Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Week five: Your diaries of life in lockdown

Week five: Your diaries of life in lockdown

JO WISE, 45, lives in Swyncombe with her partner Barney
Drewitt, 52, and children, Frank, 14, and Rose, 11. During lockdown they have her friend Sammi Davenport staying. She runs Floral Circus, an event floristry business.

IAM an event florist and by lockdown on March 20 my whole work diary had dissolved in front of my eyes. I looked at the blank boxes in my calendar and thought, ‘how are we going to cope?’

As a working mum, I’ve always had to rush around trying to juggle everything and last year was really tough for us. My partner fell off a roof and fractured his vertibrae and then I lost my wonderful mum to cancer in late August.

I was really struggling to work and look after my family while grieving and in a lot of ways, I’ll admit, I was longing for everything to just stop… and then it did. The whole world stopped.

So, with everyone else, we locked down. We live in a rural valley and have lots of outside space. The sun has shone and most of my days have been spent in the garden.

We have my friend Sammi staying with us for lockdown and she has taught me to weave and whittle flowers. Her partner has a weaving business and he gave us some willow he no longer needed. I started with willow panels but now I’m making smaller fun things with anything I can find in the garden. I’ve made a little rug for an outdoor sitting room and a fairy house.

Being creative and close to nature is my thing. I’m a doer and my mind needs a project. Pottering about outside making things has been my way of getting through this.

My next project is hopefully going to be useful. I came across HOT Scrubs on Facebook sewing scrubs for the NHS. I’m not confident enough to sew clothes but I found out each set of scrubs needs a cotton bag.

The uniform gets put into the bag and then the whole thing goes in the wash, so not contaminating anything at home.

I asked some friends if they wanted to help and within a day I had masses of fabric and some fellow makers. So that has become my indoor activity.

Like all of us, I’ve been watching the news in horror. I know I can only watch so much before I’m overwhelmed. Now I read the news in the morning and then stop and think, what shall I do today?

This is a precious time imposed on us by harrowing circumstances. I don’t want to waste it. Suddenly I’m not rushing around. I’m still grieving for my mum and my partner needs to rest his back.

I want to be present for my kids, laugh with them and hold them close. I can’t imagine what this will mean for us all. But for now I am trying to focus on staying home, staying well and not losing my marbles.

MIKE ROWBOTTOM is a journalist, writer, musician, lecturer and Henley Standard theatre reviewer who lives in Stoke Row.

TWENTY five years ago I decided to change my life: to stop being a TV reporter and become a novelist. I had factored in everything, I believed: life experience, drama, spelling ability.

What I hadn’t mixed in was talent. But I went ahead and wrote a 150,000-word thriller-suspense yarn and sent it out expectantly to publishers and agents.

It always came back and after a while I figured it wasn’t going to be my salvation and started on another and another after that, both of which still sell moderately well on Amazon.

One local agent I sent it to had a quite well-known TV reporter on the books as well and I was disappointed, to say the least, when I saw pretty much exactly my story turn up on the BBC as a one-hour drama 18 months later written by him.

I let it pass, shelved the book and got on with other stuff.

Now, with some time, I’ve been trawling my archive and dug up those old files, originally hammered out on an Amstrad, then converted to floppy, then digitised to Word and even then on an out of date app.

I thought there must be a story there otherwise why would someone else nick it? So I resolved to have another go and that’s where my spare hours have gone in this lockdown. I know a lot more about writing now and, frankly, I’m embarrassed by it.

Publishers must have taken one look at the first page and chucked it on the reject pile. It’s awful, there isn’t a sentence let alone a paragraph or a chapter that I’m not rewriting or scrapping. It’s a major undertaking but I owe it to myself to recognise that earlier arrogance.

Now is the perfect time. Here in Stoke Row not much else is happening and I imagine we are all re-evaluating our lives.

One thing’s for sure, it’s going to take longer than if starting anew, but this lockdown is here for a while so I’ll consider this a punishment for my younger self.

SALLY REASON, 40, from Wargrave, is a mother of two girls and a teacher at BCA College.

THE day starts with getting into my active wear and taking part in a Joe Wicks workout. I have to admire his energy,

How my life has changed so quickly in three short weeks…

Week 1

Although very unsettling, it has been a bit of a novelty getting up and starting the day at home.

We all sit together at the table and the girls get on with their work while I try to do some work on my laptop.

A few video calls with my colleagues, which is okay, although I have realised I hate to see myself on screen (roots — need to order hair dye!).

It’s a nice surprise to see the sun so we can be out in the garden. Eating so much food.

Week 2

Pretty much the same as week 1, to be honest.

We are getting into the swing of things and it somehow seems normal to be at home doing work.

We have also managed to do some cooking and some games to try to keep things fun.

I have now taught some lessons online to my college students and they (me) seem to be getting the hang of it. It’s nice to see them all and know they are okay.

Helped a neighbour collect a prescription, which made me feel useful for a few minutes.

Week 3

I have found this the most unsettling week so far.

The lack of routine has been a bit odd, although the warmer weather and garden play has helped.

I tried to suggest a bit of school work but this turned out to be a very unpopular idea.

I decided to sort through the house as I am always threatening to do it. Turns out I have no excuses left.

Positive for this week has been the girls coming up with ways of entertaining themselves (mainly Tik Tok).

Faced with another week without routine feels a bit daunting and I am oddly looking forward to the return of home schooling and work.

I have days where I feel incredibly lucky and other days when I feel anxious and worried.

In those moments I have to remind myself that things will return to normal eventually. In the meantime, I need to focus on the present — back to Monopoly!

CAROLE LEWIS lives in Woodlands Road, Sonning Common, with her partner Alan Gibbon. She is chairman of the parish council,
chairman and trustee of Kidmore End war memorial hall, a village gardener and a health walker.

WE love our garden and are happy to encourage the wildlife. However, one particular visitor is proving rather irritating.

Cyril the squirrel (not his real name) is determined to eat all our peanuts, regardless of how much effort is required in the process.

He has wrecked or even stolen every variant of feeder that we have used until… we found one with a sliding cover which, when Cyril approached from the top, slid down to cover the mesh.

Success? Well, not exactly. After trying out numerous methods of approach, he eventually discovered that he could hang off the feeder and attack its bottom, eventually releasing the contents on to the grass. Not to be beaten, we responded to this new challenge by the addition of 200g of lead-free wheel balance weights to the cover… so, with his weight, the cover rests below the bottom of the feeder.

Has he been defeated? We are not yet convinced.

Another garden friend is “Randy” Andy, our resident pigeon. His intentions to his girlfriend are abundantly clear and his mating displays, we are sure, are legendary in the bird world. Unfortunately, they don’t appear to work on her… but he doggedly follows her wherever she goes. Our advice to him is “get a hobby” but he doesn’t listen.

On a serious note, we encountered a couple of robins fighting in the garden. Our first thought was that it was a bird in difficulty but when we approached it was clear that there were two and they were not mating.

Sad to see such a usually placid and friendly bird being so aggressive — a trait of the robin when his or her territory is invaded.

We could go on... blue tits in the nesting box and a nocturnal visitor who decided to scarify our lawn looking for insects but let’s leave them for another time.

We will continue to enjoy our garden with the increased time available. Nature continues as normal but the world around us has changed dramatically and we must conclude with our heartfelt thanks to all who are working so hard to keep us safe and allow our lives to proceed as normally as possible.

THIS is the fifth diary entry of Lis Ransom’s life in lockdown in Binfield Heath. Here she takes us up to the return of the Prime Minister from convalescence.

Monday, April 20

Cancel family holiday in France. It can take place next year instead, thanks to French regulations.

Our lovely local pub garden sad and deserted on sunny day.

Shoots appearing in veg patch where old seeds were planted. Hope does spring eternal.

Something has happened to oil — you can be paid to take it away. Son-in-law fills domestic tank, daughter puts heating on.

Both son and Guernsey son-in-law complete homemade playhouses in gardens. For the children?

New virus cases steady. Hospital deaths today down to 447.

Tuesday, April 21

The Queen turns 94, but no gunfire salutes.

Masks and gowns in short supply. Huge consignment from Turkey gone astray. RAF dispatched to collect it. Don’t understand why they can’t be made here.

Level of care home deaths major concern — not shown in daily figures. Care staff at risk.

Guernsey girls ask for recorders for birthday. Their mum might regret this. Local grandson does powerpoint presentation for homework — about dinosaurs.

Wednesday, April 22

Parliament returns with first-ever virtual session; only 50 MPs in chamber — rest online. PM questions starring Foreign Secretary and new Labour leader.

Aim to provide 100,000 virus tests by end of month, says government. But some give false negatives — son-in-law?

Hospital deaths in UK top 18,000. “No hiding the scale of this tragedy”. Armed forces thanked for helping to deliver seven Nightingale hospitals, each inside two weeks.

Village-wide grocery collections for food bank, from households and donation boxes in shop.

Captain Tom records You’ll Never Walk Alone with Michael Ball and NHS choir. Gets to
No 1. He has raised more than
£29 million — extraordinary.

Thursday, April 23

Hottest day. Guernsey girls ask if we have made their recorders. Midlands grandsons see great crested newts — better than ours.

Vaccine tests start in Oxford — long road ahead, but optimism. Testing to be widened from today, plus “test, trace, track”. Army runs 48 pop-up mobile testing stations. 616 deaths today, 18,700 total.

£225 billion to be borrowed by government May to July — biggest loan in peace-time history.

Heartfelt, genuine clap for all carers, everywhere.

Friday, April 24

One month on from lockdown. Discussions about how to ease it. A “grown-up” conversation starts in Scotland. Figures suggest peak nearing but relaxing rules could cause second wave. Greece emerging as successful, with few cases and deaths.

Test kits and appointments sell out in hours. NHS worried people are not reporting serious problems, 50 per cent down on normal in A&E. Physio daughter seeing fewer new stroke cases — good or bad?

Saturday, April 25

When might economic shutdown be relaxed — health versus economy debate, may just have to learn to live with virus.

Drive to pet food supplier — first outing in weeks. Great to see world is still there. Lots of dog walkers, cyclists, exercisers, shoppers, feels busy but hardly any traffic.

Village volunteer group can help ‘shielded residents’ get government help with basic needs.

Evening, off to YouTube for Twelfth Night. Lovely. Remember it was written in times of recurrent Black Death.

Sunday, April 26

The 2.6 charity event replaces London Marathon, support our friends raising funds.

Five weeks on from starting diary, no signs of this half-life changing anytime soon. Papers debate how country might re-open, speculation it could be over-slow and cautious. Doors in Spain, Switzerland and Italy peeping open, France to follow soon.

He’s back. News that PM has returned to Downing Street.

Monday, April 27

Mindset change, with cool, dull weather. Days of exercising in sunny parks and gardens over, Britain needs to move forward to normality. PM to chair today’s COBRA meeting. Fears among over-70s that we will be locked up longest regardless of fitness — furious. Next task, write to the PM about it.

BARRY WOOD is a former mayor of Henley who now lives in Peppard with his wife Jeni, also a former mayor.


THE Government advises, if you want to get a life in the new normal, get routines. Fine by me but I am becoming a nerd as a result. After surfacing daily, spot on at 7.50am, and 15 minutes of exercise, I am ready for my 400-yard walk to Peppard Stores where I have a “Steve Davis interesting” conversation with Rubi, the owner. She hangs on my every word as I engage in the standard pleasantries.

Back for a porridge breakfast with 42 blueberries and I can think about the world for two hours with the Daily Telegraph, and the Henley Standard on a Thursday. Then I review my financial position — equities up — result happiness, equities down — result misery. On such small international movements does my daily mood change.  Yes, I am becoming a nerd.

Now the big event, the pre-lunch exercise walk. This involves two laps of Peppard cricket field, plus a walk through the woods to my favourite bench at the crossroads.

Then, to prove I am a nerd, I strike a pose as a gnome on a log, and count the traffic passing in either direction — how long for 50 vehicles to come past me, the official recorder, whether they proceed from Stoke Row to Sonning Common along Stoke Row Road or from Henley to Reading along Gallowstree Road.

I can reliably testify that the traffic volume exactly mirrors the vehicle mobility graphs of government only I have my results 24 hours before. Conclusions: what Peppard does today so the UK announces tomorrow. Peppard could be an official indicator of national population mobility. These are real nerd credentials.

With my data I stride back to my abode feeling I have contributed to the national effort and prepare myself for the next routine — gardening. Posing as a Worzel Gummidge lookalike, I resume my battle with nature. Why is it Monty Don has cool tailored clothing and two placid golden retrievers to follow his every move and is never seen sweating with effort or gasping for air after digging?

I, in my smelly and misfitting clothing from a bygone age which would make a tramp turn away in pity, only has the neighbourhood feral hissing cat to review my paltry efforts. It, too, eventually shows its contempt by performing his daily ablutions where my noble sweat has mixed with the rich Peppard soil in my hard yards digging. I must wash my hands …and spade… and I definitely do not want to become a gardening nerd.

A cordon bleu dinner with my favourite tipple is completed by 8pm and watching nightly MasterChef indicates to me that I could become a cooking nerd. As Gregg Wallace might say, “John, has the boy got potential?”

And so to bed, as they say in those steamy novels. I cannot wait for 7.50am tomorrow when I can resume my monotonous regularity of life in lockdown and burnish my credentials further through routines for at last I can come out — I am a nerd.

MIKE TRETHEWEY, 75, lives in Queen Street, Henley, and is a retired marketing, sales and managing director of food and sports companies and former chairman of Henley Rugby Club. He is married to Carole, 74, a retired social worker and administration assistant. They are known locally as “The Treths”.

WITH strict adherence to lockdown rules, strangely we have been almost more active than in our normal aged retired life thanks to social media, FaceTime and Zoom. We are members of the “Queen St Massive” a covid-19 support group.

At home we’ve done all the usual “best left till later” jobs, having cleared out the attic, power-hosed the terrace and painted the outside walls.

Through Zoom we have a weekly quiz with friends accompanied by a more than ample supply of appropriate beverages and a videoed football penalty shoot-out between Henley Hawks (Mrs Treth) and the British and Irish Lions (Mr Treth). Final score 3-3.

Next Saturday is the birthday of a member of the quiz group so obviously we are having a virtual party and, in a reversal of the normal roles, the birthday girl is arranging delivery of food and drink to all the guests’ individual houses. I suspect we will overrun the usual two-hour time limit.

Zoom has also enabled our group Pilates teacher to run hourly sessions twice a week to her usual high standard of instruction and demonstration.

In terms of exercise I am Running for Heroes (NHS) with 5km runs and donating £5 for every run. My aim is to complete my age in distance before the end of the current lockdown. Seven runs completed, eight to go.

During lockdown we have eaten better quality food than normal. Sam Sidders, of 81Events, delivering a top class Sunday Roast with all the trimmings each weekend.

During the week Jeremy at the Anchor has provided first class complete meals from his extensive menu, collected safely from the private pub car park.

On social media one Facebook group that may have escaped your attention is Henley Queues, with more than 300 members who report daily, hourly, and even minute by minute on the state of the queues at all the local retail outlets, Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury, Boots, Machins, Cook, and the Willow Basket.

Go on the site and I guarantee you will get a real time update which will enable you to successfully plan your adventure into the retail jungle.

Finally, a word about the rugby club: last Saturday was meant to be the last day of the season which in the event was sadly brought to an abrupt early close.

The main pitch is in fine fettle and planning for next season starts soon. Until we meet again at Dry Leas, stay safe.

NEIL GUNNELL has led a large Neighbourhood Watch email group in Wootton Manor, Henley, for more than a decade. With the onset of covid-19, every non-connected house was leafleted before lockdown was introduced. Nearly 200 of the 300 houses are now connected and 29 volunteers have come forward.

IN the early stages, of course, everyone was stockpiling and businesses were closing so I started to email the group each day on the changing picture.

Over the past six weeks this has become a daily update, containing community, policing and shopping information, takeaway and delivery options, and elements to bring the outside in for those who are stuck indoors.

Many of the group are now contributors and we now include support opportunities for the NHS and local care workers; the changing scenery around us (blossom, lambs, bluebells, the river); community actions such as teddies in the windows and introducing our pets and their characters. This takes about three hours overnight and seems to keep us all joined up.

Twice a week I do bigger shops for neighbours, but often use my daily exercise to collect prescriptions and smaller items for those around the block. I feel I have a personal door-lady at Boots (thank you to both town centre pharmacies for continued cheer). We’re all getting quite good at the merry dance of deliver, ring, stand back, wait, not quite shake hands.

By mid-afternoon I start my other work. With travel and meetings stopped, things have changed. A tw- day conference in March for which we had spent a year preparing had to be postponed a year, but we’re arranging web updates instead.

Our first already has 300 registered, travel now being no object, and a full day meeting this week is now 90 minutes online. The whole style has had to change but with many positives.

I’m a charity trustee so there are also applications to review.

I run a rail user community group for Henley and we’ve started working with GWR on how to best restore services for students and then commuters.

Then I help with moderating the Henley Community Matters page on Facebook before putting my feet up, maybe with Netflix, ready for the cycleto begin again.

MARY SCRIVEN, from Goring, has been in lockdown for the last month and so found herself celebrating her 76th birthday in isolation.

I WENT into self-isolation early as I have had pneumonia several times, so wanted to be extra careful.

It was strange being alone for my birthday, but I still enjoyed it. It actually turned out to be a very hectic day as the phone hardly stopped ringing, which was lovely, although there wasn’t time to have any lunch and the celebration supper I had planned was interrupted about four times.

I had reserved a nice steak from the freezer and had kept back the last of my salad and a glass of red wine to have with it, but the phone kept ringing. Just when I thought I could finally settle to it I realised I had to go outside and clap for the NHS, which I wouldn’t have missed for the world. I was able to enjoy it eventually though.

Being widowed, I am fairly used to coping on my own and, if you can put aside the horrors that are happening in the outside world, I think social isolation can be quite liberating, in fact I am quite enjoying myself.

I’m having to get a bit better on the computer and have even managed a few Zoom and Houseparty meetings.

I do consider myself extremely lucky to have a garden and good friends and neighbours who aren’t going to let me starve.

I now have time to do all those gardening jobs that I have been putting off. I’ve pruned two apple trees, organised the flower beds and prepared a veg patch for the things I have grown from seed. I have courgettes, runner and dwarf beans and a couple of tomato plants. I used some seeds that were left over from last year, most of which germinated.

I do try to have a bit of structure to the day. I like to chat on the phone to friends in the morning, which seems to get the day off to a good start, then household jobs (always with the radio on), and in the afternoon gardening and hobbies.

I’m trying to make time to go back to painting, which I haven’t done since the children were small and am daubing away at a seascape when I can find the time. So much to do and only four months to do it...

ANGELA BOWMAN is a partner heading up the charities team at Shoosmiths solicitors in Reading. She is living with her parents during the lockdown.

HERE is a photograph of my mum and dad, Gwen and Bill Bowman, showing how they are spending their time during the lockdown.

My dad is 92 and my mum is 80 and in October they will have been married for 60 years. They have lived in Sonning Common for more than 50 years and have been buying the Henley Standard every week for many years.

My dad was a manager at Prudential in Reading, in charge of the pensions team, until his retirement.

Mum was the swimming teacher at Sonning Common Primary School and knows many of the people in the village as a result of teaching their children to swim. Mum and dad have four children, including me. I am living with them and effectively isolating with them. They also have nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

During the lockdown, mum and dad have spent many hours each day gardening and making their garden of almost half an acre look really beautiful. This was their regular routine even before the lockdown. I believe this is what keeps them so young for their ages.

It also means that they haven’t had a second to get bored, especially as dad has also been writing his memoirs. I am working full-time from mum and dad’s dining room.

I hope these pictures will provide a bit of a feelgood factor during these grim times for the world.

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