brave elders.

Future descendants of the doctors and nurses of these times, will talk of their grandparents bravery and resilience, the same way we talk of our grandparents today who fought in WW1 and 2;  “She was a medic in Lombardy during Covid-19.”  People will nod knowing what that meant, what they endured.

Then there’s the Zombie Apocalypse movie element, where you find yourself having conversations behind the locked doors you need to stay behind to be safe; “There’s no cases in our town yet, but across the river I’ve heard there are 23 more today. The north is still being hammered”. In the evening you sit and wait to watch curves, hear the death toll, the number of new cases and the number cured. You calculate, compare and hope.

Throughout this movie that we are all actors in, there’s the strong plot line running of how society is made up of sheep and leaders.

The sheep are not bad people, they are just unable to make a decision for themselves and that makes them dangerous. They are the ones who stockpiled toilet roll and other goods because everyone else was doing it. They are the ones who after stockpiling the toilet roll, they went out for drinks or a meal with their friends incase THEY (the government) closed down the pubs and restaurants and told them to stay indoors. They’ll stay home once told to but until then they are not affected it seems. Their main topic of conversation is the dodgy fear mongering reports they read from dubious underworld sources. They are the ones that when they do find out they have it, they will focus on who could have given it to them, rather than thinking of the hundreds they infected by going to the crowded supermarket, being in that pub, meeting those friends for a harmless coffee. And all the sheep people they infected will be thinking the same, who from China or Italy did they know that could have given it to them? Rather than blaming themselves for being in the crowded supermarket, packed pub or that cafe with their friend.

In the opening scenes of this strange movie, the english speaking media flash horrifying pictures from China and Italy, they follow the progress and demise 24/7 to the point of saturated exhaustion, rallying so much fear that no one wants a Chinese or Italian person near them. When it arrives on their doorstep, the media suddenly changes it’s strategy, no more scary stories – it’s recommended to get some fresh air and just social distance. They show people out walking, groups exercising on a road together but a few feet apart, ‘Aren’t we all great at socialising but with social distancing’ seems to be the jolly theme. Enough of this BOLLOXOLOGY. Go to your house, lock your gate and stay home. If you do it now we will be over the worst of it in four weeks.

In the movie we see a gowing number of individuals who read the news, looked at what was happening in other countries and quietly made a decisive decision for themselves, their families and their communities, to stay home and self-isolate before it was mandatory. They don’t play games with ‘social distancing’ by making allowances. They do not wait to be told what to do by some elected representative.

Then there are the Districts, like on the Hunger Games.

You have Britian saying ‘Tally ho, let’s be a herd and allow natural selection to take it’s course and keep the economy going as money is the important thing here’. You have the Russians doing a very effective one liner; ‘Stay home for 14 days or in prison for 5 years’. The Italians, the romance element, their love for each other spread it quickly and their love for each other will get them through it quicker than anyone else.

We have the US spouting out hugh random cash aid amounts like Dr Evil on Austin Powers, and raising false hope talking of cures that don’t exist, rather than giving decisive direction for people to simply stay home.

The Chinese, who just got on with it, building a massive hospital in 10 days, fought it and lived to tell the tale to others how to deal with it, but no one listened. They become the super heroes and send missions to help others.

In another scene, over a delicious pork roast dinner, a group of people blame the Chinese for starting this by eating bats and such animals that civilised people wouldn’t dream of eating. Let’s keep in mind pork is pig and piggies are as intelligent as your pet dog. Bats aren’t. I’d recommend not eating either.

And then there are short clips of elected leaders. There’s a governor in Texas saying that old people should be ready to die to save the economy and an Irish Green TD saying people with south facing windows should grow lettuce incase there are food shortages. There are State of the Nation speeches full of sentiment, fluffy words and tired social media quotes such as ‘not all superheroes wear capes’,  but they give no decisive action or direction.

The moral of the movie is that the ‘leaders’ were not the ones in suits. It emerges the leaders are the ones who stayed at home without having to be told, they looked after their families and in so doing, looked after their community and medical teams. And that’s how the war was won.

It turns out the elected leaders, needed to give the sheep no choice, as they can’t make a decision for themselves. Once the elected leaders stopped using the vague notion of social distancing, and told the sheep to ‘Go home, close your door, stay with only those who live in the same house, no one else, for two weeks and then we will reassess’, the sheep did it, and the world healed.

The movie ends with people dancing to Italian music in a square, while the hero medics and old people who survived walk by the cheering crowds.