2020 was a year of many firsts for myself, and therefore in spite of the global pandemic (which brought with it the destruction of lives both figuratively and literally) it was actually quite an interesting personal year. I am exceptionally fortunate to be able to say I still have my health (physical, cannot claim with as much certainty about my mental health), a job, a roof over my head and have not suffered direct loss of loved ones due to COVID. Therefore, I feel a content warning is required: this blog does not look to boast or minimalize all the loss, hardship and destruction that was experienced in 2020. But taking a leaf out of my colleagues’ book, I would like to try and reflect upon 2020 positively where possible: and in all honesty I experienced some really beautiful firsts in 2020.
January 2020 saw the most magical ‘first’ I have experienced in my life: the first (and I am very hopeful my only) day as a bride! The day was filled with so much love, joy, food and laughter: where memories where created which cause me to smile on even my darkest days! And with this magical day came a wonderful honeymoon where my first experiences as a newly-wed were not too shabby at all! The Dominican Republic was beautiful in scenery, activities and people! Again, memories which fill me with warmth.
January also saw me graduate with my first masters, although I did not attend the graduation as was sunning it up with cocktails and novels in the DR!
During the first lockdown, my partner and I moved. This brought with it my first experience of living without a washing machine, along with my first experience of purchasing a washing machine (not that fun and quite expensive!). It was also my first experience of living in a house with my partner, with more than 3 rooms! Which, during a lockdown, proved to be essential in many ways: a luxury I know many could not afford.
The Criminology book club began in lockdown (not my first book club: sorry guys), but it was my first virtual book club which is something! Along with this came the delivery of workshops online, another first, and later in the year the delivery of lectures online, again another first! I also experienced my first online interview (panel, presentation the whole works) which was joyous. And received my first offer of full-time employment.
The holiday season brought with it the odd few firsts as well. It was the first holiday season my partner did not work in all the years I have known them (not through choice unfortunately), it was the first time we both drank on Christmas day (partner is usually driving or conscious of work on Boxing day). And it was the first time I did not feel the ‘lull’ in between Christmas and New Years, which was more scary than anything else.
2020 started out with such promise and hope, and threw some serious ‘end of the world’ vibes at us, and for some these were more than just vibes. It has been hard for all and catastrophic for many, but there have been glimmers throughout the year which have kept us going when it did not seem possible. For me 2020 will always be the year of destruction but also a year of firsts: some of which are currently up there as the best days, experiences and moments of my life 😊
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!