A Very Pandemic Letter

April 2021

Dear Family in Australia,

It’s still pandemic season, but I’m on a holiday. It’s been a year of fear and death and change and challenge and a winter too deep to imagine. Restrictions are lifting and now I’m in Cornwall, right by the sea. Staying in this caravan has reminded me of you all. The 80s style décor has sent me travelling back in time to childhood; to every holiday I ever took with you all; my brother and my cousins; we are many.

There’s something about the detail of it all – towels drying on window ledges; sneakers flopped down by the creaky door; jumpers strewn across bench chairs; boardgames jenga-style piling up on the floor; argumentative scorecards abandoned next to beer glasses; swimmers drying inside a too-small shower cubicle.

It all takes me back to times together, times we would meet in tents, caravans, red brick apartment blocks along coastlines more stunning than we would ever know. When the sun would bake us; when we’d cycle around campgrounds making friends we’d never see again; when we’d capsize boats we couldn’t steer; when we’d stay out late and kiss boys we’d just met; find the nudist beaches to waterbomb from above. When we’d play cards so loudly that the noise can still be heard in space; when our feet were always grubby. We’d play beach cricket French style with plastic cricket bats; give the younger ones “a chance”; body board until it hurt; jump waves all afternoon. When we ate breakfast in bikinis, when we ate lunch in bikinis and when we ate dinner with glowing red shoulders covered in aloe vera, amongst the constant chatter.

When we were always allies.

We’re allies still, I know. But now we’re allies in this distant way; in this Zoom arena, in this Whatsapp land; in a dreamy way as I drink my morning cup of tea and pause before starting work, wonder how you all are doing; really doing; in your hearts. I miss you; my never-ending, boisterous clan.

I have the most lovable ally here with me. We swim in the 9 degree sea and play boardgames and we’re letting our feet be grubby. We haven’t eaten any meals in our bikinis, it’s a bit cold for that, and he looks much better in a wetsuit if I’m honest. But we laugh and swim and cook meals in the one-person-only-galley-kitchen; and somehow this 80s caravan has given me the space to share my pain of missing you with him, properly share it. I’m quite certain if I asked him to eat breakfast in a bikini that he’d consider it; for me. Or maybe we’ll save that for when you get to meet him.

The pandemic still rages across the globe, restrictions tighten and then lift, tighten and then lift again. Our countries oscillate and there is always a part of my heart under government grasp; never a complete exhale; constantly quietly waiting for this to end. The barriers between us are high, expensive, unpredictable. But they, unlike the décor in this caravan, will change. This too shall pass.

When I see you next I expect the loudest card game we’ve ever played.

All the love and all the hugs

Kerryn x

Vaccine Day

It may have been divine timing or just my perception, but I’m sure it became instantly sunnier the morning I received my Covid-19 vaccine.

As I started the fifty minute drive home afterwards I could have sworn that the sun was warmer on my skin, the music louder, the roads wider and the air cleaner. It was a chilly English February day but I put the windows down to enjoy the rush of fresh air against my skin and took big gulping breaths. I hadn’t really breathed deeply for nearly twelve months.

Twelve months ago, on 12th February 2020, I had driven to work as usual, sat in my clients house for a few hours, unrestricted and unaware of what was to come, and drove home thinking about the local gig I had been to the night before. This day, twelve months later, after my vaccine I hightail it directly to our local GP to hand deliver the forms for my boyfriend’s registration, determined more than ever to get everyone in line for the jab.

The vaccine had made me feel different. I didn’t cry with relief, I didn’t whoop with joy, I didn’t crack open a bottle of bubbly or hug every person I saw in the supermarket on the way home… although I felt like it. But I did feel different.

It all softens:

The distance

The disconnection

The monotony

Four walls and

A video link: be gone!

It all softens

The relief comes to me quickly

One by one we will get there

Safety and sanity are nearby;

I can hear them whispering

I exhale and it all falls away:

The fear

The dodging

The flinching

The ‘you’re too close’

The tight chest

The friends who test positive

The friends of others’ who passed away

The stats quickly mounting

The worry

The waiting for our turn

It all softens

I exhale

One by one we will get there

Safety and sanity are nearby;

They are made of science

It all softens

Now I allow myself to dream into the future again; just the simple things. Maybe there will be that time again when I will perch on the arm of a sofa in a pub, wedged between my friends and a table of strangers and a friend will arrive unexpectantly, tap my shoulder and I’ll squeal with surprise and delight at her face, all glittered and glossy and glam. I’ll fall into her embrace, one glass of bubbly leaning me into a tight wonky hug and the strangers will glance over, not in judging suspicion but in warm recognition. Then we will sit two of us on the same arm of the sofa where moments ago was just me already squeezed and we will share our simple stories of why we were out that night – me: a friend’s birthday at the yummy new Greek restaurant and I’ll rave about the dolmades, you: leaving drinks for a colleague you barely knew. We will gossip of unimportant treasures of our lives; the moments which matter least and count for the most. We will keep it light because the heaviest days are past and because the bubbly sparkles in our eyes, and well, because we’re giddy just to be there. When they ring the bell for last drinks there will be a communal groan across the whole pub yet secretly we will all be happy to return home to bed as we’re still re-adjusting to the new-familiar-normal. As I leave the pub I will see a friend leaving with a new bae, met that very night, and I see her skin electric with expectancy; touch, finally! I will share a taxi with strangers going in the same direction, fall asleep in my man’s arms, content with all the tiny unimportant memories of the night. I will sleep deeply, dreaming of open borders and seeing my family again.

So, yes, maybe there will be that time again; that time when it’s all soft again.

It all softens and I exhale.

My Very Own Dock Leaf

In Britain it’s common knowledge that if you are walking in a field and a nettle bush stings you, just look nearby for a dock leaf. You rub the dock leaf on the sting and it eases the pain. Of course, for this to work, you need to know what the dock leaf looks like.

So, within the turmoil of the last seven months, have you been able to identify your nettle; nature’s sharpest sting; where has Covid hurt you? And, more importantly, what has been your dock leaf? Often it’s closer than you think. Apparently.

I guess for me, my dock leaf is my love story, and I’m just starting to own that reality and share it, because, well… it sounds corny doesn’t it? Perhaps the voice of King Lear’s Fool has also been ringing loudly in my head recently, with his “have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest”. Survival mode has kicked in this year for most of us, so if you’re like me you have been keeping your stories tightly gripped inside your chest, maintaining life, responding, enduring, carrying on, waiting for the exhale.

This thing; this year; this time – it isn’t over yet. But I can’t keep the stories inside any longer. Let’s share.

My Nettle

There is PPE in a white plastic bag, inside another plastic bag, wedged in the crevice of my car door, in the space where I usually keep a box of tissues and discarded chocolate wrappers from meal deals. It’s medical grade PPE – Personal Protective Equipment – issued by my employer, a local council in southern England. Gloves. Masks. Thin, white, plastic aprons. It’s been there since April, since I walked through the empty hallway of our office and scribbled my name on the PPE register, unsure how many to take and secretly, ashamedly, hoping I wouldn’t need any. We were advised that it was for emergency visits, ‘essential visits’ which may need to take place during Covid Lockdown. We printed off official confirmations on our home printers: “Essential Workers”, permitted to be out of our houses. I packed a few pairs of PPE, disinfected my hands and pushed the fear down into my feet. Did I miss the PPE lecture of my Social Work degree? I’m not prepared for this.

My Sting

“Lockdown was so quiet” my hairdresser mused.
“Yeah, was it?” was all I could manage in response.

Sure, the house was quiet, the town subdued, I became aware of the owls. But, inside my head it was all very loud; raucous. Closed off in a spare bedroom for 8 or 9 hours a day, I grappled with guidance. We all did.

“PPE”
“PPE training”
(so you take the gloves off first? What? Really? Okay)
“Essential Visit guidance”
(but which visits are essential?)
“What is Considered an Essential Visit guidance”
“If a Foster Child Is In Your Car guidance”
“If a Foster Child Is In Your Car and Under 5 Years Old guidance”
“Vulnerable; clinically vulnerable; shielding; asthma; COPD; categories; categories; categories”
“Risk assess the foster carers”
“Risk assess the foster children”
“Stay at Home, Save Lives”
“Stay at Home, Save Lives”
“Except for you perhaps. You go out there and help lives”
(but what about my life and my family?)
(it’s your job. It’s your duty. Be thankful that you have a job. Be grateful.)
(c’mon now, you’ve given evidence in court in abuse cases, you’ve held the hand of a 15 year old client during her baby’s first ultrasound, you’ve got thick skin; dig deep again; toughen up princess)
(Covid deaths are rising; 800 per day)
“New guidance from IT”
“IT guidance changed from new guidance”
“Guidance about government guidance”
“Guidance about which government guidance doesn’t apply to us to allow an essential visit”
“Guidance about government guidance which is different to yesterday’s guidance about government guidance”
By the way, why aren’t you meeting your deadlines and why isn’t that GP replying to your urgent request for information?
Spend 2 hours on Skype with clients.
Feeling unprepared, winging it, feeling thankful for professional-muscle memory, pray nothing significant is missed in the chaos.
Talk to manager, try to decide if next visit is “essential” or can it be done virtually
(look at guidance: it guides us to make the decision at our discretion)
Spend 3 hours on another Skype call with another client, advising them why they are not going to be approved as foster carers.
(have a strong cup of tea)
Re-deployment? To Safeguarding? Inhale tightly.
No, staying where we are. Okay. Exhale slightly.

Eat. Sleep (sometimes); Wake up; Repeat.

My Dock Leaf

I fumble downstairs and wedge myself between you and the back of the soft sofa
I want to feel something solid; something real
I can’t respond to any reasonable question you ask me
(please just anything for dinner, I really don’t know…all the food perhaps?)
You take my hand, lead me to my walking boots and grab the house key
We walk at dusk
We wander through fields
We side-step cow dung
We pause to count tiny snails halfway along a branch
“Are you feeling better?”
I think of my friend who lost her father-in-law to Covid
It’s all a bit too much
I squint and squeeze your hand and we keep walking
We sit together in the evening chill on a hard park bench and watch birds swoop like starling
Until my heart slows
Until my shock passes
Until my tears dry
Until the light plays tricks with our eyes
Until we are both thinking about dinner again
As you cook dinner I curl up, sinking into the sofa and suddenly remember that you have hardship too at this time; your work and industry decimated and with it your entire income, lifestyle and friendships floating in the air, waiting to be grounded
I feel suddenly selfish for all my needy; hope I give to you as much as you need
Then you sing out “tea’s ready!” and for the briefest moment I forget about all the tomorrows I will spend working in the spare bedroom and we eat alllll the food for dinner
Somehow amongst it all we always giggle
Giggle and nuzzle and wind our way through the stings and the nettles and the cheap and nasty bites of life;
Finding solace in our home and in the fields around us, the owls getting louder each day.

So the next time you are walking through a field and you get stung by a nettle, be sure to look for a nearby dock leaf. Sometimes they are tricky to find. They don’t flower when they are crowded by other plants so for them to grow you may need to carefully spot the ones blooming wild and free on their own. Apparently.

flatten the curve

My boyfriend likes to be on the bottom. The bottom of the swimming pool that is.

When we go swimming at the local pool we sometimes end up sharing one lane, with me swimming on the surface and him gliding along the pool floor. He likes it down there as it’s nice and quiet. I like it too. I like that due to our difference in speed he tends to glide along underneath me at different points during each lap. I like that when we are moving in opposite directions it still feels like we are connected. I like the bubbles he blows out as he passes underneath. I like when he comes up for a lap along the surface and we’re swimming directly towards each other, it’s like a game of swim-chicken except there’s no concern about who will move as we both know he’ll wait until the final moment to take a sharp inhale and dive below, scooting underneath me like a playful sea-lion pup.

As you can imagine, this all gets much trickier in the shallow end! Yet, passing in the shallows is my favourite; because we’re closer. We are trusting that the other is going to keep on their path, flatten their stroke, stream-line their body, get as close as possible without actually touching. Sometimes I slide my hand along his back to give myself a little push along and because ultimately, even while swimming, human touch is important. Being close is crucial, narrowing distance between the me and the you is the most instinctual act of all: intimate, friendly, healing, necessary.

Our last pool swim was a few weeks ago. With all UK gyms and pools now closed due to the new treacherous super-virus we are missing the pool, missing our swims. During our last swim we knew the pool was closing that night and knew it would be our last swim for an indefinite amount of time. As my sea-lion-man went gliding along the bottom of the pool that night, a few metres beneath me in the deep end, my desire to reach out to him was heightened. As pub doors close I feel thirstier. As restaurants shut up shop I feel hungrier. As my 70-year old mum started her self-isolation with my brother backing down her hallway without a goodbye hug because he just received a call from a colleague with symptoms, I feel her sudden tension, palpable across the globe.

Flatten the curve? Yes. Of course. We must flatten the curve of this virus; stay at home, follow the guidance, protect lives.

And. We must also flatten the curve of isolation. We must maintain connection. We must realise that connection is akin with, yet not dependent on, touch.

 

stay side by side;

glide along the bottom, float along the top

aware of each other in arms reach

flatten your stroke, streamline your body

allow the water to hold you up

distant yet always connected

even while moving in opposite directions

We must ultimately trust that this cruel game of virus-chicken is in no way stronger than our connections, patterns which run deeper than touch.

Adorable

Who do you find adorable? Or, what do you find adorable? Or, where?

Also, why?

“I adore you.”

“She’s so adorable.”

“What an adorable house.”

“Oh my god, that puppy is friggin adorable.”

I’ve started to notice a certain feeling when I use the word ‘adorable’, an uppity energy. For example, an adorable person makes me want to jump up and hug them, ruffle their hair, praise their sweetness to the world. Adorable puppies beg to be squeezed. Adorable houses ask for every nook and cranny to be explored and lived in; every window seat to be read on. There is a certain reverence to it, and a spark; it’s hard to sit still with adorable.

The word ‘adoration’ is Latin in origin – ‘adoratio’, meaning “to give homage or worship to someone or something”. Over time and though cultures, this worship has taken on different forms. The Ancient Romans would perform adoration by raising their hand to their mouth, kissing it and then waving it in the direction of the adored subject/object. Initially this was an act reserved for paying homage to the Gods, then the monarchs received the same recognition.

It seems a kiss was symbolic of adoration across cultures, also being used further throughout the Middle East, whereby Persians would kiss the knee of their adoree, often a prince, and then fall to the floor, kissing the ground and striking their forehead on the earth. This painful version has the taste of Martyr-adoration.

Of course by now you will recognise the common custom in Western Europe also involving a kiss – a kiss to the sovereign’s hand, a gentleman’s approach to that person whom he adores or worships; a custom fading.

So, what of adoration now?

Who do you find adorable and how do you adore?

A quick Google search of “adorable images” would suggest that rather than gods or princes or any deity or sovereign, it would appear that we now pay homage to puppies and kittens. Should we survive the current environmental mess then the next generations may very well believe that we made dogs our gods and cats our royalty. Can I make a leap to suggest that we have come to worship nature, all souls and beings. But in particular, puppies and kittens.

Okay, fair enough. Carry on.

#dogsasgods

#sovereigncats

Quiet Night

There’s such a quiet emptiness around, that almost anything at all could fall into it.

The possibilities of fullness are endless. Also, the possibilities of nothingness are frighteningly never ending: an eternal abyss.

Of course, nothing remains a constant. Eventually the emptiness will be filled, whether by accident or intent. A thing, previously outside of the emptiness will fall over, knock itself in, like a magnet, find its new place; its new begin.

Then chaos will commence:

desired chaos;

a shift

a shadow

a light

There’s such a quiet emptiness around, that almost anything at all could fall into it.

Ode To A 6 Year Old

Raffy pic

Like a child I’ve turned my back on darkness; refuse to look at loss. Instead, I choose to play.

I want to make pretend trains from recycled cardboard boxes, power them with fart noises and leave trails of homemade fluoro goo on all the armchairs.

I want to jump so high on a trampoline that my skin scrapes the sky and my bounce sends you flying high in triple, your delightful squeals matched by mine; we bond. You fall and roll to one side, then just as quickly back again; unpredictable.

In the summer heat of the afternoon we lay on our backs in the cool of the lounge room, faces upturned. We photo-filter ourselves into scary dragons, light-filled faeries, alien heads; your giggle so infectious.

At 6, your giggle holds all the wisdom; your heart so huge you can’t contain it; an over-excitement, a shared joy.

When we have to say goodbye, we cannot bear it; we giggle and wiggle away.

Like a child I’ve turned my back on darkness; refuse to look at loss. Instead, I choose to play.

 

For RJB and all my little people far away xx

 

Intersection of Politeness

welshmill

 

Politeness:

“behaviour that is respectful and considerate of other people; the practical application of good manners.”

As you drive into Frome, the small town were I live in southern England, you will come across an intersection I have taken the liberty of naming The Intersection of Politeness. To locals it makes complete sense and epitomises the generous, compassionate nature of the town. Visitors however likely call it The Intersection of Oh Shit Have I Paid My Car Insurance. It has no roundabout, no stop sign, no lights; it simply relies on the great British tradition of over-politeness. It is my morning entertainment and my morning coffee; the moment I truly wake up on my drive to work, smiling and wondering who will turn into the oncoming traffic first, them or me.

It has started me thinking about politeness, and over-politeness, and the need for direct eye contact.

A little bit of explanation. As Bath Road heads down a hill towards the town centre, you can choose to turn right into Welshmill Road, usually a straight-forward driving scenario. At other similar intersections if you were turning right you would give way to the cars driving straight ahead in the opposite direction, waiting for a gap in traffic so you could turn right, right? And, if you were turning out of Welshmill, you would give way to all overs on Bath Road, waiting your turn in simple T-intersection-rule fashion. Right?

No, incorrect. This is not the way to function at the Intersection of Politeness.

You see, the thing is, traffic is so heavy (by Somerset standards), and the people so generously polite, they don’t want to leave you sitting there in the intersection for too long, blocking up the street. People turning right into Welshmill sometimes sit and flash their flights at those turning right out of Welshmill, indicating for them to go first. People minding their own business driving straight up from town sometimes flash their lights at those waiting to turn in front of them to go right into Welshmill, indicating for them to go first. And sometimes, people flash back at those who are flashing at them, in a ever-increasingly-confusing-handball-of-politeness, resulting in nobody really knowing who is going first, or what the traditional rule was to begin with. I am starting to lose all sense of traditional road rules, like my muscle memory for driving has become irreversibly confused and can’t find its way to the indicator lever. Once I saw three cars all turning simultaneously at the “wrong” time, weaving between each other, musically avoiding a build up of cars amongst three sets of flashing headlights.

It’s incredibly dangerous and incredibly beautiful. It requires a consideration of your fellow drivers which is unprecedented, and you have no choice but to join the game, simultaneously increasing your own generosity and consideration of others. Every flash of a headlight is like a gentle voice whispering “oh no, please, you go first, I insist”.

Once, confused and not yet properly awake, I accidently backed into the car behind me. The woman behind saw that I had been waved on through, yet I lost my nerve and as she crept forward I rolled back to wait “my real turn”. Of course, I jumped out of my car to apologise and check for any damage. She remained in her car, and as I approached her window, she rolled it down and from under dread-locked purple hair she waved me away with a smile and a “don’t worry about it”. Like flashing her headlights at me through her kind eyes. I drove away and checked my own bumper for damage later, somewhat confused about who had even been at fault there.

A great deal has been written about the great British etiquette of politeness. If you are from a straight-talking country as myself this can sometimes take some adjusting. A week after moving to London, my friend’s Facebook status pleaded: “Say what you mean London!” – a frustration understood by expats grappling with situations when politeness progresses into over-politeness. Perhaps we Australians are a lot more rule-orientated than we like to believe. We like to know that all the players on a field know the game plan and will turn right at a T-intersection when it is their turn, regardless if they sit at that intersection for half an hour with nobody letting them in, barking obscenities at the rude thoughtless others creating “all this bloody traffic”. When left without the rule book we sometimes are also left without our manners.

But the rulebook here is manners.

There is some noise within the local community to fix the intersection. I understand the safety aspect, but I don’t really want it to change.

The Intersection of Politeness is my daily experience of kindness, when someone lets me go first. It is my daily reminder to be generous, when I choose to let another person go first. It encourages me to pay attention to eye contact and to read situations beyond the rules, to make judgements about what is fair and reasonable, regardless of what “should” happen. It is my practical application of good manners; my chance to be quintessentially British without the need to open my mouth to speak. Mostly, it is my morning entertainment and my morning coffee; the moment I truly wake up.

Life Un-Looked For

Serendipitous:

“occurring or discovered by chance in a happy or beneficial way”

Synonyms – chance; accident; more lucky; fortuitous; unexpected;

unanticipated; unforseen; un-looked for; coincidental.

I recently had an encounter on an airplane which the other person later referred to as serendipity. More about that in a moment. For now, let’s lose ourselves in the idea of serendipity. The word itself is fun to say. Try it. Serendipity. There is something enjoyable about the way the end of the word – dipity- clicks together, just like there is something enjoyable about serendipitous moments.

The meaning of the word developed within a Persian fairy tale: The Three Princes of Serendip. Serendip is the ancient Persian name for Ceylon – modern day Sri Lanka. The three princes were brothers, wise heroes who “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”.

Serendipity therefore involves two components for discovery – “accident” and “sagacity”.

Accident refers to the unplanned, the chance, the external elements, the parts we can’t control, life un-looked for.

Sagacity refers to the sage within us, the deep insight, wisdom, astuteness, the internal elements, our engagement with the moment which adds depth to an event otherwise insignificant.

So, is there serendipity in your life? Accidents and Sagacity? Was my encounter with a stranger on a plane journey serendipitous?

Due to factors out of both of our control, such as randomly allocated seat numbers, other strangers wanting to swap seats and even me making a last minute change of a flight, I ended up being sat with the same person on two separate flights. We kept pretty good company, laughing and tangentially talking our way through the flights. To borrow a term from Fight Club, my ‘single-serving’ plane seat neighbour quickly became a friendly confidante, someone to get to know. It met the definition for serendipitous: “discovered by chance” and “happy” and “beneficial”. It was indeed a fortuitous chance encounter; life un-looked for.

Or, was it actually life being looked-for? Perhaps we were both looking for a chatty travel partner that day, so were astute to the opportunity when ‘chance’ presented itself. Accidents and chance encounters could easily pass us by, and remain simple random acts of coincidence until we engage with them sagaciously; staying astute to the moment and see it for what it may be – serendipity.

To notice these moments we must have space in our lives. Space to notice, time to engage, and indeed space for fate to enter. My previous twelves months have involved very little time for chance, instead involving over-planning, a demanding scheduling, coordinated multiple Outlook calendars, too-tight deadlines, pedantic word counts, early nights, intense structure, order, just holding it together, spontaneity smothered. Is this sounding familiar to you?

So, 2019 – time to create space, play more, plan less, spontaneous more, open up and allow accidents and sagaciousness in; let’s follow in the footsteps of the Princes of Serendip.

Time for life un-looked for.

unfamiliar textures

Unfamiliar textures

Underfoot and disappearing

Fingers dig deeper;

Holding hope in

Unfamiliar textures

A friend and I climb a travelator to a rooftop lookout, exploring and encouraged by views of snow-capped mountain peaks, familiar peaks, their beauty always eases me and awes me.

I run towards the lookout, along a thin ledge I’ve walked so many times before. I used to know this ground. Half way there I look down. The sandy, snowy ledge has dropped away ahead of me. I cant go forward. I swivel. The sandy snowy ledge has dropped away behind me. I cant go backwards.

A chunk of the wall I lean into falls away; I look down to watch it plummet.

Don’t look down

Look up

Look up

My arms have never been my strongest asset. I’ve relied on my legs to stand me up, not my arms to pull me. Now the ledge and the wall I cling to make their texture known – firm, but yet it’s sand; crumbling: impermanence surrounds me.

I look up

My fingers find ledges which all need testing, a small curve on an overhang above me seems to block me from the flat mountain top, keeping me from solid ground. I can see that is where I need to be, above me, if I can lurch my entire body up and over the overhang.

I will need to rely on my arms

I will have one chance at it

I will need to not look down

Crumbling sand will need to hold me

These unfamiliar textures. Distrust sits in my stomach. Safety is so close. I don’t have long to think. More sand falls to the sea. Up and over is the only option. Others are busy, distracted. I have only me.

My biceps must propel me; upwards; against gravity

I’m paralysed

I take a breath

I must trust in me

Up and over