Xmas is coming ... I'm so excited

 This year for the first time in many years, I'm looking forward to Xmas.  It's very odd.  I'm a Buddhist a full-on practicing, Buddhist, not one of those part-time Buddhists who have a buddha statue in the garden and tell everyone it's the one religion they'd follow if .... 

Buddhists don't celebrate Xmas.  It's a Christian festival.  Does it matter? In the annals of British history a pagan and a Christian festival were melded together. So this year I'm going to do it differently. maybe next year it'll be different I don't know.

The Three Jewels of Buddhism - Buddha, Dharma, Sangha
Dharma = teachings, scriptures, Sangha = community of Buddhists

I'm part of a Buddhist community that meets for a weekly community get-together (OK on Zoom currently) that celebrates Buddhist festivals which ritual, chanting, meditation and regularly go on retreat together. Sometimes they drive me nuts and sometimes I drive them nuts but we stick it out together, we have a common purpose - 'the fellowship of those who tread the Way. We have made commitments to follow some precepts - here's the five that all 'mitras' (committed Buddhists) follow:

... to undertake to abstain from taking life

...to abstain from taking the not given

... to abstain from sexual misconduct

... to abstain from false/harsh/useless speech speech

... to undertake to abstain from taking intoxicants

These have been hotly debated and discussed for several thousand years, probably since the time of the Buddha who lived around 500 BCE, but remain substantially the same.  Each one has wide interpretations for example - not to take life can mean anything from killing people, or animals (hence vegans and vegetarians) to abuse of any sort towards others. It can include any sort of unkindness to animals or people. Not taking the not given, can mean taking anything from your employer's stationery cupboard, to picking up a phone on a bus and not making efforts to trace the owner; sexual misconduct can relate to watching unpleasant porn or sleeping with someone else's boyfriend or girlfriend, intoxicants can mean any substance that alters your clarity of mind. 

 These differ from the  Christian Ten Commandments (received by Moses) in the following way - the Ten Commandments were given out in an authoritarian way, by a vengeful and authoritarian God figure - those who disobeyed them would be severely punished - Hell awaited.

The Buddhist precepts on the other hand are not administered with such dire warnings by patriarchal church figures.  They are undertakings, in other words you choose to follow them, and none of your Buddhist community or teachers will take out a big verbal stick to you if you don't keep to the letter of the law (well they might if you killed someone). 

Right.  I'm going to stop now.  I don't want you to think I'm on a conversion crusade.  I'm not.  I'm just trying to correct a few misconceptions I come across about Buddhists. I've been a practicing Buddhist for 35 years  Oh one more misconception - some people think you must be a really good, chilled out, calm human being if you're a long term Buddhist - just to say I've still got a long way to go to achieve that, or to achieve enlightenment- like most Buddhists I know (although I always imagine all the other Buddhists are a lot further down the path to reaching the magic balance between wisdom and compassion than I am). 

No! I really am going to stop now.  Make of all that what you will.  I started off by saying how much I'm looking forward to Xmas  - not a day I've celebrated a great deal in the last 10 years, not more than the occasional nut roast etc -because of being a Buddhist and other things eg. the whole commercial thing and family stuff. This time, we've all spent 9-10 months in virtual isolation.  Did I say 'virtual' ffs (oops there goes my speech precepts again). Sometimes I spend the weekends AND weekdays on Zoom.  I've so had enough.  And we Buddhists are very touchy feely huggy people on the whole.  Not any more.  I miss that a lot.

Due to the lockdown(s), both my daughters now work exclusively from home and may well continue to do so for a long time to come.  As it happens they've both been quite pleased about it.  One because she hates office life, one because she now has a 2-year-old. .. and although he's been in nursery (since they opened again) 2 days a week or is with one or other set of grandparents(eg. me) 2 days a week, she's been able to spend a lot more time with him than she ever could have imagined. Many people may never go back to full-time office work.  And you can live anywhere in this country - as long as it's got good commutable transport and wi-fi, you might need to check-in physically at the office a couple of days a week only.  Everything has changed.

Maybe that's why Christmas is so important this year. It's a reference point of stability after a year of change and disorder where all the rulebooks and social norms have been piled on a bonfire. So many of my friends have polarised into different directions with their interpretation of how not to get the virus - I can't keep up, the situation has induced mass neurosis.  Calm and stability need to be re-established.

Christmas means my small family can come together and spend time with me. It'll be a social occasion.  A real live social occasion.  They will eat chicken (free-range organic), I will eat nut roast and roast potatoes and cauliflower cheese and carrots and Brussel sprouts and... and .. and Xmas pud and pull crackers and open presents.  Oh, what fun.  We can play games, watch a blockbuster movie, chill out ... together.  I'm going to wear a jumper with a reindeer and a Christmas tree on it and a red hat with white bits and a bell.   The Christmas table is going to be red, with gold candles and gold crackers.  ...  I can't wait.

Travels in South Africa: en route to Thula Thula - elephant sanctuary January 2020

Before the pandemic.  I travelled - a distant memory now, but so glad I went, the memories of my adventures stayed with me throughout lockdown.

The 7-hour flight to Cape Town in economy seating was marred by a woman sitting next to me, who in the narrow seats was freaking out every time my arm brushed against her.  As I kept dozing off, this was impossible.  The stewards couldn't move either of us because the flight was full.  Those were the days eh?  No full flights now. A friend went to Majorca recently - 20 people in an aircraft with seating for 180.  Anyway, I got very little sleep as you can imagine.

I'd booked myself into a backpack hostel in Cape Town called The B.I.G, in  Greenpoint. There's about 25 backpack hostels in CT - variable in quality and price.  Most are fine, some cater more to the younger age groups with BBQs (called 'brais' in SA), loud parties etc.  The B.I.G, which I'd not been to before, turned out to be 5 star - lovely,, warm friendly atmosphere, variable age groups, comfortable communal spaces, quiet,  great for solo travellers.   At the beginning, I 'd booked into a female dorm(4-6 bed), but for the first few days they put me in a luxury double room all to myself, at no extra cost. The weather was warm and sunny (about 26C), the sky shone blue all day.  The hostel was a kilometre from the huge ultra-modern shopping mall, boating/yachting dockland area of CT called the Waterfront.  

I quickly discovered that an Uber to the Waterfront with its smart cafes and bars cost approximately £2.  After a few days at the BIG, relaxing and beaching,  I booked an internal flight via Mango airlines to Durban where my Norwegian friend Tor has an apartment, close to the main beach.  He usually goes out there, taking a break from his work based in Norway, around Xmas/ New Year. I'd contacted him via FB, the week before I left the UK.

 In Nov 2019, I'd read a book called The Elephant Whisperer, by Lawrence Anthony.  It was a brilliant story about how the guy rescued and put together a herd of wild elephants, most of whom had been destined to be shot because of difficult behaviours - generally brought on by trauma caused by the terrible things done to them by poachers and other 'human' beings. 

After reading the book, I did some online research and found that the sanctuary he'd founded, was still going strong and being funded by tourism at the luxury end of the tourist industry. His widow Francoise Maltby, was carrying on with running the place.  To stay there for any length of time would have been outside my budget but I decided to book for 2 nights as that would include two drives a day through the bush to see the elephant herd. Francois had founded an orphanage for baby elephants and rhino whose mothers' had been killed by poachers.  She too wrote a book about this titled An Elephant in My Kitchen

So I had booked for  2 nights in a lodge at Thula Thula for the weekend after my arrival in Cape Town.

From the UK, I contacted Tor to see if he was going to be there in January and if so could I stay with him in Durban?  Yes, not only was he pleased to have me come to visit but said he'd come and pick me up from the airport and drive me to Thula Thula the next day.  He had a hire car.  I was delighted - I'd only decided to go to SA after UK Christmas, a very last-minute decision.  It was as though all the pieces of the jigsaw were falling into place to make this a memorable adventure.

I did warn him that Thula Thula was a good two hours drive from Durban, but he insisted he was happy to do the drive.  Ha ha!  I think if he'd known what a bumpy ride on remote roads the latter part of the journey was, he might have withdrawn the offer.   

My flight arrived in Durban at 7 pm to torrential tropical rain, and there was Tor and his friend Josein waiting for me in Arrivals. The rain had us sprinting for the car with umbrellas up.  With my bag-on wheels safely stowed in the boot, we went in search of a good curry in central Durban. Tor's friend Josein came too, a guy from Malawi, who I soon discovered was, like many Africans,  a strongly practicing Christian (unlike myself and Tor). He was staying with Tor while looking for work - Tor travels all over Africa for his job - he is a senior part of an NGO that deals with sexual health in Africa, so has many friends around the whole continent. 

As you may know, SA is renowned for its violent crime, so whenever I travel there, I'm very careful where I go and who with.  Durban has a very high crime rate and, in central Durban, you frequently see groups of boys on street corners, many of whom are glue-sniffers.  

The street we went to was well known to Tor and seemed quite safe to walk about in, with restaurants and bars on both sides.  The rain was still torrential and rivers of water were pouring down the gullies on both sides of the road, but it was hot and humid.  Durban(unlike Cape Town) is always warm with a semi-tropical climate. The restaurants were all closing as the rain had driven off their customers, but we found one and had a passable curry.  

Tor with a Durban Indian curry called Bunny Chow - half a loaf of white bread - 

all the bread scooped out, filled with curry and a roll of rice on top.

We returned to Tor's flat, to find another lodger asleep on a couch at the back - Sidney, who I met the next day when he returned from his shift doing admin in a local petrol station. He was severely disabled, his body bent and twisted as he walked, but bright, inquisitive and interesting to talk to. He too was from Malawi. He had vacated the second bedroom (a large king size bed)and changed all the sheets for my arrival.  How kind.

Tor's flat is two streets from the main beach, next to the police station. You constantly see police cars and police in uniform coming and going outside, although Tor didn't seem to feel too reassured by their presence.  I remembered what we thought of the SA police in the 70s, not remotely like the British police - SA police take no prisoners.  

Tor's flat is large and open plan but a typical bachelor pad - the lounge had large sofas to sprawl in, the bathroom black and silver, two large bedrooms with giant double beds, decoration quite sparse - plenty of beers in the fridge, not so much food.

Next day, after me cooking us all a slap-up breakfast of egg, chips and beans (Tor had gone out to the shop next door for supplies)  we set off for Thula Thula. The rain of the previous evening had cleared and the sky had  returned to its usual blue, bar a few drifts of clouds, here and there. Tor was driving initially, then he swapped places with Josein who drove the rest of the way.We stopped for sandwiches and crisps halfway there - it was motorway for the first hour and a half. Then it was smaller and smaller roads, trying to follow scraggy signs and Google maps.

Eventually, we pulled up in front of a wide lawn and a large lodge about a hundred metres away.  Suddenly I felt nervous to be leaving the safety of Tor and Josein.  We walked across to the large reception area in the lodge. Firstly I was disappointed to learn that Francoise was away in India.  After reading her book I'd set my heart on meeting her.  But it was not to be.  Then I wanted Tor and Josein to come and settle me into my lodge, so they'd have a chance to look around.  But no, we were told that the Zulu game ranger was going to drive me to the lodge and Tor and Josein couldn't come. I waved them off feeling slightly apprehensive, what was next, what would my lodge be like?

The drive to the lodge was on a winding track and took about 20 minutes and I soon saw why Tor and his hire car would not have been permitted to go there.  Small groups of kudu leapt across the road in front of us, we saw zebras grouped under tangled small trees - this was the bush, we were in the bundu and the low lying bush-shrubbery and small thorny trees all along the track was teaming with life.  We were driving in an open-sided jeep with a bar frame around us, more suitable for this terrain.  My Zulu driver and I spoke little on this rattling drive, except he kept pointing out large birds of prey roosting in trees along the way..  I was so fascinated by the surroundings that I was totally absorbed in looking.

We pulled up again in front of a wide sweep of  lawns with a scattering of large trees.  There were the lodges in a kind of wide semi-circle on the grass.  I could see some lovely elegant kudu (gazelle-like) grazing on the far side, behind the lodges. We'd stopped by a wooden frame with steps, presumably to aid people alighting from the jeeps, but I just jumped out next to the jeep. 

Fifty yards away on my left was a larger lodge which turned out to be a communal area with a bar and seating for about 50 people.  My driver pointed me in that direction, with my wheelie case, and told me to be back here at 4 pm for 'a game drive'. Wow, already I thought.  Looking over I saw a Zulu woman in a headscarf emerging from the large lodge and walking towards me with a welcoming smile. She walked me over to the lodge on my right about 50 metres away, where I would be staying.  It was very large inside - a 4 poster bed with mosquito nets, draped from a frame high above the bed and a  a big wardrobe on the right - a large ensuite bathroom with bath, shower and toiletries all laid out.

It certainly was at the luxury end of the market. My friendly Zulu assistant said that she'd be laying out lunch for me in the main lodge, so to make my way over there as soon as I'd settled in.  I put out a few things from my small case and then wandered across to the main lodge.  Inside there was a long and well-stocked bar on my right and wooden tables and chairs across a big room with a thatched ceiling. There were pictures of elephants and Zulu shields and spears on the walls. 

Nono led me outside to a large veranda where a table was laid out with crisp white table cloth and silver cutlery.  The veranda looked out across the lawns to a wooded area, where monkeys screeched and crashed about in the branches. I was to sit there in splendid isolation.  There were no other guests about, to my dismay.  When I questioned my 'assistant' about the lack of guests she told me it was the end of the season and last week there'd been 50 people there - they'd all gone 2 days before my arrival. No more were booked until next week when a large party of Americans was arriving. 

I didn't want to sit outside on a large table on my own so got her to bring my cutlery inside to the lounge area.  

'I don't like monkeys much,' I told her.  'They're very noisy and will steal things from you in a flash!'

'Yes,' she agreed  'I don't like them either.'  Soon we were chatting away like old friends.

She handed me a very elaborate menu, but I'd had a sandwich in the car and wasn't that hungry - so chose a macaroni pasta cheesy dish, which arrived after 10 minutes. - it was simple but tasty.  Nono stayed and chatted for a while - she lived in a village nearby, was a single parent with a teenage son.  She'd worked for Francoise (and Lawrence) for 20 years. I recalled reading her name in Francoise's book, so was pleased to meet her. 

It was now 2.30 and I decided to go back to my lodge for a siesta before the game drive at 4 pm. It had clouded over and had become cooler (about 22C), I would need to change from shorts to jeans and take a long-sleeved cardigan I thought.  I climbed onto the huge bed, threw a shawl over myself, set my alarm and fell asleep. 

To be continued - Meeting the Elephants.

Before the pandemic. After the pandemic? During the pandemic? Fear and loathing in ....

I've written 'before the pandemic'  is that how 2020 will be defined from now on - before the pandemic ... after the pandemic.  Except there is no 'after' yet.  There's 'after lockdown' but which lockdown? Seems like there's going to be a series of lockdowns for who knows how long. And the world has been kicked into the worst recession since post WW1.  Conversations (so nice to have face-to-face conversations at last), conversations start and finish amongst my group of friends and relatives with facts and opinions about the latest pandemic news. What's difficult is finding the parameters of opinions amongst that same group of friends - widely disparate views on shielding, staying in, mask-wearing, meeting up (where when and how, going into shops, using public transport, going to the cinema.)  

    Two weeks ago, our local Arts cinema opened and myself and a friend went to see the widely acclaimed movie - Summerland.    Including us, there were 4 other people in the cinema which has plenty of social distancing measures in place.  Where are you people?  The local community cinema will not survive unless you come?  Where a mask, gel up but come.

    Summerland was worth seeing although a bit contrived and sentimental at times I felt.  Bring tissues.

    The point is the fear and paranoia engendered by the government seem to have gone deep and settled in the minds of some, intelligent rational people.  Now they don't want to let go of it.  

    My response to fear for a long time is - don't ever let fear get in the way of what you want to do.  I had a Zimbabwean boyfriend once who was fearlessly outspoken in both Zimbabwe and South Africa about the terrible things going on in the reign of Robert Mugabe.  Other people we knew were being kidnapped, beaten up, tortured and murdered by the regime. He was not reckless but he consistently spoke up and then he got out.  He spoke out in rallies and meetings against the regime and continued to do so when he got to first America and then the UK.  He had no truck with fear.

    I have often been told not to go here or there, not to do this or that because the consequences would be .... often unspecified, but violence and death were usually implied.  I have then gone on to (cautiously) do the thing I was warned about and had no problem.  People looked after me, guided me, were kind to me.  

    In 2003, I was a human rights activist with focus on my birthplace - Zimbabwe. I flew to Johannesburg, stayed at a backpack place.  Lots of long term residents there - mainly white S Africans (the poor whites), and Zimbabweans.  I told them I was getting the bus to Harare, in Zimbabwe.  I wanted to get in anonymously, by the back door - I was a very active MDC (opposition party) member who'd been in the news.  It was a time when white farmers were getting murdered and Mugabe was fomenting anti-white hatred wherever he could.  They ALL loudly and vociferously warned me not to go. I would be mad.  Dire things would happen to me.

    I went anyway.  A 14-hour bus journey ending at a big bus garage in Harare - one of the main torture centres was sited at the side of the open-air bus garage (as I'd been told by a friend who had been tortured there). The noise of all the buses and people and bustle concealed the screams apparently. 

    I arrived and was picked up by a man from the local backpack place.  From there, after a few days in Harare, I got the overnight train to Bulawayo.  I travelled everywhere alone.  People picked me up at various stop-overs and drove me to various places, we visited MDC  headquarters, watched by the secret police,  then off I'd go again.  A young man attempted to snatch my bag in Bulawayo, while I was walking with an older grandmother,  her daughter and baby. The grandmother and I fought him off. He ran away empty-handed.

    From there it was on to Vic Falls - empty of tourists (like now I imagine - then because of Mugabe, now because of Covid). People were starving at that time, due to Mugabe's economic policies, so desperation was all around - as it is again today.  You take sensible precautions.  

    What I found everywhere was that people (mainly women) took care of me, made sure I was walking in a safe place, told me when to get a taxi, etc. Each day, I looked at what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, took sensible common-sense precautions and off I went.  Fear was not going to stop me.

    In the 80s, I was at my sister's wedding.  I remember my uncle- a retired senior Armed Forces officer, telling my brother that he had filled their garage in Cornwall with cans of corned beef 'against the revolution' ...  ie. against CND marching lefties like me who were clearly fomenting this revolution. 🤣
He later succumbed to Alzheimer's...a long deterioration sadly. The right fears the left.  The left fears the right.  The result is more fear, more conflict.

    Fear is in your head - not outside it. If you dwell on it, it expands to fit the universe you occupy.  The post lockdown world is full of extremes - some dismiss the threat altogether as some giant conspiracy theory and ignore precautions.  Some go into permanent lockdown and refuse to come out.  There are many shades of grey in between.

    I don't like being locked up, no ...  I REALLY don't like it.  I'm not going to go the whole way.  Even though, as they say, I have 'underlying health conditions'.  But I do take common-sense precautions.  I've been wearing a mask out since early March.  I frequently gel my hands when I'm out - after getting on a bus, or going in a shop.  And I keep my distance from all not observing the social distancing rules. 

    We can't stop doing everything.  Every day I go out for a walk, maybe in the park or somewhere.  Now I go to libraries to write again or cafes.  The British Library is taking people by appointment only, with a lot of restrictions - but I'm going regularly, while I still can ... until the next lockdown. 😕


    Mental health is important too.  If you let fear take hold it's all-consuming and will fill your life, alter your grip on reality. What I'm saying is get fresh air. walk everywhere,  take sensible precautions.  Don't get paranoid, don't  EVER let fear rule your life.  This virus and the various responses to it have created a huge climate of fear - if you let it take hold.  

Watch your mind - you can allow an unhealthy amount of fear to build up and up to fill the universe - if you let it. .. 

How to become a hermit ... or not?


 Towards the end of January) I came back from Cape Town.  I'd been there for some weeks, but had packed in a whole lot of adventure.
     All this happened in January and I had reluctantly returned to grey wet London. Weeks of rain and cold were to follow.  But I didn't mind, the memory of my adventures kept cheering me through the worst month of the year in the UK - February.
   I can't remember when it first started to appear in the news - about the virus outbreak in the province of  Wuhan - never heard of it, I thought. Who had?  After a few days, I looked it up on the map of China.  My ex-husband (we'd stayed good friends) had lived on the south coast of China for a year, teaching English and both our daughters had gone to visit him there in Guangdong, an hour on the ferry to Hong Kong.  No, it was quite a distance away from where they'd lived - Wuhan.  I looked it up in Wikipedia and was astonished to discover the city itself had a population bigger than London's 9 million ... this tiny speck on the map I'd never heard of.

Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province, People's Republic of China. It is the largest city in Hubei and the most populous city in Central China, with a population of over 11 million, the ninth most populous Chinese city, and one of the nine National Central Cities of China

 A long, long way away from here, from London.  And then I began to think about the secrecy of the Chinese government, they would not be giving the Western media correct figures, would they?  They'd grossly under-report the spread and the deaths wouldn't they? A small finger of fear started somewhere in my gut.
     As each day passed more news leaked out about the speed and rapidity of the virus's spread.  Suddenly they were building vast hospitals …  to fit thousands.
     Many people I know barely watch the news, are not interested in what's happening outside their own back yard - it's too depressing they say.  But I'm a news addict.  I like to know what's going on in the world.  I watched not just the parochial BBC, but Sky and RT and sometimes Algeciras.   Was it going to spread out of China?  Were their measures of containment enough?  The whole of Wuhan's 11 million population was in lockdown.  Draconian measures were brought in by the
            Then there was the cruise ship docked in Japan - The Diamond Princess containing 800 people - many Brits and Americans.  They had several confirmed cases of Covid19 (the new term they began to use to call the virus) on board.  We had daily bulletins from a very nice Brit and his wife - both in their 70s.  They'd been told they had to stay in their rooms 'in quarantine' for 14 days and although they weren't happy about it they seemed …  phlegmatic, in true British style.  When would they be able to come home? A week passed and suddenly the toll of those infected had become worrying. And then our Brit couple tested positive.  In spite of their quarantine. It eventually emerged, that the cleaning and delivering of food onboard the ship had been carried out by untrained staff who had had no instruction about how to prevent the spread of infection.  They'd been unwittingly carrying the virus from room to room.  The Diamond Princess .

In a way, that story is a metaphor for how the virus has been spread  - through ignorance, people ignoring, not listening or oblivious to safeguarding behaviours. First Italy then Spain and France were hit by the virus spreading rapidly forcing drastic measures by their governments.

   Around this time, my daughter, who works in a university told me that one of the staff had just got back from a holiday in China.  He'd walked off the aeroplane (along with a whole load of others one can assume, a whole plane full of people).  They'd been unchallenged at Heathrow and all gone off to their separate parts of the UK … What! He'd rung HR in the university, from his home next day. 'Should I self isolate for 2 weeks and work from home' he asked. 'Absolutely not,' they said.  'You must come into work'.
     By now some people in the UK were beginning to understand the nature of the threat. When this guy got in to work, various offices banned the poor man from entering their offices for 14 days.
     However, we only had a small number of confirmed cases here in the UK at that point. Perhaps the UK would be spared? Funny to think of that now.  Suddenly it started to spread here and the first thing that happened was the lack of masks and protective equipment for the health workers became clear.  The government started giving daily briefings. Toilet paper became a scarce commodity in the big stores ( but not in my local Turkish corner shop). I saw a woman in Iceland with two shopping bags full of 18 pack toilet rolls.   I got a hair cut and a pedicure (getting my priorities right) as in spite of denials I knew, as the daily death toll grew in the UK, we would be locked down soon like Italy, France and Spain.
      The rate that infection has spread and the numbers dying has been horrifying. And suddenly there we were - the UK with the highest number of deaths in Europe.  It was hard to believe.

    They put together (at great cost) a hospital for 4000 in the Excel Centre, London, naming it the Nightingale Hospital.  Many businesses, in the wartime spirit, switched to making PPEs (protective masks and gowns for the NHS) as there weren't enough.

       After that, our prime minister tested positive and then ended up in Intensive Care  - that was scary - when the leader of the country has succumbed to the sickness.  He recovered fortunately and was soon back at the helm.  How's that working do you think?  I'll keep quiet at this point. I'm glad he recovered but I didn't vote for him.

     The mere mention of restrictions ending seemed to open the floodgates - certainly in North London - there appeared to be nearly as many cars on the road as there ever were suddenly.  What happened to Stay Home and Save Lives?  Gradually week by week the restrictions have lifted,, now bars and restaurants are open, hairdressers but not alternative health practitioners yet  - so you can get your eyebrows done with someone breathing on your face (masked of course) but not` have a back massage ... ???

     Now I'm going to turn to myself as an example of someone who's been told to self-isolate... no person-to-person physical contact as in 'lovely to see you.  Give me a hug etc'. Since the middle of April this started,  before the lockdown. The emotional roller coaster has come and gone in phases.  Phase One:  I was horrified, I was worried about my mental health, how would I manage? To some extent you get used to anything.  But it's been a roller coaster and as time wears on my positive thinking self-talk wears thin too.

    Phase Two:  Many of us got organised and adapted.  My phone was quite busy - WhatsApp messages, quizzes, experimental music, then there was Zoom. What a revelation Zoom became for all of us.  I joined my Buddhist community regularly - meditation, talks, discussions.  We started clapping on a Thursday night for the amazing work being done by our NHS staff.

    One Sunday night I joined a big group discussion on Zoom from Meetup - divided into groups of 4, each person to have 5 mins to talk about their favourite holiday destination.  It was good fun. I learnt about Singapore, Vietnam and the Isle of White. I talked about Cape Town.

    My writer's group, Greenacre Writers had frequent short meetings at 9 a.m. on Zoom to set daily writing goals.  Often we don't get to our goals at all, but sometimes we do. Sometimes we just talked about our isolation and anxiety and fear.  I had a whole week of writer's block and then it broke and I wrote 2 new chapters for my current book in a few days.  Part of it is thinking - who would finish my book if C19 struck me?  No one that's who.  So I better finish it asap. But the group gradually dwindled to two of us as life got in the way for the others.

    At the start of it, I was panicking at the thought of having to stay home.  After a few days of couch potatoing and eating pizza, chips, chocolate and cream desserts, washed down by glasses of various alcohols (I'm not really much of a drinker), I'm back on salads, doing long walks every day and cooking with lots of vegetables - soups and stews and curries and stir-fries. I keep remembering how lucky I am - I have a home, heating, food and a small income.

    So many people in the 'informal economy' as they call it, had no means to pay their rent and bills. Unless you're emptying bins or working for the NHS you won't be working.

     I've been meditating daily using the Insight Timer app, listening to Ted Talks on You Tube and following Walk it Strong exercise (Jessica Smith TV) videos (if I don't go out). I found not listening to the news in the morning did help to maintain positive mental states - it takes effort and commitment to change this habit - but the news was so depressing  ... it was not worth the misery and sadness.
      Then I have three 60+ solo female neighbours. We had brief phone conversations or texted each other (two are technophobes … sigh) or I ring their doorbell, they come to the door, I retreat to the pavement (it's 2 metres +) and we'd have a catch-up chat.

     Self-isolating didn't mean barricading the front door, didn't mean becoming a total hermit. It meant working at maintaining your mental as well as your physical state. Exercise and meditation are fairly key to this.  You could exercise indoors via all the YouTube options or being careful to maintain social distancing, go out for a walk to the park.
     If I did any shopping - small shops in my area had everything when supermarkets had empty shelves -  I had to check out their maintenance of social distancing by customers - and learnt to avoid the ones where it was not being observed.  Tesco and Sainsbury's had long single file queues when they did get their supply chains working, - one person at a time being let in.  There were several schemes in my area for helping people who can't go out with their shopping. It' became impossible to join Online home delivery food supermarkets for a while.  And there was a two-week wait for delivery even if you did at one stage. Although that levelled out as distribution and supplies became better organised.

There are two guys across the street who did shopping for the solo people in lockdown, both were working from home.  Heroes of our cul-de-sac.  If I did buy something or it got delivered,  it got sponged down with disinfectant and water when it reached my home, before being unpacked.

   Phase Three: My organisation and enthusiasm to get writing done waned somewhat at this later phase of lockdown, I had bouts of upset and irritability, I felt trapped a lot and was not getting enough writing done.  As lockdown restrictions are lifted, there's a temptation to rush out, and throw away caution - which is mad really - we've got through 3 months of lockdown - it's still out there this deadly infection, people are still dying.
     What else can we do?  Donate to St Mungo's homeless charity. Offer to volunteer for the NHS if you have the skills and good health.
    In these times all we can do is work at keeping our own mental states positive and do what we can to help our communities and the NHS staff.  I got dressed too, every day, in clean neat clothes and made myself presentable, for my own sake and I think it cheers up other people if you look nice (I mean online for all those Zoom meetings).
      They say there's going to be a second spike so perhaps we'll be better prepared next time? All the shops and hairdressers and bars seem to have perspex screens now to protect staff or customers.  Masks must be worn on all public transport.
       When Boris lifted the rule about recreational travel and urged everyone to use their own cars,  I drove down to central London one evening with my stepson and walked on the Victoria Embankment as darkness was falling.

We crossed the pedestrian bridge over the Thames and walked past the Royal Festival Hall, then back to Westminster Bridge along the South Bank  Then we crossed a near-empty Westminster Bridge to see Big Ben obscured by scaffolding. We turned right on the other side, back past Embankment Station to where I'd parked the car.  The roads were empty.  Very few people were about.  We walked up to the Strand and dived into the entrance area of The Savoy \Hotel to escape a homeless man shouting at us.  The hotel was eerily silent and the doors were all shut and locked.

    That was 3 weeks ago now and things are nearly back to the way they were - I dare not say 'normal' as it feels like things will never be 'normal' again. We've all been changed by this experience, we'll never take life for granted again . . . will we?

    Meanwhile in America things are getting worse, while in the rest of the world numbers of C19 infections drop, there they're still growing. And Nero plays the violin while the country burns.... know what I mean?

    I shall carry on writing -  isolated people read books and we all love a good story don't we? And in the long winter months to come, when isolation may return, ... I aim to finish my second memoir by Xmas.  I'll dream about my adventures in South Africa and the blue skies and sunshine in Cape Town - that's what my next blog will be about ...

I found this book inspirational ...

Reviews for authors are sometimes hard to get so I thought I'd pass on a few that I've had in the last 6 months as I found them very moving that people found my book to be useful and worthy of their praise.

Amazon Reviews of my book Writing Memoir.  How to Write a Story from Your Life

"If you have been dreaming of writing your memoir and wondering how or what to do this book is very helpful. The writing is clear and gives readers the details needed to write a memoir. It is also helpful when working on writing a book in general, I think anyway. I found this book inspirational. Everything you need from start to finish in writing a memoir is found here. I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy." 
  Charity RB Howard        5 Stars

JWalch        5 stars
"If you have thought about writing a personal memoir, but had no clue as to how to write one, read this book. In just 161 pages Anna will teach you everything you need to know about writing a memoir. Anna not only talks the talk, she walks the walk, having already published a personal memoir about one period of her life spent in Africa, but is busy working on a second memoir. After reviewing this wonderful book I feel that I finally know how to write one or more memoir of my own." 

Reviewed in the United States on November 28, 2019   I have read a number of memoirs featuring famous people and also those written by well known teachers of the genre. This book, gathering together the process from idea to eventual publication, is one of the most succinct and to the point I have read.

The Exercises at the end of each chapter are simple and relevant, giving would be memoirists material for their own work from the outset and without delving excessively into theory.

Chapters on Truth, Mindmapping, Dialogue, The importance of Time and Place, Writing Emotion, Breathing Life into the Senses and handling Storytelling are excellent. Writing about Trauma and Abuse is handled sensitively. In fact, many of the questions facing me as someone writing my own story are answered at the outset of this book.

Much valuable information in chapters about Editing and Self-Publishing is also provided and a list of recommended reading.

The writing style is like that of a friend giving out well-tried advice

I would recommend this book for the shelf of any would-be memoir writer.
I give it 5 stars.