From Michael McIntyre to the start of the unlock (or how we got through 12 months of lockdown in its various guises).

On 6th March 2020 I was fortunate enough to attend the recording of my favourite comedians Netflix special at the London Palladium. Michael started the show by joking that it may be the last time we were able to attend a show at a theatre – little did we know that within a week this became reality and a year later the theatres are still not open, but there is light at the end of the tunnel and this time it is not a train coming the other way.

As a live in carer I felt a real obligation to ensure that my client had as much protection from infection as I was able to provide and so I opted to reduce my breaks away so that there was no need to get in another carer to cover my breaks and when I did go on a break I hired self-catering apartments and got food deliveries to limit my interaction with people. To be fair, I was just a nervous and protective of myself as a cancer survivor I felt vulnerable and did not want to find out how my immune system would cope with the virus.

My first break was my most interesting, I got a lovely little 1 bedroom flat in Brighton on street level which provided me with my own live reality TV viewing of the interestingly colourful residents of Kemptown. I witnessed the amazing job the homeless charities did in providing temporary accommodation to the thousands of homeless in Brighton and daily delivering food parcels to them. I also got to witness some disturbing domestic issues that spilled onto the road and in one case resulted in a painting exiting the neighbouring street level unit and landing on said street. Fortunately, I did not witness any physical issues. I moved off street level (due to irrational fear) and then had a street view balcony which gave me a sense of security to watch the passing parade from a distance. Opposite my flat was a dog park which gave me hours of entertainment – evidently pyjamas are preferred dog walking outfits, I need to up my pyjama game because mine aren’t nearly as fun as some I saw. I was intrigued by one animal being walked, a cat – yes a cat, but not any ordinary cat – although a cat being walked on a lead is anything but ordinary, it actually looked like a baby serval. I cracked and after 2 days leaned over my balcony and asked the owner and it turned out to be a savannah cat which is a hybrid cross between a domestic cat and a serval.

Back at work we were well used to the protocols required in terms of wearing mask around visitors – the visitors were limited to essential medical services required to ensure my clients wellbeing. We were lucky enough to already have online shopping in place as these spots became like hen’s teeth and of course we were not doing any in person supermarket visits.

For my next break I headed to Hove, Brighton’s neighbour, although the city is officially called Brighton and Hove since amalgamation. I upped my crochet game in this break and made a blanket for a first grandchild of a colleague, this certainly kept me busy. I hired a bicycle and headed off for a cycle along the seafront. The seafront is well equipped with a well defined and respected cycle lane. As luck would have it, I got the worst bicycle in Hove and abandoned it at the earliest opportunity – there are bike stations to return the bikes all along the seafront and I chose the first one. It happened to be right near a tea room and I thought it was a perfect excuse to sit outside and have a bacon and egg roll and people watch. Who knew that outdoor yoga was so popular and such fun to watch.  There were dog walkers by the dozen getting their (and the canine companion’s) daily exercise – I was contemplating how lovely this was until an unruly dog – off the lead – helped himself to my lovely bacon and egg roll ! That put paid to my peaceful visit to the beach.

June was a particularly tough month. It was our 30th Wedding anniversary and we were due to have travelled to South East Asia to visit our kids and celebrate this amazing anniversary, but COVID-19 had other plans. We will just have to celebrate 31 even better.

Weeks became months and soon we were able to at least get out of the house safely. In August I was planning a trip to visit my sister in law who lives alone and therefore  did not pose any “threat” Unfortunately 3 days before the end of my 5 weeks of work I got caught in the rain and developed a cold – due to the risk I had to take a COVID test and isolate in my bedroom until I got my results – I did the test on Tuesday – break was supposed to start on Wednesday – the negative result eventually arrived on the following Monday – I was due back at work on Wednesday ! I did manage to get to Brighton for 2 nights but my dear sister in law had booked a cottage in the Cotswolds as a surprise – to say I was bummed would be an understatement.

I was able to join a fellow carer on a get away in September and we booked an apartment on the Isle of Wight . Besides slipping and cutting my forehead – Harry Potter scar as a momento – on the first day. It was great to get away to this lovely spot. I will definitely go back in the summer and wrap myself in bubble wrap this time.

Due to my dear fathers deteriorating health I made the decision to travel back to South Africa in December. It was a stressful few days leading up to leaving and the day I left was possibly the most stressful one I had in the whole year. It was the day that the Government stopped direct flights to South Africa and Europe closed their borders to all but EU citizens. I was booked to fly via France and after saying that we could transit with the required negative PCR test (which I needed for SA so had done), as I was about to check in France changed rules to only accepting French nationals. After a frantic call to Air France – no reps at the airport – they rebooked my on a Virgin Atlantic flight at 10pm that night. I duly checked in and settled into the departure lounge – airside – for my long wait. At about 5pm I checked to see if a gate was up so that I could settle and perhaps nap near my gate only to discover that he flight had been cancelled. Panic set in again and again there were no reps to help. I eventually got AF on the phone only to be told that the flight was still showing as on time so they could not rebook me until it was cancelled and no matter how many times I told them it was  cancelled nothing could be done. The Virgin reps eventually opened their desk and did what weas needed. I called again but, of course, there was now another problem – I was holding a valid boarding pass – albeit for a cancelled flight – yes that is a thing! After getting that cancelled I was then rebooked on a British Airways flight. But I was at Terminal 2 and needed to get to Terminal 5 – anyone who knows Heathrow will know that this is not an easy task – especially stressed and exhausted. So after waiting to retrieve my luggage that of course had gone through baggage control after checking in – just another stressor, I got checked in to my flight but did not believe I would get home until I was actually walking out of OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg.

As I am writing this I am realising how important that trip home was, It had been almost a year since I had been home – 11 months and 2 weeks to be exact. I knew it would be the last time I would see my beloved Dad and this was so hard. I went to see him straight from the airport on Christmas eve and spent the night at my brother’s house – we had a fantastic Christmas Eve with my Dad, brother, his wife and my great extended family. I headed home to Ivan on Christmas Day and I pictured the perfect running into the arms of my husband after nearly a year but COVID stopped that – no waiting area so it was a pavement reunion – but amazing to be home made up for that. Christmas Day 2020 was a different event indeed – my present was just being present – with Ivan. I had a glorious couple of weeks with Ivan and then headed back to Joburg to spend a week with Dad. I was so tough to leave and say goodbye but I was blessed to have that time to laugh and celebrate life with my Dad.

I got back to the UK on 19 January straight into isolation for 10 day. On the 24 January Dad left us peacefully in his sleep. He was loved and cared for completely in his cottage at my brother’s house surrounded by so much love and without any pain – for this I am eternally grateful.

I don’t know if I have properly mourned until now – writing this blog has been really therapeutic and I now realise that I probably needed to do this a while ago.

I went back to work after my isolation and was glad to be back with my client and his wonderful wife – they are an extra part of my UK family and I will always be grateful to them for helping me deal with what had been a really strange year.

Of course we have all had to deal with the whole zoom chats etc but for my family this was already normal with me being in the UK, Ivan being in South Africa and Cait and Ashley and Candy and Sholto being in Vietnam – our weekly virtual family chats started 2 years ago. This too shall pass and we will all be able to get together again.

As we head into the new normal ( a term I hate but have to embrace) let us not lose focus on what is important in our lives and never forget to tell those you love just how much you love them.

Thank you to all the special people in my life who have made my life a little better every day.

In the worlds of Captain Sir Tom – Tomorrow will be a good day.

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