Sunday, 24 January 2021

Coronavirus Diaries

Coronavirus Diaries

KATHRYN WILLIS is a photographer and lives in Sonning Common with her husband Richard and sons Jake and Harry.

AFTER I had baby Harry two days into the first lockdown, I had to self-isolate for three months. My husband found out he was being furloughed as I was going down to theatre for the emergency C-section.

He has since returned back to work part-time, so I can work a little in the week while he looks after Harry and Jake.

As I have asthma and an autoimmune condition, I have to take things a little more carefully so I still haven’t been in a supermarket since March and hardly been in any shops.

At least with lockdown II, I am not recovering from a C-section, or having to home-school. I am pleased schools are open for my older son’s wellbeing. Children need routine and structure.

Of all the things I was worried about before I had baby Harry, I never thought I would have to worry about not being able to get a grocery online delivery slot, not being able to get nappies and baby formula. Those first couple of months after Harry was born were very worrisome while self-isolating.

We had to wait more than three months for my parents, who live an hour away, to finally meet Harry, and see my older son, and it had to be from a social distance, outside in a park.

I will never forget having to keep our distance meeting in public. I think it is one of the hardest things I have had to do.

Harry was very much longed for. I had a very nerve-wracking pregnancy with an eventful arrival, so to not be able to introduce him to or have grandparents hold him is rather upsetting.

You just can’t get this time back, but of course we all have to play our part to be sensible and protect each other. Harry still hasn’t met a majority of our closest friends and family.

I think of all the things I was able to do when my eldest was a baby. He was very well socialised and went everywhere with me. I am sure lockdown babies will experience a lot of separation anxiety being at home with most of the household around.

I would have had many events and functions to photograph and had eight weddings this summer, so have kept in close contact working with my lovely couples to help where I can as they move their date, some then having to look at a third date in 2021 or waiting until 2022. I really feel for them.

I have had a couple of people say they are envious of me having a baby during lockdown and how nice it must be.

I am sure that comment came from a good place, but it has been far from easy. No one has been able to hold Harry, we haven’t had any of the usual visits or been able to have any help at all.

My husband and I have made a really great team though. I try to be pragmatic and grateful for the small things and still look at Harry and can’t believe he is here, safely. Completely oblivious to it all, thankfully.

I had plans earlier in the year to remodel my photography business after I had Harry but covid-19 certainly has had a huge impact.

I have enjoyed many outdoor family portraits and product shoots to help businesses get online during lockdown II and have put in the hours to get my in-person photography workshops online.

I am now working hard to launch a new niche side of my business early next year.

MADDI SHARKEY, founder of Noelle Productions, comedy writer, producer and presenter, from Middle Assendon.

FRESH off the back of one of the most horrendous Christmases ever, we faced an uncertain 2020 for our son who was out of school and had been on and off all his 11 little years on the planet.

See, that’s what happens when you try to make a child with Aspergers fit in to a non-Aspergers world. They can’t cope so they don’t go.

After what seemed like an Olympic display of hurdles to get over, we found him the perfect school. This was it, this would change his and our life and we would all dance a tiny merry dance — then lockdown happened.

The impact on him and me was massive. I wanted to join in the running commentary of funny homeschooling memes and gifs doing the rounds but I was faced with a black hole that terrified me at worst and left me feeling very nervous at best. I just couldn’t raise a smile.

While others faced tech challenges that would bring down a navy, which I also faced while home-schooling my two other children, I faced even harder challenges, like overnight we lost every single distraction method we use to diffuse an ASD meltdown at home. We couldn’t jump in the car and go swimming, to the playground, football, shops — anything, we couldn’t do anything.

Asda was my saviour, now who has ever said that? Trawling the aisles with him late at night as he just looked at everything that we didn’t need, it didn’t matter, it was the circuit breaker he needed to be able to face another day.

My internet purchases became well out of control while I searched in panic for entertainment for them all, three goats and a zorb ball being a couple of highlights from the list.

Anyway, time has passed, wounds have healed and I finally have a boy happy in a school for awesome kids with amazing gifts.

With all the children back at school, I thank the lord every day for a quiet cuppa, our wonderful teachers and mostly because I no longer have to ask “does anyone want to go on a bike ride” — Nooooooooooo!

TOM RYAN, who lives in Henley, works in events management.

WORKING in events, it has been somewhat surprising to find this latest lockdown such a busy period — something I’m very grateful for.

Despite the restrictions, it was full steam (or should I say full stream?) ahead for several projects. The annual Dance Reading festival moved online. As I had been part of the team at the inaugural Reading Fringe Digital this summer, they asked me to help out with press and social media.

Although it’s a shame we can’t gather together, a big benefit of an online festival is that anyone who sees your tweet, post or email can come along, where geography and other access issues might usually get in the way.

I managed to get coverage in Metro and Waitrose Weekend, who might not typically feature a relatively small Reading festival but knew that this year their readership across the country could attend with ease.

November also gave me the chance to work on some wonderful online events like the Henley Literary Festival and Jewish Book Week, with speakers and audiences joining from all over the world.

I have a similar role on the Twilight Trail, Reading’s flagship Christmas experience, which was boosted by confirmation early in lockdown that outdoor light trails could go ahead no matter what.

I’m excited to see the installations at the abbey ruins and Forbury Gardens when it opens next week. And with Paula Price-Davies I’ve used this period to fine tune a series of socially distanced events at the brilliantly supportive Spice Merchant, including festive gigs with Purdy, A Christmas Carol with Dickens’s great-great grandson Gerald and, an annual highlight, Santa’s grotto on December 21.

Grottos have been given the green light in all tiers and the support of local businesses means that we are able to keep the experience free for all families. Social distancing will be implemented throughout, we have doubled the opening hours (now 10am-6pm), personal protective equipment will be worn by the team and I can’t wait to assist Santa in his new balcony garden home after fantastic evenings at the Kenton and Regal Cinema.

AMANDA STEWART is a journalist living in Woodcote with her partner, two sons (one semi-feral), five sheep, seven peacocks, eight hens and two dogs.

LAST week was my birthday and, to my horror, I realised that I could not arrange a lunch or dinner with friends at any of my favourite restaurants, or find an excuse to travel abroad. Lockdown birthday, was, well really, not going to exist. A

I made the mistake of messaging my mother, who lives by the sea in West Sussex and fastidiously looks after my father (who has latter stage Parkinsons).

My part-bred fiery Irish mother has been likened to Mrs Bucket (pronounced “Bouquet”) from Keeping up Appearances, had no time or patience for my birthday glumness and didn’t even reply to my “sorry-for-myself” WhatsApp message.

My mind wandered. Amazon beckoned. What I needed were some luxury gifts for me. I logged into Amazon and scrolled through endless luxury goods.

I cruised through the virtual Jo Malone, Molten & Brown, Sisley & Chanel and, boredom setting in, I decided I wanted to try something new? Arabic perfume? I needed a bit of exotic!

A day later, the deliveryman arrives with my parcels. It’s so exciting, its kinda like, well, a birthday. I unwrap the packages and admire the packaging, then I lavishly squirt perfume all over the house, room by room. This was necessary of course, as how else was I to decipher the type of smell I’d like. Each room had a different perfume.

My youngest son arrives home and nearly throws up. “Mum, what the heck is that smell!” I weakly and vaguely explain my cheer-me- up idea. I’m not sure if he heard, as he has turned around and immediately gone out again. Oh dear. It is certainly strong stuff. The other son arrives. “Hello Mrs Taliban!” The new perfume, is not going down too well. The boys have bought me cards and flowers, oh and Amazon vouchers, but there is a caveat. I am not to buy any more perfume!

The next morning, it is actually my birthday, a limited amount of cards arrive in the post, then Erik the vet phones. He asks: “What are you doing?” and I reply that I wasn’t doing anything.

Erik asks if he can pop round later and see Mrs Spain, my horse and, of course, I agree.

He duly arrives carrying a surprisingly huge pink bag of gifts. He has been buying gifts for me throughout the year and everything is pink-themed. I think I might be his new hobby.

There was a big glitzy pink champagne glass, pink Smarties, a pink crochet kit (hmm — not sure that will get much use — sorry Erik?) but boy, did he cheer up a slightly-scatty-blonde-middle-aged lady up.

Later, I called in to pick up a Thai takeway from the Cherry Tree in Stoke Row and as I chatted to Dan, the landlord, he introduced to me to the Thai chef called “What”. “What did you say?” I ask, quizzically “Yes, he’s called What”.

“Actually Amanda, we need a bit of help with all of the free meals we are doing. Could you spare a moment to help What?” “I’d love to help What” I replied. “What does What want me to do?” And so the chaos continues.

Will my life ever return to normal or is this it forever? Now I read there’s a spooky monolith that was in the USA and has now moved to Romania.

So, I ask. If the aliens are coming, could they stop playing mind games? I might be exhausted, but this is 2020 and I’m ready for anything.

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