Bob Ross, Art and Me

Over the weeks of lockdown, BBC4 has been running a series of programmes called The Joy of Painting featuring the late American artist, Bob Ross. Bob and his art were new to me, though not apparently to many others. If you know the programmes, which were first broadcast in the 1980s and 1990s, you will know that Bob sports an Afro hairstyle and speaks with a gentle American accent, which welcomes you politely to the programme. He has certain soothing catch phrases which are sprinkled throughout each half hour session while he is spreading his oils on the canvas: “so glad you could join me”, “it’s your world- you can paint anything you want”, “happy little clouds”, “happy little trees”, “all sorts of little things can happen here. You decide”. And as each show nears its end he will say something like “the old clock on the wall tells me time’s up – till next time, enjoy your painting, God bless.”

Joy of Painting is a quiet restful programme which, if I had had a hard day at work, I would find to be a great way of winding down, glass in hand, before a meal or other evening activity. His technique of wet on wet oil painting leads the viewer to believe he or she can easily paint along with him. It’s a restful style which allows Bob to turn unpromising blobs of paint effortlessly into successful landscapes (they are nearly always landscapes or seascapes), with a backdrop of “happy little clouds” in a bright summer, autumnal or winter sky according to the seasonal atmosphere he wishes to evoke.

Each programme has a moment of sudden energy when Bob cleans his two inch brush by dipping it into a tub of spirit then thrashing it vigorously against one of the metal legs of his easel to dry it. “Beating the devil out of it”. Just occasionally he slips in a slightly commercial tone: “these are the things you need to do if you want to sell your paintings”, but overall the mood is one of calm reassurance: “I want your painting to make you happy”.

I am not sure of the artistic merits of his paintings (too “chocolate box” for some), but he has a cult following and people have been known to use his programmes as mindfulness sessions, where the calming mood imbued is more important than the artistic techniques demonstrated. Inevitably in the 21st century, there is a Bob Ross website where  various books, dvds and t-shirts featuring the artist can be purchased. There is even a link on the site to Bob Ross parodies on YouTube

I have the greatest admiration for amateur artists who are brave enough to display their efforts in public, whether or not they have followed a Bob Ross instruction manual. There are plenty of these talented people on Deeside and for anyone interested, the annual Art Aboyne exhibition starts in the next few days. This year, for obvious reasons, it is an on-line exhibition only, which you can find by going to @aboyne on Facebook. One of the few advantages of the pandemic is that exhibitions like this can be viewed anywhere in the world without the effort of having to travel to a physical site – though the social side is completely lost.

In the late 1980s I went through a brief phase of tinkering with paints and sketchbooks, but it was not associated with a great deal of joy (or talent). This is what my wife and 6-year old son looked like then, according to my 2B pencil:

                                       

I doubt if they were flattered by these sketches – they are certainly not smiling – but then I am no artist. If, on the other hand, you are an amateur artist, then as Bob might have said “I hope painting makes you happy.”

Talking of happiness, my wife and I have just celebrated our sapphire wedding anniversary – that is 45 years of happiness for me, and 45 years of patience and suffering for her. Celebrations were a raucously virtual affair punctuated, not by thrashing a brush, but by a moment of soporific calm, viewing one of the Bob Ross shows we had recorded.

After 45 years, you need calm more than brush thrashing.

 

 

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View from the Air

This picture from Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) appeared on Twitter today, inviting people to recognise this Scottish village

I can tell you that among the trees in a house on the left of this picture, I am writing this blog post. In the foreground is the River Dee and in the distance is Aboyne Loch. Yes, it is the village of Aboyne on Deeside. Just the place to spend a holiday if you don’t fancy the hassle of travelling overseas in these difficult times.

While you are admiring the view, you might care to donate to the Scottish Charity Air Ambulance Service. One day your life may depend on it.

 

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Long Tall Sally was my beacon of hope

cropped-es-pictureToday another part of my history has been chipped away never to return. This bit of history is not a statue of some infamous blackguard, toppled and hurled into a harbour. No, this is a part of my personal story, not formed out of stone, but out of something much less tangible and which some might at first sight find strange, perhaps even slightly weird.

This was the website of clothing retailer Long Tall Sally today:

2020-06-22 (2)

Long Tall Sally is closing; shutting up shop for ever. It is a sad day when any business closes, but why should the closing of this one bother me? After all I am a man and this was a business which sold women’s clothing, specialising in the requirements of the taller woman. Do I have a secret cross-dressing fetish? Is there a dark recess of my mind that quietly harbours the desire to don women’s clothing? Off with the trousers! On with the panties and summer dresses! Am I secretly a sort of stroke survivor’s answer to Grayson Perry?

Before some moral crusader stumbles on this blog and has it banned for affronting public decency, I should clarify all of the foregoing statements.

To do so, I have to take you back to the years when we lived in Orkney (the 1990s). On our infrequent trips south together, my wife and I would indulge ourselves selectively and sparingly in city shopping. In Edinburgh or in Glasgow, Johanna’s must-have choice of shop was Long Tall Sally where she would luxuriate in the racks of decent length trousers, dresses and jackets any of which could easily accommodate her legs, arms and tall elegant body. Certain shoe shops where size 10 ladies’ shoes were available were also an important port of call. The children and I would accompany her on some of these visits, and watch as she joyfully selected items unavailable in Orkney. Along with the other tall ladies striding around the shop, she generally left the premises with a smile on her face, gratitude for thoughtful staff, a collection of carrier bags and, of course, a lighter wallet. Those bags were colourfully printed in large letters with the words LONG TALL SALLY. For many tall women the shops must have been a godsend.

That collection of Long Tall Sally carrier bags followed us around for years as useful repositories for all kinds of goods, from supermarket shopping to sweaty trainers. It was one of those bags that brightened up the many monotonous months I spent in the Woodend stroke unit in Aberdeen. If you have ever endured a long spell in hospital, you will know that visits from friends and family are just as important for your welfare as the professionalism of the staff who are looking after you. In the Woodend stroke unit, such visits were  a life saver for me, breaking up the long empty gaps between therapy sessions.

Every day Johanna would visit, accompanied by Hamish, our whippet, and she would usually be carrying a Long Tall Sally bag containing messages, cards and gifts from friends and family. In fact, those bags became so well-known to some of the nursing staff that I would hear them referring to Johanna herself as “Long Tall Sally”.

2020-06-22 (3)I would be alerted to her approach down the long hospital corridor by the scraping of Hamish’s paws on the flooring as he dragged her towards the ward, and frequently by a nurse calling “Here comes long tall Sally.” There would follow the soft pad of Johanna’s feet and Hamish’s panting and I would know that the day was going to turn interesting, at least for a time. Your horizons get narrowed in hospital, so there was also the anticipation of what that Long Tall Sally bag might contain today – it represented a beacon of hope, a connection with that other world I had not seen for so long. While Hamish lay at full length, panting on the warm floor, Johanna would reveal one by one the contents of the bag.

This, then, is a sad day. It is sad, I am sure for all those who worked for Long Tall Sally There will be challenges for them in finding new employment and there will no doubt be challenges in winding up the business. It is probably of little comfort to them to know that the name of their business still resonates with some of us and made at least one hospital patient happy for a while.

 

 

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My bookshelf tells a story

Lockdown seems to have got me thinking of times past.

Older British readers of this blog will remember the days of the traditional prizegiving. These events were, and sometimes still are, a marker of the end of the school year or perhaps the last day of Sunday school before the summer holidays or Christmas. In their 21st century form, they have become known as awards ceremonies (in schools at least) and awards, if they are given at all, are generally given on a much more thoughtful and considered basis than they were fifty or sixty years ago.

In the traditional prizegivings of my youth I was the recipient of a few awards – usually in the form of books. Some of these still feature on my bookshelves today. Lest you think I am being boastful here, or drawing attention to my early flowering genius, I should point out that it was possible to obtain a prize simply for turning up most Sundays, in the case of Sunday school, and most days of the school year in the case of primary school. In retrospect I realise that there was always a hard core of youngsters – probably even the majority – who received no prizes at all at those events. There was also a hard core who received a disproportionately large number of prizes. In some years I was one of the group that received no prize – nul points – and it hurt, but such was the system at the time. Like most other children I accepted this as part of the rhythm of the year, part of life which was commanded and controlled by adults.

For younger children, the books given as prizes were often sub-divided into the categories of “suitable for girls” or “suitable for boys” and distributed accordingly. One Sunday school prize I received and treasured for years was the novel The Coral Island by R M Ballantyne, a Scottish author who travelled the world. You probably know the book well. Written in 1857, it tells the story of three young English sailors – Jack, Ralph and Peterkin – who are stranded on a remote island in the Pacific. As a child, I read and re-read that book as an adventure story, to the point where I could visualise clearly every incident in it – the shipwreck, the flora and fauna of the island, the unexpected arrival of pirates, the capture of Ralph, his encounter with “savages”, and so on until their eventual escape from the island. At one point I could have quoted sections of that book to you verbatim. As a child I read it simply as a tale of derring-do, and in that sense it left a strong impression.

Looking at that book again as an adult, I am surprised – and somewhat depressed  – by the fact that the language used in the novel is at a far more sophisticated level than anything I have seen children of the same age tackling today. That is an aside, however. As an adult,  I can also see that the all-male story reflected strongly the imperial values of the nineteenth century – the desire to spread Christianity and civilise the “savage”; a view of the world that implied British superiority over other races; a very precise moral code where the pirates who led “evil” lives were given their just rewards; and above all the ability of three clean-living young British men to survive more or less happily together on a tropical island and to provide mutual support to one another over a long time, with much of the knowledge and wisdom emanating from Jack, the oldest.

In his 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, William Golding borrowed the tropical castaway scenario to paint a much bleaker picture of how a group of young boys might behave in the same circumstances. To underline the contrast he even borrows the same name for key characters in his novel – Jack, Ralph and Simon, with the otherworldly Simon forcibly reminding us of the biblical Simon Peter (Peterkin). If you have read the book or seen the film you will know that things do not turn out too well for that group of lads.

The two novels were written a century apart. Implied innate goodness and moral certainty in the nineteenth century is replaced by implied innate evil and moral equivocation in the twentieth. In the 2050s will another novelist try his or her hand at constructing a similar castaway fable for the twenty-first century?

With the current spate of statue toppling and guilt about slavery, I leave you to mull over your own thoughts about how that future novel might look. In today’s climate, where a very different kind of moral certainty seems to rule, is The Coral Island in danger of being forcibly removed from my bookshelf? Should I even feel guilt about keeping it there?

As I say, lockdown gets you thinking about the past, but also about our present times and the future.

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The best medicine

Sometimes you just have to laugh – exercise and laughing: the best medicines, as anyone will tell you, whether medically qualified or not. Best of all, these medicines are free, though I acknowledge they can be difficult to obtain for some people with physical or mental challenges.

 

This image appeared today on social media:

Those of us who tentatively offer our verbal outpourings to the world live in fear of such unintended spell check gaffes. Most of the time it does not matter – in fact the author of that poster probably provided a lot of free happiness medicine to a lot of people. The fact that it appeared on social media, however, always leaves the nagging doubt that it may not be entirely genuine. No matter. Genuine or not, I bet it caused you to smile, even if it was a forced half-smile or even grimace (schoolboy humour, mutter, mutter. Get a grip, Sinclair).

Schoolboy humour of this kind always reminds me of an Irish friend, whose sense of the ridiculous helped me through a year of teaching in a German Berufsbildendeschule (literally, “Calling Building School” – roughly, Further Education college). There is not much humour in the formal side of most education systems, and the German one is no exception. In the world of education, the best humour exists not in dry curricular documents but in those classes where the teacher and students have a decent rapport and can share the occasional or even frequent joke. Sometimes humour comes unintended in the utterances of teachers, students or their parents – but that is for another day.

During the course of that year in Germany, for educational reasons naturally, I felt I should make the acquaintance of some of the fine local grape varieties – from Műller-Thurgau to Scheurebe, Dornfelder to Riesling, I sampled them all. A glass of Meddersheimer Paradiesgarten, for example, was just the thing to wash away the cares of a day spent teaching English to the trainee carpenters, mechanics, builders, bakers, factory and office workers of the college. The German Mark was riding high at the time and even quality wines were cheap when compared to UK prices. I can taste it now, that first cool sip of Paradiesgarten on a warm evening, the day’s labours behind me, the opportunity to socialise and improve my stock of German conversation in good company, the…. but I digress.

Generous and outgoing to a fault, I felt that it was only right to share the pleasures of the local wines with friends and family when I returned home for a couple of weeks at Christmas. This being the 1970s, the mobile phone had yet to be invented, so I walked along one evening to the public telephone near the station. There I called my Irish friend – I shall call him Frank – in a town some 25 miles away and agreed with him that he would obtain a case of selected wines from a vineyard close to him, and that I would collect and pay for the wine the following weekend. Remember, in those days a bottle of wine, and especially good quality German wine, still had a slightly exotic air about it, so would be warmly welcomed back home. Warmly welcomed, and hopefully served chilled.

I drove over to Frank’s flat the next Saturday, with the happy feeling in my heart that much of Christmas was now sorted, but a slightly less happy feeling about the stack of Deutschmarks in my jacket pocket that I was about to hand over to him to make this possible.

Later, as I drove off from Frank’s flat, with the case of wine clinking slightly in the boot of my car, I glanced in the rear mirror. Was that a conspiratorial smile I saw being exchanged on the doorstep between Frank and his flat-mate? Friendship is a wonderful thing but some good friendships are based on banter, as well as trust. A few streets away, I stopped the car, got out and opened up the boot. The wine had been supplied in a wooden case held together with light wire. I prised it open and counted twelve bottles. Fine. Each bottle appeared genuine, full and undamaged. I was imagining things. The unworthy thought that Frank had supplied me with ten bottles instead of twelve or cheap plonk instead of genuine quality wine should be banished from my mind.

And so, a couple of weeks later, I was back in Scotland giving and receiving for Christmas. To those special family and friends, a carefully selected bottle of German wine was given. Friends, cousins, parents – even the man who was to be my future father-in-law received a bottle. I saved a bottle to share with my parents on Christmas day. A special day made more special by the presence of a Meddersheimer Paradiesgarten.

It was some weeks later, back in Germany and well into the new year, before I ran into Frank. He was wearing the broadest and most annoying of smiles.

– How was Christmas?

-Fine, and yours?

-Are you sure everything was OK?

-Yes.

-And the wine, how was that?

-Great, thanks.

That damned smile again.

-What?

-Nothing.

-What is so funny?

-I think we should have a glass of wine together.

It was over that glass of wine that Frank finally confessed. He and his flat mate had gone together to collect the case of wine from the vineyard and had stored it in a spare room. That evening, the thought of those bottles resting quietly in another room had become too much for them.

They had begun by carrying the case through to their living room. They had stared at it. They had commented to each other how flimsy the wire was that held the case together, how easy it would be to open it up then close it up again. Then, that they owed it to me to check that the bottles were indeed the correct ones. Yes they were. But didn’t they also owe it to me to check the quality? Yes, they would be doing me a favour. So they very, very carefully opened one bottle, preserving the seal and cork intact, poured themselves a couple of glasses then another couple, then much bolder and much merrier they refilled the bottle with cold water, very carefully reinserted the cork, very very carefully replaced the seal and returned the bottle gently to the case. Much giggling, no doubt.

I rewound Christmas. I thought of the faces of those who had received bottles. Unwittingly, I had been playing a kind of viticultural Russian roulette with them. Which friend, which relative had received the dud? Which had raised a glass to his or her lips and said to themselves, “Why is this wine so clear?”  “Is this wine water?”

To this day, I do not know the answer to those questions. I never asked and no-one ever said a word about it to me.

Frank and I are still friends. We smile a lot when we are together. Perhaps fortunately for those around us, these occasions are rare.

To the present, and the world of stroke, which is supposed to be the core topic of this blog. A Facebook friend and stroke survivor illustrated his latest post with this image:

For stroke – and lockdown – survivors, humour and exercise: the best medicines.

 

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The toosie slide and other delights

The ageing brain is capable of growth and development. How do I know this? This morning, to my wife’s considerable annoyance, I set myself the target of completing the Times mild sudoku in 15 minutes or less. She dislikes any unnecessary stress, pressure and ridiculous targets, but you’ve got to do something to keep your spirits up during lockdown. I almost managed to achieve my aim (and yes, I know, teacher followers, that aims are different from targets). Despite interruptions, I completed the task in 17 minutes. A year ago, with patient coaching from herself, I struggled to complete a sudoku grid at all. Now I have even managed to tackle the occasional fiendish one successfully. So, brain power growth achieved (albeit slowly), alongside smug self-satisfaction.

There is hope here for all stroke survivors. As with sudoku and brain power, so with neurological recovery, stamina and muscle strength. Last November, as I previously posted in the golden pre-covid days, I invested in a small treadmill. Despite the fact that it is located in a cold garage, I have been conscientious in using it through the winter, on days when the weather was too miserable to consider going out with Archie. From a lowish starting base of 5 minutes per session, which left me wobbling with muscle fatigue on the way back into the house, I can now manage 20 minutes at a reasonable pace without draining all energy from my body for the next two hours. This is helped, as I pointed out at the time, by listening simultaneously to the innuendo-drenched adolescent humour in past episodes of I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue and other classic comedy, which helps to take your mind off the repetitive tedium of treadmill use.

My opening statement on this post about ageing brains was further encouraged by learning today that the actor Anthony Hopkins (82) has gone viral – unfortunate term – for his attempts to do something called the “toosie slide”. This “dance” involves movements – left foot up, right foot slide, right foot up, left foot slide – which you can observe on the rapper Drake’s video here. Probably best if you don’t try to understand the lyrics. If you switch off the sound, and simply look at the dance movements, you will be reminded of those foxtrot instructions – slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. Or, at least, a version of them. You can apparently find Anthony Hopkins’ performance on a social medium called TikTok.

I feel it is unlikely that I will ever manage the toosie slide. Even pre-stroke, my dance style was described by partners and observers as “interesting”, but you never know. One day residents of our street may hear our garage throbbing to the sound of Drake the rapper’s lyrics, and the distant sound of my feet sliding and lifting across the floor. I fear that if that is ever the case, “slide and lift” will be the last words I hear as I am hoisted into an ambulance by despairing medics.

And still they come

I have received more pangrams from creative writers:

From Bethan Starling, thinking of small children:

A black cloud descends. Ecstatic, Finlay grabs his indigo jumpsuit. Keen little mouth open. Patience quavers. Rain! Splash! The utopian vision. Wild, xenodochial youth zigzagging!

And from Jane Stephen, who may be feeling the pressure of lockdown:

A bored couple driving each other frantic. Geriatric humour is jaded. Knives look menacing. Nattering on. Prattling. “QUIET!” roars Simon to unrestrained voluble wife, Xanthippe. “Yes; ZIP (it).”

Meanwhile, David Ellix feels we should add to the torture of creating pangrams by attempting “margnaps” – i.e. telling the story with the alphabet back to front. As my friend, Alison, pointed out, this would have the benefit of dealing with the “x” early on in the writing process. This is David’s rather good A – Z offering:

“And breathe! Culture demands effort. Find great, high impact, jingles. Kindly love music now, or perhaps quietly retire south.” The uninspired, very weary, xylophonist yawns. “Zzzzz”

A land of quizzers?

It seems that during lockdown we have become a land of quizzers – quiz setters and quiz doers. Long-suffering followers of this blog will remember that some time ago I offered a cryptic quiz based on British trees. I have had a number of local replies, which I’ve responded to individually, but, particular congratulations to Mr and Mrs Davies from Pentredwr in North Wales who have sent in a complete set of correct answers. Well done. I hope lockdown is going well with you.

Now, let’s have another look at that toosie slide….

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Briefly, pangrams again

This morning, snow flakes in a cold north wind. Bright bursts of sunshine followed by periods of grey gloom. Still, a trickle of pangrams continues to flow, with the ever present challenge of “x”.

Barbara Craig’s prompt is her memory of children’s parties, thrown or attended over the years:

Absolute bedlam, children demanding entry. Falling, gavotting, hopping, incessant jostling, keening, loud monkey noises. Open, party, quick, retreat, serve the usual victuals. Wonderful, Xylene young zingers.

Helen Corrigan, on the other hand, reverts to the meaning of pangram I mentioned in my last post, i.e. that a pangram should include at least one occurrence of each letter of the alphabet. She writes:

Pangrams in the sunshine! Wot: Rain, cold and cloudy tomorrow!
Bang goes jogging, leap frogging over bollards, quick zealous exercise for wot we were meant to have!!!!

Strictly speaking it should also be a single statement – e.g.the quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog or intoxicated Queen Elizabeth vows Mick Jagger is perfection

Pangram perfectionists would probably argue that Queen Elizabeth and Mick Jagger shouldn’t feature, because they have capital letters. For me, it doesn’t matter. Just have fun with words. After all, you probably have some time on your hands.

 

 

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Pangrams in the sunshine

The first week of May has arrived. Glorious weather on Deeside continues, as does lockdown. In the world beyond, politicians pontificate; experts argue; people suffer and die; health professionals and carers treat and care. And everywhere the vocabulary of pandemic repeats itself daily – “self-isolation”, “new normal”, “PPE”, “stay home”, “peaks”, “flattening the curve” ,”testing and tracing”.

Here, morning coffee is taken in the garden; daily exercise follows; pre-prandial drinks are enjoyed outside in the late afternoon; Bob Ross and The Joy of Painting offers light relief with post-prandial coffee, and may be followed by a classic film before bed. The weather won’t last – wintry showers are promised for the weekend.

Meanwhile, that title. Pangrams? “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” is a well-known example of a pangram – i.e. a sentence using each letter of the alphabet at least once. This week, presumably in an effort to keep our brains sharp, the Times took the definition a little further by inviting readers to write a story (which they called a Pangram) containing 26 words in alphabetical order. Here are two examples from Wednesday’s edition

I decided to pass this idea in front of a couple of groups of creative writers – one local, the other on-line. Their incentive to get writing was publication on this blog, which is at least as prestigious an outcome as publication in the Times (in my view). The results have begun to come in today and so far we have:

From Natalie Austin:

Always believe, charlatans deceive
Everyday for greed
How? I just know
Let’s maybe now overhear
Prying questions
Relentless stamina
That useless virtue
With xeroxed youthful zeal

From Liz Marchant:

Anxious but calm, Diana elevated first gingerly holding in jitters. Kangaroo like, mindful, naked. Oh Pranayama! Quite rightly shattered through undertaking versatile, wickedly x-rated yoga….zzz.

From Alison Bruce:

A black cat drops effortlessly from green hanging ivy. Jaded killer, lithe, muscled, noiseless, old predator, quietly ravages squirrel’s territory. Ultimately, very wicked xenophobia yields zealot.

And from me, a pangram giving you a horrible insight into my mental state in the seventh week of lockdown:

“Arse”, bellowed Chris dropping eggs floorwards, giving his impish judgmental knowing lustful mistress (new open partnership) quality reasons simply to unleash very wanton x-rated yelled zingers

I will publish more when/if they come in – and yours, too, if you send them to me via the contact details on this blog.

“Hooray!” I hear you cry, as you head for the wine rack.

Stay well.

 

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Spring continues

Our glorious, but cool, Deeside spring continues to laugh in the face of lockdown, as shown by the amelanchiar close to our back door and the blossom beginning to appear on our two pear trees (below), Conference on the left and Bon Chretien on the right. With luck they will avoid late frosts and give us a good crop this year. Ironically, our big problem at the moment is drought – there hasn’t been any substantial rain for many days – look at the dry compost in our runner bean pot.

 

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Corona-spring on Deeside

The coming of spring on Deeside is a slow, ambling process where there is a pattern of a few days of biting winds and low temperatures followed by a single glorious day of warmth and blue skies.

Such was the case yesterday (Wednesday) when we had a full day of acceptable warmth and sunshine and the sudden balminess of the weather was such that we were able to enjoy a late afternoon pre-prandial lockdown drink outside, with Archie somnolent at our feet. There he is resting, oblivious to it all with his head protected from the crunchiness of the gravel by his outside bed – actually an old duvet permeated with a very satisfactory (from a dog perspective) aroma of canine mustiness. Being Archie, from time to time he adds an additional whiff of mustiness to this duvet, and the surrounding air.

Master and Mistress read their books, there is a clink of glasses, Archie sighs occasionally in windy contentment, the weather is balmy and so the third day of the fourth week of lockdown winds to a close. As I have said before, unlike many, we are fortunate to have a garden in which to break the indoor monotony of lockdown, even if the temperatures are on the low side.

There is much talk on the media of maintaining one’s mental health in these strange times. I am not sure if it is creeping old age or just general grumpiness, but I wonder about all the stories of very energetic people doing very energetic things during this period of stasis. People manicuring their gardens, redecorating the house, learning a new language, reading Shakespeare to their children – all of these things are fine but I certainly don’t want my mental health damaged by being made to feel guilty if I am not filling every moment of every day with some vigorous creative activity. Wasn’t over-filling our time one of the problems with the old life?

What I have really enjoyed in the last few weeks have been the leisurely phone calls. It has been great to have so many phone calls from and to people that we have not seen for a long time, in some cases not for years. And not just to have the call, but to have time to talk at length, to regurgitate old jokes and in the case of video calls to get a hint of the caller’s wider current life (and tastes) from the backdrop to the call.

During this period of down time, I’ll be doing my bit for others and doing my bit for my own physical and mental wellbeing. All of us who are not on the front line bravely caring for those suffering from this dreadful virus are managing our  isolation in the best ways that we can. If you are embarking on dozens of new projects and you want to tell the world about them on Facebook and Twitter, that’s great. Just don’t expect your way of dealing with this coronavirus stuff to be the same as mine, or the same as your family and friends. We all started this period from a different perspective and in wildly different situations. We will all deal with it in our own different ways, some of us successfully, others less so. None of us should feel guilty about that. Those differences are part of what makes us human.

If there is another warm spring day soon, I might even look out another smelly old duvet and join Archie on the gravel in a symphony of flatulent mindfulness, but I won’t be putting that on Facebook.

 

 

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