Celebrating one's birthday is important. It marks the day, month and time you entered this world, and birthdays usually offer clear markers in life.
By markers in life I mean, in the UK, when you turn 17 years old, you can apply for a drivers license, at 18, you are legally able to go into a pub and order your tipple. Turning 21 is also another mile stone, and many celebrate with a party, family members give presents (various), and I remember in my younger years, seeing 'keys' that can be bought with the numbers of 18 and 21 - as a notion of here's the 'key to your life.' Such a gift represents and signifies the transition into adulthood. Sometimes a key is given when a person or couple buy their first house, it can mean wealth, happiness or even the key to one's heart.
My 21st birthday comprised of a personalised number plate. At the time, I didn't drive, I'd attempted and given up for other personal reasons, but none the less, I was gifted with a personalised plate. At this time, I was at University, my 2nd year and it landed on a Wednesday. Wednesdays at my alma mater were sports (something I did not partake in), but after all of the clubs had finished running around on fields or in sports halls, everyone piled into the Student's Union (SU) bar, and then onto THE nightclub in town. This particular nightclub was known as Liquid.
My birthday, on a Wednesday meant friends from my course and housemates piled into the SU bar. We were lucky, karaoke was the order of the evening, and tonight was a special night, it was my 21st Birthday. Me and my friends - some of whom I still stay in touch with, and after selecting a suitable Ballard, we threw ourselves up onto the stage like penguins rising from the ocean. The drinks were flowing - and too freely, there was laughter, mickey taking, stories been told. We were an intergenerational group of musketeers, comprising of people between 20 and early 50s.
Once our lungs were exhausted, we skipped down into the town, to Liquid. For some, this was a new experience, of venturing into the club on a student night. For other's it was a typical Wednesday night. Shapes were been thrown out, drinks bought, and smiles all round. I ventured on to campus the following day, to see who had survived the night before. There weren't many. One of my friends - who no longer is with us, had come onto campus, and was drinking water, while contemplating a form of a cooked breakfast. The oldest of the group, stated very clearly that he would not be coming out with us again... Only days later did this information reach me, as he had problems making it up the stairs to bed that night, and rumour had it, he slept on the staircase. Man down.
For many, birthdays are a time where the lucky person organises a night out, a dinner, a take out, an activity or even a little getaway. COVID-19 has put pay to such celebrations. For some people, they will have family in their individual ecosystem who will be there to celebrate such an occassion. However, for others this won't necessarily be the case.
Today is no different. It's a friends birthday and we had arranged to hangout, for him to come over, I'd have been cooking, and we would have been catching up with each other's busy schedules. But once again COVID-19 is that unwelcome visitor. I suspect my friend won't be spending his birthday entirely on his own, he has recently moved into a shared house, and at least there are several other people in the house. However, my friend is a social animal. He loves nothing more than going out, throwing some shapes out, and maybe even having a cheeky snog at the end of the night.
For people like my friend, COVID-19 has landed in a time when he should be celebrating his birthday. Facetime will allows us to chat and for me to wish him 'Happy Birthday'. Although Facebook reminds users of birthdays. It can also facilitate the obligatory birthday greetings and provides users the opportunity to let that person know that you're thinking of them, and to send well wishes.
Happy Birthday my friend - we'll celebrate on the other side
I was fortunate that just over a week again, I welcomed my Chicken for 48 hours, to hangout, cook, go to Olney, natter and my Chicken even organised my fridge freezer.
Over the last 10 years or so, I've not necessarily been great at making sure that cards for birthdays mother's day or father's day reach my parents on time. Although I do appreciate Moonpig who have, I have to admit have come to my rescue from time to time. What I have always ensured each year, whether I'm in the UK, Germany or Canada is to call them, to wish them Happy Birthday, Happy Mother's Day, or Father's Day.
Now, their wedding anniversary is 2-days before my Chickens' birthday, and over the last several years, I've taken to emailing them both (in the same email), heureux anniversaire de mariage or as the Germans would say 'Alles Gute zum Hochzeitstag;' - and note to them, that they both could have done time for murder (twice over) and have been out.
They kindly acknowledge my greetings and sign their emails off lol. We're not a lovey dovey family, and our emotions are somewhere hidden below the surface.
However, Mothering Sunday 2020 is different. When my Chicken was the kettle had barely finished boiling and the first cup of tea of the weekend had been drank, before I was proudly, like a peacock, pointing to the card on my coffee table - or should I say wooden box. My Chicken laughed, as I asked - aren't you proud of me lol.
Chicken wanted to open the card there and then, but I suggested to Chicken that she wait until Mothering Sunday.
Mothering Sunday is going to be difficult for many people, be-it those who are remembering their respective mother's who sadly are no longer here, or those who are separated during this national and international pandemic. For many reservations will have been booked weeks and months in advance, weekend plans of holidays, and additional activities such as going to a National Trust site. What is for sure, this is no normal/regular Mothering Sunday.
My Chicken messaged me on Facebook earlier today, to ask how I was, and to inform me that she was going to open the Card because she couldn't wait any longer. I'm pleased just 8 days ago I was able to hug and kiss my Chicken goodbye as she tootled off across the city to catch the bus back North. Many citizens will not have had the opportunity to hug their mum over the last week or so, and will not be able to do so today. Whilst telephones, videocalls, What's App, Facetime and Skype can afford face-to-face and/or verbal communication, there's nothing nicer than been able to physical touch and hold a loved one.
For some people, they may have decided to set up a virtual meeting with loved ones, to have a scone (home made of course), a cuppa or even a glass of Sekt; we're very fortunate that in today's society, many of us have the means to access and use digital technologies. Such technologies and infrastructure affords us to have these virtual meetings with loved one's on such an important day of the calendar.
Today me and Chicken will be talking, and I'll be wishing her Happy Mother's Day!
Happy Mother's Day Chicken
In my earlier post, I'd noted that the WI coffee club would no longer be meeting.
Well as I was sitting on the sofa this afternoon, turning the pages of the Guardian, reading intently a call came through from a friend in Cologne. As we're exchanging our feelings, thoughts and inpending activities such as catching up on reading, cooking, playing videogames, and knitting, I receive a message an SMS from one of the WI ladies, one of the originals letting me know that Coffee club was going virtual at 2pm.
How excited was I to receive this message. Now we're all fairly sensible ladies within the Coffee club, and I figured that no one would have ventured out, ignoring the directive to not conduct any unnecessary socialising.
However, I had Cologne calling - and these calls usually last some time lol.
As we said our goodbyes, my friend in Cologne states to me, that she knows that I am on my own, and that we should aim to chat more frequently, maybe every couple of days. I'm down for that, we can exchange information on how we're getting on with self-isolation, what storms we've been cooking up in our kitchens, what books we've started. Although we're on a 1-hour time difference, we are in the same boat. We're all self-isolating and in such circumstances when our daily routine has been interrupted not only for ourselves but that of each other, checking in on each other is important.
So back to Coffee club.
I went to the WI lady contact details in my What's App, to let her know that I'm free and that I would like to join the What's App call. This resulted in me cutting off the virtual Coffee club, but not to worry my fellow Coffee seekers, I was in the call quicker than a rat up a drain pipe. There were 4 of us on this call - and it was nice to see the other ladies. We continued chatting for another 30-40 minutes and we said our goodbyes.
Now we're all of varying ages, I'm unsure the exact age, however, what is great during this testing time, is how many of us have the digital devices to connect and maintain some kind of normality, with some adaptation.
Coffee club has adapted, and next Saturday we'll be meeting again - virtually of course!
Over the last handful of weeks, I've been attending a coffee meetup in the local Costa coffee shop here in Stony Stratford.
We usually meet from around 12.30pm onwards for an hour or so. When I say 'we' I'm referring to some ladies who I've met recently via the Stony Nightingales Women's Institute. I've been aware of this particular WI since 2015, when I attended a couple of times, before returning to the North because my fixed term contract had ended.
When I moved into Stony Stratford in June last year, it was always on my 'to do' list to get the membership paid and have some social connection once a month. I got around to it in January 2020, and went to my first meeting the following month. Having been warmly welcomed by some of the ladies, fielding questions relating to specifics such as: Where do I live?, How did I know about the WI? I was answering with ease, a little anticipation, and noting how I had attended several meetings with my mother (she's currently the President of Vino & Stitch in Methley, West Yorkshire) back in 2016, while being unemployed. I noted in these conversations during the February meting, that I do not have much of a social circle nor any family because I'm not from around here and thus; I figured joining the WI would be a great way to start improving and widening my social circle.The ladies seemed thrilled, and enthusiastically informed me of a regular coffee meet up every Saturday morning.
Two days later, guess where I headed off to, after doing my Saturday morning ritual of grocery shopping. Now this ritual consists of buying my weekly veg from the guys who travel down from Leicester, then onto the next stall - cheese, which each week, I treat myself to a fine selection of hard, soft and blue - to keep my protein levels up (food allergies). Then I take off back down the high street to the independent bakery - Woodstocks to pick up fresh ciabatta; then I head back home, usually to start unpacking, & commence operation roasted vegetables.
This particular Saturday was no different, operation vegetables was well and truly underway and as the stroke of 12.30 hit, in the oven they went. I trotted off down the street, now Costa is at the end of the street where I live, and as I waited patiently outside to recognise the ladies, they started to appear, and seemed thrilled that I had decided to accept their offering of coffee. We went inside, and found a spot on some comfy chairs. I joined what seemed to be the never ending queue for something hot and tasteful - a green tea was ordered and I took my position, poised for a catch up with whoever decided to turn up for this Saturday ritual.
As ladies arrived, one by one, taking their coats off, and joining the queue I was fielding questions, while listening tentatively to other discussions. Regardless of age, we had something in common, we were women, some are single, others are not, we're members of the WI, who enjoy a good natter.
I have been feeling isolated over the last several months and years living in a place that I holds no historic value to me; and over the last 3-4 weeks, I've thoroughly enjoyed a natter, laughter, and all of us sharing information with each other, be-it a small trip to Germany, books that we're reading or generally learning more about each other. What this Saturday ritual has allowed me to do is reduce my loneliness and isolation, by meeting up with the ladies, once a week.
Given the directive that has come out and continues to be reinforced about not conducting unnecessary social engagement, and to practice social distancing - when we do need to venture out for essentials, it is highly unlikely that I will be attending the Saturday morning coffee ritual for the foreseeable future. Not only for my own health, but that of others.
In the lyrics of Vera Lynn who celebrated her 103 birthday yesterday (20th March, 2020):
We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
'Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say hello
To the folks that I know
Tell them I won't be long
They'll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song
We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day
We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
'Til the blue skies
Drive the dark…
Culture is a fascinating element of our lives and defines many of us. On the other hand, experiencing different cultures to that of what we grew up with, can enrich our perspectives, and change our behaviours, outlook and opinions.
For the last couple of weeks the world has become gridlocked in a tsunami of fear, uncertainty and in some circumstances sadness due to the death of loved ones.
Communities have started to rally the residents together, and in some instances they have become more connected through digital channels and devices (c.f. Marston et al., 2020). We don't know when COVID-19, will strike, in some communities, towns and cities, COVID-19 has already arrived, very much like an unwelcome guest at a dinner party, who arrives, half-cut, holding a half empty bottle of Rioja.
Social media channels are blowing up, users are sharing a myriad of information, advice and tips.
Last night, I saw one video on Twitter posted by Dr Ben Ackerman - who successfully defended his PhD on the 9th March. Dr Ackerman it would seem is unable to attend his graduation ceremony and instead improvised his own version. Personally, I have to say having gone through such a ceremony myself, sharing the stage with 9 others in 2010, which kinda took the glow and sparkle out of it all for me. However, Dr Ackerman captured how important it is to him, coupled with an appropriate soundtrack, stage (his hall way/kitchen was the ceremonial stage) and commentary. In addition to us all congratulating Dr Ackerman on his achievement (via Twitter), he inadvertently demonstrates how such ceremonies and celebrations are going to be lost for many people.
But we are been told to stay at home, to not conduct any unnecessary social activities like going to the pub - such a popular outing and whether positive or negatively forms part of British culture part.
What we have seen in the last several days is the creation of community groups in a bid to offer advice, assistance and support to all residents - young and old. We know this unwelcome visitor is lurking and will pounce soon enough. Been supportive to neighbours (regardless of whether you know them or not), residents, and loved ones is key and necessary. We have heard of the 'Blitz Spirit' and for some in our society, they will remember this level of community spirit and stoicism.
Again on Twitter last night I saw a post that suggested citizens could place different coloured pieces of paper in their front window. A piece of green paper signified all is well, while red represented the unwelcome visitor had arrived, and the resident(s) of a house may need additional assistance such as an ambulance or a food delivery. In UK and European societies, these colours are indoctrinated into us from an early age. Be-it learning to cross the road, or learning to drive (e.g. traffic lights). However from a North American perspective and their culture the meaning is reversed. Marston and van Hoof (2019) discuss these nuanced differences in reference to fire exits placed within buildings. Additionally, in Eastern society red denotes luck as opposed to danger - in Western society. The field of semiotics is fascinating and offers an insight into how signs/symbols, icons and indices are formed coupled with their respective meanings.
Back to pieces of coloured paper in windows. My initial gut instinct was positive. However such a method is problematic, because it highlights those respective individuals are vulnerable, and could lead to criminal activity. A another example of highlighting to neighbours and communities is the ability to place a poster in one's front window (something I saw in a group), stating that the person in the house has a weak immune system and are susceptible to this unwelcome visitor, and deliveries should be left on the door step and not to expect the door to be answered - how terribly unBritish. However, there are many quirks within English culture, which includes forming an orderly queue and certainly no queue jumping and inviting yourself over amongst others.
In addition to my gut instinct going into over drive, I was struck by how these forms of signalling the presence of COVID-19 in the front window, had teleported me back to the 20th century.
Initially starting in WW2 the Jewish community were directed and forced to place the star of David on their clothes, and property, and then in the 1960s where some lodgings, BnB's and similar would have placed posters/notes in their windows stating 'No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish.'
I get it!
I understand that our daily routine and activities have practically come to a standstill, and we're hearing hour-by-hour news updates, information and new directives. I know these two examples of signifying how COVID-19 has invited itself into one's residence & most certainly didn't bring a half empty bottle of Rioja. I cannot help but feel this type of approach to placing posters/coloured pieces of paper in windows, resonates from periods of history where identity, culture and respecting each other for who they are was not tolerated.
Thankfully we live in a different decade and century.
This is the 21st Century, where tolerance has improved. We certainly do not see such signs and symbolism presented in various properties, establishments and businesses. To be honest, I don't have the answer to this. As a person who lives on their own, I would like to notify my neighbours and passers-by that COVID-19 had rocked up and I may need assistance by having an ambulance called for, or to have my groceries left on the door step. I'd also like to think that my neighbours may be concerned for my welfare.
I am tech savvy, I am a member of a community group, on social media, and swapped numbers with neighbours. The jury is still out as to whether I would hang anything up in my front window - I honestly don't know. Maybe citizens will find alternative methods of notifying one another that COVID-19 is visiting, apart from verbal and digital forms of communication...
This blog post was published on the 18th March, 2020
#COVID19 is a worldwide pandemic and crises for all governments and citizens. Technology will and is playing an important role within our respective communities to maintain work, communication, sharing information and more importantly reduce isolation and loneliness for all!
An extended blog piece is available detailing how technology can and cannot help older people stay connect during the #COVID19 outbreak.
Marston, H.R., Musselwhite, C., & Hadley, R.A. (2020). COVID-19 vs Social Isolation: the Impact Technology can have on Communities, Social Connections and Citizens. Ageing Issues, The British Society of Gerontology.
toIt’s two days after St Patricks day, many would still be nursing a hangover, and in some cases, some may still be washing green paint off their bodies.
But 2020 is different.
Instead social media outlets and newspapers are wick with rumours.
As I was scrolling through my Facebook last night, I noticed a friends’ post (we shall call them Teddy) – stating a lock down was on its ways and wishing everyone good luck. As I started to read all of the additional comments to this post, many were mooting their scepticism about this fresh information. However, Teddys’ friend (aka Bertie) is in the military.
Now I’m assuming he is currently on standby somewhere. Citizens like Bertie and their colleagues do a fabulous job – they sign on to the dotted line to serve Queen and country; and over the last 20-30 years we have experienced many news outlets reporting of military action overseas, but younger generations are less likely to be familiar military efforts at home. However, the same news outlets that report on international war zones, have had a busy 2020 so far. Starting with the floods across the UK, the military were called in to help those citizens in West Yorkshire, placing sandbags against properties, and rescuing citizens and the most vulnerable from properties that were now entrenched with water.
The thread of scepticism continued, folk asking where this information came from, another stating this cannot be so, because schools are still open. Since 2006 many citizens have enjoyed the positives of Facebook and similar social media platforms because we can share information usually comprising of holiday photos and the obligatory ‘drinks’ photo at the airport. However social media has at times a tendency to share what some would say fake news or becomes wick with rumours.
I opened up an online UK newspaper, one that does not require a subscription and the first post/headline stated how London would be given 12 hours before a lock down.
Am I surprised that there is a pending lock down, starting in London and likely to wash across the UK with some ease – no not all. Reading the news articles and seeing the photos of public transportation social distancing is lost on some. However, I'm also curious as to why some are still travelling for work; with the exception of those who do need to go into work - the 'key workers'. We’ve already witnessed panic buying in our grocery stores, and the images that illustrate how our older adults and most vulnerable are unable to pick up items on their shopping list.
What we need to keep doing is to ensure life is and can go on as normal or as best as possible. Adhering to the information/guidance that is been circulated via our respective governments, and when we do have to go out, we respect social distancing, and wash our hands regularly.
Although I personally feel we’re actors (without RADA training) in some kind of apocalypse movie – and a bad one at that. I am not without my own concerns, been a 39- year old ex-smoker, with multiple food allergies, vegetables are a key part of my daily meals.
As Del Boy would say "Don't worry, Rodney. This time next year, we'll be millionaires!" - well citizens, this time next week we are going to be locked down.