Saturday 30 May 2020

Lockdown Creativity #5

So here we still are in Lockdown - sort of.  Being stuck in something of a perpetual Groundhog Day can get a bit wearing, so here are a few links to lift your spirits.

First off, Sam Neill has kept busy making a series of shorts from home.  Covering everything from learning the ukulele to feeling inadequate, this gentle humour is a great antidote to what can sometimes seem like the all-pervading grimness surrounding us.  Here he is with Helena Bonham Carter in Das Fone Hell:

Then, for something completely different, take a look at this.  An archeologist (Dr Jean-Loup Ringot) demonstrates a prehistoric lithophone.  Our ancestors would have listened to this music - astonishing.

And finally, in case you missed it, here's a link to the trailer for Taika Waititi's reading of James & The Giant Peach - with friends - to raise money for Partners in Health.  Friends, in this case, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Nick Kroll and Chris & Liam Hemsworth (I thought that might get your attention).

Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday 28 May 2020

Lockdown Admin

'Are you going to return that?'

Husband gestures at the cardboard sleeve on the table.  It contains a mobile phone case that was too large and which needs to go back to the vendor.

I nod, irked that he's reminding me.  I'll get round to it - sometime.  'Yes.  Of course.'

'Because if you don't do it soon, you won't be able to.'

'I know.  I've got until July to send it back - it'll be fine.'

'Well, just so you know....'

We stand in silence for a moment, then Husband grins.  'You hate me sometimes, don't you?'

After a pregnant pause I say 'Of course I don't.'

'But you paused.'

'No, I didn't.  I was just thinking.'  (Specifically, I was thinking; 'Oh it has to be returned?  No shit, Sherlock... ' but that doesn't seem a helpful thing to say out loud.  Particularly because I've already had it a week and haven't yet got around to it.)

'Thinking what?'

I turn away so he can't see me smirk.  'I was just wondering if you can read my mind.'

Husband considers this, perhaps trying out his - thankfully - non-existent telepathic skills.  'No.  No, I have to say I can't.'

'Huh.  Well, that's probably for the best.'

We snort companionably at the horrific thought of being able to read each others' minds, and the cardboard sleeve remains on the kitchen table.

Monday 25 May 2020

Lockdown Life Skills

I'm trying to take advantage of this prolonged period of Lockdown Togetherness with my kids (yay!) to teach them life-skills.  Nothing extraordinary, just how to make a bolognese sauce, pick things up from where they dropped them, putting the breakfast bowl inside the dishwasher instead of on the worktop above it.  So yesterday, after one of the boys had (on request) put a load of clothes in the wash...

Me: Can you empty the washing machine, please?

Boy: Me?

Me:  Yes, you.

Five minutes later...

Me:  You know you emptied the washing machine...

Boy:  Yes?

Me:  And now the damp clothes are sitting in the laundry basket on the floor in front of the machine?

Boy: Yes?

Me: Now, you need to actually hang the clothes up to dry.

Boy:  Me?

Me:  Yes, you.

Boy:  But I put them in the machine.

I look at him blankly.

Boy:  And I took them out.

Me: And...?

Boy:  And now they need to be hung up?

Me:  Who'd have thought it?

Boy:  But why?

Me: Well, because, if laundry isn't hung up, it won't dry properly.  So the clothes will smell.

Boy:  No, I meant, why me?

I look at Boy.  He looks at me.  Luckily - for him - I don't need to say out loud what I'm thinking.  (Although, if you're interested, it involves the total number of washes I have put on, taken out of the machine, hung up to dry, and then put away since he was born.  Yes, I have done that maths.  That's what Lockdown does to a person.)

He takes the clothes basket and and goes to hang up the laundry.

Saturday 23 May 2020

Lockdown Eating

Is it just me who's default reaction to the stress of the constant onslaught of bad news is to reach for the snacks?  For example;

The UK runs of out PPE : Oh, a second helping?  Don't mind if I do

Struggling to help my kids stay on top of their schoolwork :  That last piece of cake looks a bit lonely, doesn't it?

Infection rate climbs:   Yes, I'll have one of those biscuits please.  Oh, go on - make it two.  Dammit, pass me the packet.

Death rate continues to rise:   Pass the crisps.  And the dips.  Don't bother to put it into a bowl - we all know there's going to be nothing left in that pack in five minutes time.

US president decides to take unproven (and possibly fatal) medicine to guard against Covid19d, and to publicise that fact widely:  What the hell happened to that chocolate stash?  It was meant to be MINE.

UK's key government adviser blatantly flouts lockdown rules and appears to think he's not subject to the same restrictions as everyone else:  FFS.  No, those are not my teeth marks in that block of cheddar.

Like I said before folks; I'm only trying to fatten the curve...

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Lockdown house-elves

This is Dobby.  He is a house-elf.  (You may recognise him.)

This morning, Mum looked up from the sink where she was using her good shampoo to scrub the results of a nosebleed out of Boy #2's sheets, to ask Boy #1 to clear away his cereal bowl.  The house-elf was not working today, she said.

Boy #1 complied, muttering, before handing her a sweatshirt.

Since it was not Mum's sweatshirt, she handed it back.

Ha-ha!  said Boy #1.  I'm free!  You gave me clothing.

Mum and Dobby were confused, until they realised: Boy #1 thought she meant HE was the house-elf!

Oh, how Mum and Dobby laughed.  Dobby, perhaps, laughed harder than Mum.  He was not the house-elf, either.

Monday 18 May 2020

Having it all in Lockdown

There are a lot of mixed messages regarding Lockdown floating around in the UK right now.  Lockdown is over, but it's not.  You're allowed to see people, but only one at a time.  If you want to see both your parents you can, but only outside and one at a time; if you want to see both you should leave a ten minute gap in between.  We should wear masks - but only in confined spaces, not necessarily in all inside spaces, and they may not help much anyway - but they might, so you should.

Most people seem to be navigating their way through this host of confusion quite sensibly.  But if you look online - and take it seriously - there's a whole other mess of Lockdown advice, most of which seems expressly designed to make us feel bad about ourselves.

Lockdown, it seems, is a chance for us not to power-down and get through it, but rather the opposite.  Leave aside working from home and holding onto a job, we're supposed to be getting more sleep, more exercise, eating better, learning new skills (masterclasses, anyone?), and generally re-organising our lives for the better.  Our homes are supposed to be cleaner than they've ever been, the shelves tidier, the freezers organised, the annoying little rats' nests of change, clutter, keys and receipts tidied up, once and for all.  Our wardrobes are supposed to rationalised, though quite where we're supposed to take those clothes that have been outgrown etc, I'm not sure.  Oh - wait - they can be repurposed into NEW clothes, that you make on the sewing machine you've unearthed at the back of one of those cupboards you just organised.  Oh, and sourdough!  (Fabulous; sourdough starter - something else to kill.  I can't even keep a house plant alive...)

Well.  Bollocks to that lot, frankly.

If I can stay on top of my children's home learning schedules (their school is still running to time-table.  So that's fun), put a wash on and remember to take it out again, go through the surreal experience that is visiting the supermarket once a week or so, and occasionally remember to run a hoover around the place to avoid our needing to wade through drifts of spring-time moult from the dog, and still be talking to my family in complete sentences by bedtime, then the rest can go to hell.

That's my version of Lockdown having it all, anyway...

Friday 15 May 2020

Lockdown Ageing; Facebook, how very DARE you?

This morning Facebook decided to offer me the option to see their screen differently via a beta layout they are providing.   It was going to be easier for me to navigate, they said.  Things would be easier to find, they said.  The text would be BIGGER, they said.

I became instantly suspicious; were they making this offer because of my age?  At 53 am I now considered to be so old that I need the interweb to be made more accessible to me?  Has Lockdown impacted on me even more visibly than I previously thought?

It wouldn't be so bad if there was no merit in their suggestion, but I'm aware that the last couple of months have not been kind to me, physically.  There is the unavoidable fact of my jeans becoming noticeably tighter on the one day of the week I force myself into them - the result of too little exercise and too many fxck-it glasses of wine - and let's face it, I need a haircut.  Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but about a month ago.  Has fb been snooping and drawing it's own conclusions? 

If they have, there is the remote possibility that they may have heard me muttering about on-screen images getting harder to see.  They may have noticed I have increased the size of the font I use here, or that the best time of day for me to look at images on my phone is in the evening, just before I go to bed, when - crucially - I have taken my contact lenses out.   They may even - gasp - have seen the photo I sent to a WhatsApp group of girlfriends yesterday, showing my in-dire-need-of-attention too-long and increasingly-grey hair...

Obviously, I took a look at the new layout, and it does what it says on the tin.  Bigger text.  A simpler layout.  Easier to navigate.  You know, accessible.

But none of the above is of any interest to me because I am not old.  I have no need of this new dashboard.  I have, therefore, declined their offer and reverted to Facebook Classic (the one that has smaller text and a more complicated layout.  No, of course it isn't only because of the principle of the thing). 

Even though, deep down, I suspect I have cut off my nose to spite my own face.

'Rage, rage, against the dying of the light' and all that...

Thursday 14 May 2020

Lockdown Creativity #4

It's approaching the end of Lockdown Week 8 in the UK.  The restrictions here are easing, a little obscurely perhaps, but distance learning continues for now.  Which brings me straight to my first suggestion for a hit of Lockdown Creativity, and the reason why I'm hitting publish on this post on a Thursday rather than a Friday (as over the last three weeks).

(Note: if you can't see the embedded videos, I've attached a link at the bottom of each paragraph)

The English National Ballet have put together a temporary and free programme of online masterclasses (click here to access those) which in themselves - if dance is your thing - are worth checking out.   However, the reason I'm publishing this week's Lockdown Creativity list a day early is so that if you have the time and inclination, you can check out their Wednesday Watch Party before it is taken offline tomorrow.  Each week they are putting a performance from their archives online where it can be viewed for free for 48 hours.  This week it's the strange, other-worldly and ethereal 'Fantastic Beings'.  Well worth a watch, and if you miss this week's don't worry - there should be another performance available next Wednesday.

For something a little less highbrow, take a look at Andrew Cottar's zoom meeting with his two labradors.  If you've not already come across them Olive & Mabel have become Lockdown internet stars since this all started, due mainly to Andrew's inspired racing commentary of his dogs' behaviours.  This one's a little different, but still hilarious.

Finally, three weeks ago I mentioned ITV's series of 4 short plays 'Isolation Stories' and how much I was looking forward to them.  Whilst they can't (yet) be viewed online, if you're interested in the challenges presented by producing new tv content during Lockdown, here's a fascinating insight into that from the BFI, also filmed in isolation.  Artists commenting on art, as art imitates life...

Monday 11 May 2020

Lockdown Haircuts...

It may be that you are one of those organised people who, when Lockdown started to loom on the not-so distant horizon, organised hair cuts for everybody in their family.  

I am not that person.

Or, it may well be that you already owned - or placed an early order for delivery of - haircutting scissors and clippers, to do the job yourself.  Guess what? I'm not that person either.  

You may, instead, be someone who has an admirably relaxed attitude to the whole Lockdown Hair issue, and has shelved it until the world returns to some kind of normal.  What's a little long hair, after all?  But no, that's not me.

I am, instead, the person who didn't think about haircuts at all before Lockdown started, and then continued not to think about them for another couple of weeks after that.  Although the odd  'Boy #2's hair is looking quite interesting', thought crossed my mind there was so much to think about with home-school etc it took yet more time before I bit the bullet and tried to find now almost-impossible-to-get hairclippers online.  Throw in long delays to promised delivery dates, cancellations and reorders, and by the time they arrived the men in my life had begun to look 1970's throwbacks - or the hair-bear bunch.

Thank the lord, the hair clippers finally arrived on Friday.  

Boy #1 was first to the slaughter.  Except, it wasn't - a slaughter, that is.  I had decided that some prep would be a good idea and thanks to my bloggy mate Toni Hargis (aka Expat Mum), I found Nevsy Zee on YouTube.  I can recommend taking a look (not a promotion, I promise) since as a result I didn't make too much of a hash of Boy #1's hair when we tackled it yesterday.  Not saying that anyone should pay me for my efforts, mind you - he looks a little bouffant around the edges - but still.

Unfortunately that led to an excess of confidence - for me, Boy #1, and my next victim.  Our learnings from this experience are set out below, for the benefit of all...

  • Whatever your husband and son say, it is not a good idea to give your 16 year old a set of hair clippers and let him 'have a go' on his father's head. (Actually, I suspect that you already knew that). 
  • Once you wrest back control of the clippers to try and repair the damage, be aware that for some reason the less hair a person has, the more difficult it is to give them a presentable haircut.  (Just saying).
  • Fun fact: if a person has greying temples and you cut their hair really short (perhaps as requested or perhaps - ahem - by mistake) then it looks like they have bald spots on that part of their head.
  • Finally, it is important to always - ALWAYS - check the length setting on a set of clippers.  This will ensure that when you pick them up again after a fit of panicked hysterical laughter at the previously-mentioned looks-like-bald-spots, the setting is the same as it was before you put it down.  Otherwise you may end up using a shorter setting, and giving them actual bald spots where their hair is a different colour, where this misfortune shows up even more clearly.
You're welcome.

(Needless to say, Boy #2 has passed on the home haircut.  Smart boy).

Friday 8 May 2020

Lockdown Creativity #3

Here in the UK we're approaching the end of Week 7 of Lockdown.  It looks as if we may be reaching the end of the beginning of the Stay At Home orders, but that doesn't mean life will return to a normal we recognise anytime soon.

To keep our minds off that, here are a few more wonderful examples of creativity from home.

Let's start with this: 32 prima ballerinas from 22 dance companies in 14 countries performing 'Le Cygne' (from Swan Lake) to music by Camille Saint-Saens, in support of Swans For Relief.  This was organised by Misty Copeland, and the cello is played by Wade Davis.  Transcendent.  (Click the link below the video on Youtube or here, to donate to the charity at GoFundMe)

Then, if you are a fan of Catherine Tate, David Tennant, or remember Lauren's classroom antics from *ahem* years ago, this from Comic Relief's Big Night In will make you laugh out loud.

And finally, you may remember that a couple of weeks ago I linked to a reading of the Ancient Mariner as part of the Big Read.  It's been updated with further verses read by yet more luminaries (Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, Lemn Sissay, and Neil Tennant included) since then.  Take a listen, it's magical.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

Lockdown; too many hats and fattening the curves

Yesterday, Husband asked me to do a very simple financial task.  No problem, I thought.  Should take me 15 minutes, tops.

When I sat down to do it however, it seemed overwhelming.  The information I needed wasn't where it should have been, and the prospect of going through lists of emails was enough to push me to the brink of tears.  Why, I wondered, was this easy job so bloody difficult?  It shouldn't be; I should have breezed through it - but I couldn't face it.

I shut my laptop in disgust and went outside to try and gather my thoughts.  As I did so my phone rang; a friend was calling in to check on me, and she couldn't have done so at a better time.  She asked if I was OK and for a change I gave the real answer: not really.

As I explained why I suddenly realised that it wasn't about the poxy task.  What had pushed me to the brink were some of the same issues many parents are facing in Lockdown, starting with - but not limited to - home-schooling recalcitrant teens.  Sounds quite straight-forward, doesn't it?  But that requires a host of skills over and above those we would normally need if our children were in full-time education: teacher (I knew that was a difficult job but my god...), internet provider, tech expert, interpreter, police officer, authoritative parent, design & technology expert, 10.00am pt instructor.

Then there are the other, non-school based tasks that have become important during isolation...

Mediator.  Between my sons.  Between my sons and their father.  Between my sons and their teachers.  Between the dog and the cats next door.

Cheerleader.  Cheerer-upper, putter-on of a brave face.

Chief cook, bottle-washer, organiser of shopping lists, stock checker & rotator.

Laundry supervisor.  Domestic engineer & household tasks time-tabler.

And, finally, let's not forget, nutrition expert - though not for right now; it's more of a planning role at present.  I mean, diet in Lockdown?  Take a hike - this is hard enough already.  So whilst some are getting through this situation fuelled by wine, gin, beer, vodka and so on, I personally have chosen chocolate.  Consequently once this is all over, if I don't want to have to go out and buy and entire new set of clothes, I will also be trying to flatten the curves I have been working so hard on fattening over the Lockdown period.

It could take a while.

For more Lockdown musings, check here

Friday 1 May 2020

Lockdown Creativity #2

Creativity is still hard to come by in this house.  I'm spending lots of time 'working' at the kitchen table in an effort to ensure my sons are keeping to their timetables, which in effect - since my laptop screen faces away from theirs - means that in reality I'm spending way too much time falling down internet rabbit holes.

There are some benefits to that though; here is another dose of people being way more creative with the lockdown restrictions than I am.


Let's start with Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski (The Good Fight, Mamma Mia) and Audra McDonald slaying Stephen Sondheim's Ladies Who Lunch - all the while observing social distancing rules. 

I'm dating myself here, but Crowded House's 'Don't Dream It's Over' takes me back 33 years in an instant.  They still sound amazing; here's a link to the band performing a live lockdown version for the 'Music From the Front Line' benefit concert in Australia.

Then, this is - well, enlightening.  Watch if you have a spare 12 minutes and if, like me, you grew up thinking slapping on foundation, eyeshadow, mascara, blusher and lipstick was a bit of an effort.  And especially watch if you don't have daughters to educate you otherwise.  Plus, Hamdeyy gets her male friends to give the commentary, and that in itself is worth a watch.

And finally, something to look forward to: filming has just begun of a lockdown version of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads.  I can't wait.  Full details here.