So, one week after publishing my post speculating how well working from home is going, having largely adapted to “the new norm,” the government now says we should be all going back into the office. What?
You will recall, back in March ministers told us, 'Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives.' It was our duty to stay home as much as possible. Most of us did, many of us working. I felt a real community spirit, initially as every Thursday we stepped into the street to 'Clap For Carers.'
Then in May we are told ''Stay alert, control the virus, save lives.' We are allowed to leave the house more, but with a huge range of restrictions. The community spirit continues and even develops into the Dunkirk Spirit as we commemorate VE Day 75, a chance to remember and celebrate the end of a period that put our current restrictions into perspective. Our little close held a street party, a superb event giving us the opportunity to get to know neighbors previously only on nodding terms with, despite living just a few doors away for many years.
In July further restrictions are eased, but the government clearly believe this is not going well. We saw Leicester back in local lockdown, and now Bolton has just become subject to similar restrictions. Right now, according to PHE, I live in an area with a 'Concern' status. This is somehow calculated by the number of people testing positive for COVID-19. Ten minutes away my Mum lives in an area of 'Intervention.' No two households can mix. You can go t'pub, drink with strangers but oh no, no meeting family. Half an hour from home, the office, currently open three days per week with a capacity reduced from about eighty to fifteen to allow for social distancing, is also an area of 'Intervention.' Portugal and the Greek islands are added to a varied but increasing list of countries with self-isolating requirements. But despite all of this, we are now being told we need to get back into the workplace. A media blitz is coming to highlight this we were told, but as usual the good old MSM had already told us what we need to know. A special mention to The Telegraph with their headline 'Go back to work or risk losing your job.' Out of sight, easy to give the boot warn ministers.
Back in March just after the UK lockdown had come into place, me and my wife ventured out on one of our permitted daily walks and I speculated Boris Johnson will leave this period with a Churchillian reputation or it will be the breaking of him. I think his entry into the history books is likely to be a detail of misjudgment and mismanagement rather than heroic leadership.
I don't intend for this blog to become political or government bashing but the initial hesitation looks bad on reflection and some of the management of this crisis has been 'off the cuff' and frankly shambolic. PPE has been sourced incredibly badly, huge amounts of money spent on vital kit that never arrived or was not fit for purpose. The way public money has been spent, up front to companies with little or no assets, totally against government’s own procurement guidelines, (companies with people connected to the government) - quite frankly stinks of corruption. Jo Maugham QC is looking into this and details it very well. How we blew over £150m and a government adviser seems to have made a fortune. He has in fact launched legal action against the government. You can read more here.
Living with Alzheimer's
Most of us are familiar with the frustration of forgetting things and noticing this more as we get older. About three years ago it became apparent it was more than this with Mum. Her doctor referred her to the memory clinic at our local hospital where another doctor confirmed 'the early stages of Alzheimer's’. Words I will never forget and ironically Mum does not either.
Initially there was little change. Mum had to immediately stop driving and she was prescribed medication to slow the ongoing effects. This medication however only worked for so long.
A wonderful group of friends kept Mum active. She went dancing regularly, and continued to be an active member of the church choir, the Women's Institute and took part in regular card school socials with friends.
Alzheimer's is a horrible disease. Mum is not in pain and is physically able for a women of her eighties. Being with a parent who brought you up and shared your life's joys and heartbreaks, where every conversation is near identical and questions are asked and then asked again, and again, is heartbreaking and I find, incredibly wearing.
Lockdown has been particularly hard for Mum, her social life ceased almost overnight. During the early lockdown restrictions it was very difficult to explain to Mum we could not enter her house, communication and stimulation consisting of doorstep and telephone conversations. At the outset we considered bringing Mum to our home. Working full time, this is not an option. Should I have given up work to look after Mum? A question I asked myself many times. A big ask of myself and my wife I believe. Our lives would not be the same for some time to come. Some may call me selfish, a word often at the forefront of my mind. But I'm on the rat-race train, I don't know for how long, but I'm clinging on at the moment and guilt is my companion.
There are brighter spots. Her longer term memory is there to some degree, and now we can visit and spend time with her - we occasionally get to hear stories of yesteryear not heard before or for some time.
It’s fair to say that the constantly changing rules of lockdown are not particularly easy to follow, but after checking I was extremely pleased that I was able to re-connect with my three year old granddaughter. I know most grandparents will say this, but she is a special little girl, such a character for someone so young. She loves being outdoors and all animals. On her last visit before lockdown my astute wife had seen our local garden centre was selling bird-houses, ready to paint. The painting was a great evening project and we now have a multi-coloured bird-feeder in the back garden regularly used by a variety of new feathered friends. It maybe that we just notice them more because of this, but the amount of birds we have seen this summer has been amazing. As well as watching, it has been great to listen. We were told of a great app, BirdNET. This allows you to record bird songs on your phone and check which bird it is. Technology hey? The majority of my granddaughter's visits have run smoothly, her most recent one however was a little more challenging as she embarked on 'testing boundaries' as all young children do. A couple of spells of sulking when she did not get her own way were followed but one of arguing and contradicting everything. 'I'm walking to Mum's' (over sixty miles) to mention but a few. The coup de grâce came on the journey home, having just stopped and then pulled away from traffic lights, a voice announced 'you didn't stop at that red light.' I have travelled with many back seat drivers previously, I am pretty sure three is the youngest though.
New Norm Adaptation
It would seem social distancing is here for the long haul and that personal space will be a very valued commodity for some time to come. As a couple who enjoy travelling, our thoughts have turned to the world of motorhomes. As well as the obvious aforementioned advantages, it brings an enormous amount of flexibility. Weekends away could more easily done and if working from home does continue to be the norm, this could easily become work from holiday home, couldn't it? A 9-5 stint in the office in the holiday home followed by an evening walk or bike ride in the Scottish Cairngorms or Snowdonia is certainly a lifestyle that appeals to me. I feel no need to return to the office. We have done a great job using Microsoft Teams for video team calls and messaging. I do not feel any less part of a team for not seeing my team mates face to face. I know many colleagues are going into the office for a change of scenery. The Yorkshire Dales is a pretty good change of scenery in my book! Whether in the office or at home, I take regular breaks and often take a walk around the block for ten minutes - how about a quick stroll around a motorhome site in the New Forest as an alternative? Clearly there are many considerations for this to work, good Wi-Fi or cost effective 4G being close to the top of the list. First off though, we need a motorhome.
What a learning experience this is. We quickly learned there are three main types of mobile holiday vehicle. I chose my words very carefully there, as it is easy to confuse the categories. Firstly you have van conversions or camper vans, pretty much as it sounds; traditional transit or similar fitted with a kitchen, bathroom, seating, beds and storage. In the main these are kitted out amazingly well and have the advantage of retaining the manoeuvrability of a van but the restriction of being only two berth. The guys at Consort in Leeds are van conversion specialists and tell their story well. Next up are motorhomes, where a home is coach-built onto van chassis and cab. These are between two and six berth home and subsequently vary in size and facilities enormously. Last but not least is the RV or A Class, essentially a caravan on a van chassis, also available in a whole range sizes. One of the many considerations in choosing these is trade-off between size and manoeuvrability. With a campervan you can normally park in a standard car-park space, making a spot of shopping or exploring easy. The bigger your vehicle the harder to park and the harder to negotiate the beautiful but often narrow roads of the great outdoors. Then you have to consider how many berths? Do you allow for guests and granddaughters? Assume four berth sleepers all have four belted seats? Think again! Some have fixed beds, some bed settees, some over-cab beds. Rear U-shaped lounge or rear kitchen/bathroom? Plus a massive range of makes and models. Lots of choice but a potential minefield. I'll keep you informed!
I finish with Leeds United's first match back in the Premiership just days away. What a start, the champions; Liverpool away. At least there will no be home crowd. On paper though, there could not be a tougher opening fixture, but Leeds usually start the season well, then again, as far as the last sixteen years go, we haven't been in the Premiership. I spoke with a customer and fellow fan yesterday and he views the fixture with more than a little dread. I am more, er confident? I will take a point for sure, in fact I will take a good performance and no tonking. I am though quietly optimistic, both for Saturday's match and the season. Time will tell if such optimism will return to bite.