VIEW FROM OUR STREETS
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had an age in mind that would mark my turning into an adult. For as long as I can remember that age has been 36. It is the age my mum was when, with three young children in tow, she fled Bosnia. Destination unknown. I was eight at the time, not far off the age my eldest daughter is now.
It was also the time of my first lockdown, in a way, as we lived undocumented in a small flat in Ljubljana. No school. No extended family. No friends. Limited time outdoors, and always with only our ‘household’. It lasted over six months.
I’m not comparing for a moment the trauma experienced by refugees to what we are all going through during lockdown, but as someone who has experienced both, I can tell you there are parallels. The sense of loss straddles both. A loss of control. A loss of self. And loss, temporary or permanent, of those we love.
But knowing it won’t last forever is also true of both. That has been my focus during the last two months – that and ensuring that my two daughters feel loved, safe and begin to understand the new world around them. More than ever before in my life I have been acutely aware of the responsibility of adults to protect children from the worst our world has to offer, and the overwhelming pressure that brings. It has also helped to remind myself that, despite everything, we are the lucky ones.
There’s a saying in Bosnian: “Živa i zdrava bila.” I must have said it thousands of times, not ever thinking about its meaning. It translates as “stay alive, stay healthy.”
And we are.
A few weeks ago, under lockdown, I turned 36. I don’t feel any different, but the circumstances have forced me to accept, finally, that I’m an adult.
This small building in my garden is called Washington. To make space for it I had to cut down a gorgeous cherry tree that had been my solace every spring. The first President famously could not tell a lie about doing just that so we named it after him. This space is a complete and utter privilege, I know that. But I don’t know quite how I would have survived working and lockdown without it. I toil here every day, looking into my garden and the windows of my home during phone calls, video conferences and emails.
The days have slowed, I have watched my beech hedge lose its old leaves and grow new ones in actual time. A joy. I dash inside each break to check how my three children are behaving - mostly impeccably through home schooling, meals and an AWFUL lot of online gaming. My oldest is on the autistic spectrum and this could have caused immense chaos for him and us all. But somehow he has been a hero, even bringing me meals in Washington as he hones his excellent cheffing skills. His structure and discipline have been an inspiration highlighting the value of difference in all of us if we can just make the time to look and understand. His brother and sister have been a wonder too. Our children will all bear the brunt of now and so much more in the decades to come. I feel only love for them all. No matter where we are locked down we all have our challenges. This has been really tough, but I count my blessings each and every day.
I used to spend most of my life away from home. When it became clear that we were to be locked down for several months, I worried for my family mostly. How would they cope with being put in a cage with me? I think we’ve managed pretty well, though there have been some wild ups and downs for us all. I don’t mind saying I’ve struggled emotionally at some points, but for the most part I feel good and I need to keep us all going every day. Staying at home is a public service; an act of compassion for the most vulnerable around us that should come easy to those of us with comparatively easy lives.
The highlight of my day is a long walk with my Caledonian Wolfalike (‘a what?’ is the most commonly asked question) Breàgh (pictured). We go to the same place most nights and sit at the foot of a tree that allows us to look north-west, to the setting sun and the mountains. She looks for squirrels that she can’t catch, and I wonder when I will see the sea and the islands again and hear the excited chatter of the little boys and girls I coach at Hutchie Vale. I’ve decided those are the things I miss the most.
In an astonishing feat of human endurance, we are nudging along quite nicely as a house of seven. Sweet festering passive aggression, incessant back chat from the home schoolers from hell (my sisters) and a queue for the washing machine longer than the one at Sainsbury’s has so far been offset by remarkably sunny weather, homecooked dinners, and a fair bit of black humour.
We suffered a loss not long ago so it’s nice being together, filling voids of sadness with silliness. What I am finding difficult is the physical distance from the grief itself. In the noise of my immediate it is difficult to think reflectively and to process. I am aware that I am not dealing with it, and every day we get further and further away.
But I have remedies. Reading the mountain of books there has never been time for, running with our dogs in the boundless quilt of fields just outside the back door, and some rather less composed rookie yoga – which may injure me yet. I hope to make more time for these things in the weeks to come.
Diversión, with the graphic accent, means ‘fun’ in Spanish. Since I arrived in Edinburgh almost two years ago, I haven’t been able to read these signs without seeing ‘Fun ends.’ Leaving aside the fact that most of the things I used to do for fun have now been paused until further notice, lockdown has made me pay even more attention to the way I switch from one language to another.
As it turns out, false friends abound when you speak more than two languages a day. I find myself writing in English, catching up with my relatives on the phone in either Galician or Spanish (it always depends on my mood), and working out and cooking in French with my flatmates. The result? A complete linguistic mess. But noticing my own mistakes is keeping me entertained, as well as those putting up with my quite literal idiomatic translations. The sign at the end of the street is wrong after all: fun doesn’t end there.
"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured." That’s a quote from the teacher of my teachers, BKS Iyengar. I have been practicing yoga a lot since we moved home to work. The exploration of different poses on the mat helps me to discriminate where and when to focus my attention and energy and where and when it’s best to relax, surrender and just be with the way things are.
I was going to visit the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, India this June for the first time since I started doing yoga a very long time ago, but instead I have been Zooming into classes from teachers there, something I could never have imagined. It was a beautiful experience to lie in savasana, or corpse pose, at the end of the class the other day and hear the birdsong of Scotland outside my window mixing with the birdsong of India.
My picture is the view from the moors above Gourock, looking out across the Clyde to Argyll. Until the lockdown, I would leave here to go to Edinburgh for work, returning after spending perhaps a couple of days there. I lived here, but how well did I know the place? A small consolation of the crisis is the family walks we enjoy in places we had never been until now, learning more about the history and lore of the place. These walks provide an opportunity for thought and reflection, but also connectedness in more ways than one.
When I tweeted this photo, a fellow resident of Gourock (who I know of but don’t know) sent me a link to a piece he had posted on Facebook. It described how these same moors had been a location for the outside worships – conventicles – held by the Presbyterian Covenanters during the religious strife in Scotland of the 1680s, known as the Killing Times.
The moors still bear silent witness, but the fears of that era have long since gone. Standing there reminds me that, while the moors will endure, this crisis will also recede into the past.
This woodcutter’s lamp is in front of me on my desk as I work. When my parents were married, in 1961, my dad’s brother was working in Canada and couldn’t come to the wedding. But he and his wife sent my parents a handmade lamp as a present – known in our family as the wood cutter’s lamp.
Mum and dad both passed away in 2018, within five months of each other. And now I have the wood cutter’s lamp. Every morning, when I sit down to work, I can hear the sounds of family in the house – the two granddaughters making a particularly vocal contribution, our daughter’s voice, “Remember, daddy’s working and grandpa’s working”. The creak of the stairs as my wife brings me coffee.
And the light of the wood cutter’s lamp is there throughout the day. A warm, gentle and friendly light, speaking of love from generation to generation. That much I have not lost, and no changing circumstance can take it from me.
Near the beginning of lockdown, my mum subtly expressed a wish for a new jigsaw puzzle. We had donated all of our old jigsaws to charity, blissfully unaware that we might need to turn to these sorts of archaic pastimes under an extensive lockdown during a global pandemic. I mean, who would have known?
I took the hint and bought her a new jigsaw puzzle to keep her occupied for a week or so. Clearly everyone had the same idea, as it was the very last jigsaw that I could find on the entire world wide web.
A 1000-piece jigsaw of The Artists Garden by Monet – you know, the one with all the flowers. With hindsight, it is probably the most impossible jigsaw on earth; no wonder it was the only one left online. Eight weeks in, it’s an ongoing team effort. Last weekend we managed to piece a few pieces together over several cups of tea and some much-deserved chocolate, but we’ve still got a long way to go, with hundreds of pieces socially distancing themselves, staring longingly up at us, waiting to be reunited with their jigsaw-piece friends. I know how they feel.
This is the view from my back door. Over the last few weeks I’ve been reflecting a lot, appreciating that time seems to have slowed down somewhat, giving me the chance to stop and smell the roses. Strangely, I’ve found it a calming time, good for the soul you might say.
The view from my desk is of a little cherry blossom that has been uplifting to see in bloom. The next time it blooms, will this all be over? I hope so.
The gift of time is definitely one of the things I've appreciated during lockdown. It makes you realise how lucky we are, and I’m thankful that I’ve stayed healthy, as have my family, friends and colleagues. I’m making it a point to pause and count my blessings.
The knock on the door signalled it was time. 2pm, Sunday afternoon, battle with the kitchen tap commenced.
Taking our value of positivity to heart, I’d convinced myself that I could be a plumber. I could replace the leaking monstrosity we’d inherited from the previous owners. I would revel in the glory of a significantly upgraded dish washing experience.
Destruction was the easy part. The old tap popped free with a satisfying slither of carefully disconnected hoses and minimal escaping water. Like an amateur epidemiologist taking to Twitter with a badly interpreted graph, I revelled in my expertise.
By 6pm, nothing would connect and the realisation that we now had no access to drinking water was setting in.
Come 8pm, deep, resentful rage descended. Why was nothing the right size? Why was our worktop not a standard thickness? Why had we gone for a stupidly complex extendy tap?
I’m not ashamed to say that 9pm brought utter desolation. Covered in water. Desperately hacksawing a random piece of plastic tubing in a last-ditch attempt to stop the thing leaking catastrophically every time the water was turned on.
10.30pm. Glorious relief and the sight of water flowing from the actual sink end of the tap. My very own 91st minute headed winner, ending what felt like a hundred years of hurt.
Yes, I know. It’s just a tap. But lockdown seems to have elevated the mundane, and also transposed visceral highs and lows onto the most incidental activities. It’s somehow exhausting and entertaining, bewildering and uplifting.
Watch out SEPA, I’m sorting the toilet next.
Dogs really are great company. That’s not to say that my colleagues aren’t, but spending the day with Ruby and Hugo (pictured) at my side is one of the few benefits of lockdown.
Of course, it's not all plain sailing with two Mastiffs: farmyard sounds and smells can make for some awkward Zoom indiscretions, and I have had to absolve myself of guilt more than once (let's just hope they believed me).
But it's not all good company and unpleasant aromas. If I’m feeling down about not being able to spend time with my family, Ruby and Hugo are there, staring back at me, their unconditional love pooling in their big brown eyes. That makes me smile every day.
Dogs teach us things about life. They take each day as it comes, and they are a constant reminder in this challenging time to live in the moment and appreciate family.
Having Ruby and Hugo also means I have to go out for regular walks; they are my daily exercise. And an hour spent walking around the local farmer’s fields appreciating my surroundings, taking in fresh air and spotting wildlife is the perfect way to finish the working day.
In the past, this used to be a bookcase. Nowadays, it is my standing desk.
Far from just being a fad, a wealth of peer-reviewed evidence suggests that working while standing up is good for your health. Besides that, it is also good for your job: several studies have demonstrated a positive link between standing and increased productivity (1, 2). One hypothesis is that standing creates mild stress, pushing people’s cognitive performance.
Every year, new research is published on the topic and the matter is becoming a no brainer. But the speed of adoption has not accelerated that much. Today, the average Briton sits around 9 hours a day, up from six hours in 1985. Humans are simply not designed to do this, and the negative impacts compounds.
In all my years as a standing desk advocate, I never expected the transition to be fast or easy. I have come to the conclusion though, that the chief reason why people refuse to take standing up seriously is that it is still a taboo, despite the increasing number of standing desks in edgy offices. It looks weird and people don’t want to be singled out.
This is the perfect time to start the habit. Apart from those in your household, no one is looking at you. No one will question your good judgement and evidence-driven standing behaviours. Try it out, it is good for you.
As a graphic designer, being creative is something I do every day. I am regularly pitched all kinds of design briefs which require my creative mind to think up the best possible design solution. Since the UK lockdown was announced, I am now faced with a new challenge that requires a whole new type of creative problem solving I haven’t experienced before.
For years I have been committed to a stable and strict routine of athletic training between a gym and a very large warehouse gymnasium. I am part of a team called ‘Astro’ made up of a small group of 20-something-year-olds who train in gymnastics in West Lothian. Over the last two months I have had to get creative to find ways of maintaining strength and balance training with whatever I can find in my house in the space of an averaged sized living room. You may be thinking ‘Well India, why don’t you simply buy the equipment?’
Gymnastic equipment is a lot more expensive than you might think! It’s a lot of money to spend that will end up collecting dust in the storage cupboard once lockdown is lifted and I can return to my gym. While I and my team have had struggles both physically and mentally with this ‘new normal’ training, we are doing what we can to continue through weekly zoom video calls and watching other likeminded athletics on social media platforms with fitness tips and advice. I’m not letting this lockdown bring me down.
A photographer pal had come to take some photos of us for the #frontstepsproject, which captures isolating families at the front door of their home. Casually snapping away as she arrived, Becky inadvertently captured one of our favourite images of that five-minute photoshoot.
She found us in a fairly typical lockdown formation; kids in fancy dress, my wife Jo finding new ways to keep them amused, me hidden away at the back of the house trying to work, and an infrequent caller receiving a welcome fit for a prodigal son.
It has become a feature of lockdown life, those small, simple moments of human interaction. A smile, a wave, a snatched conversation over the garden wall, a chance meeting on the high street, an act of kindness, or the thrill of finding a parcel of home baking delivered by a neighbour. These modest interactions have been elevated to a new level in our constricted lives, starved as we are of human contact beyond our nearest and dearest shipmates.
The fancy dress box has become something of a treasure chest for our children, a portal that grants unlimited access to imaginary worlds and characters whose lives are unimpeded by Covid-19, or “You-Know-What” as they insist we refer to it, in a dark tribute to Lord Voldemort, the scariest villain they have encountered in their short lives.
I love seeing them flash past the study window as I work; a princess, a knight, a doctor, a paramedic, Spiderman, Wonderwoman. I can't wait to see them in their school uniform again, though.