Friday 24 September 2021

What has lockdown ever done for me? Surprisingly, some good.

Waking up and smelling the tea.

I resist the idea that any good at all has come from such a destructive thing as a lockdown. It is well known that I do not agree with it and that I believe it has caused incalulable damage and trouble for everyone.  Whatever I feel about lockdowns as a policy, they were used, will be used and are here to stay. And so, it's best I find a way to get on with life.  This is something I have done, and somehow I am still alive, so are you, and the world has not ended. It may have tilted on its axis, but it did not end.  I look out of my window and the honeysuckle in my garden did not give lockdowns a second thought.  The sea at the end of my road went in, and out, and ignored all the madness of mankind.  Walking on the Downs as I do showed me the beauty of nature was immune to all of this stuff, and gave me and all the other walkers there some hope, some joy, some perspective.

I am lucky.  I live alone, I have a garden, I don't have to look after anyone and I can work from home.  There are shops nearby to buy food and I have internet access to go online and I have a phone to call people.  No one depends on me.  I do not have to keep a shop open, find a way to make a business work, lose sleep over losing money with a lack of customers.  Antonia Rolls is one lucky bunny rabbit.  

All that aside, lockdown gave me panic, loneliness, fear, isolation, helplessness.  Same as most of us.  Lockdown shut down my great year, the one I had worked so hard to create, and my busy world came to a screeching halt.  And, on top of that, nothing worked any more, all the support structures that I had unthinkingly depended on crashed.  No one could mend my oven.  No doctor appointments. No hugs from my grandchildren. No nothing from anyone.  I was an island in my own lovely home, cast adrift forever under house arrest in a pretty prison in Bognor Regis. But I could still get takeaways delivered, that worked.  And Amazon parcels were safe.  And I could wave at people from my window, that was nice. Here in Bognor no one monitored how many times I went to Sainsbury's in a day so I was never arrested for forgetting the milk and having to pop back for it. 

Waving to the Amazon delivery man who is like me still alive.

But.  Here I am a year and a half later, in my Bognor home, alive and well and somehow changed for the better. I have benefitted from lockdown as well as suffered.  And actually, all things taken into account, I have barely suffered. Not like those who have no money, no choices, no space, no help, no hope have suffered.  I was angry and sad like most of us were, but my suffering was not helpless and distressing as those who were ill and isolated were, those with children and no options or resources in confined spaces were, those who were too terrified to go to their front doors were, those locked behind protocols over which they were powerless were.  No, I had a great deal going for me in that I had space and agency and autonomy.  I cannot say I suffered compared to those who actually did.

What changed?  I was removed from the bustle and chaos of being permanently busy.  I was forced to stop.  I did not like nor appreciate it, there was a terrible realisation that all I had worked for was being dismantled without a backwards glance.  I had a new exhibition on addiction as part of the Brighton Fringe all set up and ready to go in a venue of my choice.  I had the A Graceful Death exhibition showing at a Dead Good Day Festival in Southampton, and a one woman show at that same festival.  I had a marathon walk for Macmillan, fundraising for cancer help, and in my mind the gateway to international stardom was to be opened.  It was all coming together.  And I was fitting my book into this sparkling schedule.  Of course I was distressed to find that it was all cancelled and all that beckoned was another morning in my sitting room in Bognor Regis.

Thrown back onto myself, like many of us, to actually do nothing was impossible at first.  I planned all the jobs I had put off and did them.  I was still feeling busy and purposeful.  Everything wooden in my garden got painted blue.   Furniture I had wanted to upcycle got upcycled. I discovered gardening, I experienced zoom, I tidied my studio and hoovered the floor. I planned my meals, and eating became my highlight of the day and still the lockdown continued.  My father still languished in his care home with his dementia and Alzheimers, now hidden from all of us and left to sink into depression and nothingness on his own.  He could not know why none of us visited any more, and once when I tried to zoom call him as he lay in his bed, with the help of one of the carers who were so wonderful, he tried to find the phone where my voice was, and flailed his arms around making small frightened sounds.  I did not do that again, it made me cry and it showed in my voice.  In the end, he simply stopped living and I made a video about his dying and death. My brothers and I made it to his bedside in time but it should never have been this way, and you can see the video here  Dying Not Quite Alone In Lockdown 2020

During this enforced time of absolute leisure, I began to question myself, what I believed in, and how I was living.  It was a painful process.  For one thing, I saw just how much I had taken for granted.  It never really occurred to me just how hard doctors, shop workers, all those businesses out there who's main job was to make my life easy, work.  Now that they were all gone, I saw just how much I relied on them.  Another home truth I did not want to acknowledge was that if I was all over the place, which I was most of the time, did it mean I could be a little superficial? I did not like that.  It became clear that the more I was doing the less I got done. Now, when the country and world had closed and I was alone against my will in my house, unless I planned my days one after the other so that I could keep busy, there was free time.  Free time was scary. I began to sit down more often and think.  And then I found I would day dream.  And then I found I enjoyed it and soon, I would spend whole afternoons on my sofa doing nothing.  Perhaps I would read, perhaps I would stare out of the window, perhaps I would make lists.  But I discovered that time passing was not my enemy and that there was a much quieter, less anxious person inside me.  I began to enjoy and accept the passing of time and I began to notice the play of light across the days in the rooms of my house.

Another thing happened.  I began to question the news.  I had wholeheartedly accepted everything I heard and read until the first lockdown, and now I began to ask questions.  Things did not match up and now that I had time, I could see that what I was seeing, living and experiencing was not what I was being told I was seeing, living and experiencing. This too was uncomfortable.  I was being challenged to think for myself.  Many things that I held dear because they were so easy to believe turned out to be more complex.  Much more complex.  All my easy certainties needed some careful unpicking and now that I had time to do it, now that I was not distracting myself by being so busy that I could not think, I found I had to rethink many of my beliefs.  I stopped listening to and watching the news. 

My spiritual life changed. With this new time on my hands I began to ask myself what do I actually believe in? This went hand in hand with looking at what I thought I knew and questioning how authentic I thought I was, and asking myself what I was afraid of.  Why do I keep busy?  Why does it matter if I succeed?  What do I mean by succeed? What and who are my priorities?  And how much time do I give to looking after myself? Does any of it matter?  Not in the sense of hopelessness, but in the scheme of things how important are any of these fears? 

A wise person once said that nothing is all just one thing, it is made up of balances. So lockdown has forced me to wake up in a way that nothing else has and not for the reasons I would have imagined.  I still got Covid, and obviously, recovered. But being in lockdown took me off the hamster wheel and made me take a look at my life.  It has forced stillness on me and made me see that constant movement is not necessary.  Quietness, contemplation, simple things are just as necessary as movement.  It has put my feet on the ground and given me space.  It has also made me more aware of the world around me and given me focus.  I did not know I lacked focus until recently. 

I have, in effect, woken up and smelt the coffee. (Except it is also well known that I drink tea, but waking up and smelling the tea does not have the same punch.)

Post script - it is also well known that I am in no way an evolved human being, yet, and that though I am grateful against my will for having been shaken up by something I do not agree with, nevertheless it has started something good.  All I have written about here is true, but knowing things are true and living them are very different things.  All I wish to say is do not be fooled into thinking I have the answer to the universe now.  I do not, not yet, and when I do, I will of course let you all know.

Not yet perfect.  Unfortunately.


Subscribe to my twice monthly newsletter, news and updates from the studio and life, here

Watch my YouTube channel here

Follow me and my stories on Facebook

Follow my Instagram stories

My website is here

Saturday 11 September 2021

The healing room. Making earrings in the sunshine.


Claire working on a piece of complicated jewellery loveliness

Ups and downs

I witness many stories.  It is what I do, whether through art, words, image or presence, I witness lives, livings and sometimes, dyings. Though I have experienced my own fair share of stuff I do not know half of what other people have to deal with.  It is always surprising to see how other people deal with the lot that is dealt to them and how, when I think I would not manage to cope, they do.  And also sometimes, when I think I would cope, they do not.  There is so much tied up with living.  It is never a simple straight line, peacefully stretching without interruption from morning till night for ever and ever. Oh no, it is a bumpy, complex affair that can hold both peace and conflict at the same time if it wants, can defy our logic and reason. It shows us that we are also full of paradoxes, we are both simple and sophisticated, we are both full of wisdom and full of ignorance, we are up and we are down - and no matter how we try and control events, or go with the flow, life simply happens to us often and we struggle to explain how and why.

When things are going well, we think we have the answers.  This is how the world works, we say, this is the truth of things.  But when things go what we would call badly we are shaken, our certainties are challenged and we try and find answers to make sense of it.  We want reasons for why things happen, and often because we no longer feel in control we look outwards for where to put the blame. 


Mustn't grumble.
I live in a lovely home, with a garden that I call my favourite room in the house.  Now that my children are grown and live away from here, I wander with joy and surprise (at the silence and order, mainly) through the empty rooms and feel both utterly delighted to be able to do what I want, and a little guilty at the lack of sentimentality I have about being alone at last.  To put that into context, I raised my three children alone and without a leader (as Horace Rumpole says, the wonderful grumpy old barrister from John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey books. His first triumphant win as a young barrister defending the undefended was despite the lead barrister in court not being there.  Rumple won it alone and without a leader).  I had very little money, space, time or peace in those early days.  Now that I am older, and time has moved on, I can live in glorious solitude (mostly) in this lovely house in a way I could only have dreamt of at one time.  I love my life here.

My friends

My three close friends here live with cancer, the results of cancer surgery, and the uncertainty of living itself.  I have seen the effects of illness on their bodies and have watched the struggle to keep their minds from giving up. I have also seen their determination to live and live well, to find ways to get through, to laugh and look for the silver lining, while telling it like it is.  

The healing room

Before she began her chemo, my  friend Marie was visiting.  The sitting room here has doors that open onto the garden with its flowers and colours, and a big oak table covered in beads, threads, earring making wire and old necklaces to be dismantled and re used.  The sun pours through the garden doors in the afternoons, the big old bright pink sofa is covered in African print cushions, and the sound of the seagulls calling outside reminds us that the sea is just at the end of the road. It was Marie's idea to come and sit at the table when her chemo started, when the treatment for her cancer became difficult, and to make beautiful things with colourful beads in the sunshine.  We asked our friend Claire to join us.  Claire is finding her way back to strength and a place in the world after life changing surgery.  Her cancer treatment from ten years ago has left her vulnerable and physically changed, leading to her recent operation to have half her jaw removed.  So she joined us, and the healing room began. Though she is well now and working again, our friend Gill drops by, just for the love of it, bringing her warmth and wisdom and laughter.  Gill's cancer has also left her physically changed with disabilities for the last twenty years that may floor most of us, but that Gill works with, understands, and will not allow to define her.  

Marie and the box of hair

The healing room is not really called the healing room, but that is what it has become.  Once a week Marie, Claire and sometimes Gill, come to sit and eat, drink tea, play with beads, and create in the late summer sunshine.  It is a space to laugh, forget the difficulties of getting by, and also to talk of things both good and bad.  Each week, something is different.  Last week, Claire arrived with her hair dyed blue.  This week, Marie arrived in a turban with her hair in a wooden box.  She and her boyfriend had shaved it off now that the chemo was kicking in, and it was falling out by the handful.  Instead of making jewellery this week, Marie is going to make something with her hair.  What she ended up making was a false beard and eyebrows and made us all laugh.  But she is serious, and is aiming to make little figures with it.  Marie is a very extraordinary artist.  She will do it. And Gill?  Gill brings flowers, and cakes that she makes, and sits with us understanding all that Claire and Marie are saying.  It has been her story too. 


While Gill helps polish the silver (I know) Marie tries out her new hair-beard.

Later, when they have left, I think of their courage.  I think, how would I feel if I were dealing with a possibly life limiting illness?  Marie is beginning her treatment, and has a long path ahead.  She has only just recovered from heart surgery too.  How would I cope if my hair fell out? How would I cope with open heart surgery followed by chemo followed by another operation?  I am not sure.  I hope I do not have to.  Marie's energy is inspiring, and her beauty is wonderful.

I think of Claire who has more will to live, and to live well, than most people I know.  A tiny person, who has a feeding tube into her stomach, half her jaw missing, and a need to eat enough calories not go under seven stone and yet is as elegant, creative and beautiful as a model. Claire has sass.  There have been many tough days for her but she will not give in.  So it is no surprise that she turned up last week with blue hair.  Claire uses real silver for her earrings, and brings her own.  She can swallow but not well.  We give her tea in a teeny cup made for one of my grandchildren.  She manages half of it.

Gill loves the sea, the sky, the wind, the rain and the breeze in the air. She belongs in nature and swims in the sea all year round.  She is tall, slim, brown and free.  Life has been challenging for Gill and I know that she has made the choice to be better than much of what life has thrown at her.  Gill can't eat much either, she has no lower bowel after her cancer and an operation that left her in difficulties, but she does all that she can to live well and that living well includes loving all of us, and supporting us when we need it.  She dropped by the other day to have tea with Marie, Claire and me, before going off to swim in the sea again, and because she is Gill, she brought us home made cakes and flowers from her garden.

And so -

This is how our healing room looks then at the moment. It seems to have created itself, and we are all a part of it.  What seems to work for all of us is the fun, the creativity, and the forgetting of the world out there, unless we want to remember it, in which case we do.  

There's a big world out there.  It is full of people who find pockets of light in difficult times.  For as long as it lasts - our healing room seems to have created itself when the need was there - there is a pocket of light for my friends and me, here with the beads, the garden, the light and the cups of tea and Gill's cake, with the unspoken gathering of people who do not give up and do not give in, and who want to let go for a while in good company together.


Claire me and Marie.

Subscribe to my twice monthly newsletter, updates from the studio and life, here

Have a look at my YouTube channel here

Follow me and my daily stories on Instagram here

Follow me and my daily stories on Facebook here

My website is here