Sunday, 31 May 2020

Week six: Your diaries of life in lockdown

Week six: Your diaries of life in lockdown

ALISON STODOLNIC, 52, is a freelance writer spending lockdown with her family and their dog at home in Elizabeth Road, Henley

WHEN life gives you lemons, make lemonade. This may sound glib, but in these troubled times, all we can do is make the best of it.

I miss being out in busy places and chatting face-to-face, but I’m phoning people more and seeking out long lost friends.

All my plans have been cancelled but I’m catching up on must-see movies and I can tour the museums of the world without leaving my sofa. Everything is closed but I can still go out running and walking and riding through the woods on an old bike.

Whether we are all alone or squashed together, working or not, worried or relaxed, everything has changed and this feels deeply unsettling for everyone I know.

People are finding comfort in simple pleasures like reading, doing jigsaws, knitting, cooking, taking long baths, maintaining a steady supply of chocolate, giving each other shoulder massages and listening to the Desert Island Discs back catalogue on BBC iPlayer. This is all good.

But many of us have a nagging suspicion that, somehow, we should be “self-improving” in lockdown. This is not so good. The barrage of articles and images of people baking and gardening and having wholesome family fun at this time is just another way for social media to make us feel guilty and inadequate.

If I see on Facebook that my friend has dug a new flowerbed, I’m thrilled for her. But if I read an article that says everybody is self-improving by becoming a master sourdough-baker, or finishing their novel, or recreating the Hanging Gardens of Babylon on their balcony, I just want to cry. For so many people, this bizarre situation is simply about survival.

People are losing their loved ones, their jobs and businesses, their support networks, homes, hopes and identities and their delicately balanced states of mental and emotional wellbeing. Making the best of it comes in many different flavours nowadays.

I have more time on my hands than usual and I am enjoying the headspace, the extra sleep and being with my family, despite my low-level Armageddon anxiety.

For me, a brief respite from the quiet, structureless days came in the form of a two-hour life-drawing class hosted by Jo Harris of the Henley School of Art, which is now running online. The session has 30 artists of all abilities coming together via the miracle of Zoom, with Jo leading and Bella, the professional life-drawing model with tumbling blond hair and beautifully drawable curves, posing for us in her own home.

We warmed up with some short poses, sitting, lying down and standing up, and we then had a break before two longer poses. We could all see each other during the session but for most of the time it was just Bella on the screen, with the rest of us muted so that we could listen to our own music while we worked.

Drawing is an absorbing and single-minded activity — you can’t think about the humdrum when you’re trying to figure out how long someone’s arm is compared to the width of their belly and you’re trying to get the angles and the face and the shapes just right.

I was so absorbed in my drawing that I completely forgot about coronavirus and even forgot to drink my tea. At the end, a few artists held up their work and others asked questions about materials and commented on the lovely lines and fabulous shading. But it didn’t really matter what we had produced, it was about creativity and connection.

Life-drawing is obviously better in the studio but we aren’t allowed to go there. So this was a masterclass in not being defeated, in making the best of it, in taking them lemons and making lemonade.

CARTOONIST Gray Jolliffe lives in Hambleden and his daily routine is much as it was before lockdown

IT’S an unseasonal heatwave. I am sitting in a deckchair wondering what I’d be doing if we weren’t self-isolating. The clear answer is, sitting in a deckchair cursing the fact that soon I’d have to drive into London to have supper with someone or other.

I’m listening to the wonderful roar of no planes, no traffic and the deafening cacophony of birdsong which seems never to have existed before. The only other sound is the ominous gurgle of my life savings going down the drain. But on the upside, my credit card is snoring in the deep sleep of the innocent.

The sky is bright blue and for once not crisscrossed with aircraft contrails. The blackbird in an apple tree is singing non-stop, presumably claiming his patch and telling his rivals to eff off. Didn’t seem to notice this stuff before.

So I’m here with Mrs J and she is providing healthy meals, saving my old body from the junk I normally inflict on myself when eating out. Saving me from myself. She doesn’t drink and as a result I’m cutting down. Ten units a day is now looking like a realistic goal.

Living here in the countryside one has the freedom to go on walks and give old friends a smiling two metres space and sometimes even more.

We are very lucky and the lovely people in the Hambleden village shop are always helpful and cheerful. Feel really sorry for the poor souls cooped up in city tower blocks with kids, suffering domestic violence.

As a cartoonist, I always work at home. I do six cartoon strips every week for the Daily Mail and so far, touch wood, they haven’t told me to stop.

So my daily routine is pretty much what it was. The only difference being no physical socialising with the kids, grandkids and friends. We even fired up our TV set and were surprised to find it still worked. Not much worth watching though and we assiduously avoid the news (an old habit since Brexit days).

If I go into Henley for supplies I wear my Scuba mask and snorkel. People laugh, but at least it’s skin tight and washable.

All the handwashing and isolation means our immune system is getting lazy. Our antibodies have stopped going to the gym and are getting fat and complacent. Will they be able to cope if Mr Coroner Virus is waiting in the wings? Can it live on paper?

I’ve given up hosing down the newspapers and letters as it makes them soggy and hard to read. I’ve also stopped worrying about death. Life’s too short.

So now at last I can do all the DIY odd jobs I’ve been putting off. And sort out the crime scene that is my man-shed/office. But then the phone rings and it’s a friend and that’s another hour up the Swanee.

The phone and Zoom and Whaaaaasup and Facetime are ok. But to be honest — and selfish — if there were some way to see family and certain dear friends close up and personal I’d be in no hurry to get out of jail.

JO BAUSOR is head of marketing at the Henley Festival and lives in Bix with her husband Daniel and daughters Tabitha and Esther


ONLINE meeting with the full Henley Festival team. After a couple of false starts. “Are you on mute?” “Switch your camera on”. We had a very productive hour catching up on the previous week and plans for the next.

The events and entertainment industries are facing the most challenging time but it’s heartening to see the creativity and innovation in finding new ways to bring music, arts and culture into people’s lives. Big shout out to Henley Lockdown Fest as a brilliant example of this.


BIG shopping trip. Looking after a family of five in Remenham who are
self-isolating and picking up a few things for a friend who has recently contracted the virus.

I was feeling rather smug that I’d chosen a quieter time to go to Tesco but this quickly turned into mild panic when trying to read three shopping lists while negotiating the one-way system, wearing a face mask that made my glasses steam up.


I REALLY can’t put off doing some proper exercise any longer, so with my Swiss ball and weights at the ready, I press play on YouTube. Local trainer, and coach Joseph Webb has been uploading various free workouts named after his clients. “Justifiably Jacobs” was brilliant, challenging but adjustable to different levels of fitness.


CLAP for the NHS has become the highlight of our week. It’s a chance not only to show our appreciation but to see our neighbours and really feel part of the community in a way that we may not have done before.

However, I don’t think my teenage daughters were impressed with their dad banging on a saucepan with a wooden spoon.

Zoom call with a couple of girlfriends after clapping. Helped by a glass of wine or two, we chatted away as if it was all completely normal, a brilliant tonic in these strange times.


FAMILY “Come Dine with Me” and it was my husband’s turn. While he has many talents, cooking is one that has yet to be discovered so we spent the day waiting in anticipation.

One of the surprising joys of lockdown has been the enthusiasm of (some) family members to have a go at cooking new things, or indeed to just cook anything and I live in hope that this will carry on. How did he do? Well, full marks for presentation, not quite the same for execution but it’s not the destination but the journey that counts.

LIS RANSOM charts highlights of her sixth week in lockdown in Binfield Heath, hoping changes might soon be afoot

Monday, April 27

NEW Zealand clear of virus; Germany insists people wear masks. Chinese children wear 1m wide hats.

London grandchildren have WhatsApp and are using it. Eldest in Midlands has walkie- talkie to speak with friend up the road. New signal box arrives for husband’s railway.

Two car manufacturers restart work; DIY shop opens, burger retailer starts drive-thru.

Prime Minister makes speech — no quick release, too dangerous. Crisis peak, 21,000 deaths, 82 were medics. Number of patients fell slightly.

First parish council meeting by Zoom, pretty good once we all found the links, adjusted lighting and volume (and hair).

Tuesday, April 28


NHS managing well, 3,000 critical beds empty. Medics report Birmingham Nightingale not used yet. Capacity in all hospitals and footfall in A&E down 40 per cent. Concern for people with cancer and cardiac needs. They’re urged to make contact.

One-minute silence for front line medics and carers who have died during outbreak.

Sydney’s beaches open again.

British Airways in critical condition, 12,000 people to be laid off. No one flying yet, but Greece will open to tourism in summer. Some John Lewis stores may never re-open.

Wednesday, April 29

BABY boy for PM and fiancée, congratulations all round.

Bad news in USA, more deaths than Vietnam war. Good news — a large, stray asteroid will not hit Earth for at least 200 years. Grandsons disappointed, remind them what happened to dinosaurs.

Widespread testing for virus among carers, key workers and anyone unwell aged over 65. Pledge to reach 100,000 daily by tomorrow. Care homes suffer third of all covid-19 deaths. UK total more than 26,000, on course to be one of hardest-hit in world.

Online supermarket delivery tonight.

Thursday, April 30

CAPTAIN (now honorary colonel) Tom’s 100th birthday, has raised £30 million for NHS. Simple idea caught nation’s imagination. How will cash be used? RAF flies spitfire and hurricane salute. Post birthday card to Midlands grandson — should have special postmark.

Have French class by Zoom.

Germany fears second “spike” after cautious re-opening.

Oxford University and Astra Zeneca working together on vaccine. Enthusiastic clapping at 8pm.

Friday, May 1

WE’RE past the peak! PM says lockdown release must be cautious. Seems 100,000 tests in day have been reached.

Kitchen becomes a barber shop. Good thing he’s not going out.

Drive for first time in weeks. Go to supermarket, experiment. Very orderly, hardly anyone there, one-way system. Short of eggs, friend suggests that’s because we all have time for breakfast.

Family Zoom meeting.

The Archers finishes broadcasting for first time in 70 years. Archives only now.

Saturday, May 2

JURY trials suspended, backlog mounting up. My service postponed to next year. 2021 could be busy.

Son and family pass by on cycle ride. London mum exhausted with weeks of lessons for each child every day. Would like to get back to work (easier). Rumour that schools might re-open in June but impossible to keep children apart.

UK covid-19 death passes 28,000. Endless TV adverts on how to stay connected, stay safe and save the NHS.

Sunday, May 3

INTERNATIONAL Dawn Chorus day. Miss it but birdsong is louder than ever — official.

Rallying call for fit over-70s not to be locked down purely because of age.

Relaxation could involve wearing masks, staggering work hours. Test-and-trace phone app being tried out on Isle of Wight. Social distancing impossible on airlines — travel down 95 per cent from pre-virus.

Cardboard creativity continues: Midlands team builds castle with castellations and drawbridge. London children make a star destroyer. Local ones make skis. All from recyclable waste.

Guernsey family “bubbles” allowed to link up in experimental easing of lockdown. Good to see that here, if it works.

Completed six weeks in lockdown, cautious changes to be announced this week.

SAM AKHTAR and his fiancée, Tasmin Morgan, who live in Charvil, have found the lockdown to be a time for self- reflection and appreciation of the smaller things in life that they often don’t have time to appreciate

LATELY we have been enjoying the local wildlife, including watching the wild rabbits in the evening and spotting newts in Ali’s Pond, a nasture reserve in Sonning.

We have a newfound love for watching the sunset in the evenings. We hope to continue to appreciate the little things in life and remember to take time out even after the lockdown is lifted.

MILLIE SCOTT is eight years old and lives in Lower Shiplake with her father and in Holyport with her mother

I STARTED self-isolating on March 17. In the first week school gave us some packs with lots of work before we started doing online learning on Seesaw.

In the Easter holidays when I was watching the news it felt strange and confusing when they talked about self-isolating.

I miss spending time with family and friends. I miss doing climbing, swimming and school with my friends. I try to stay in contact with my friends by calling them on Zoom and FaceTime.

I have been doing drumming lessons on FaceTime and call my grandparents and nanny (my great grandma). It feels really strange to be doing it.

In the holidays I helped out with jobs around the house. We had a jobs rota. With all the washing of hands it makes my skin crack.

I play chess online with my grandparents, dad and brother. At my mum’s house I have been building Lego and a Lion King stage set model.

For my daily exercise I have been going for cycles or scoots around Bray and Shiplake. One morning I joined Joe Wicks to do PE. I have been reading What Monster? by Tom Gates.

I’m looking forward to life getting back to normal and when this finishes I can’t wait to see my family and friends again.

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