Mental Health Awareness Week

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This is Mental Health Awareness Week 2021.  It’s certainly been a strange old year, and one that’s been extremely tough for many people. We are currently awaiting confirmation, later today, that we will be allowed to hug our relatives and friends as of next Monday.  This will apparently involve making “informed personal decisions”; and Scientific Experts are advising that “hugs should be selective, short, and avoid face-to-face contact”. The restrictions have been necessary, but did you ever think you’d live in a world where you had to wait for permission from the authorities to hug your own relatives and friends, and instructions on how to do so?!  In the meantime,  big virtual hugs for anyone who wants them ((virtual hugs 🙂  ))!

Obviously everyone’s experiences will have been different, depending on their personal circumstances and the ways and extent to which the pandemic has impacted on those, but hopefully we’re now well on the way back to some sort of normality.  However, sadly, the same can’t be said of India, Brazil and many other countries, and, as keeps being said, no-one’s really safe until everyone’s safe.  But we’re out of lockdown now, and, hooray, that means that weekend outings to the countryside and the seaside after a week of being trapped with work are back on.  And I want to raise a very large glass to the Victorians and the Edwardians for providing us with our wonderful public parks, without which, whilst waiting to be let out of lockdown, I’d have gone even madder than I already am.

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is “nature”, and the Mental Health Foundation have explained that this is because “going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health” and “even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress”.  Too true.  I don’t know how I’d have managed if I hadn’t been able to go for walks round the local park during the lockdowns, especially the first lockdown when we weren’t supposed to be going more than a few miles from home.

It’s funny how, when I can’t bear the noise of dogs barking or engines revving, I find the sound of birdsong very relaxing.  And best of all are the flowers.  Especially daffodils!   I’m a bit obsessive about daffodils.  The start of the first lockdown coincided with the daffodil season, and being able to see the daffodils and then the bluebells and the blossom really did make it a lot less difficult to cope with everything.

It was so hard not being able to go to the Lake District, though, or to Blackpool, or the Peaks, or the various National Trust, English Heritage and other properties which I usually visit.  I’m extremely grateful to the National Trust, English Heritage and Windermere Lake Cruises for getting things open again as soon as they were able to, even if it was with limited numbers!  I even had a full week in the Lakes last summer, for the first time ever, and having that time there, rather than being in a rush on a day trip or a weekend break, was wonderful.  We’re very fortunate to have so many lovely places within relatively easy reach.  And they really have helped in what’s been a tough year.

Just a few little (well, little-ish) rants here, though.

Firstly, I know all the reasons for lockdown, but it’s been particularly hard on people in densely-populated urban areas.  We haven’t got a lot of green space.  We’ve got high proportions of residents who haven’t got gardens.  And, being densely-populated and having a lot of people in jobs which can’t be done at home, those of us in the old industrial heartlands of Northern England, the Midlands, the central belt of Scotland, South West Wales, and Belfast, were the ones put under additional travel restrictions in the autumn.  It was really hard for us – not helped by media outlets showing pictures of crowds in public parks and tut-tutting.  Yes, of course we were in the public parks.  Where else were we supposed to go?  We’re very lucky to have a very big and very lovely public park near us, and I’m extremely grateful for that, but, more than once, it got to a point where I felt like re-enacting the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass.  Hopefully, the days of lockdowns are over, but it was pretty frustrating.  And as for those local councils which decided to lock all the public toilets …

Secondly, about annoying people who spoil things for others.  Yes, I’m sure a lot of people think I’m incredibly annoying, but at least I don’t make a lot of noise or mess … which is more than can be said for dog-owners who let their horrible dogs bark their heads off and or jump up at other people, bikers who rev their engines so loudly that other people can’t hear themselves think, or anyone who drops litter.  Please, folks, clean up after yourselves, keep the noise down and keep your dogs under control.  Other people do not want your “precious fur baby” (how I hate that expression) jumping all over them or barking so loudly that they can’t hear themselves think.

OK, rant over!  Oh dear, that got a bit longer than I’d intended!   But having access to open spaces is very important.  Yes, you can walk along the pavements, but it’s not very relaxing when you keep having to stop to cross a road or wait for someone to reverse out of their drive, and looking at cars and houses isn’t quite the same as looking at trees and flowers.  And nature’s always there – whatever’s been happening over the past year, the seasons have come and gone as usual, the flowers have come and gone as usual, and the baby animals have been born as usual.  Turn, turn, turn.  There’s something rather reassuring about that.  Something a bit frightening, too, as you watch the months slip-sliding away, but, mostly, something reassuring.

It’s hard to find the time, when you’ve got work and housework to do, and there are traffic jams and queues everywhere, but finding that bit of time to “connect” with nature really is worth it.

If anyone’s read this, thank you!   Enjoy the flowers, enjoy the trees, enjoy the birdsong … but, if you are struggling, please ask for help.

 

Covid Christmas Parade by Milan Kumar

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  This is lovely: it’s a picture book which was written and self-published by 8-year-old Milan Kumar from Bolton, with proceeds going to the National Literacy Trust.  Milan wrote it after completing a reading challenge, which was to read 50 books during the first lockdown, and being praised by the Duchess of Cornwall.  At a time when many adults seem more interested in sniping and points-scoring than in standing together and supporting others, it’s wonderful that a young lad’s done something like this.

I bought it as a way of making a donation to a good cause, and also recognising the efforts of a local boy, but I did really enjoy reading it.  It’s a short picture book aimed at young kids, which isn’t the sort of thing I usually read these days 🙂 , but it’s very sweet.  It’s a story about a little boy who’s sad that Christmas seems to have been cancelled by the virus and the necessary restrictions, but realises that, yes, it’s possible for one ordinary person to do something to bring about good in their community, and organises a drive-through (yes, hooray, spelt “drive-through” rather than “drive-thru”!) parade.  Everyone who takes part drives through the town, and leaves presents outside other people’s homes, and there are lots of big smiles and everyone’s happy 🙂 .

This is a horrible time, but there are heartwarming stories out there, and both the story in the book and the story of the book are amongst them.  On a difficult day, after seeing the very distressing pictures of the damage done to the US Capitol building, this made me smile.

 

Fictional characters and the coronavirus

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This is meant as gallows humour, OK.  If you are one of the people who thinks no-one should be joking, please don’t have a go at me – I’ve got an anxiety disorder and am permanently convinced everything I say or do offends people anyway!  But I was reading a ridiculously pompous “critique” of Little Women the other day – Jo having her hair cut symbolises castration, seriously?! – and I started thinking that Beth March would never have got scarlet fever if she’d practised social distancing with the Hummels.  Then I started thinking that, if Helen Carr were around now, she’d be writing some sick-making poem about “The School of Self-Isolation”.  And what about other fictional characters?  A few thoughts …

1.  Adrian Mole would chronicle it all carefully, and constantly be convinced that he’d got the virus when he hadn’t.

2.  Anne Shirley would think up dramatic-sounding names for everything.  “Covid-19” is really pretty naff compared to “the Black Death”.  “The sweating sickness” is at least descriptive, and “the plague” sounds very Biblical.  “Covid-19” sounds like a robot off an ’80s children’s TV programme.

3. Bertha Rochester wouldn’t notice any difference – she’d been locked on the upper floor for years, and never gathered in groups of more than two people.

4. Beth March would be so keen to help struggling neighbours that she wouldn’t observe social distancing and would end up being ill herself 😦 .

5. Gwendoline Mary Lacey would insist that she should be allowed into the supermarket during the times reserved for vulnerable people, due to having a “weak heart”.

6. Heidi wouldn’t need to think about panic-buying food, because she’d stockpiled all those white buns, but she might end up being fined for breaking the curfew due to sleepwalking.

7.  Helen Carr would write a vomit-inducing poem called “The School of Self-Isolation”, about how it was bringing you closer to the angels.

8. Joey Bettany would catch the virus from standing by an open door whilst someone passed within six feet of her, and would be terribly ill but would recover after being serenaded with “The Red Sarafan”.

9. Laura Ingalls (OK, not actually fictional, but never mind) would say that the virus was transmitted by eating watermelons.  I love Laura’s books to bits, but where on earth did the watermelon thing come from?!

10. Scarlett O’Hara would cut up the curtains to use as toilet paper.  Bobbie and Phyllis from The Railway Children would do the same with their petticoats.

Gallows humour, OK?  Gallows humour!!

Stay safe and well, everyone xxx.  And I apologise if I annoy people by over-posting, but just ignore me if so – I can’t really work much from home as I need access to files and other things, so I’ll need to write to keep my brain active!

Ten book characters who’d be good in this time of crisis

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I’ve said “book” rather than “fictional” because I think I could do with having Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland around, to go out for supplies if the Toilet Paper Hoarders (an issue not actually mentioned by Laura Ingalls Wilder, come to think of it) strip all the local shops’ shelves bare.  On a more serious note, I’ve just had a message from my favourite café, urging people to buy, if possible, from small local businesses which are really going to struggle to weather this situation.  If there’s an equivalent of the De Smet store nearby, and it isn’t out of barrels of wheat or Ma’s sewing ribbons or whatever, that sounds like a very good suggestion.  So, who would be the best book characters to have around?

1a and 1b – Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland, from The Long Winter.  They heroically went out in the heavy snow and ice, and made a 24 mile round trip to bring back supplies and save the whole town of De Smet from starvation.  No mention of hand sanitiser or toilet roll, admittedly, but still.

2 – Jane Eyre, from (to state the obvious) Jane Eyre.  Jane lived through the typhus epidemic at Lowood School.  She’s been there and done that.  OK, she left her stuff on a coach, but no-one’s perfect.

3 – Melanie Wilkes from Gone With The Wind.  One of the genuinely inspiring things about Gone With The Wind is the way that all the petted Southern ladies go to work in the hospital, in horrible conditions.  Scarlett hates it, but Melanie throws herself into even the most unpleasant of work.  She’s also practical – she accepts donations from the local brothel, because the hospital needs it, when everyone else gets all holier-than-thou over it.  Melanie is clearly a gal to have by your side in difficult times.

4. Karen from the Chalet School books.  Whilst Matron Besley is getting hysterical over a thunderstorm, Karen calmly marshals all the domestic staff to make sandwiches and hot drinks for everyone.  And she’d be able to make something nice out of whatever food you’d got left in stock.  She managed to feed everyone during the “Famine” in the early Swiss years, even when Miss Annersley sent some of her flour over to the Maynards.  Just a shame that she specialises in coffee rather than tea, but, as with Jane, no-one’s perfect.

5. Madge Russell from the Chalet School books.  Madge’s words about being brave look like they’re going to be sorely needed over the next few weeks, and probably months.

6. Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey.  Being quarantined with Mr Darcy sounds rather nice, but he’d probably do your head in after a few days of being together 24/7 with no-one else around.  Henry Tilney, on the other hand, would make you laugh and keep your spirits up.

7. Charlotte, Duchess of Southport from the Morland Dynasty books, who sets up her own hospital.  OK, she was well able to afford it, but not everyone was so philanthropic and so concerned for other people’s well-being.  If you can help in any way, please do so.

8. Tatiana Metanova from The Bronze Horseman, who survives the Siege of Leningrad, works as a wartime nurse, donates her own blood to save her husband’s life, drives to the Finnish border despite being shot, and persuades the US authorities to let her into America.  As you do.  She copes with any sort of crisis!

9. Katy Carr from the What Katy Did books.  For a start, she’d tidy everything up if you didn’t feel up to doing it, as she did for Miss Jane. She’d look after the kids if the schools were closed.   And she wouldn’t mind her holiday plans falling through, seeing as she seems to hate everywhere she visits anyway.  When you got all upset over your holiday of a lifetime being kyboshed, she’d just tell you that you didn’t really want to go there anyway, because the weather was horrible and so was the food.

10. Gilbert Blythe, from the Anne of Green Gables books.  Well, the list has to include a doctor, and it may as well be one who can double as a romantic hero.  I would obviously prefer Guy Charlton from the Lorna Hill books, but I’m not sure people’d really want to be treated by a vet.

If anyone’s reading this, hope that you and yours are OK in these difficult times, and, if there are any book characters you’d particularly like to have around at the moment, please share ideas!!