This time next summer…

After seeing an article in The Guardian called A letter to my post-lockdown self, my friend Vicky was inspired to gather friends together to write letters to our future selves. Below is a version of what I submitted to her a week later. All the submissions given to the project entitled This Time Next Summer can be found on facebook.

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They say you shouldn’t look back.

But I know I will, and I believe I should.

For looking back I will remember the good, the bad and the grief. The missed opportunities. The choices and the consequences.

2020 made us all take stock.

Some friendships were cemented and others broken. And I discovered who is really there when the going gets tough and who is there in name only. Friendships were a challenge with physical distance and emotional exhaustion of everyday life tasks having to be carefully planned, thought out, prepared and solved.

As the regular routines of busy social schedule were pared down and we were forced indoors, our phones came out, and screen time soared. It was harder to ignore the racism and injustice. As we watched the faces of those doctors and nurses memorialised as COVID-19 took their lives, there was a clear trend of melanin. The ‘M’ in BAME was not the minority in the reporting of the frontline workers who were dying from this.

Why was that?

We watched a young man being hunted down while out jogging. And then we watched as a woman didn’t like being asked to follow the rules of a nature reserve area respond by weaponising her white skin and femininity against a Black man. We watched once again as police killed a person outnumbered begging for breath and his dead mother.

And a lot of us said “No more.”

And others said “But we aren’t like that”

People whose voices had been undervalued and suppressed finally got heard. Some of the more privileged kept quiet and took it in, realising that they had much to unlearn.

Other privileged people felt the threat of their power they and their ancestors had held for centuries being usurped.

For some this meant simply staying silent.

For others this meant showing their true colours.

I realised that some friends weren’t the people I thought they were.

Statues long ago erected as messages of power to the oppressed were unveiled for what they truly were. Some were pulled down and recoloured with messages of truth. People took to the streets and parks in solidarity. For some it was a message they had been trying to get across for decades. For others it was an awakening to looking at the single story they been told over and over until it was steeped in their consciousness to accept without question.

And people to to the streets ready for violence, crying that their platform was being taken away.

And we saw. We saw how the authorities of the land treated those who called for justice vs those who cried it was their birthright for being born with white skin.

I will remember those that listened. And I will remember those who did not.

I will remember not only my dying, but my friends’ dying. I had always assumed there would be another time, and now I know that’s not always true. You simply do not know when life could change forever.

The coffee with a friend you put off, the cinema trip you postponed or that thing you always planned to do ‘at some point’ – they have a different priority level on this side of the coin.

I was one of the lucky ones. I have come out of the other side.

But there are empty spaces that can never be refilled. Milestones dropped that we cannot go back in time to do. I will not easily forget the tears of grief, the frustration of separation and the knowledge that it can’t be brought together again.

I will hug my friends again.

The ones who are still here, at least.

I will enjoy the sound of waves crashing onto the shore, the feel of sand blowing into my face, the smell of salt in the air and the coolness of the water lapping around my feet.

I will feel the bounce of the forest floor, hear the swishing of the wind breezing through trees, the scent of mosses and leaves and listen to the birds calling to one another.

I will fight for the arts to be re-birthed again through the creation of music, film and the education of comedy to make us more self aware.

But most of all I will remember.

Remember a time when leaders didn’t pay attention to science. When children showed resilience and patience with the grown ups who didn’t know what to do. I will remember the tears and the gratitude.

And hope with all my heart that we don’t forget all we learned.

What I read in lockdown…

Book cover of The Salt Path

The Salt Path by Raynor Wynn – A week before lockdown I went into town to get my internet data allowance increased and found myself walking past Waterstones. Sensing that it could be a while before I’d be able to go to a library or buy books, I went in and bought 2 books both memoirs that were nature related. The Salt Path is an incredible story of how Raynor and her husband dealt with grief of losing their home and livelihood, getting news of a terminal illness by deciding to just start walking the South West Coastal Path. It was an eye opening story that made me angry, long for the sights of Dorset and Cornwall that bring me comfort and wish to sit around an open campfire with Raynor to just listen and chat. It felt like I was doing this journey with a kindred spirit.

A copy of a poetry booklet by Vicky Allen

Broken things and other tales by Vicky Allen – At the beginning of lockdown, my beautiful friend Vicky had her very first poetry pamphlet published. She has had poems published as part of collections and in other publications before, but this was the first book of poems that was hers and hers alone. I’ve been lucky enough to be one of her friends that she has shared her art with, and when she first stepped out into sharing her poems publicly. I’ve even been on walks where conversations and things we’ve spotted have become inspiration for the words she has written. Perhaps it’s those memories that made reading these poems over and over make it feel like a healing balm during the days where everything felt overwhelming. But honestly? If you love nature, the sea, the beach and have ever experienced grief of losing someone you love – these poems are for you.

Paperback copy of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – This is by far one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Beautifully and poignantly written, Yaa has intricately and cleverly told a diverse range of stories which begin with two sisters whose lives are impacted by colonialisation but in entirely different ways. As one sister is betrothed to a slave trader, the other sold into slavery and sent across the Atlantic we follow the lives of their descendants through history to the present day. If you’ve been wanting to learn about the history that isn’t taught in schools – this fictional tale based in real life history is a great place to start. An impactful and enriching read that I recommend to everyone.

book cover of This Is Going to Hurt with image of a doctor's labcoat hanging on a peg.

This Is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay – When I was studying Health Sciences, most of my friends were medical students. With only 8 or 9 of us in my year, we were outnumbered in the medical school library! They got me onto the music of The Amateur Transplants, and I saw Adam and his friend Suman perform numerous times at the Edinburgh Fringe. For a variety of reasons I avoided reading this book for a couple of years, but I ended up reading it not long after moving back to Aberdeen. I’m really glad I did. My interest had always been in maternity care, I’d had so many frustrations with the things I saw while on placement, the stories I would hear from midwives, medical students and parents. Reading Adam’s book reminded me of what led me into my degree and eventually my honours project. An important read for every MP, MSP, NHS Trust manager, medical school deans who have the power to change how we fund our healthcare system and medical school curriculums.

And to follow on from that may I also recommend the next book I read…

I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite Having been a long time follower of Candice on instagram, and so pleased to see her speaking up for Black women everywhere as well as being the founder of Make Motherhood Diverse, this book took me back to my last year of my Health Science degree. Candice’s story is important to hear, and more importantly to listen to and learn from. There are many moments where I felt intrigued, but also moments when I felt very uncomfortable while on placement at a maternity hospital. Reading about Candice’s experience as a first-time mother helped me recognise what had been causing those inner alarm bells to ring in those moments. It has made me regret not taking my Health Science degree further in a way that I hadn’t felt before. If my old supervisor is reading this…I know it’s been 14 years but I’m ready to seek that Masters and potential PhD route you were trying to encourage me down when I was about to graduate. I’m sorry for walking away. And to all the women that I’ve not spoken up for enough – I hope you’ll forgive me. I want you to know I see you, I hear you, and most importantly…I believe you.

If you are a midwife, doctor, health visitor, teacher – I urge you to read this book.

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks – I haven’t finished this book yet. This collection of short stories, each unique in its style and format, has been a lovely book to dip in and out of on days where I just needed to escape and read something that didn’t feel so heavy. I’ve really enjoyed it – some of the stories more than others. I really sense the influence that Tom’s own life, his acting work and no doubt the stories he has heard while preparing for roles have made their way into his thoughts as he’s put pen to paper. Each story is set in a different era, with diverse characters and some stories don’t have a neat ending (which I’ll admit, I find a little frustrating sometimes because I want to find out what happens next). If you are looking for a lighthearted read that you pick up in snatched up moments – this is a good choice of book for you.

30 day blog challenge: Rainbow

A month ago, I went to church in Aberdeen and a woman prayed over me. I knew some decisions needed to be made.

I had no idea that COVID-19 would make those decisions for me.

I went to London for work. I went to stay at my Mum’s in Edinburgh. I travelled down to Berkshire. I travelled down to London again. I walked 30 miles. We travelled back to Berkshire. I drove back to Edinburgh. I sensed the world was about to change, and I really felt the distance the further I drove. Friends were too busy to catch up or see me while I was in Edinburgh. My friends abroad were starting to go on lockdown or following strict social distancing guidelines. My friends who are still in the NHS were telling me what they were seeing. Friends with long term health issues were making the decision to self isolate rather than waiting for the government to catch up to the reality that was coming.

I drove back to Aberdeen.

The day before, I had gone onto the World Health Organisation website.

I had downloaded and read the reports.

I had looked at the graphs and the data.

Epidemiology was always what I excelled at when I was studying Public Health. So I could see what needed to be done. I knew what the implications would be.

Tears spilled down as I drove over the Queensferry Crossing as thoughts whirred through my brain.

My job is at risk.

How am I going to do my job when events inevitably get cancelled?

I may not be able to see friends for months.

The government’s slow reaction is going to put my friends lives at risk.

What am I going to do about the mortgage?

What if I can’t remortgage now that I won’t be able to sell the flat this summer?

Maybe I should rent out the flat and use the money to rent a place closer to friends.

When will I see everyone again?

I prayed to God a simple thought – I don’t know what to do.

What followed was sense that I needed to be in Aberdeen for now.

But God I don’t really want to be in Aberdeen. It’s 127 more miles away from Berkshire, from East Lothian, from Newcastle, from Manchester, from Hampshire, from the Midlands, from London. What about all the costs I’m going to have now? All the things that could go wrong?

And then I saw a rainbow appear over the Forth.

Another over Dunfermline.

Another over Kinross.

I saw rainbow.

After rainbow.

After rainbow.

One would disappear out of sight as the road meandered away from it’s view, only for another to appear on a different horizon.

There were so many during that drive that by the time I got to Dundee I’d lost count after 10 of them.

Everything will work out in the end.

I am with you.

And so since getting back, I’ve worked on the assumption that this is it. I’m hear until next year. I likely won’t be going out much until August unless a treatment or vaccine is found first.

But this isn’t the end of the world.

It might suck.

But we will come through.

30 day blog challenge: Transient

I can’t remember who suggested this word as one of my ‘prompts’ for this challenge, but it’s an important word.

Transient = lasting only for a short time; impermanent.

Though it likely doesn’t feel like it now, this period we are in as a world is transient.

I won’t lie and say that I didn’t have a moment where I felt anxious, fearful or overwhelmed when as my work day came to an end it the latest variation of the ‘guidelines’ were announced.

After a moment of ‘holy crap how am I going to cope with this’ followed by the realisation that I was by no means alone, I remembered the community I found through blogging during a period of my life where my world turned upside down.

Though the majority of my friends don’t blog anymore (social media totally killed the blogging world), there are a great many friendships that were made in the late noughties from us all having conversations in the comments of one another’s posts, folllowing one another’s lives and having ‘blog parties’ where we would either all take part in writing with the same theme on the same day each week, or guest post on each other’s blogs.

I know the power of connection online can be a very real when done with genuine heart and authenticity.

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And so tonight, 4 people from different parts of the UK joined together on zoom and introduced themselves to one another. We expressed how we were feeling. We expressed some of our worries. We talked about challenges we were facing. We listened to one another. We giggled. Some drank tea. We set ourselves some goals for the coming 7 days to do in our time in isolation.

I hope it made others feel a little more hopeful.

I felt encouraged.

I nicknamed it ‘Koala Tree Tuesdays’, and if you’d like to join a 40 minute zoom chat at 8 pm (British time) next Tuesday, do let me know in the comments. Or by messaging me via instagram or twitter.

My goal this week is to finish reading one of many books I’ve started, and to attempt the to build the tall bookcase I got in the ikea delivery last week.

30 day blog challenge: Community

In the UK it got announced this evening that we are now implementing the WHO guideline that people in households with (new) coughs and fevers have to be isolated for 14 days and all ‘non essential meetings’ are cancelled. No going to pubs, theatres or cinemas. People in at-risk groups been told they have to stay in for 3 months.

So how to stay sane and keep connected?

How to support one another in ways that may not seem as obvious?

Stay connected

I hope that there’s going to be an abundance of live events. YouTube, Instagram and facebook all do this, and it can be great!

Zoom, Skype and Google hangouts are platforms to use for free to have a group catch up with friends and family near and far.

Telephone friends and family who do not have internet.

Post letters and cards to friends and family (but obviously wash your hands before).

Things to do

My friend Laura (Faithfully Fit) is posting YouTube videos of a simple at home workouts you can do. Check them out here.

I know my friends love Yoga by Adrienne.

Here is a helpful list of lots of educational resources that are free for kids and families if your kids are having to stay home from school. My friend Caroline who home educates her 4 kids has also blogged some top tips for parents who suddenly find themselves homeschooling.

Girlguiding are currently trying to come up with ways to help girls stay connected and guiding while we can’t meet in person. I’m sure Scouts will do the same.

Duolingo is a great free app for learning languages.

Listen to live radio shows you love.

If you are able – go outside for a walk (but do keep your distance from people – 6ft at all times recommended).

Read. Why not order a book and with your friends read it together with a what’s app chat about how you are enjoying (or not enjoying) it?

Teach yourself how to knit, play ukulele, paint, draw, doodle.

Create a schedule for yourself.

How we can support one another

Popping a note through door of neighbours to give a link to a facebook group or similar (or perhaps if elderly giving a phone number) so people can call on someone to pick up something from supermarket or pharmacy if they have to self isolate for 14 days is obvious.

But also the fact is that those not working for public sector or larger businesses where things can be done with social distancing are going to be affected by this.

Retail workers are mostly all on 4 hour contracts – so though most of them work much more than this, they’ll only be allowed 4 hours a week statutory sick pay. Many in the catering industry are on zero hour contracts. Charities rely hugely on fundraising events from bake sales, to marathons. Hairdressers, beauty therapists, physios, osteopaths. Airline staff, hotel staff, cinema staff, florists, restaurant and cafe owners, writers, artists, sound techs, musicians, actors…the list could go on and on. Because the government have not ‘banned’ us, just said we shouldn’t, they have no protections for insurance coverage.

Sooo…. order books for delivery from your local bookshops. See if your restaurant will do deliveries without you having to open your door. Buy gift cards for the cinemas, restaurants, hairdressers, beauticians and all the rest if you can.

People in the Performing Arts industry – let us know how we can support you while you are unable to work.

Saving money from your commute you aren’t doing at the moment? Why not donate that to a charity or your friend’s fundraising page for that event they had being training for which is now postponed.

In Scotland, a facebook group has started to gather volunteers who can offer childcare to people who will have to continue going into work. Investigate what might be in your local area.

Got caught in the madness of panic buying and realise you don’t actually need all that formula, bleach, toilet roll and tinned food because the supermarkets are still open? Consider donating it to your local food bank who have been left short unable to give to people in desperate need of it.

But most of all – please isolate yourself for 14 days if you show any signs of COVID-19. A dry cough, shortness of breath, flu like symptoms, fever. Or any other infectious illness that could compromise someone’s immune system. I know mumps, scarlet fever and more are also doing the rounds just now!

Any more ideas or thoughts for how we can help one another through this?

Add them in the comments below.

 

30 Day Blog Challenge: Choices

One of the things that Miss Val has taught me is that life is full of choices. Sometimes they aren’t choices that we like. But we still have choices.

Right now, I have friends and family all around the globe who are being impacted in different ways by a certain virus that doesn’t have anything to do with beer (despite the name). I have a brother in law and a friend who are dealing with cancer. Friends that are transplant recipients. Friends with long term health conditions. A mother who is recovering from brain surgery. Friends who are frontline in the NHS.

For that reason, I don’t mind all the precautions that are happening right now.

Does that mean I like them?

No.

I’m 50-50 extravert/introvert. As a single person who works from home, with my nearest family member 127 miles away, I’m socially distanced from the rest of society for a good chunk of the week already. That extravert part of me craves those evenings where I get to chat to people at ballet class, writing group, Girlguiding activities and church.

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Though I don’t leave it to noon to start working and I don’t have pets this cartoon my friend sent me a while ago is pretty accurate!

I need them as much as the hours I’m hunkered down with my blankets and books for my sanity.

But will I moan that I have to be on lockdown because it sucks to be lonely?

No.

Because I’m glad that my friends get to be less scared of catching this darned virus that doesn’t have a treatment or vaccine yet. We hopefully get to live. We get to have an NHS that we can access when we need it.

And there are lots of things I get to choose to do within lockdown.

I get to read a book in the evenings.

I get to watch a DVD.

I get to sew badges on my camp blanket.

I get to write.

I get to bake some yummy cakes and crumbles.

I get to try some new recipes.

I get to chat to friends and family over phone.

I get to meet with my colleagues via video conference.

I get to be better at being kinder to the environment and less wasteful.

I get to take on the challenge of doing the job of events fundraising while no one can go to or host an event so that much needed services the charity I work for provides can continue at a time when they will be needed more than ever.

There’s always a choice.

And I choose to move forward with as much hope, cheerfulness and kindness that I can muster.

That being said, I’m wondering if it would be worth holding the occassional online meet up while others may be feeling a bit disconnected, anxious, lonely or just needing something to look forward to. I thought about having a community blog challenge, perhaps a weekly book/film club or something like that.

If you’d be interested, let me know in the comments or message me on twitter: @koalainscotland or instagram: @brunettekoala

 

What I read this winter…

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Last Christmas by various authors (curated by Greg Wise and Emma Thompson) – I started this read before Christmas but in the end didn’t finish it until after I arrived back in Aberdeen. lt is a lovely collection of writings about what Christmas means to people, their memories. Everyone has written with a very different style and purpose. It was heart warming and thought provoking.

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Five Feet Apart by Rachel Lippincott with Mikki Daughtry & Tobias Iaconis –  This is classified as a young adult novel. When I first started blogging, I ended up becoming friends with a few people who have Cystic Fibrosis. As a result, I often get YouTube recommendations from  CF vloggers many of whom had a lot to say when the trailer came out for this film. It arrived on Netflix, and after watching it I wanted to see what the book (which was created after the film script) was like. It gave a little bit more background to certain story points and characters. I really recommend watching the film if you haven’t already seen it.

If you are frustrated with COVID-19 – well, to be honest, it might give you empathy with those who have CF, and why the guidelines being taken for the rest of us are so important.

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What is a Girl Worth? by Rachael Denhollander – You’ll likely have heard me talk about Rachael before. Rachael was the first person to come forward publicly as one of the many athletes who had been subjected to sexual abuse from the medical coordinator and osteopath at USA Gymnastics. Trained in law, her knowledge helped ensure that he was held to account and Rachael has worked tirelessly to push for institutions to have proper safeguarding policies in place and followed. As a gymnastics fan it has been infuriating to see how the victims in this case and so many others (as there were a huge number of coaches also sexually abusing girls reported to USA Gymnastics but allowed to continue coaching), but I also was appalled (but sadly not surprised) to hear about how Rachael was treated by her church. Her book uncovers more about what happened there, and quite honestly it’s a cautionary tale that anyone in a church, sports organisation or any organisation where adults have influence over children and young people should read. And hopefully be moved to know that it’s everyone’s job to ensure the safety of others.

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – I am not a fan of the ‘classics’. I am not a fan of period drama. However, seeing the trailer for Greta Gerwig’s take on Little Women, I was for the first time interested. Like most I knew the basics of the story, I think I had a sort of abridged illustrated version of the book when I was a child and just thought it was a big yawn. However, seeing the film I wanted to go back and read the original. In UK the book is published as two separate books. I felt the film was pretty true to the story, and having read into the history of Louisa May Alcott, I  loved the way that’s been written into this latest film. It felt far more real and true to history. I only wish there had been more of the Laurences in the film. I would have loved to see how Laurie was protective of Beth and integral to her learning piano and his protectiveness of Amy when she had to go live with Aunt March.  Also in reading the book, I’m struck by how ‘old’ is not in fact old at all. It’s actually pretty darned young.

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The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – The sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, I put off reading this book for a while as it felt like the West has been slipping very much into this story being very, very real. In fact, the book though still quite harrowing, is far more hope giving. It was interesting to revisit familiar and new characters and have a different perspective on the ‘history’ of Gilead uncovered by the scholars of the future. I highly recommend it if you like The Handmaid’s Tale. However, if you are waiting to follow the series, you may wish to wait off reading the book in case it gives you some spoilers to how the TV show may pan out.

I know many of my friends around the world are now self-isolation or having to spend a lot more time at home than is usual due to a certain strain of Coronavirus.

Are there any books keeping you company in the meantime? Let me know in the comments!

Keep others safe.

Wash your hands.

And as Nurse Barb would say – ‘Six feet apart at all times’.

BK x

30 Day Blog Challenge: Failure

Yes, it is true.

I have failed.

I have failed at this blog challenge, because after driving all day, thinking about the huge amount of distance between me and some of my dearest friends…I just got sad.

I failed as I got caught up in work and being depressed.

I failed as I got consumed with trying to work out how to create home solo.

I failed when I had a bath and…yep, that sealant is coming away again.

I failed when I tried to put up a curtain rail.

I failed when I tried to open a tin of paint.

I failed when I painted walls and got way too much paint on the skirting boards.

I failed when I ordered furniture with no way of putting it together on my own.

I failed at some of my exams when I was at university.

I failed many times at being an adult – not realising how mortgages, student loans and so many other things work.

I have failed at being a good friend, good sister, good daughter so many times.

I am glad for grace.

Grace in the love of friends and family who come through to lend a hand.

Grace in the forgiveness when you fall short of expectations.

Grace in the eyes that don’t look to carefully at the little imperfections but see the attempt.

Grace in coming to visit your home without judging it.

Grace in generosity of others who share.

Grace in the acceptance of what you cheerfully give.

Grace in the learning of what is and isn’t for you.

Grace in being able to try again and do it better next time.

Grace in the waiting, the wishing and the hope.

Grace that failure is just finding a better way.

30 Day Blog Challenge: Abode

Abode.

A place of residence: a house or home.

I have been greatly unhappy with my home, never really having the skills or the resources to be able to make a place of shelter feel like my own home.

It often feels like as I’m about to make a step towards making somewhere home, another obstacle to prevent it happens.

In all honestly, what makes me feel at home is when I have a place where people feel welcome to come in. To stay. To meander to my kitchen knowing exactly where the mugs will be, the teaspoons…and knowing to check if I’ve thought to buy some milk for potential tea drinking guests.

It’s that place of peace.

Of sanctuary.

It helps for it to be warm.

Full of cushions and blankets.

You know if it’s my home tidiness does not matter.

So long as you put things back in the right place.

I’ve never had pictures to hang, and then I had pictures to hang but nowhere to hang them.

Is that what makes a home?

Or is it simply shelter?

A place where you can be found.

A place to lay down to rest.

Does it matter the colour of the walls, whether there is a sofa to sit on, plates to eat from or your own mug to drink from?

What do you think when you think  of the word ‘abode’?

30 day challenge: Story

Stories.

Stories have the power to malign and ‘other’.

Stories have the power to give a voice to the rarely heard.

Stories give a door into another culture.

Stories give a door into someone else’s experience.

Stories show where we have come from.

Stories show where we could go in the future.

Stories offer an escape from our present reality.

Stories offer opportunity to learn something new.

The reason I love bookshops and libraries, is that it provides gateways into so many other worlds that I can pick up, pop in my bag and enter into at any time.

Important, hope giving, empowering, inspiring, fun, short, long, captivating….oh there’s never not room for another story.