Don’t stand so close to me
It’s been over a month since my last blog entry.
Certain things happened straight after that last post was published and it’s taken me this long to get my head around it all, to feel in the right sort of place to write a blog.
Things that have happened that meant I was not at all happy with writing a “Polyanna style” #myperfectlifeinFrance account of our amazing and exciting time in France, and equally things were so raw for the people concerned that it felt insensitive to be writing about them at that time. So, rather than write an entry that glossed over the real issues I chose to wait a while.
Firstly, our Dutch friends daughter was pregnant with twins, due to give birth in July. We know her daughter – a lovely, bright, cheerful young woman with a happy, sunny disposition. She was very excited to be pregnant. All seemed well with the pregnancy so we were amazed when our friend contacted me to say that her daughter had gone in to labour early – at 24 weeks and despite the medical team’s best efforts they had not been able to prevent one of the babies being born. Her tiny little son was born weighing just 800 grams. The other baby (a girl) was still inside her for a few days and then 4 days later she was also born weighing a little less. All this was happening in The Netherlands, in the middle of the Covid-19 lock down with no way of our friend’s even being able to go to their daughter. Such horrible difficult times for them – and it has really brought home the grim reality of what a truly awful thing this lock down is.
Sadly, the little boy didn’t survive and lived only one week. But he must have been one heck of a fighter to have hung on that long – such a tiny baby, he had operations on his tiny body for not just one, but two collapsed lungs. His sister is now just over a month old and, although it is very up and down for her – she is still fighting her fight.
In ordinary times this would have been a traumatic enough time for any family to have dealt with – but the added impact of the lock down has been phenomenal. It’s not my story to tell, but all I will say is that it is humbling to see the strength of our dear friends in how they have handled this – they have shown such strength of character – and looking at the bigger picture they resisted the urge to make a snap decision to go to Holland and risk the tiny babies catching something they caught along the way. It’s times like this when you really do see first hand how bloody awful these times are when something extra-ordinary happens. And of course, everyone seems to want to add their own pearls of wisdom to the situation, just adding to the mixed emotions our friends were already feeling. It’s such a shame that people cannot consider that, until you have walked a day in someone else’s shoes you cannot possibly know what challenges they face.
Also, we very sadly lost a member of the British expat community here in our village to suicide. He was a troubled character, and had suffered from mental health difficulties for most of his adult life – and it seems that the lock down was the last straw for him. His way of letting off steam was to go for hard and fast bike rides – which with the French lock down rules were forbidden. At least that’s what he thought – only after his death did, we find out that he could have got a doctor to grant him permission on mental health grounds – but hindsight is no good once someone has taken their life. The day he killed himself a fine came through the post – his partner had been fined for going out without her paperwork – the ironic thing was that she was on her way to get forms so she could do the paperwork – so a fine of 135€ was another contributory factor. Imagine, an already limited income, little money to spare, no printer at home – you go out to get a free copy of the form from the Town Hall, and Hey Presto! The Gendarmes arrive and slap a 135€ fine on top of your already bleak situation.
It hit us all hard, his death. Martin and I were not close friends with either him, or the partner he has left behind. We saw them sometimes in the village and chatted, but never really socialised outside of that. But the tiny little English population of around 30 people in Villefranche-du-Perigord and the immediate surrounding area is so small that it can’t help but have an impact. It’s a stark reminder that we are all vulnerable to the overwhelming feelings of isolation. It’s lovely to have French neighbours and have a brief chat – but talking about anything deep and meaningful? That’s not so easy.
First, I felt angry at him – then I felt angry at the system – then at all of us who could have done more to help!! But then I realised, there is no point in being angry – it won’t bring him back.
His funeral was one of the most surreal events I have ever witnessed. There were 7 of us there. We had to be 1 metre apart at all times, were not allowed to go to the front to read our poems, testimonials etc. We had to stand in our places and read/speak from there. We were allowed to go up one at a time to address the coffin but not to touch it.
To hear his partner, standing alone with no-one able to comfort her, read her testimony to the man she had shared her life with for 30 odd years was something that I honestly hope I never have to experience again in my entire life. It feels as if we have stepped back in time – or forward – to an Orwellian science fiction horror story!
We all did what we could for both him, and his partner, a few of us made funeral flowers from wild flowers,
and nice little touches
(like the teeny scythe brooches as a nod to his strange wish to have death at his own funeral) but as with any bereavement these gestures are never enough to take away the pain, and with this being such a complex situation – so many unusual factors – death by suicide, death in a “strange” country, and then the lock down on top of it all – what a crazy situation it was. People’s lives changed forever and none of it made any easier by the Covid-19 situation.
I honestly wonder what the long term impact of these life events will be – will people need specialist counselling in the future to unpick all the craziness of losing a baby or a life partner in the midst of Covid-19 – and have our Governments even started to consider where all the resources will come from if this will be the case? It’s hard to really believe that locking us all up under house arrest for over 2 months and allowing businesses to crumble, relationships to suffer, and all the other horrible, horrible things that are happening to occur– is the right thing.
Yet, I have to say honestly – if I had been given the choice on whether to stay at home and avoid the virus, rather than being told to, I probably still would have done so – so fearful have I been of catching it. But choice is the key word here!! Like Big Brother on Channel 4 was just a big social experiment it feels as if one day we will look back and refer to Covid-19 as the point in time where everything in society changed.
Here in France our lock down has been lifted a bit – we are allowed to go out without paperwork for up to 100 km (and this looks to be relaxed further soon). Our restaurants are now allowed to re-open from today. We were given the opportunity to test run the new social distancing measures at our friend’s restaurant on Saturday night when we went out to get Fish and Chips to mark the 5 year anniversary of my dear step-dad’s death. He had it well under control – all the tables at least 1 metre apart, masks to be worn as we went in and out or moved around, food and drinks served to the edge of our table for us to move in to place to avoid him moving around us.
I’ve been going out a bit more but, I still get freaked out when people get too close to me. We are so lucky that the group of friends who we socialised with via Skype “Happy Hour” during lock down are all really good at respecting the social distancing rules and since we have been allowed to meet up together we have turned our virtual Happy Hour into real, face to face Happy Hours – taking it in turns to host at our own houses.
But, outside that friend group there are people in our wider circle who we know have not been respecting the social distancing rules – and when we see them ignoring the rules, kissing our elderly friend, it’s hard to not recoil in horror – or say something. I suppose the chances are they won’t infect him with Covid-19 – we haven’t got any cases at all in our area – but who on earth would want to be the person who gave that horrible virus to an elderly man – why take the risk? I suppose the thing is, none of us really know how a situation is for another person. On the surface of it someone who is in their 70’s might be wondering why on earth me and Martin are taking it all very seriously – but they don’t know our full medical history. On the other hand, we don’t understand what factors might affect the way they feel about it. Maybe they do not know other ways to convey love and care.
I know that, for me, not hugging our dear friend on his 92nd birthday was a very, very hard thing to do, but sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind. And I believe we have shown more love and care by respecting the rules.
Like Brexit – these times are very divisive. Nowadays we face the dilemma of not “are you a Remainer or a Leaver?” but instead “are you respecting the social distancing rules”?
Respect me…respect my distance
Love me…love my mask
Your 4 metre socially distanced square or mine?
Who knows what the next funky catchphrase will be?
We were issued with a mask by our ‘Maire’. Out and about in the shops we now find that some shops state “masque obligatoire” so on it goes! I’m not sure that putting a dirty mask that has been lurking around in the plastic bag inside my backpack on is such a good idea. 30 seconds later it’s slipped down my face so my nose is peaking out – so I pull it up – I repeat this load of times – making the whole exercise pointless.
We’ve seen people wearing masks and visors (neither of which are medical grade) and being lured into a false sense of security brushing right up next to people. It’s quite scary that people don’t seem to grasp that the masks will only stop them passing on the virus if they have it (and that is not guaranteed) but it will not stop them getting the virus from someone else who has it. The best preventative action is (in my humble opinion) to wash your hands frequently and keep a safe distance from people.
So, I’ve been singing The Police’s “Don’t Stand so Close to Me” in my head a lot these past few weeks. The song that is rumoured to have been founded in reality – that Sting as a teacher had an illicit affair with a student. I don’t think so – he was a teacher, and he experienced being the subject of many a rampant school girl’s fantasy, and he wanted to write about it.
I’ve been missing being a teacher lately – well to be honest I’ve been missing doing any sort of structured work or education as it has felt as if my life lacks structure – the lock down seems to have sent me a bit crazy.
And whilst I completely believe that no-one should have felt any pressure to have done anything other than survive during the lock down – in fact I felt myself getting really pissed off on a number of occasions when I’ve heard people big themselves up over how they couldn’t just sit idly by whilst the whole universe felt apart so they done some amazing task for the whole of mankind! But even though I truly believe that people had more than enough on their plate, I did manage to brush up on some skills and have completed a Level Three Diploma in Ayurveda which will really complement all the other strings in my bow. I’ve also made some really good progress with my Reiki Masters Teaching Qualification – I figured that after 3 years of being a Level Three Practitioner it is time for me to start teaching it.
And, also as Covid-19 social distancing rules will mean that giving people Indian Head Massage and Holistic Facials will be out of the question for a while (can you imagine having to wear a mask or a visor when having either of those?) I decided that I would get a qualification in Hot Stone Reflexology so I can concentrate on people’s feet for a while instead. All ways that I can adapt my work as a Holistic Therapist to live with Covid-19 but at the same time staying true to myself, respecting my own values and undertaking work that I believe will enhance and complement my work rather than just taking a knee-jerk reaction and becoming something entirely different instead.
I did rather enjoy the lock down period in many ways – not feeling any sense of urgency to get up in the morning and lingering over my daily yoga practice. I’ve even managed to entice Martin into joining me for 30 minutes yoga each morning followed by a daily gratitude exercise. We reflect on things we are grateful for, and many times that has included our wonderful friends, our amazing children, our beautiful surroundings, and the birds and animals we see all the time.
This routine of yoga and gratitude has had an almost tantric feel to it (and no, by that I do not mean that we are spending 7 hours a day practising tantric sex like Sting and Trudie were rumoured to be – again…it’s just a rumour so he says). But our little morning ritual has kept us connected deeply to each other when to be honest at other times it has all felt a little crazy.
Now we can actually go out to the shops to get the building supplies we need we are both loathe to give up that morning ritual – and why should we? It keeps us grounded and connected – and during these days of social distancing, and that tangible lack of human contact, Martin is the only one who “Can Stand so Close to Me” – so I am making the most of that! Yes we have a lot to do, and there is so much work to do on the house that it feels over-whelming at times, but if we ever reach the point that we don’t have time enough to take a few minutes out of each day to focus on ourselves, and to spend time with friends, then there really will be very little point in it at all. As the events of the past month have shown us – life is precious and we do not know what day will be our last – so live it whilst we can.