Social distancing via ‘Zoom’
Even before the schools shut on March 20 (2020) our daughter had told us not to come to childmind while she went to work in her school. Her self-employed husband stopped his work to take over the childminding for 3 days a week. The weekend of 20-22 March we should have visited our son and his family in Cobham, Surrey, for our grandchildren’s birthdays and to help them pack up to move house. They told us not to go and luckily moved up their house move to Friday 20 – just in time. Instead of seeing our grandchildren and children regularly we now just spoke to them on the phone via WhatsApp. After a week or so we all worked out how to use Zoom in ‘video-conference’ style so we could all see each other and chat together – an upgrade on our previous IT skills!
I was able to use this ‘Zoom’ knowledge to join in with 10 other members of the Harston Badminton Club to have a chat to see how we were all coping in our different ways instead of our Monday evening badminton. Some were lucky to have just got back from abroad in time, another had a son stuck on a yacht in the Atlantic with different islands refusing to let the yacht come into their harbour for fear of the spread of the virus – a very worrying experience. Some stayed at home not venturing out at all but playing a newly devised garden game of badminton, while others regularly went out to do their precious daily exercise – a good excuse to walk about and even have a distant conversation with someone.
We’ve also managed to keep in contact with our friends from other groups via email and have appreciated knowing how everyone is getting on but also had a few chuckles over some of the captions and photos we have been sent, particularly from my badminton & History Group friend Nigel. Other photos and comments have been more thought provoking like the Irish famine poem below and picture of the 1918 flu pandemic.
‘And People Stayed Home’ – An Irish Famine Poem Written 1869 by Kathleen O’Meara
And people stayed home
And read books and listened
And rested and exercised
And made art and played
And learned new ways of being
And listened deeper
Someone met their shadow
And people began to think differently
And people healed
And in the absence of people who lived in ignorant ways
Dangerous, meaningless and heartless,
Even the earth began to heal
And when the danger ended
And people found each other
Grieved for the dead people
And they made new choices
And dreamed of new visions
And created new ways of life
And healed the earth completely
Just as they were healed themselves.
Lockdown and the end of group activities
We had had a busy life in our retirement but initially had to start cancelling activities we had organised. Monthly U3A group history visits to villages were cancelled – starting with 20 March and the programme for the rest of year put on hold. We rang the pub at Gt Hormead to cancel the U3A walk for March which was usually at the end of the month. A history talk in the Village Hall for April we cancelled and our last badminton club session was 16 March- with only a small number attending even then. We put up signs to warn people that the monthly Better Brew Coffee morning would not go ahead in the Village Hall on Saturday 4 April but people soon realised that everything was stopping and signs cancelling were not really needed.
Dentists, the Surgery and Osteo all contacted us to say that our non-urgent appointments were all cancelled. When needed we have rung the surgery to ask for prescriptions without a doctor’s visit and picked up repeat prescriptions following the social distancing and hand sanitising at the surgery.
Volunteering in the community
As lockdown was announced on 23 March friends in Lawrance Lea where we live suggested we form a WhatsApp volunteer group and this we did along with The Paddock. We printed our own leaflet to give people our contact details and became part of the Village Volunteer Group which divided the village into zones. Initially we were busy texting each other but soon realised that we could co-ordinate visits to pick up several prescriptions in one go for shielded neighbours and worked out a rota to pick up papers for those stuck at home. Being on WhatsApp made it easy to pass on info and the street organised tea & cake on front lawns for VE day (May 8) keeping to the social distancing. Delivering food and prescriptions to neighbours, and the Thursday 8pm clap for NHS gave neighbours an opportunity to chat at a distance so reducing the feel of isolation and adding a real community feel. And the odd image that neighbours sent lifted everyone’s spirits – like the rainbow over Harston or the heart over Addenbrookes that we saw in the sky from our street.
As volunteers we have visited the dispensary at the surgery and picked up papers from the local Harston PO/shop. We have bought a few top-up goods there – milk, fruit and vegetables – but have still ventured out approximately once every two weeks to do a Tesco shop. Mostly we have managed to time it so there is no queue – usually 5.45-6pm – but when there was one just before Easter weekend we were impressed by the way Tesco marked out the queue spacing so everyone kept to their social distance. Arrows inside also meant going in one direction up and down aisles so no-one had to pass each other. The cashiers had Perspex screens in front of them and shoppers had to stand behind the lines so we felt fairly safe. Shortage of baking & bread flour and yeast were most noticeable problems after the initial sell out of pasta, rice, etc, which eventually sorted itself. Bread flour I had to end up buying in a 10kg bag and splitting it with a friend. Everyone seemed to be baking!
Time on our hands?
What did we do now we had all this free time? I wrote a list immediately of projects we could get done that we never usually had enough time to complete. My husband groaned – especially as the list grew daily as we spotted more things to do. Most were outside to make the most of the good weather. We cleared out our summerhouse which had become a dumping ground for excess indoor & outdoor furniture. We got several bits ready for the tip, then realised that the tip was now closed so they are now stored waiting in the garage! The summerhouse curtains were washed and mended and all the house windows were cleaned inside and out. Gutters were cleaned out.
We made a good job of weeding the garden and slowly painted all our fences- slowly as it made the arms ache- but also as we were not rushed for time. Two to three 6ft panels a day. We own 3 fences and also painted our side of the neighbours – about 350 feet in all. Luckily we’d had all the paint languishing in the garage for the last couple of years so we felt a great sense of achievement to actually get it done – aided by the glorious weather.
Another job we probably wouldn’t normally have tackled was to dig up a 10 metre gravel path that ran between two borders and low brick walls that were caving in. We wanted to sieve the soil out of the gravel, put a liner down and return the gravel once we had rebuilt the brick walls (that weren’t cemented together). One problem, we had left the garden sieve at our daughters and didn’t consider it essential travel to drive 35 minutes away. Luckily while out walking local footpaths as part of our daily exercise we came across two sets of friends who were able to lend us a garden sieve – all carefully bagged up and left at a distance to pick up! We completed our tasks over the next week – aided again by lovely weather and the fact that once again we had the lining material waiting in the garage to be used.
After this we started cutting back the shrubs that were growing too large but then had to think about where to put the clippings as Green Bins were not being collected until May. Luckily we have two compost heaps and we separated leaves from twigs and added to the grass. Small twigs and branches we used to line the top of a ditch bank that was collapsing- something we wouldn’t have thought of before – leaving them to slowly rot down. As our neighbour’s bin was full they re-sorted it and gave us their grass, veg peelings and twigs and we sorted them into the various spots. Everyone in the street was very grateful when the Green Bin collection began again in May.
By this time the garden was looking rather good and full of colour. We would have gone on holiday to Dorset at Easter with our daughter’s family and missed enjoying the garden. We realised we normally spent what time we had spare maintaining the garden but rarely actually sat in it and enjoyed it. As we tackled jobs we did so for an hour or two then stopped to enjoy the garden for a while – sitting out on our newly cleaned garden chairs and having a cuppa or reading a book. We cleaned off a large garden table we hadn’t used since all the family used to live at home, and started to have lunch outside – again courtesy of the good weather. One day we even carried out a large board with a jig-saw on it and continued to piece it together all afternoon.
My husband has spent many hours over the weeks putting jigsaws together and then taking them to swap with another friend. He has taken the opportunity to catch up on whole TV series of Spooks and Waking the Dead. I have read lots of paperback books I had ready for our holiday, started on a new painting – my local U3A painting class had stopped – and did a bit of clothes mending and made a few cloth face masks. The Big Community Sew on line had a number of patterns. We both started to catch up on a backlog of information we wanted to put on the Harston History website which we run and I managed to ring up one person and get their memories from speaking over the phone, then emailing back the written version.
We would normally have kept ourselves active with regular walks with the Cambridge Ramblers and the U3A walkers and had already worked out a monthly programme of walks for us to lead for these groups for the next 6 months. That stopped in March so every two to three days since we have gone for a long walk around Harston’s footpaths. One day via Hauxton, another to Haslingfield, one to Barrington and another to Newton. We checked out all the permissive paths too and also other field edges that we realised lots of people were using and the farmer didn’t seem to mind. A resident friend in Button End said it had become very busy compared with normal – obviously everyone walking near home – but luckily all the paths are very wide – easy to keep 3-5 metres apart which everyone did. We are very thankful we live in the countryside and have had plenty of open space to get out into while being able to keep our social distance.
We passed lots of cyclists too and more recently have dusted off our old bikes and taken to the cycle paths and roads nearby – going a bit further afield than our walks – to Barrington, Shepreth, Fowlmere, Trumpington Meadows and Haslingfield. Now we are allowed to play outdoors in the open I have just met up with a friend (May 26) and we had devised an outdoor badminton net so we could play at a safe distance.
Our U3A bird group that goes to a different reserve each month was put on hold but we have had the time and quiet to appreciate the birds on our walks and on our garden birdfeeders but not the rat that has appeared below it. My weekly U3A yoga classes are on hold but I have been able to do my pilates and yoga exercises on a mat at home which stops my muscles locking up – much needed as I’ve been unable to go to my osteo as she is still waiting for the time when it is safe enough to be in close contact. My husband would have been working with the River Mel group each month, clearing the blocked river or re-inforcing the banks but they cannot meet as a group to carry out this work.
Following the success of our streets VE day tea & cake on front lawns our neighbours at the end of our cul-de-sac decided we would have a socially distanced BBQ one evening. This we managed bringing our own chairs, cutlery, crockery, glasses etc and took turns to go to the table where the food was. All generations enjoyed this and gave all the neighbours a good chance to chat and share stories.
As the end of May approaches we are waiting to see how we will ease out of lockdown and when will occur the opportunity to visit with children and grandchildren. Our daughter will be back teaching fully at the beginning of June and at the moment our son-in-law has the children 3 days then works for himself over the weekend. Will we be able to childmind again to help relieve their load?
A holiday in the future
Our holiday dates have come and gone. Easter to Dorset with the family has been moved to Easter next year. Our walking holiday based in Louth at the end of May we have now moved to October and are hopeful we can make that – just the two of us in a cottage going out for walks in the countryside. Another holiday to Italian lakes at end of July is moved to next year so we wait to see how and when restrictions will be lifted.
Easing of lockdown
As the government encouraged people to go back to work we noticed the traffic increase on the A10 through our village in June. During complete lockdown we hadn’t bothered pressing the button to get across the road at the lights as we could hear or see any traffic coming it was all so quiet. Now we need to use the crossing button.
The Phillimore’s garden centre opened in a nearby village and we were surprised that when we went a week later the car park was nearly full and they were busy. However, a one way system was in place as they had moved displays to achieve this, controlling where you walked and the cashiers were now in a booth behind plastic screens. We went across to the ‘Shed place’ and ordered a shed – 6 weeks wait – we were in no rush – but they also had been very busy, but not crowded, in the week since they had opened.
We visited our daughter and her children in their back garden (a half hours journey away) – fairly easy to keep a distance from the 5 year old who knew all about ‘the germs’ – I had made him a small cotton mask and he wore it all afternoon – as it made him feel safe! The toddler was a different matter and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t pick her up when she stretched out her arms but my daughter just scoped her up and hugged her and distracted her. We took our own sandwiches and drink for lunch and enjoyed it in the sunshine at their garden table.
On another visit our daughter came to us in Harston – visited our back garden – kids happy to be on swings and then we went in our separate cars to Fowlmere Nature Reserve nearby which had opened with a one way circuit. This everyone enjoyed and gave a sense of freedom. Again the carpark was fairly busy with other families and couples but the one way system worked well. Our daughter and children returned to our house and while the toddler slept in the car (rather than in the house) we all had a picnic on the front lawn – still socially distanced. My teacher daughter is still very concerned that she might pick up the germs at school and give them to us.