Sunday 31 May 2020

Day 69...

Today’s long walk - to the former RAF Hunsdon,  somewhere we have been promising to visit for a long while, nice to finally get round to it. Out to join up with where we headed for home last week, followed by a walk up the other side of the valley to pretty much the highest point in the area - you can see why they chose it for an RAF airfield! A beautiful memorial to those based their who lost their lives during the war, and we were glad to finally get to pay our respects there.

This week will be about working on rebuilding some habits I think. So to start with - a list of 5 things  to aim for:
- Better sleep habits
- A trip out just for me
- a couple more runs
- Stretching!
- Getting back to setting out the next days clothes the night before

Starting tomorrow with a trip with the camera - Lakenheath USAF base, where they have been conducting regular flying. I’m really missing my aviation photography at the moment - I’m obviously way too far from Scampton to go there, even a Coningsby trip would be too far at the moment, but Lakenheath is under an hour away and is somewhere I wanted to get to more often anyway so this is the perfect excuse.


Saturday 30 May 2020

Day 68...

Today, we should have been travelling from North Uist to Barra for our last day in the Hebrides. Although we have re-booked our trip for later in the year, I currently have no confidence that we’ll be able to get across even then. Worse, it feels entirely uncertain whether visitors to the Islands will be welcomed even when we are allowed to return - there is a huge amount of hostility from some currently towards those who are expressing that they want to visit when it’s safe to do so. We absolutely will NOT go over until we are assured it is safe - but it appears as though even then there may be those who will try to take the law into their own hands where visitors are concerned.

It’s going to be an issue from both sides - there are many on the islands who rely on tourism to make their living. This year is already going to be a desperate struggle for them. It’s going to be a tricky tightrope to tread - balancing the risk against the need to return to a degree of normality “at some point”. Making those who are regular visitors and have been for many years feel as though they are not welcome to return simply means more space for new ones - those who don’t understand how serious the virus could be in small islands with no ICU facilities - they are the people to be scared of encouraging, not those of us who understand the dangers.

We’ll wait and see. In 2 weeks time we will have clearer view I think - both how the easing of lockdown is going in Scotland, and also in terms of the general feeling around re-opening.


Friday 29 May 2020

Day 67..

The gravestone above belongs to my Great Uncle - Uncle Bob. Probably one of the people who had the greatest impact on my life when I was a child - Bob loved nothing more than spending time with his great Nieces - there are 4 of us in total. I am the oldest, followed by Vicky, Diana and Kelly.  He was a wonderfully kind man, who instilled into me his own love of the countryside - the wildlife, the surroundings - something that now, I’m so grateful for. He loved exploring anywhere unusual, or new - and he also had a secret love of all things related to aviation. One of his ultimate ambitions was to fly on Concorde - something he achieved not that long before his death. This was the reason why when the opportunity arose I seized the chance to have his name put on the tail of a RAF Red Arrows jet - in the last few years he has been literally all over the world on the tail of XX322 - Europe, across the U.K., and throughout the USA & Canada too. Of all of those locations though, probably the one that Bob would have been most pleased about was the display at Swanage Carnival in Dorset a couple of years ago. We holidayed in Swanage several times when I was small - I have wonderful memories of us walking down to see the steam trains in the morning - he would have loved the idea of flying over the place!

It feels really strange to think that we had to say goodbye to Bob over 20 years ago now. I would have loved for him to have met MrEH - they would have got on like a house on fire! Bob would also have loved the adventures I have had in aviation over the past 5 years or so - he would have been excitedly waiting for the next instalment I suspect, and eagerly awaiting the next batch of photos. He would also have loved hearing about our Hebrides trips - somewhere that I’m pretty sure he would have loved!  I was the last family member aside from Auntie D to see him before he died - and I have vivid memories of our last conversation. I suspect Bob knew all too well that he didn’t have long left, but still he was cheerful, interested in hearing all I’d been up to. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had the 25 years of my life that I did, with him in it.


Thursday 28 May 2020

Day 66...

Today has featured bread flour - lots of it. We found Sainsbury’s well stocked this morning - I was able to get both wholemeal and an organic flour for sourdough in there, then a little later on we popped into Lidl for a couple of bits for my parents (our local Lidl clientele have zero concept of social distancing, so Mum is sensibly avoiding the place like the plague!) we found that they had plenty of ordinary strong white. We are now well stocked for bread flour!

Also, as you can see from the photo above, an unexpectedly high amount of walking. Having done Sainsbury’s and back this morning (a little over 4 miles in total) we went out again this afternoon for what was planned to be just a little amble at Amwell - and ended up walking a stretch of the Lea Valley walk that we’d not previously covered - the “gap” joining up the stretch down into London which is the Lea Valley walk proper, with the stretch from Amwell to Hertford that we had also covered before. Another 8 miles plus there, giving me a total of 15 miles today. The feet are feeling it a little now!

The other “unexpected” that you may also be able to see from the photo above are the multiple cracks that have appeared in the screen of my Fitbit. Before you ask, I have no idea how they got there - it hasn’t been dropped, and I can’t recall anything more than average daily life knocks or bumps, so I can only assume that perhaps it’s a couple of scratches than have now developed into cracks. I now have to make the decision whether to say that this one has done over 3 years, I have had my money’s worth, and replace immediately, or chance making it last a bit longer. I know the model I want to replace it with, and that has now been superseded by a newer version, so the risk is that by leaving it longer I may then struggle to get one. Decisions to be made.

In other news today, the big one is that we will be able to meet people from outside our household in groups of not more than 6 outdoors, from Monday. From my perspective it means that now a socially distanced dog walk with both my parents might be workable. From what we have seen of the family groups out and about for the last few days it’s rather appeared that a number of people have already been doing that anyway, so hopefully it won’t increase the likelihood of a second wave.


Wednesday 27 May 2020

Day 65...

Another hot day for a run, but another 4 very slow run/walk miles done. I’m finding running really tough at the moment - the heat is always a nightmare for me anyway, it plays hell with my breathing plus I overheat ridiculously fast as well. I need to get out there and do more of it, is the first thing - and that will help acclimatise me again. I also need to regain my confidence in my ability I think - and that’s the bit I’m not sure about how to address. I still love it,  but at the moment it doesn’t seem to love me. Might try an early morning river run one day and see if that fixes things - it often does.

At roughly the time I was running this afternoon, 20 years ago I was getting married. Yes - our 20th anniversary, intended to be spent mostly on a beach in the Hebrides, with a nice meal and a few drinks this evening, hopefully while enjoying a stunning sunset. Instead, MrEH spent the day working, we’re planning an Indian takeaway for Friday night, and the drinks have been deferred at least until tomorrow. The weather today was certainly more than a bit different from 27th May 2000 - then we had a bit of everything - from bright sunshine to torrential rain, thunder, lightning and a hailstorm (with a rainbow to follow!). It was also distinctly windy - and as a result my veil is either standing on end in most of the photos, or being firmly held down behind my back by whoever was next to me! While today may not have been quite the day we had planned, we’ve been together, there have been lots of nice memories, and well-wishes from some of those closest to us - and those, after all, are the important things.


Tuesday 26 May 2020

Day 64...

Today sees the start of week 10 of Lockdown - can you even come close to believing that? In some ways the time seems to have flown, it barely seems possible that it was over 2 months ago that I was last in the office, for example. In others it now feels like this is just the way life is - with all the odd restrictions, shops being closed etc. A date for shops re-opening how now been set - 3 weeks away with strict regulations in place - so I think we’re heading towards beginning to step back to some form of normality again. At the moment nothing is being said about the general return to work for those who work in offices though - whether they are going to request that hose that can continue to work from home for a while longer remains to be seen.  Certainly in the city, where MrEH works, it’s hard to see how they can suggest people return at the moment - the London transport system is largely at capacity during rush hour times in normal circumstances, with them limiting the numbers in stations and on trains, there is going to need to be a dramatic drop in numbers using the system for it to be practical as a means of transport at all. From a personal perspective the bought of him having to go back to using the tube at the moment really is very worrying, and I’d certainly prefer that a fair few weeks pass so any impact of public transport use in London can be seen in the infection rate before he returns to a regular commute.

Anyway - today has been “more of the same” really. Some more old photos processed - concentrating on Hebrides shots at the moment and have found some stunning sunsets to take a look at! Also some time outside with the camera and macro lens photographing the little chap just above. A walk this morning and a short run this afternoon, just a couple of miles. I was keen to do more but in spite of leaving it until late afternoon it was just too hot and I’m really not good at coping with running in the heat. Running loops round the woods was about the best option I could come up with for staying at least vaguely cool, but even under the trees it felt really warm!

We also picked elderflower heads this morning, and set them to steep for the day ready to make cordial this evening once MrEH had finished work.

Beautiful aren’t they - and they smell glorious too! We now have just over 2 litres of wonderfully fragrant cordial - I may need to treat myself to a bottle of Prosecco one weekend  to make elderflower cocktails I think! 


Monday 25 May 2020

Day 63...

Dominic Cummings is still claiming he did nothing wrong - the U.K. public meanwhile appears to be largely split between wishing he would just resign so the whole matter could be put to bed, and calling for his head on a stick. It appears that in strict legal terms he may well have done nothing inappropriate, morally however it may be another question. The saga will, no doubt, roll on...

We spent today relatively lazily. A wander out this morning to get a Ben’s paper, and then a longer walk this afternoon, up over the Common...

...and then on over the motorway which is just beyond the top edge of the common - busier today than it was the last time we crossed this bridge a few weeks ago. 

Once again we found lots of wildflowers, and also butterflies including a pair of Gatekeepers which neither of us can recall seeing locally before. And more roses of course - they are everywhere now and it’s lovely to see the different types - this one was larger and slightly more fussy than those we saw yesterday, with a paler pink blush. 

Tomorrow normal life - or what currently passes for it - resumes again. MrEH gets a 2 day week this week which he’s not complaining about overmuch. I will be pottering again - there are more old photos to hunt out and process, and I’d like to run at some stage this week. 


#MHAW 2020

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week - with the theme being “Kindness” this year. Apt really, at a time when not only have we seen - at least for a while - an increase in genuine kindness online (rather than the sort that is almost entirely based around using the #BeKind hashtag publicly on Twitter whilst simultaneously behaving in a way that is anything other than kind behind the scenes) and when a good number of people have begun to really learn to  - and to take the time to - be kind to ourselves, too.

Kindness can, I think, take many forms. A random act of kindness - done quietly, without a fanfare or the need to announce it - making it about the act itself, rather than the need to show what a wonderful person YOU are. Being there to check in with a friend who you know is having a tough time - not necessarily to explicitly say “are you OK?” but just to keep a dialogue going, so that person knows you are there, and listening, and that your shoulder is there if needed. Helping a stranger who you can can see is struggling - whether that takes the form of assisting someone elderly with picking something from a low shelf in the supermarket, buying a homeless person a drink in the chill of winter, or donating to a charity that helps those in need for whatever reason. At the moment kindness can also take a different form - being the one to step aside when passing someone who is clearly less mobile than you - off a path or into the road briefly to maintain social distancing, waiting back in the supermarket aisle when others are choosing products ahead of you and there is not space to pass, doing shopping for someone higher risk, or vulnerable. We can choose to be kind to the planet - being thoughtful with our choices of product to minimise packaging, prioritising handwashing over use of single use plastic gloves, re-using intended single use plastics like rubbish sacks, water bottles etc (if you must have them, then multiple uses at least improve them for environmental purposes) or by taking a litter picker and one of those re-used, if possible, black sacks out for an hours local wandering and litter picking. We can also choose to be kind to ourselves - setting aside some time each day to do something that makes us happy, or relaxed.

How much of the current spirit of kindness - to others and to ourselves - will live on when the lockdown is fully eased and we are back to at least some sort of normality? At the moment we have the gift of additional time to be able to spend on ourselves, with no commute for the majority of us that allows for a slower start for many, no crack of dawn alarm clock, just more useable hours in the day. Already the kindness online appears to be waning - indeed I’d suggest that Twitter in particular is back to being as unpleasant and combative a space as it was at the height of the brexit furore or the lead-in to the 2019 election. Perhaps a new way of being kind to ourselves might be recognising the advantages of taking a step back from social media to avoid having our “buttons pressed” and our stress levels increased - I have certainly felt the benefit of doing that recently. I’ve always considered Twitter to be a “two-way space” - making an effort to see what others who I follow have to say, but now with so many tweets from accounts I have absolutely no interest in showing up because others have interacted with them, it’s much less easy to do that if you don’t wish to see the divisive bile spouted by the likes of Piers Morgan, Katie Hopkins and others of their like. So now, if I use Twitter at all, I pop on, post a photo, skim through my most recent notifications and then leave again - and I have begun to learn that this is a good way of being kind to my sometimes fragile mental health. While it’s neither practical nor healthy to try to completely avoid anything vaguely unpleasant in the news etc, I do think that it is possible to actively avoid those who choose to make the unpleasant stuff worse than it already is, those who enjoy glorying in the drama, and stoking the fires of division still further.

Whatever else you do this week, choose to take some time for you - to walk, or run, to think things through, to take a closer look at the effect your social media consumption might be having on your mental health, or just to sit with a good book - one you WANT to read rather than one you feel you “should” and try to let go of the guilt it is so easy to feel around taking that time. To be kinder to others, we first need to learn to be kinder to ourselves, perhaps?


Sunday 24 May 2020

Day 62...

We have fallen into the habit during the lockdown of making Sundays a day where we do a longer walk, setting out on foot from home and making the most of the wonderful accessible countryside around where we live. This week was no exception - and indeed we reached almost to the edge of our trusty local  OS map this time!

That 10 miles was actually 11 - as you can see I managed to forget to re-start tracking when we paused it briefly just north of Gilston Park!

Out via one of the old roads that criss-crosses the town - these pre-date the new town but have been retained as footpaths/cycle tracks, and make it very easy to get all over the town using very few busy roads, if you wish to do so. 

Not long before we hit beautiful open countryside. Although this looks very flat it really isn’t - not the dramatic hills of some parts of the country out here in East Anglia but lovely gently rolling land, enabling some great views for quite a distance. 

This produced a rueful smile from us both - passing place signs, so common in the Hebrides where we should be at the moment, are less often seen down here, and it felt quite appropriate to walk past this one today. Our ‘standard’ when we are up there is also to take a longer walk on the Sundays while we are there, without using the car, so some parallels to be drawn! 

The wonderfully simple wild roses are out everywhere you look now - I can never resist the chance for another photo though! 

The sky looking a little more dramatic now - although it didn’t rain we did wonder for a while whether it might. In fact it was near perfect walking weather - warm enough for short sleeves with a nice cooling breeze to stop things getting too hot. 

Looking back across to Gilston Park. The public footpath runs straight past the big house - now divided into apartments we think - and judging by the glares we got from some of the residents sitting out having a socially distanced chat, people aren’t too happy about this! The park itself has a lot of massive houses - many dating back to the 1800’s and absolutely beautiful - very definitely a case of how the other half live! 

This barley (we think!) field made a lovely soothing rustle as we walked through - you can also see from this how desperately dry the ground is after the past few months of almost entirely dry weather. Although we may prefer not to have rain, I think it’s fair to say that it’s actually now much needed. 

Finally, back to the river before heading up through the town via the Town Park and home. Our only interaction with busy roads were an initial short distance along the former A11 early on, and then crossing the A414 close to the Eastwick junction on the way back - something which in normal times might have been more challenging than it was on this occasion. A glorious afternoon’s walking! 

The big national news today was that the Prime Minister’s political advisor Dominic Cummings has admitted to leaving his home during the lockdown to drive his child 260 miles to stay with family after his wife showed Coronavirus symptoms. Most are understandably outraged by this - while the rest of us for the most part followed the guidelines that the government had set, to find out that one of its “inner circle” had disregarded them blatantly does feel like quite a kick in the teeth, I think. I’m in no doubt that further details will emerge over the next few days but at the moment Cummings is refusing to resign and is being backed by the PM - it will be interesting to see how that pans out. 


Saturday 23 May 2020

Day 61...

Another day begun on the balcony in the sun. Not quite as warm as it has been, and still very breezy, but still a lovely start to the day.

A walk, starting out through our local woodland. While by no means huge, there’s over a mile of trails through it, we’ve always enjoyed wandering around over there and I sometimes run round it too - particularly in the summer when the shade provided by the trees can be very welcome. 

Another local patch of green space. The town has a foundation of ensuring that every area has green space within it, and particularly where there are flats that do not have their own gardens. 

This little bridge has fascinated us for years - seemingly it’s a bit of a folly, as you can see it serves barely any purpose! Having walked both over and under it today we’re still none the wiser as to it’s existence, but as it appears to be being left to rot we suspect it may not exist for that much longer. 

It was dramatic skies all around today, and this one dropped a short sharp rain shower on us while we were out, too. Nothing that much, but we did take shelter under a (another, different!) bridge while it passed over, rather than getting completely drenched. This photo, by the way, along with the others here were taken with my phone and have been uploaded here with no adjustment whatsoever - yes, that sky really did look like that!

Finally, our now regular Saturday afternoon date - a zoom chat with the gang, a few beers, and a bit more jigsawing. This little bit of social activity in each week has become really important now - and in many ways it mirrors how things would be if we were all sitting together in a pub somewhere - discussion, debate, catching up on one another’s news.


Friday 22 May 2020

Day 60...


Soaking up the sun, enjoying the little haven that is our balcony. When the weather is lovely we sometimes eat all our meals in a day out here, and also plenty of time sitting,  chatting, watching the clouds race past...

Gooseberries picked ready for jam making. Still plenty on the bushes, too, ready for crumbles in a few weeks time once they are fully ripe.

Reading. Regardless of how busy my day is I always try to make some time for reading - even on busy days it’s my easiest, most accessible route to a few minutes of escapism and “me time”. 

More tidying in the garden - our wonderful Sage bush, planted not long after we moved in here and now an absolute riot of flowers each spring, will be grateful for a bit more light around her, and indeed now the greedy conifer isn’t taking it all, probably rather more water too. She has the added advantage of being right outside our bedroom window, making it easy to pick a few leaves when needed for roasting a chicken! 

Dried savoury leaves - another of the herbs we have planted although we probably make less use of this one than we should. She has long since sprawled off the garden area and onto the path, and so when we were tidying that area the other day, a few branches broke away. We hung them up (you can see a Sage branch in the same position in the first picture on this post) to dry and will be able to use them in that form in cooking.

I think a trip to the garden centre might be in order at some stage over the weekend - we have a voucher to spend from my parents, a gift for our wedding anniversary (next week) and are thinking of some sort of metal obelisk to go in the bit of the garden where the tree was - it will hide the stump and mean we can grow things like runner beans up it. Other than that, some baking tomorrow morning, and our regular zoom chat with pals tomorrow afternoon, we have no real plans though. There will be some walks, maybe the final bit of the sculpture trail. No plans to venture further afield really - we may pop back to Amwell, we may not. Let’s wait and see! 

Thursday 21 May 2020

Day 59...

Technically with MrEH’s current 3-day week status and me being furloughed, today was the first day of our weekend. However, we’re trying to keep Thursdays (and to a degree, Fridays too) as a productive sort of day, where we aim to get things done, rather than just sort of frittering the time away as it would be so easy to do. Make no mistake, we are factoring in some full-on downtime during the actual weekends, with lots of time for just relaxing, reading or just sitting and thinking.

Todays main missions were a big stock up shop, using the car - for the most part we’re still shopping on foot several times a week, but every few weeks heavier stuff needs buying so I take the car. And some more work in our tiny patch of garden, including cutting down a conifer which has been there longer than we’ve owned the place! We’ve spent years on and off talking about removing it, trying to find ways of making it more manageable, failing, and watching it get bigger and bigger, and finally today we decided it was time to tackle it. Took us a few hours, a saw a fair few years older than I am, and quite a lot of elbow grease, but it’s down. We also took the time to dig over the area around the stump, including getting rid of the roots of some of the original planting from when the flats were built in the 1950’s, and in the process realised that when our predecessor set out bricks to create the border, he nicked a good foot of space from next door too! The bricks have now been re-aligned, handing back that space - and we’ve started thinking about what we might plant in our newly claimed space!

I have also been through the sourdough making process again today - in fact, as we speak, the flat smells deliciously of baking bread! Although the process itself is quite time consuming - it was actually started last night, with the “sponge” being left to develop overnight - it is also very simple, the bread is simply flour, water and salt, time does the rest. Today I made the dough, which then gets left to rise for an hour before being brought out, pushed flat again, reformed into a round and popped back for another hour in a warm place. This step is repeated several times before the dough gets left for it’s final prove - anything from 4 hours to overnight - today it got about 6 and a half hours. Then into a blazing hot oven for the first 10 minutes - turned down to a lower heat for the remainder of the cooking time, but how much lower depends on the progress after those first 10 minutes, and that progress isn’t always the same! Anyway, all being well, you end up with something that looks a little like the picture at the top...!


Wednesday 20 May 2020

Day 58...

A walk in the sunshine this morning, prior to the strangest lockdown experience yet. The funeral of a family member - being held in the North West so too far for us to attend - streamed via a live video link so that those of us across the rest of the country could watch. Probably 15 - 20 family members present when normally that number would have been 100 or more. Very surreal indeed - although I suspect less so than it would have been a few weeks previously when funeral directors etc would have very likely been wearing full PPE and even fewer people would have been allowed to attend.

Beyond that, it’s been a day of trying to be kind to ourselves - a chat with a good friend this afternoon, time sitting outside with a beer when MrEH finished work for the day, some more time processing photos for me. Taking time to stop and think.


Tuesday 19 May 2020

Day 57...

58 years ago today my parents married at St John’s Church, Walthamstow. It was a blustery, overcast day I’m told, and the warm, sunny weather for their anniversary today was a great improvement. The gentleman to the right of the photograph is my Mum’s Dad - Grandpop as I knew him, albeit only briefly as he sadly died when I was only small, and I have no real memory of him. Grandpop was a professional photographer and the family have often wondered if I inherited my love of photography from him.

The sunny weather is wonderful, but also in some areas of the country it’s encouraging people to roam further from home than is ideal at the moment. With this coming weekend having a bank holiday Monday attached too, it’s difficult to see things not getting worse on that front, particularly in national parks and on beaches. I imagine we will stay relatively local again - the RSPB are keeping their reserves closed for the time being, very sensibly I’d say, and we still have some ideas of places we want to walk locally. As a reminder, the current lockdown rules state that you can drive any distance in England to parks, or beaches, although this must be limited to locations you can get to and from in a day. Our view tends towards thinking that just because it is allowed, does not mean it’s advisable - increased distances mean increased risk of forced engagement with others where social distancing may not be possible - for example in the event of an accident or breakdown, and that is unfair on those we may come into contact with.  Some common sense is definitely required here - although in some quarters at least, that seems to be in short supply!


Monday 18 May 2020

Day 56...

Back to photo processing for me again today - I’m treating that as my work at the moment, in the absence of having any other type to do. I’m being pleasantly surprised by some of the stuff I’m finding too - with airshow season usually being pretty busy, quite often so tend to pick through the shots I’ve taken at a particular show and deal with a few fairly quickly, then another show comes along, and a lot of the rest get left behind. It’s nice going back over shows from a few years ago, remembering laughs had with friends, particular displays that stood out, and places that were fun or interesting to visit. In normal circumstances I would probably never have got around to picking up on some of the albums I have been looking at so far - so this is definitely a positive from Lockdown.

Today marks the end of our 8th week of lockdown too - it seems incredible to think it has been quite that long, in many ways the time seems to have flown by, while in others it seems hard to believe that we haven’t been doing this for far longer. I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that seeing people interacting normally on TV - particularly in adverts which are intended to reflect normal life - feels very odd and unrealistic. Seeing people meeting up with friends, or having big family get togethers for example feels so far removed from our current normal that it’s hard to take seriously.

Oh - we called completion on the sculpture trail too early by the way - we still have the stretch along the river to officially do. We have walked and run it before of course, but decided we should go back over it again to formally tick off each of the sculptures, and find a couple that we hadn’t particularly noticed previously. A walk along the river is never any hardship anyway, in fairness!


Sunday 17 May 2020

Day 55...

Sculpture trail completed! Another 10 mile Sunday walk today as well - not sure where we are going to walk next week now mind you! Some lovely ones today - from the beautiful steel structure at the Leisure Centre to “Runaway Rotovator” (above - if the photo ever transfers from my phone to my iPad for me to upload!) which has huge amounts of humour and expression and is possibly my favourite of the lot.

Hearing a lot of people struggling with weekends at the moment - particularly where like us they would usually have been out and about seeing friends, being social etc. For those who are still lucky enough to be working of course their working week has a structure - a degree of normality - to it, whereas weekends without the social aspect are for many a bit “nothingy” as one of my close friends said. She was dealing with it via chocolate and fizz which seems pretty sensible. In conversation it was established that cheese and crisps also work.

One bright spot on the horizon here is the rearrangement of our Hebrides trip - and all being well we will be making our first visit in the summer months which is most exciting - we always said that we wouldn’t feel ourselves properly equipped to move up there eventually until we had visited in all the seasons but what with Beer festivals and air shows summer has always proved to be a problem. We’ve visited in spring many times, winter several times, and even Autumn once, but this will be our first trip across in the summer. My tasks for this week once MrEH’s HR department approve the holiday is to get ferry tickets and on-route hotels booked up so that will keep me occupied.


Saturday 16 May 2020

Day 54...

A Sainsbury’s for shopping and through the Town Park home...

Chatting with neighbours who had come out to sit on the grass in front of the flats...

A zoom gathering with some of our best pals from CAMRA...

And a day off doing much of a blog post!


Friday 15 May 2020

Day 53...

We escaped! The first time either of us have left the town since 23rd of March when the lockdown started - and the first time we’ve used a car for anything other than shopping that we could not carry home ourselves too. We’d originally planned to stay local and on foot this weekend, fearing that everywhere would be madly busy, and indeed as we headed out the roads certainly had a lot more traffic...thankfully by the time we reached Amwell, a Wildlife Trust reserve about 15 minutes drive away, it became apparent that wherever all those cars were headed, it wasn’t there! A lovely walk along the canal to Ware and back, and some time at the bird viewpoint as well, seeing our first Hobby, Common Terns and Little Ringed Plover of the year.

Today also saw my third experiment with sourdough bread - technically started yesterday with the process of making the “sponge” using starter, flour and water, and the several short proves and kncokbacks. The dough was then left to fully prove overnight. I did a few things differently this time - an extra tablespoon of starter in the sponge, and a shorter final overnight prove with the dough sitting in a flour dusted cloth lined bowl. This morning I threw the proved loaf into a blazing hot oven first thing, turned it down 10 minutes later, and then went off to do my parents shopping for them leaving MrEH to remove the loaf from the oven when done...

...looks good eh? It tastes the part too  - a good chewy crust and that distinctive sourdough “tang” - although the internal texture of this one is a little denser than a typical sourdough should be, I’m less concerned about that when it tastes as good as it does! We’ll keep going anyway - at the moment I’m aiming to feed the starter once a week, a couple of days before I bake, and then keep experimenting with small differences in the method informed by researching the results from the previous bake. It’s no real hardship as far as I am concerned having fresh sourdough weekly! 


Thursday 14 May 2020

Day 52...

Started the day with a glorious walk right round the common - the views from up there are fantastic and it most definitely debunks the myth that Harlow is a concrete jungle!

I’ve taken some time today to think through some of the causes for the anxiety I’ve been struggling with. Not in a “oh poor me” obsessing kind of way, but tying to work out if there was anything I could have seen coming to have deflected it. I suspect not though - it seems to be lots of small-ish things that have all sort of ganged up on me. The first thing to say here is that if you haven’t experienced anxiety for yourself, then please don’t assume it’s the same as “being anxious about something” in the way you might feel worried about a trip to the dentist, or whether you will get to the airport in time. Imagine those feelings, then multiply them by - lord knows how much actually - it’s paralysing, making you feel constantly sick, or unable to breathe properly, or have sudden fits of blinding panic. Slightly different for everyone I’d say but I have experienced all three of those symptoms at various times as well as assorted other effects.

So - causes. The lockdown itself, trying to make sure I stick within the rules and restrictions around going out has been stressful a lot of the time. The increasing tendency for people to sneer st those on furlough on the likes of Twitter - I mentioned this the other day but hadn’t realised what an impact it was having. Can’t speak for everyone, but I’m feeling guilty enough about it to start with - as soon as I knew it was happening I tried right away for supermarket work, and also tried to join the volunteering scheme, but the supermarkets aren’t hiring now and the volunteer scheme is full. So the last thing I and many others need quite honestly is idiots claiming that we are all treating it like a holiday and don’t want it to end...yeah, right! Another social media related thing is the hysteria around the possibility of putting on some weight during lockdown. Lucy Mountain on Instagram puts this one down quite nicely - gain half a stone, or survive a fucking pandemic - I know which I’d choose - not a direct quote but that’s the gist of it. In spite of agreeing with her entirely though the lack of my “usual” forms of exercise and activity has been making me more anxious than I’d like, and feeling such a high focus on weight and eating in my timeline on social media hasn’t helped as it’s constantly making me feel as though I should be concerned about gaining weight, even though I’m not. Seriously people, there are more vital things to worry about right now - just concentrate on not catching a horrible virus and dying, eh? The other significant thing of course is the cancellation of the holiday. As I type we should have been rattling up the A1 towards our overnight stop, ready to head to a Scotland first thing tomorrow ready for. 5pm ferry to the Islands. In fact the Travelodge is closed, the car is in the garage, we’re not allowed into Scotland and the ferry isn’t sailing. This is the one thing that I probably should have foreseen having a bad effect, but with so many other things having been cancelled with no more than a minor annoyed “meh” feeling, I thought I’d be fine, moral of this one is “don’t assume, and when alarm bells are ringing, take notice.

I’m definitely getting there now. A long-ish walk this morning, mostly avoiding social media, a few hours sorting out the garden a bit more this afternoon (the difference already - eek!) have all helped already, and hopefully - if MrEH ever gets around to getting his ass into gear over agreeing dates - rebooking the holiday for later in the year will help even more. There is also a glimmer of hope on there being some air shows late on in the season although I wait to be convinced on that one.

Getting there. I’ll take that.


Wednesday 13 May 2020

Day 51...

Ugh. As a couple of pals of mine would say, I have had a full price ticket for the struggle-bus for the last few days. I think lots of things cumulatively have contributed. Strangely enough I find the end of a weekend tougher at the moment than I would in “real life” - usually I have a job I enjoy, colleagues I (mostly!) get on with, and going in to the office on a Monday generally doesn’t feel like that much of a wrench. At the moment though Mondays signify MrEH getting back to a degree of normality with work, while I’m left floating around trying to find things to fill my time - but only things which don’t make a noise as he may have conference calls. If he was working at home in any other circumstances I would go out and have a walk or a run - but that’s not an option at the moment, and there is a limited number of hours in each day I can spend processing old photos, so what has tended to happen is an increased amount of time spent on social media of various sorts, and as I alluded to in my post last night, that has been getting increasingly stressful in itself. (I do appreciate that I’m still extraordinarily privileged in plenty of ways, by the way, but privilege is no bar to mental health issues, sadly, so if you are unable to appreciate that, please take your eyes elsewhere.)

At the beginning of the COVID-19  outbreak with people being somewhat shell shocked by the whole thing, the vast majority set aside their combative stance over such things as party politics, as it became apparent that the country needed to pull together to keep morale as high as possible. Indeed even politicians themselves resisted the worst of the spiteful backbiting that all so often peppers their engagement. As time has gone on though, things have begun to slip back to a pre-covid “normal”, and the nastiness has crept back, the malicious intent to divide has resurfaced.  On Sunday evening this escalated - as I talked about yesterday - and my anxiety sky-rocketed as a result as it became increasingly difficult to get away from it all.

My usual method of dealing with this level of anxiety and the “Black dog” appearing on the horizon is of course to go for a run - but with the adjustment in the lockdown restrictions not kicking in until today that hasn’t been an option. So far in the past 50 days I have been for a second form of exercise in one day only once, when I felt that things inside my head were escalating so fast that it was a solid reason to do so, so I was keen to only do that if I felt as absolutely had to. Our morning walks are important for MrEH’s mental health too, so I have been reluctant to sacrifice those.

Waking up this morning and knowing that if I wanted to, I could walk and run in a single day - and then go for another walk later if I wanted! - felt quite astonishingly liberating, and the 4 partly sunny, partly cloudy, slightly breezy, sometimes too warm and sometimes a bit chilly mostly off-road miles I did just before lunch were both exactly what I needed and a great reminder of precisely why it is that conscious movement can be so good for mental health. I also made a decision this morning to really limit my social media use for a few days, then reintroduce it gradually, so I have turned notifications off, disabled WhatsApp for a bit as a I was simply getting too many group notifications at some points in time (and am using the iPad not the phone as the iPad doesn’t even have WA on it) removed the Twitter app from the front screen on the iPad, and will be using other platforms sparingly as well - checking a specific group on FaceBook where I am an admin, and keeping an eye on things on the CAMRA forum for example. Instagram I am keeping - it generally feels like a really “safe space” for me as there is mostly not the unpleasantness on there that other platforms often attract. I’ll be continuing to post here too, and browse other blogs. I’ll review how I am feeling in a few days, and decide what to reintroduce and to what level. I’ve referred to “anti-social-media” before - and sometimes it really is!


Tuesday 12 May 2020

Day 50...

A walk...

A shopping trip...

Some more wild garlic foraged...

And in between all that, more old photos processed, some housework done, a reminder that Queen’s Innuendo album is really REALLY good, some life admin, dinner cooked (chicken & mushroom pasta with some of the wild garlic), a shopping list written and a few other bits and pieces. It’s getting tougher to fill the time on days when MrEH is working, I’m trying to mostly stay off social media during the day as it's just making me cross a lot of the time. I’ve no issue with those who either genuinely don’t understand the new guidelines, or those who disagree with them for whatever reason (although allowing that they are driven by the UK’s leading experts in the relevant fields, it does have to be slightly questioned WHY those people consider themselves more qualified - especially as presumably nobody else considers them to be so, else they would be standing at a lectern in the briefing, and Chris Whitty would be sitting at home on his sofa eating Pringles). I do have a problem with those who are pretending not to understand for political reasons though, and I struggle not to call out bullshit like that. There is also a new brand of arsery on Twitter in particular - those who get their kicks by sneering at those who are furloughed. I suspect prior to this those same people would have cheerfully referred to anyone claiming any form of benefits as “scroungers” so at least those folks are getting a break!

In spite of the small changes to the lockdown we aren’t planning to do things too differently here for the next little while. I may add a run as well as our walk to my day tomorrow. We might drive the short distance to one of our local nature reserves on Thursday for either a run or a walk along the river to Ware and back, and then grab our binoculars from the car for a little look to see what birds are about, most likely that will be about it though. It seems likely that the weekend might be quite busy generally, so we’ll stay on foot and stay local. That’s what suits us, right now.


Monday 11 May 2020

Day 49...

Loch Skipport - South Uist. 

We are currently in the middle of trying to sort out the official cancellation of our upcoming Hebrides trip. We had agreed with Anne who owns the cottage we stay in that we would leave it as late as possible to make the call - but we’ve now reached the point where travel is clearly going to be impossible and so the decision had to be made. Realistically we’ve known all along that it wasn’t going to happen, but for me in particular with all the other cancellations happening early on in a Lockdown and just before, it felt really important to have at least the illusion of something to look forward to still.

So now we have to deal with getting accommodation refunded or re-booked. Travelodge (we break the journey in one on the way up) have been ace - in spite of the room being non-refundable they volunteered a refund plus 25% on top if we were happy to accept a credit voucher. Oddly enough even up to a few days ago their website was still saying no refund of any description so holding out on that one was clearly the right thing to do!  I’ve already heard back from both our other single night  accommodation providers - for our first and last nights on the islands - confirming that one is refunding, the other will be holding our money for now (at our request) against a rebooking - we’ve known Iain and Catriona for years and don’t want to damage their cash flow any further by getting a refund. If it comes to it we’ll use the credit against next year’s trip. Anne is going to apply our deposit on the cottage against whichever new date we book, and I have applied for the refund for the ferry tickets.

Now we have to plan a trip for new dates, and get everything re-booked, which will at least be something to look forward to although also slightly frustrating at having to do all the work again! Also slightly concerning in that we don’t entirely know when we are “safe” to report-book of course, and what might happen down the line with lockdown being tightened again should that be needed. It’s a tricky balance to find. On the flip side there are far less things to consider that it will potentially clash with, this year, which is an advantage! Roundabouts and swings, I guess.


Sunday 10 May 2020

Day 48...

The final bits of work on the balcony (for now) and of course no sooner had we finished it than the sun went in! We’re absolutely delighted with it though - it’s well worth the time and money needed to get it done.

This afternoon we completed another section of sculpture trail around the town, ticking off several of the more further afield ones, although frustratingly several were out of reach inside buildings again. The walk turned into an epic 10.6 miles mind you - we were glad to get home and sit down! Some lovely exploring again though including pretty much all the way home following the stream that runs right through the southern parts of town. I think I might have found a nice route for trail running too!

The main news today is a statement from the Prime Minister announcing what measures may be used to start easing the lockdown. From the middle of this week we’re to be encouraged to exercise as much as we want, but still only with members of our own households. From 1st June at the earliest schools are expected to gradually return and the wider retail sector maybe allowed to re-open. From July it is expected that the hospitality industry will be allowed to begin to return to normal. It’s being stressed though that this does rely on the “R Number” - the reproduction rate of the virus - staying below 1, if it increases above that level we could see the brakes being applied and the Lockdown being enforced back to current levels again.


Saturday 9 May 2020

Day 47...

The final job of getting the balcony sorted got underway today. I mean, I say the final job, but who knows? For now though, we have busied ourselves with laying decking tiles to make it rather more pleasant underfoot. It’s not quite finished, but already a really inviting place to be. This evening we lit the lanterns for the first time in several years and have really started remembering how much we used to enjoy spending time out there.

Aside from playing about with decking, today has been pretty quiet. Our usual Zoom get together with friends this afternoon, and that is about it really. It’s strange - when the lockdown started we really felt we needed to make use of every moment at weekends - now things feel more relaxed, we’re getting used to having more time I guess. Waiting now also to see what changes in the lockdown will be announced tomorrow - the government have said that they plan to be announcing some measures towards releasing the current restrictions, but the press took that to mean “everyone will be allowed out to play” and it has now been made clear that we should only expect quite small adjustments immediately” social media of course is divided between hose who feel that we should just all get back to normal regardless, and those who are terrified at the very idea. I’m somewhere between the two - looking at the current figures it does feel too soon to be relaxing things to any great extent, but with so many taking the selfish view that they are now bored with being locked down and wanting their normal lives back come what may it’s hard to imagine that any attempt to keep us at home for the majority of the time will succeed for much longer anyway. Right now though it seems quite implausible that we’ll get back to the old normal any time soon at all.


Friday 8 May 2020

Day 46...

Bumped into my Dad and this little bundle of cute this morning while out for a walk - apparently the best thing in the world is to be standing in a field in the sunshine having the back of your neck scratched - simple pleasures when you’re a spoiled-rotten dog, eh!

Today was of course the 75th anniversary of VE Day and all over the country, within the restrictions in place for COVID-19, people have been marking the occasion. The Red Arrows did a flypast over London this morning with two friends of mine in the back of jets taking photo and video footage - and the results I have seen so far look excellent! A shame not to have been able to see it - in usual circumstances I would have been almost certain to have either headed into London for it, or to have found somewhere on the run-in for photos, but although I *could* have driven somewhere that we could have walked and caught them on the way through it would have felt wrong to do so. Instead we put our flags and bunting up at home and knuckled down to finishing the painting on the balcony and doing some more general tidying up. Now finished it looks SO much better - there is just one final job to do out there now and it will be finished - for now at least! We’re keen to get it really nice out there again as with it being unlikely that we will be away much over the summer this year it will be far better to have it nice to sit out there - this is one blessing of the time gifted to us by the lockdown of course, that we (and many others!) are finding the time to get these sorts of jobs done.


Frugal lockdown Friday part 7...

I’m thinking that for now at least this will be my final Frugal Friday post for a while - a fair amount of the information from previous (pre-C-19) posts in the series will still be relevant should you be looking for more ideas, tricks and tips, so do read back. This week though I’ll wrap things up with some “small things” you might think about doing if money is right at the moment, or indeed simply if you want to maximise the savings you might be making while your social life is on hold.

1) Waste nothing! This applies first and foremost to food - but more generally as well. In the kitchen though, do a little stock-take every few days and ensure that you stay aware of anything that needs using. Bread is one of the most commonly thrown away foods in the U.K., which always strikes me as crazy! When we make a loaf for sandwiches it does 2 days lunches for the pair of us, and then MrEH slices the remainder of the loaf and pops it in the freezer before it has a  chance to go stale - thus ensuring that we have sliced bread ready for toast for weekend breakfasts. If your bread has passed that point and moved on towards properly stale then you can chop it into cubes to make croutons for use with soup or in warm salads, just fry the cubes in a little oil, tossing them around so they brown evenly. You can also purposely leave a slice out to go fully stale and then blitz it into breadcrumbs which freeze brilliantly for use as a crunchy topping macaroni cheese, fish pies etc, or for coating meat or fish before cooking. If any fruit or veg does go past the point of being useable for anything then at least make sure you feed it into your compost bin - that way it’s not completely wasted.

2) Make use  of what you have! Again, first looking at food here - a week here and there where you make the majority of your meals from the existing contents of your fridge, freezer and cupboards can do Wonders for your bank balance! In the past few weeks we have had some delicious meals that have been made from “back of the cupboard” staples - Tuesday night’s macaroni & cauliflower cheese being a delicious example! If you need inspiration for meals like this then Jack Monroe’s books are excellent.

3) Make use of what you have - part 2! Time for another stock take - this time of books, DVD’s and CD’s - remind yourself of all the things you already have that you are happy to re-read, watch or listen to again, rather than feeling that you need to buy new. Maybe have a themed film night once a week, or listen your way through all the albums from your favourite band in chronological order. Also clothes - it’s the time of year when if you have space you might want to put away winter-specific items (I don’t have a lot of space to do this but still store away winter running kit and long sleeved tops in plastic boxes in the bottom of my wardrobe) and sort through your summery stuff to remind yourself what you have. If you have clothes that you usually save just for holidays, then op maybe this is the year to bring them out for more general wear too - I think few of us will be fortunate to get any sort of summer holiday this year!

4). Challenge yourself! Aim to make one positive change every few days to take control of your finances. That might be ringing your TV or mobile phone provider to haggle your costs down, batch cooking to save on the costs of running your oven, checking your bank accounts for any direct debits that you no longer want to be paying, or doing a comparison to see if you can get your gas or electricity a bit cheaper. Anything you can save is a bonus - if you have seen income fall thanks to the virus then those savings might help make ends meet, and if not then maybe start to stash it away against a nice treat when things get back to normal again?

5) Have a read through the MSE (MoneySavingExpert) website and get some more ideas of ways to save - from getting cashback in routine purchases, thorough to planning car insurance renewals with military precision to get the best price possible for your cover, there is heaps of brilliant information there - and founder Martin Lewis and his team have been working his socks off for the last few weeks making sure that all the information you might want on the COVID-19 situation is there too. If you are working from home then be sure to look up the information about the money you can claim back against tax for doing so too - only a small a,isn’t, but worth having!

6) Borrow or barter? If there is something that you need currently, why not see if a local friend, family member or neighbour can lend it to you? Just remember to maintain your social distancing while you collect - but you are allowed to do this. And if you and a neighbour are both baking, why not  get your heads together and share the spoils? I provided the mixed spice a friend was short of for a recipe in the week, and in return we got a couple of slices of delicious fruit tea bread - when I make scones later today a couple will be popped to her door. We’ve also been exchanging jigsaws with neighbours - far more cost effective than stalking eBay for different ones to do.

Those are just some starting ideas for you - I bet there are plenty more you can think of too. Although a lot of us are probably spending more in some areas at the moment that doesn’t mean we have to spend more across the board. Making your moneysaving a challenge, almost a game, can make it feel that much easier too - things like storecupboard challenges for meal planning can involve the entire family in working out what will go with what - and sometimes coming up with strange combinations that turn out to be family favourites!

Good luck with finding a way through the remaining period of lockdown, furlough, working from home or whatever your personal situation is.