Considering what I miss/do not miss during this time has led me to the conclusion that I am extremely privileged and fortunate. And in a sense it shames me that the things I miss or do not miss are exceptionally minor in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless…
At the beginning of lockdown I was, as I am sure many were, struggling to cope with the concept of time. What was time now I spent every day at home? What day of the week was it? After a few days of feeling quite unsettled by this, I soon accepted and believed that I did not miss time, as with time can restrictions, deadlines and an atmosphere of rushing. I enjoyed taking my time with mundane household chores, with reading in the sunshine, pottering around, playing video games, answering emails: all without having to rush. However fast forward to today and I miss time. I miss having to rush to fit things in, or making a decision about what will have to wait till another day because I do not have time today. And I really miss being able to tell (without looking at a calendar) what day it is.
Like many, I also miss my family, friends and colleagues. I have older relatives who I am facetiming often, but normally would only see once maybe twice a year (they live a fair distance away), and I am making a mental note to make more of an effort to see them when we return to whatever will constitute normalcy. But is this an empty thought? Will I actually make more of an effort? I see lots on social media about how this has made us more grateful and aware, but is this just empty reflection? When push comes to shove will we just fall back into the same problematic ways? Maybe some will, maybe some won’t: I am hopeful I won’t, but I am not making this statement with conviction. Whilst I miss seeing my family, I am thankful that we are able to keep in regular contact and in some ways I talk more regularly with my family now than before lockdown.
Rather than what I do not miss, I will share what I am enjoying whilst in lockdown (even though it is not the same as not missing something). I like how empty the roads are: I have started to run around Northampton via walkways and roads as part of my daily exercise rather than the park routes which I used to do. The roads are empty and it is lovely! I am enjoying (in my experience) how smiley people are towards supermarket workers and hope that it is genuine. I am also enjoying not driving: I rarely drive nowadays anyway, but I would drive to the gym on the occasional evening and to visit friends. As time has very little meaning to me currently, and I live close to local amenities, I am walking everywhere which is pleasant.
It is a strange time and whilst I think there are lots of things I miss, I am not sure that there actually are. I am lucky in the sense that I have (at least I feel like I have) adapted well to being in lockdown. So whilst there are a number of little things I think I miss, actually I’m getting by well enough to question if I actually miss them. Although, in all honesty, I miss being able to walk to the shop as frequently as required for chocolate! This once a week shopping is resulting in me buying lots of chocolate, and eating it within the first half of the week and leaving me all stroppy when we run out! I think if I was unable to go out daily for exercise, and ran out of coffee, then I would not feel as relaxed as I currently do.
In times of crisis it is beneficial to occupy yourself with things to do. This helps us to cope with boredom, and to distract us from the bleakness of reality. What better way to help with this than to start a book club? That’s right, whilst some of us were sitting at home twiddling our thumbs, @paulaabowles had sent us all a book that we were to read and discuss in virtual book club meetings. Little did we know that this book club was to be our very own ray of sunshine during such an unprecedented time.
Our first book is The Yellow Room by Mary Robert Rinehart (dubbed the American Agatha Christie by the blurb, which is generous). Set in Maine (USA) during WWII, this is a classic whodunit crime novel. With the wealthy Spencer family finding themselves tangled in a web of evidence that instigates their involvement with a dead woman that is found in the closet of their holiday home. The book is filled with intrigue and the plot thickens with each chapter, with more and more clues being thrown into the mix. Until too much is thrown in, and what is left of the book is quite simply… a mess.
The book consists of 30 chapters, and we think the club is in agreeance that the first 20-24 chapters are pretty great. Rinehart throws a number of spanners in the works, with near misses, burning hillsides, death by frights, illegitimate children and secret marriages. We all had our theories, some boarding on plagiarism (they know who they are!). However as it turns out a few of us were half right, and then so were some of the others. We will not give away any spoilers, but the ending, the answer we were all waiting for was disappointing and quite frankly we are still not 100% sure who did it, and what was actually done. The leading lady of the book Carol Spencer, dubbed drippy Carol by the club, because she is, well… DRIPPY, does nothing but smoke and drink coffee, whilst surrounded by crime and uncertainty. But, alas, when all is righted, she finds herself in the arms of an arrogant moody man, all happily engaged! Possibly a romance (although a bad one) or possible a classic whodunit (a half decent one), who can tell?
Overall the book was a success: it inspired intrigue and discussion! The virtual book club even more so! A bunch of misfits, gathered together (20minutes after the allotted time because one member of the group is late- @manosdaskalou), discussing the book, thinking about the social context, the characters, and how it is received today. It is a fantastic virtual club consisting of familiar suspects: the princess, the athlete, the criminal, the brain, the basket case, the parent and the “carol” (representations may not be literal or accurate). What will the misfits think of the next book? Will they all agree? Will one read ahead and sit silently and sheepishly, without the others knowing? Stay tuned…
My favourite TV show - This varies, and often depends on what I am watching at the time. Currently I am watching The Blacklist, which is brilliant! However I have a few which I have re-watched and re-watched because I think they are fab! These include Friends, Rick and Morty and Blackadder. Whenever I am in a ‘meh mood’, I guarantee one of these will be put on and soon my ‘meh mood’ evaporates! My favourite place to go - Tolethorpe Hall- Stamford Shakespeare Company. Every summer the Company puts on 3 plays, they are delivered in an open air theatre in a beautiful and remote location in Little Casterton. My Dad booked tickets for us to see Much Ado About Nothing (my favourite Shakespeare play) back when I was studying the play for GCSE English, and we have been every year since. We are only allowed to watch the comedies by Shakespeare (Pa is not really a fan, but enjoys the comedies) or if they have a ‘different’ play on that is also an option such as Tom Jones What is special about this place is, it is set in the countryside on beautiful rolling hills surrounded by nature and in the summer, it is breath taking. Before the play, we go via Tesco to get a picnic which always consists of strawberries and cream (because we are the height of sophistication), and we watch predominately older couples bring wine/champagne, proper picnic gear with them. There sits us, on our picnic rug (the same age as me), with our make-shift picnic, bottles of fizzy pop, punnet of strawberries and pot of cream (which we drink if we cannot finish with the strawberries)! We look very out of place but it’s a wonderful! My favourite city - Paris! I love being a tourist, and I loved being a tourist in Paris! The city is beautiful, the monuments and art galleries/museums are wonderful, and the wine is also pretty top notch! We stayed in an air bnb, about a 30 minute walk from Notre Dame, and spent 4 wonderful days walking around Paris! Approximately 20,000 steps a day, during drizzly September, but it was amazing! So many hidden gems, as well as, the obvious beauties! I don’t think you could ever run out of things to see or do! My favourite thing to do in my free time - Reading! Or running! I am not very good at the latter but it does wonders for my mental health (not to mention counteracting the amount of c**p I eat)! My favourite athlete/sports personality- Honestly, I cannot believe I am putting this in writing as my partner will be overjoyed, but Ronnie O’Sullivan! I never used to like snooker, until my partner (who loves watching all sports) persuaded me to watch the Masters a few years back, and O’Sullivan is just brilliant! He is entertaining, talented and honest. He can be arrogant but justifiably so: he is brilliant. Novak Djokovic would be a very close second because I love his work ethic! My favourite actor - This is tricky, because I don’t think I have a favourite actor, however if pushed for an answer I would probably say David Tennant. I was a huge Dr Who fan with Christopher Eccleston, and the oldies too (Peter Davison, Tom Baker), but Tennant’s portrayal was something else! Since then, I tend to watch most things he is in, confident it will be a good watch! My favourite author - I cannot pick one! I have three: Jill Mansell, Tess Gerristen and David Baldacci. Mansell writes romantic comedies, which are witty, easy to read and normally read within a day- maybe two. She is the perfect author to read in the sun with a glass of wine! Gerristen is gritty, and graphic! Her ex-profession working in morgues adds a dimension to her detective/crime novels which are fascinating. She is also the mother to my favourite detective: Jane Rizzoli! Baldacci also writes detective/spy novels which are just first class! I own all of his books (except the new ones out in hardback- hardbacks suck, paperback all the way)! My favourite drink - Coffee (I’m a 6 cups a day gal!), Diet Coke: always in the mood for a cold Diet Coke! And finally, flavoured Gin! Although I also love water My favourite food - Mac 'n' Cheese, closely followed by pizza! (Nice healthy choices-oops) My favourite place to eat - Beckworth Emporium (Thank you @paulaabowles and @manosdaskalou for introducing me to the beautiful establishment). Whether it be Afternoon Tea, a Panni or a filled Jacket Potato: it is always a delicious success! And their Coleslaw is the BEST! Do not get my started on their cakes… I like people who - care - it is what makes us human I don’t like it when people - don’t say thank you: there is no need. I hold a door open for you: say thank you. I stop to let you go: say thank you. I buy you a drink: say thank you. It is not difficult: SAY THANK YOU! If you don’t, my friends and family will vouch; I’ll state YOU’RE WELCOME loudly and embarrassingly! You’ve been warned My favourite book - Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, closely followed by The Lost World, also by Crichton My favourite book character - Jane Eyre! She inspires me, even if she is fiction! My favourite film - Now, this is very tricky: I have three ‘go to films’ which I have watched over and over again, regardless of mood. I have written assignments, dissertations and lectures to these films and are always guaranteed to be winners. These are: Jurassic Park (1993), The Little Mermaid (1989) and The Princess and the Frog (2009). However, my all-time favourite film is Dead Poets Society (1989); this film makes me cry, laugh and fall in love! My favourite poem - Variation on the Word Sleep by Margaret Atwood. This was read during our Wedding Ceremony and will forever be my favourite poem! My favourite artist/band -Phil Collins or Elton John (it is too close to call) My favourite song - This is hard but probably our first dance: Thousand Years Pt 2- Christina Perri ft. Steve Kazee My favourite museum/gallery - The Ipswich Transport Museum. I spent many summer holidays, running around the old open top busses, cars and fire engines with my younger brother, whilst my Grandma volunteered here. The history is fascinating, it is interactive for children and the gift shop was ACE. The staff used to let me help stock, clean the various exhibits and serve visitors when I visited. Pure childhood bliss! My favourite person from history - Got to be Elizabeth Fry!
Jessica is an Associate Lecturer teaching modules in the first year.
Unlike the episode from Family Guy, which sees the main character Peter Griffin present a segment on the Quahog news regarding perhaps ‘trivial’ issues which really grind his gears, I would hope that what grinds my gears is also irritating and frustrating for others.
What really grinds my gears is the portrayal of women without children being pitied in the media. Take a recent example of Jennifer Aniston who has (relatively recently) split from her partner. The coverage appears to be (and this is just my interpretation) very pitiful around how Jennifer does not have any children; and this is a shame. Is it? Has anyone bothered to ask Jennifer if she feels this is a shame? Is this something Jennifer feels is missing from her life? Who knows: It might be the case. But the issue that I have, and ultimately what really grinds my gears, is this assumption that as a woman you are expected to want and to eventually have children.
There are lots of arguments around how society is making progress (I’ll leave it amongst yourselves to argue if this is accurate or not, and if so to what extent), however is it in this context? If women are still pressured by the media, family and friends to conform to the gendered stereotype of women as mothers, has society made progress? I am not for one minute saying that women shouldn’t be mothers, or that all women should be mothers; what I am annoyed about is this apparent assumption that all women want to be mothers and more harmful, the ignorant assumption that all women can be mothers.
It really grinds my gears that it still appears to be the case that women are not ‘doing gender’ correctly if they are not mothers, or if they do not want to be mothers. Families and friends seem to assume that having a family is what everyone wants and strives to achieve, therefore not doing this results in some form of failure. How is this fair? The human body is complex (not that I have any real knowledge in this area), imagine the impact you are having on women assuming they want and will have a family, if biologically, and potentially financially, having one is difficult for them to do? Is it not rude that you are assuming that women want children because their biology allows them the potential to have them?
In answer to the last question: Yes! I think it is rude, wrong and ultimately irritating that it is assumed that all women want children and them not having them somehow means their life has missed something. As with all lifestyle choices and decisions, not every lifestyle is for everyone. Therefore I would greatly appreciate it if society acknowledged that women not wanting or having children does not mean that they have accomplished less in life in comparison to those who have children, it just means they have made different choices and walked different paths.
For me, this just highlights how far we still have to go to eradicate gender stereotypes; that is, if we even can?
Jessica is an Associate Lecturer teaching modules in the first year.
We have arrived at that time of the year once again: CHRISTMAS! ‘Tis’ the season to celebrate, party, give and receive gifts, catch up with friends and family, and most importantly… catch up on some much needed sleep. We have arrived at the end of the first term of the academic year, and all I can think is: Thank f**k it’s Christmas. The first term always feels the longest: whether you are first years beginning your academic journey, second and third years re-gathering yourselves after the long summer, or staff getting back into the swing of things and trying to locate and remember all the new and old names. But now is the time to kick back, relax and enjoy the festive season: ready to return to academic life fresh faced and eager come the New Year, ready to start it all over again. Well not quite…
According to Haar et al., (2014) work-life balance is something which is essential to all individuals, in order to ensure job satisfaction, life satisfaction and positive mental health. If Christmas is as needed as it feels; perhaps we are not managing a good work-life balance, and perhaps this is something we can use the Christmas break to re-consider. Work-life balance is subjective and relies on individual acceptance of the ‘balance’ between the commitments in our lives (Kossek et al., 2014). Therefore, over the Christmas break, perhaps it would be appropriate to re-address our time management skills, in order to ensure that Easter Break doesn’t feel as desperately needed as Christmas currently does.
Alongside an attempt to re-organise our time and work load, it is important that we remember to put ourselves first; whether this be through furthering our knowledge and understanding with our academic endeavours, or whether it is spending an extra 15 minutes a day with a novel in order to unwind. Work-life balance is something we are (potentially) all guilty of undermining, at the risk of our mental health (Carlson, et al., 2009). I am not suggesting that we all ignore our academic responsibilities and say ‘yes’ to every movie night, or night out that is offered our way. What I am suggesting, and the Christmas break seems like a good place to start, is that we put the effort in with ourselves to unwind, in order to ensure that we do not burn out.
Marking, reading, writing and planning all need to be done over the Christmas break; therefore it is illogical to suggest taking our feet off the pedals and leaving academia aside in order to have the well needed break we are craving. What I am suggesting, is that we put ourselves in neutral and coast through Christmas, without burning out: engaging with our assignments, marking and reading, therefore still moving forward. BUT, and it is a big but, we remember to breathe, have a lie in, go out and socialise with friends and family, and celebrate completing the first term of this academic year. And with this in mind, try to consider ways, come the new term, where you can maintain a satisfying work-life balance, so that when Easter comes, it doesn’t feel so desperately needed.
However, it is highly likely that this will still be the case: welcome to the joys and stresses of academia.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Carlson, D.S., Grzywacz, J.G. and Zivnuska, S. (2009) ‘Is work family balance more than conflict and enrichment?’ Human Relations. 62(10): 1459-1486.
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