Three years ago we spent a couple of months without our campervan while it was being repatriated from Greece and repaired after a bit of a bump. Loyal readers will remember that being without our campervan was agony. Of course, in retrospect those two months don’t seem so tough … we could still travel and we tried different ways of taking holidays while we were without our Blue Bus and I learnt that nothing compares to being away in a campervan. The coronavirus pandemic lock down is a whole new scenario, one that is shared worldwide; we are all staying at home so that Covid 19 patients don’t overwhelm the NHS.
I know there are people far worse off than me and that I have a lot to be thankful for. We have a private garden that I never expected to give so much attention to and although we will be hit financially I am confident we can cope. I am used to being away from friends and family for months at a time and don’t feel lonely, what I have lost is the rhythm of my year. It is Easter weekend as I write this and we have spent this time in Scotland pretty much every year since 1979.
I have always enjoyed seizing the day, making the most of the time I have knowing I might not be here tomorrow. I am finding it tough to have to watch, what feels to me like the apocalypse approaching, from my sofa. In my imagination I always pictured that when the warning sirens rang Anthony and I would leap into our campervan and drive to the mountains to witness the end of the world.
As much as I love Morecambe and feel so glad that we can walk to the sea, I only really expected to be here for about half the year! I can see how shallow I am, there are people living with much greater hardship than not being able to travel in a campervan but the loss I am feeling and the fear that I may never be able to go camping again is real. Reading about how others are struggling I find that my anxiety has a name, it is anticipatory grief. I hope that with a label for how I am feeling I can maybe deal with it [I am bringing myself back to the present right now, looking around I can see a futon, some herb seedlings, a candle, a cushion and a roll of sellotape].
In the past I have worked through anxiety by writing but for almost three weeks I have been silent, unable to write down any words. Sitting in front of the laptop is where I spend my time planning campervan trips or writing travel articles. This association is so strong, I haven’t been able to face the unkind reminder of what I can’t do and I have sought out other ways to occupy myself. On top of this my embarrassingly self-pitying inner voice asks, ‘What is the point of your ramblings when the world is ending.’
I am taking the writing one small step at a time. Here are some pictures of life in Morecambe over the last three weeks.
Holding back the tears
I don’t need sympathy, I am just trying to be honest; it is a pretty good day if I don’t start weeping about something. There is no doubt there is plenty to be distressed about; in no particular order, here are some things that make me cry:
- People all over the world being very ill and dying and health services unable to cope with the numbers
- Favourite small businesses facing financial difficulties due to the temporary closure
- People being judgemental and spiteful about the actions of others
- Empty supermarket shelves
- Finding strong bread flour on the supermarket shelves for the first time in three weeks
- Watching the oystercatchers on Morecambe Bay
- The moment after waking when I remember that nothing is normal anymore
- Those tormenting inner thoughts, ‘Where would we be camping now?’
- Not being able to meet up with our son and daughter-in-law
- Being so anxious and tense for most of the day that I go to sleep with a headache almost every night
A small scene from life in Morecambe …
I am waiting in our local Co-op, at a safe distance from all the other shoppers, clutching my milk and essential hot cross buns. At the checkout is an elderly woman. The assistant was calm and patient as the woman slowly placed her shopping by the till and she asked her to move back to the line marked on the floor. The elderly customer looked confused and shuffled to the side, although she had a stick she was more comfortable with the counter to help her stand while her shopping was rung through and bagged. The assistant noticed and smiled, ‘Oh you need the counter, that’s fine you can stand there.’ Once the shopping was totted up, the customer got her purse out. ‘We are only taking cards now, not cash,’ the assistant reminded her; she was clearly a woman who usually paid in cash. The customer understood and fumbled for a little used card and with help tried to use it contactless. After several assisted attempts, the assistant relented and let her pay in cash. The woman looked as if the world was spinning way too fast and trying to throw her off, everything had changed, she had seen the news but hadn’t realised how this would affect her weekly shop at our little Co-op. A lump in my throat I hid my face, desperately wanting to go over, take her arm and offer comfort.
Connecting with friends
For the first couple of weeks our What’s App groups were buzzing, everyone checking in on everyone else. The novelty of social distancing is now wearing off, no one has anything to say and I can go all day without my phone pinging.
My Twitter friends have been supportive, as always and often make me smile. I find Facebook a bit more of a challenge and although useful for connecting, I limit my usage. We have an inter-continental quiz game going on with our friends in Australia that is getting pleasantly competitive.
We have chatted to six households at one time using Zoom, our friends in little boxes on our laptop screen, sitting on top of each other like they are on University Challenge. Although it is hard to have much of a conversation with around ten people online together and the ‘meeting’ bears no resemblance to seeing them in real life, it is lovely to connect with them all and the laughter is great medicine. No one talks about how awful social distancing is at these gatherings, everyone stays upbeat with stories of what they are achieving in isolation and says they are fine. I wonder if it is just me that is crying inside.
Too much socialising during social distancing
One evening, after two video calls with different groups of friends, we both collapsed into bed exhausted from so much socialising!
Empty supermarket shelves
As I mentioned, seeing empty shelves in the supermarkets triggers tears and panic. One day there is no butter, strong bread flour was becoming just a distant memory and there is still no yeast. It seems the small 568 ml of milk are no longer worth producing and we have to find ways to use up a litre while it is in date in sauces etc.
Sending parcels of joy
While we can’t meet friends, the post office is still open and we can send small gifts in the mail. We have sent out books and jigsaws we have finished with and food parcels to other friends and I have other surprises planned.
I have also volunteered for our local food bank.
We chat to our next door neighbour over the fence most days and when we are out for our daily walk or cycle ride I say hello to pretty much everyone we pass [at a safe distance]. I do this partly to use up some of my surplus words, I have words to spare these days and I can give them freely. Some people just grunt a response or ignore me but others cheerfully say hello back and maybe for just one person I am the only human being who has spoken to them all day … here come the tears again.