I’ve Started, So I’ll Finish

… but that’s not usually my attitude to books.

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Normally, I’m a pretty picky reader. If a book hasn’t hooked me by about the fifty page mark (and that’s if I’m feeling really generous, yikes), it’ll be out on its ear and unlikely to be given a second chance to redeem itself.

Recently, though, something weird seems to have happened to me and I’m not 100% sure how I feel about the development.

I’ve ploughed on through two books (who shall remain nameless) that I wasn’t partlicularly enjoying. I refused to give up on them until I made it to their very ends. I stubbornly kept turning their pages. I kept telling myself that things would get better and fall into place. I kept feeling FOMO (of what I don’t actually know) flood my veins each time I considered DNFing them.

One book felt worth the struggle, but only just. The other really, really didn’t.

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my reading face recently…

And these reading experiences have left my reader’s heart and my bookish insticts confused and shaken. I’m not used to feeling unsure about whether to stick books out. Reading decisions are one of the only things in my life I don’t tend to overthink and it’s weirdly unsettling to have that confidence disrupted.

Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it’ll shake up my entrenched reading habits and force me to grow and change in unexpected ways. Maybe it means I need to challenge myself.

Maybe it’s just overthinking.

I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

• How do you decide when to stop reading a book? • Have you ever regretted sticking with a book? • Have you ever been thankful you didn’t give up on one? • Do you find changes to your reading habits disruptive in unexpected ways? •

all at sea

the shiny early morning.

the bustle and butterflies and getting ready. the backpack and its almost broken zip. the going, going, gone out the door. the grey, grey roads. mirror, signal, manoeuvre. the parking up.

the walk, walk, walk.

the slooshy, silver sea and glassy sunlight. the tarmac to beach ombre. the flip-flops flipped off sandy toes. the picking a spot, backwards, forwards, back again. the nerves, nerves, nerves. the trying to forget my body. the quick strip down to my costume. the quick march to the water and the cool, cool, cool of it against feet, calves, knees, thighs, tummy, arms. the deep, deep breaths. the sinking slowly down to shoulders. the unsucking of feet from sand, flip-flapping them. the slip sliding forwards. the rippling waves slapping chin, cheeks, nose. the absurd thought of sharks. the imagining of pointy teeth, fins, death. the less absurd thought of jellyfish. the imagining of tentacles, poison, death. the closing of eyes and the don’t, don’t, don’t think thoughts. the stopping. the treading water. the goggling at blue skies all above. the resting. the bobbing. neck back, head up, hair wet, heart calming. the tippy toes peeping above the water. the tide tugging, pulling, teasing. the splash marks on sunglasses and the gulls crying. the paddle boarders. the serious swimmers, caps and suits and goggles. the runners on the shore. the cruise ships hanging on the horizon, sea cities turned to ghosts. the goosebumps flooding skin. the press of time, time, time. the strokes towards the beach. the soaked soles on shifting sands. the walking. the fear of falling over. the nerves, nerves, nerves again. the trying to forget my body again. the quick steps across the beach. the sand plastered to ankles. the relief of hiding in a gritty towel. the lying back. the gentle hush of waves. the tired lungs, tired arms, tired legs. the tingly skin. the icy breeze. the tangled hair, sticky and messy in a ponytail. the book, its pages snapping in the wind. the shimmering, sea-slicked shells. the wait, wait, wait to be mostly dry. the packing up. the double check. keys, phone. keys, phone. phone, keys. the drive home with a salty smile on my lips and a little weight lifted from my heart. the rest of the day sunny and sea drunk.

the dreams, dreams, dreams.

all at sea.

reading at the beach

a tale of one bookshelf

Yesterday, I built a little bookcase using scraps of wood from the garden and a lot of blind hope (mixed with only a small amount of blood loss).

I was more than happy with the end result…

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it actually works!
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it’s not wonky, it’s rustic…
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pretty patterns

Despite having a bit of an incident involving a saw and my right thigh; despite kneeling in chicken poop (fyi: I was much more upset about the chicken poop); despite deafening myself and my neighbours with a lot of sanding, nailing, and swearing; despite forgetting to wear sun cream and ending up with burnt shoulders; despite winging most of the measurements; despite having pretty much no idea what I was doing (my brain: “straight pieces of wood + nails = bookcase.”); despite spending an embarrassing amount of time trying to find pencils/bradawls/rulers/nails I’d only JUST THAT ACTUAL SECOND put down… despite all of those things, I feel that the whole DIY experience was a positive one.

And the shelf hasn’t fallen apart yet, so that’s another plus. #winning

All of this is good news, because I’m going to need to build another one VERY soon.

Note to self: must. stop. buying. books.

Change Is Needed

Never in my life have I felt that if I said the words “I can’t breathe” to a person in authority that there would be a chance they wouldn’t listen to me and try to help me. That basic feeling of security – that feeling that I don’t even notice, that feeling I don’t consider each time I step outside my house, that feeling that doesn’t keep me second guessing how any action I take or any things I say could be misinterpreted, that feeling that wraps me up safe and lets me know society values my life – is a privilege (along with many, many others).

It’s a privilege that’s handed to me on a plate simply because I am white.

And that is outrageous.

That feeling should be a basic human right.

Black voices matter. Black stories matter. Black cultures matter. Black experiences matter. Black history matters. Black representation matters. BLACK. LIVES. MATTER.

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The rest of us need to listen. We need to do better. We need to ask uncomfortable questions and challenge uncomfortable realities. We need to open our eyes to the things that have happened and the things that are still happening every single day all around us, big and small. We need to stop pretending this isn’t our problem too. We need to accept that silence and inaction perpetuates injustices. We need to learn – not just now, but always. We need to be open to criticism and not become defensive if we’re told we’ve messed up. We need to offer our support and action for when it’s wanted/needed.

Personally, books/stories feel like the best way for me to try and make a difference, and the best way to educate myself. Going forwards, I will be reading more books by Black authors (as well as more by BAME authors in general), and I’ll make sure I write more reviews/post more bookstagram recommendations for these books too. I’ll keep my mind wide open, ask hard questions, speak up, try to be aware of unconcious bias and challenge it. I’ll check my privilege. I will listen, listen, listen. And I’ll put my money where my mouth is for the causes tackling racism and raising awareness for Black voices whenever I can. I know these things aren’t much in the grand scheme of things, but I hope they can contribute towards positive change.

The world NEEDS to be a better, fairer, more just place.

We all have a part to play in making it so.

There’s one day left for this fundraiser by Inclusive Indies. If you can contribute, please do!

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/inclusive-indies

a flowerfall of roses

The weather here has been perfect for the last few weeks. Blazing blue skies. Glittering sunshine. The ocassional wandering, lonely cloud.

And, to top it all off, there are roses, roses everywhere.

I am obsessed with the Mayor of Casterbridge rosebush in our garden at the moment.  It’s overflowing with blooms; a flowerfall of pink petals and leafy greens. And it smells beautiful too, like a lush, floral summer-punch to the nose.

I’m spending an embarrassing amount of time trying to capture its beauty with my camera and on my phone. Different days, different lights, different angles, different (and undignified) stances to get those angles, holding my breath, trying to keep still, cursing any breeze but then delighting in the waft of rosy air that washes my face after it.

None of the photos seem to come out right, though, no matter how many I take.

If I could invite you all over to see it in the flowery flesh, I would.

But, for now, these three photos will have to do instead.

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I hope your June is filled with sunshine and rosy moments.

Things I’m Doing More Of In Lockdown

Seven weeks into lockdown and life for everyone is certainly very different.

I cannot wait for it to be over, but it’s a necessary evil for now.

Having spent the last two months worrying about coronavirus, socially distancing, and staying at home I’ve noticed there are some pretty random things I’ve been doing a whole lot more of.

I’ve been…

wriggling my face a lot. I never knew how much I touched my face before – now that I can’t it’s basically all I want to do. *screams internally* It turns out that my nose gets itchy, my eyes get itchy, my forehead gets itchy, even my chin apparently gets itchy ALL THE TIME and there’s nothing I can do about it except wriggle my face around like a maniac – which does nothing about the itchiness and does everything to make me look like a complete weirdo.

feeling very socially awkward. Ah god, and I already felt so socially awkward before this all started. Weirdly, I’m finding the two metre thing one of the most stressful parts of this pandemic – I don’t want to give someone too wide a berth and seem impolite, but I don’t want to give someone too narrow a berth and seem impolite either. It’s a minefield.

marvelling at people doing stupid things. From the people who carefully wear gloves but carelessly touch everything then scratch their faces to the customers that pull their face masks down whilst leaning in to talk to me, I find it surprising every single day how silly* people can be. If I could actually touch my face without worrying about germs, it would spend a lot of time in my palms.

*I’m being polite with this word.

marvelling at me doing stupid things. This isn’t actually a new thing – I’ve been marvelling at/worrying about my ability to be an idiot for 27 years – I just wanted you all to know that I judge me and my stupidity harshly too.

having loads of baths. Not having anywhere to go makes the temptation to have a bath at four in the afternoon every day pretty much impossible to resist. I’ve never been so clean, exfoliated, and moisturised in my entire life.

contrail spotting. Contrails used to be a fact of sky life, now they’re rare and it’s kinda weird.

crying a lot. I think we’re all in this crying boat together though, right? *looks around nervously* Right?

wearing sparkly/flowery clothes all the time. Simple things please simple minds.

drawing rainbows and blue hearts. I love spotting all the rainbows that have popped up in people’s windows since March and I’ve loved releasing my inner five-year-old to draw my own too.

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my window rainbow

going make-up free. It turns out that people don’t shrivel up and die when they see my face without foundation on. I’ve been wasting so much precious time. My freckles are going to get a lot more airtime going forwards – consider yourselves warned.

clapping in the street. Once this is all over, I think I’ll actually find it weird not going outside onto the street to clap/tap pots and pans/ring bells with the neighbours on Thursday evenings.

trying not to laugh at my grandma during video calls. My grandma is 94, so the fact that she can even use a smart phone by herself is kind of amazing – but she holds the phone so close to her face during video calls and it is so, so hard not to laugh when confronted with a screen made up mostly of her nose and eyes. (It’s really hard not to cry too – I just desperately want to see her in person.) ❤

buying unsafe amounts of chocolate. I’ve basically bought a bar of chocolate at the end of every shift at work for the last two months because (and this is a direct quote from my brain): “what happens if I have to self-isolate for two weeks and run out?”. The amount of chocolate currently in my house is probably medically dangerous. I NEED TO BE STOPPED.

puzzling. There’s obviously a whole lotta things I didn’t foresee about 2020, but jigsaw puzzles becoming a big part of my life is definitely near the top of that list. Before, they were a once a year thing. Now, they’re an everyday thing.

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a moomin puzzle made the perfect seat for Jingles

How about you? What random things has lockdown seen you doing more of?

dream world

I’m not much of a night dreamer.

A day dreamer? One hundred infuriating and very distracting percent.

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lunartic

For some reason, though, when it comes to remembering what strange/terrifying/lovely/boring things have been going on in my brain overnight all I’m usually able to draw from it is a complete, dark blank. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. It definitely doesn’t feel like a good thing. It actually makes me a little bit sad and lottle bit jealous – especially when other people talk about their weird and wonderful dreams and all I can offer in return is a (now, thankfully, less frequent) recurring nightmare in which I balloon like Violet Beauregarde from Charlie in the Chocolate Factory and get trapped in my bedroom because I’m too big to fit through the door to get out.

*scrunches up face in embarrassment and shame*

Let’s not delve too much into it.

It’ll just get messy and awkward, and there’s enough messy awkwardness going on in the world already.

*smiles a messy and awkward smile*

So, anyway.

Dreams.

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The Mud Maiden in the Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

Since lockdown began, people all around the world have reported that they’re experiencing more frequent and more vivid dreams. I’ve seen article after article after article on them, and there’s even a study being conducted by postgraduate students at University College London on the effect the pandemic has had on our dreams.

It makes sense that our sleeping imaginations have gone haywire in the wake of Covid-19 – all of us have had to process some pretty intense emotions recently and most of us have had a lot more free time to reflect on the stories our stressed-out brains have been coming up with.

My dreams, though, are proving to be just as elusive as ever and I’m beginning to feel seriously left out.

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peek-a-moon

But, there’s hope.

At least, I hope there’s hope.

I have this next week off of work – my first break since everything went weird.

Seeing as I won’t be getting up at 4.30am and seeing as I can’t actually go out to explore the real world, I’m hoping I can have a few (hopefully not nightmarish) adventures in some dream ones instead. I’ve bought a book on lucid dreaming (not 100% sure if this was a good idea, but I guess I’ll find out), stocked up on camomile tea, turned my alarm off off off, and I’ve even got myself a special notebook (any excuse) to write out any dreams that decide to stick around in my brain for long enough for me to get them down on paper.

I might be (definitely am) taking it too seriously, but, in my defence, my social and events calendar – like everyone else’s – is looking very, very free at the moment and I need things to keep me distracted.

I’ll let you know what dream worlds I discover.

• Do you have trouble remembering dreams like me? • Have you noticed a change in your dreams since the Covid-19 pandemic started? • Have you ever kept a dream diary? •

good omens

Most of last week felt like a real struggle – like fighting through a thick, gloopy dark. But it also had moments of heart-warming, soul-lifting, and blues-battling wonder that left me feeling like things will be okay, no matter how strange they happen to be now – and they’re what I want to keep my focus on.

Two moments in particular stood out.

Both of them involved a field, and both of them involved my – already seriously overused – tear ducts.

I almost ended up in tears in the middle of a field. My sister and I were out for a walk by our local river when a big, big, big bird suddenly swooped above us, circling round and round. We’re used to seeing pigeons (tbh, isn’t everyone?), sea gulls, buzzards, crows, sparrows, herons, cormorants, and egrets on our walks but this was much more special: it was a red kite. Red kites became extinct in England in 1871, and their population recovery has been rocky and very slow since then (although it has recently begun to accelerate). My dad – who basically has the eyes of a hawk – occasionally spots one flying in the distance, and every time he does I always nod along and go “ooh” and “aah” – vaguely aware that there is some sort of bird shaped creature in the sky, but mostly aware of a whole lot of blue/clouds. But this red kite was so. close. and there was no mistaking it. It felt like a very special privilege to witness it swirling through the air just in front of us and had me blinking back tears (it had been a long day). It was utterly awe-inspiring to see, and, especially at a time like this, it felt like a good omen – a much needed reminder that things get better; they recover, they heal, and they thrive.

Red kite flying above the River Stour, Dorset, England, May 2020.

Red kite flying above the River Stour, Dorset, England, May 2020.

I actually ended up in tears in the middle of a field. This time, it was me and my mum out for a walk. Little did I know, my best friend – who I haven’t seen in person for two months – was out for a run at the same time. Cue a squeal of recognition and disbelief, a flash of happy heart butterflies, a moment where I couldn’t breathe, me bursting into tears, and an appropriately socially distant cry/talk/sob/chat from either side of the path. It was painful because I wanted to run straight into her arms and give her the biggest hug and not let her go, but it was also beautiful because I got to see her in actual physical real 3D life and it was the loveliest, most magical, surprise.

I hope you’ve had your fair share of heart-warming moments too.

Things are hard, but they will get better.

Stay safe.

read it all away

I think it’s fair to say most of us have a bit more spare time on our hands at the moment thanks to life under lockdown.

And if, like me, you want to bury your head in the book-sand to make all the world scariness and heart loneliness go away, I have a few – eclectic and pretty random – recommendations that have all swept me away from my little corner of the world at some point in the last few years.

mudlarking by Lara Maiklem. This book is utterly de. light. ful. And wonderful in the truest sense of the word. Lara Maiklem shines a light onto the mysterious world of mudlarks on the Thames. It’s full of unexpected treasures, pearls of obscure history, and interesting insights into London life through the ages. Perfect for anyone who was brought up on a diet of Channel 4’s Time Team. Get lost in the mud from the safety of your sofa.

the lesser bohemians by Eimar McBride. This certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it. It’s a messy and mesmerising (and pretty x-rated) ride through nineties London, following eighteen-year-old Eily as she navigates life as a drama school – plus, ahem, a school-of-life – student. I’ve never read anything like it before and doubt I’ll read anything quite like it ever again. If you can get into the strange rhythm of the writing (the first twenty pages will honestly feel like gibberish, but it clicks into place I promise), you’ll be rewarded with a story that’ll torture but ultimately spellbind your heart.

‘Girl I’ve been, woman I’ll be.’

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moondust: in search of the men who fell to earth by Andrew Smith. Delve into the lives of the men behind the moonlandings as they recall their experiences before, during, and after their time in space. The book is filled with fascinating stories that don’t traditionally make the space race narrative. It’ll take you out of this lockdown world.

the invisible child by Tove Jansson. Tbh, anything by Tove Jansson will do the trick in tricky life times, but this little book of two short stories will capture your heart and soul hook, line, and absolute sinker. Moomin stories are always the answer, whatever the problem. Moomin up your life!

The Invisible Child and The Fir Tree by Tove Jansson, special Oxfam edition. Moomin short stories.

the great gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Okay people, this book. *waves hands in reverie towards the heavens* It’s glitzy, glamorous, and glorious. Obsession, pride, greed, delusion, selfishness, and jealousy twist together against a background of jazz age opulence and the effect is painfully intoxicating.

a fortune-teller told me by Tiziano Terzani. Would you live a year of your life bound by the reading of a fortune-teller? In 1993, Terzani did just that after being warned a decade before that he should avoid all air travel in that year. This intriguing book chronicles his earthbound adventures over those twelve months throughout south-east Asia and beyond, as he continued in his role as a journalist for Der Spiegel. It might make your feet itchy to get travelling again – #sorry – but it’ll also make you savour a slower pace of life too.

‘Every place is a goldmine. You have only to give yourself time, sit in a teahouse watching passers-by, stand in a corner of the market, go for a haircut. You pick up a thread – a word, a meeting, a friend of a friend of someone you have just met – and soon the most insipid, most insignificant place becomes a mirror of the world, a window on life, a theatre of humanity.’

a fortune teller told me by Tiziano Terzani

me by Elton John. This is an outrageously good memoir that’s choc-a-bloc full of amazing and jaw dropping stories, featuring names both big and small. It’s loud, bold, and colourful. The perfect antidote to low-key lockdown life.

‘Where would I be now? Who would I be now? You can send yourself crazy wondering. But it all happened, and here I am. There’s really no point in asking what if? The only question worth asking is: what’s next?’

the bear and the nightingale by Katherine Arden. Be transported to the fairytale wilds of medieval Russia in this first installment of the Winternight Trilogy. You’ll be so enchanted by the beautiful make believe world Arden has created, you’ll forget all about missing the real one.

when breath becomes air by Paul Kalanathi. Written in the last years of Kalanathi’s life after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, this is the kind of book that will make you sad – but in the best way possible, I swear. Most importantly, it will make you cherish life in all its weirdness and wonderfulness. Be prepared to cry, though.

jonathan strange & mr. norrell by Susanna Clarke. Basically, it’s regency-era England made magical for one thousand and six pages. And if that’s a sentence that floats your boat, you should definitely read it.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke book review.

the power of now by Eckhart Tolle. We might all be looking forward to the end of lockdown – and boy oh boy do I know I am *cries* – but there’s something to be said for making the most of the here and now, no matter what the here and now happens to be. I don’t agree with everything Tolle says, but the book’s basic premise makes so much sense. All we ever really have any control over is what we do with (or how we respond to) things now. Right now. Not ten minutes ago or in ten minutes time. Noooooow.

the hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Take a magical and mystical and really rather delightful tour through the world of Middle Earth with a grumpy hobbit, a mischievous wizard, and a band of merry dwarves. It’s less intense than the Lord of the Rings series, but still has plenty of fantastical things for you to get your bookish teeth into. The ultimate lockdown read, in other words.

If you have any recommendations for lockdown reading, let me know!

three weeks, a pandemic, and a supermarket

So, coronavirus.

I don’t want to bring it up, but I can’t not.

I’ve spent the last two months desperately trying to ignore it – eyes closed, hands over my ears, singing a la-la-la song to myself – in a pathetic attempt to make it all go away.

Funnily enough, that hasn’t worked.

All of our lives and so many industries have been touched by this, in so many different ways – I wanted to share my little corner of the experience so far and get some things off my chest.

I never, ever talk about work here – for lots of reasons, but mainly because it has nothing to do with books or writing. And I don’t know whether I could technically get in trouble with someone from some department I’ve never heard of for writing about what it’s been like to accidentally, and bizarrely, find myself and my colleagues on the frontline of a pandemic, but I’m pretty sure I’m not sharing anything sensitive or secret. Everyone has already seen the photos/videos of what’s been going on in the paper, on the news, or on social media.

I work in a supermarket.

The last three weeks have been the most ridiculous, unbelievable, and insane of my working life.

Personally, this is a little bit of what it’s been like…

It’s been shift after shift after shift of hundreds of agitated people swarming all around, filled with a panic, panic, panic that has become harder and harder to shake off at the end of each day. It’s been empty shelves and angry, snide, horrible comments from actual grown-up human adults who should know how to behave better. It’s been people crowding around for pasta and rice and tins and bottles and paracetemol and soap and toilet roll, with no regard for mine or my colleagues’ personal space and, consequently, no regard for our health (and, consequently, the health of the people we live with/care for). It’s been witnessing selfishness and rudeness on a depressing scale. It’s been telling elderly customer after elderly customer that there’s no bread left, no eggs left, no flour, no pasta, no potatoes; it’s been watching them walk off down the aisle with an empty basket and wondering what they’ll eat for the rest of the week; it’s been wanting to cry, knowing that they’ve risked their health to get their shopping but have nothing to show for it because the shelves were stripped of the basics by people who, most likely, were younger and healthier and less at risk than them. It’s been looking at all the queues, people squished together closely, and thinking: “this is exactly what people are supposed to be avoiding right now.” It’s been moments of staring at the ever-growing gaps on the shop floor and wondering: “what if the deliveries actually do stop coming?” (fyi: they won’t.) In particularly dark and melodramatic and pessimistic corners of my mind, it’s been looking at myself and my colleagues thinking: “what if this is worse than they say it is? We’re basically going to be the first people to die. And all so people could fight over toilet roll they probably don’t really need.” It’s been saying goodbye to older/at risk colleagues and presuming/hoping I’ll see them fit and well in 3 months’ time. It’s been itchy, cracking hands from a mix of cardboard, paper cuts, and hand-sanitizer. It’s been a sore back, painful knees, throbbing feet. It’s been getting home and feeling dirty and contaminated – a risk to my family (particularly my mum, who went through chemo last year, and my dad, who has high-blood pressure – plus they’re both over 60). It’s been trying to figure out if I’ll ever see my 94-year-old grandma in person again. It’s been trying to adjust to the side effects of the anti-depressants I was put back on less than two weeks ago – headaches, dizziness, a constant nausea – and then trying to work out if any of the new things I’m feeling are symptoms of Covid-19 or “just” symptoms of being an anxious person. It’s been desperately wanting to catch up with my friends – see their faces, give them the biggest hugs, cry on their shoulders – but knowing that is absolutely the last thing I can do. It’s been thinking “my job is safe for now – but what happens when the economic impacts of this start digging deeper?” And, completely selfishly, it’s been freaking out that I’ll be single for ever and ever and ever more; despairing that my destiny as a crazy cat lady (and now a crazy jig-saw puzzle lady) is pretty much sealed.

It’s been all that and more, but I think that paragraph is big enough as it is.

Basically – but then, this is true for everyone right now – it’s all been a bit shit.

Times all that stress and emotion by a million, and I can only assume that that must be kind of what it feels like to work in healthcare at the moment.

I have no idea what the future holds. Stuff has got super weird, super quickly.

Somehow, unbelievably, kind of hilariously, I’ve found myself classified as a key-worker in a pandemic. I would never ever in a million years have predicted that, but here we are. I’ll keep turning up, keep taking all the precautions I can to keep me and my family healthy, keep trying to help people have access to the things they need.

At the end of the day, though, we’re all key players in this – whether we’ve been classified by the government as such or not. We all help to make the world a better, happier, safer, nicer, more interesting place.

We have to, have to, have to look after each other.

For now, from afar.

Some day soon, from up close again.