Tag Archives: Covid

I’m SOOOOOO Bored

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Candice: I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached boredom point with this whole home working/homeschooling/lockdown thing.

I think part of it is I looked at the calendar and thought – hey its the 8th Feb and then realised the earliest we are going to escape this is in four weeks time. FOUR WEEKS!

I’ve run out of ways to come up with interesting things to do at the weekend. The other week I did my tax return, then I did some touch-up painting where the walls were damaged in the hall. Getting up and putting a wash on, on Saturday morning, no longer floats my boat, because I can do it any day of the week.

As I sit here there are small snowflakes coming down on top of a light smattering of snow. More snow could be fun, but we’ve still done it all before. And hey, that will mean another trip over to the local park, the one we go to almost every day as its a five-minute walk from our house. BORED of it!

Phil and I came up with a creative way to chat the other week, to try and replicate our usual meets. I can walk to a coffee shop in 20 minutes so I did that, while talking to Phil on the phone, he did the same walking around his local area and found a new independent coffee shop that had opened. It was good to put the world to rights for an hour and a half, and clock up nearly 12000 steps. And Phil has found a new place to buy coffee and cake. But you can tell how people are looking for things to do, at 11.30am the queue for the drive-through coffee shop was out of their car park. And I bumped into two people I know while I was out which doesn’t normally happen.

I always find the winter months a bit harder, feeling contained by the cold and the dark nights. I haven’t been able to go out for a run as I’m an ‘above 5 degrees’ runner. And this snow means the bike ride I had planned will probably go out of the window.

I was doing my morning workout today; avoiding the sofabed, cat and small child while I was doing shuttle runs across the spare bedroom, and I thought – I need a new list. This is the time to finish off those other jobs around the house which will annoy me when I don’t have time. The dining room ceiling is desperate for paint. I also sat in front of a computer on Saturday and thought – let’s do some writing, and I drew a blank as I haven’t written for so long I don’t even know where to start. So I’m going to bully myself into starting on Saturday – when I have my three hours of child-free time and I am going to write. I also think it will make me feel better, having a purpose, and also enjoying myself.

 

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And that was 2020

2020 in the binPhil: So, there we go. 2020 is nearly over, and I don’t think it will be mourned by anyone.

Let’s be honest, it was rubbish. We’d all have been happier to hibernate through the whole thing, and the first six months of 2021 too, I suspect.

Team NolanParker can’t claim to have enjoyed any great success.

Early on, we tidied up both of our books, applied all the proof-reading and removed the typos. All good, but after that March happened, and it all fell apart.

While others were (they claim) learning a new language or developing the ability to make pasta, we just disappeared into the “joys” of ever more work, homeschooling and generally losing all our motivation.

Sadly, our writing mojo is still missing, but at least on a socially-distanced walk in the cold yesterday, we started to look for it. That’s another thing we miss – sitting in a cafe with tea and cake. I’m sure that strolling in the park is good for you, but you can’t use a laptop.

Will 2021 be the year we break through? Will we finally finish our third book?

Does anyone else have hopes and dreams for next year? Please share – you might inspire someone else.

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A Christmas Bonus?

Image result for christmas jumpers in covid

Candice: Today I will be in the office for the first time in nine months. The concept of going in was mooted in September but then didn’t happen due to a change in rules. At the time I was very excited as I would be able to see my work colleagues again and have some semblance of normality. Having it taken away felt like a real blow.

But since then, I’ve got used to my little corner of the back bedroom again, especially since I bought a new desk which has really helped to make the space work properly for me. I’ve got a cosy set up, often with a cat asleep behind me and regular tea on tap when I want it.

When it was suggested we went back in for a planning session the other day I did jump at the chance, but since then have probably had the qualms that a lot of us long time home workers have had – what will it actually be like to work in an office face to face (well two metres apart obviously)? I’ve also been planning what I have to take, funny because for years I’ve just picked up my bag in the morning and got on with it. But now that bag isn’t packed with the usual essentials – they are dotted around the house, around my desk or actually, I don’t know where they are.

Work pass and access fob – check – they are hanging up with my coat downstairs and have been for months. I can see some of my colleagues scrabbling around tonight trying to find those.

Computer – check – charging as we speak. Though there will be ones in the office I think I am happier to take my own.

Charging cables – check – don’t want anything to have a flat battery a long way from home.

Milk, tea bags, coffee, food, lunch – all the essentials – I need to pack a bigger lunch box than I do for my daughter

Clothes – what to wear? It’s our Virtual Christmas party tomorrow too so Christmas Jumpers are obligatory.

Hair and makeup – I’ll need to get up earlier in the morning to be ready!

Small child – being dropped off at school on the way. Haven’t done that in a long time.

I am looking forward to seeing some real faces, and meeting some people I have never met before (though worked with for months). But I’m also cautious as we will need to stay apart and wear masks, which is going to strange. Four of us in a large meeting room trying to do a planning session will be VERY interesting.

But it will also be nice to do our Christmas party with at least some human beings around, so the laughter is real and not echoing down the wifi.

I’ll let you know how we get on.

 

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Are you Doomscrolling?

TwitterPhil: 2020 might have been rubbish for many things, but it’s produced a fertile crop of new words for us to make use of.

Ask me in 2019 what the “R Number” is, and like most people, I wouldn’t have had a clue. It’s the same for “T Cells”. “Furlough” is something to do with horse racing, “bubbles” are what you blow and talking of blowing, that’s what a “circuit-breaker” did in the cupboard under the stairs next to the electricity meter.

Suddenly, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, we have a whole new lexicon, and boy don’t we employ it? I wonder what our 2019 selves would think if they heard pretty much any conversation we have had this year.  Not for us the finer points of I’m a Celebrity, no, we talk about The Pandemic.

All. The. Time.

Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I talked to someone for more than about ten minutes without Covid rearing its ugly molecules in some form or another.

Which brings me on to my favourite new phrase – Doomscrolling.

This is the act of browsing the web looking for ever more apocalyptic news.

Humans are evolved to do this. Caveman Phil would want to be aware of the presence of danger, so he could do something about it. A new painting on the wall that said “Look out for the sabre-tooth tiger” would be useful.I would read this and my brain would give itself a little shot of dopamine to tell me I had learned something useful. Hopefully, not to hang around and be eaten.

Today though, we have mobile phones and Twitter. Endless hours can be spent searching out the latest bad news or getting annoyed at those who fail to see the sense of our position. If you want lockdown, there is always someone who wants a harder lockdown and is competitive about it. Think it’s all made up? Don’t worry, someone has an even better conspiracy for you to wallow in.

But this stuff is addictive. Every bit of terrible news provides the dopamine jolt and so we go hunting for the next gloomy prediction. Sadly, our brains can’t work out that this is bad for us, because they are enjoying the drugs.

What a problem this is going to be for writers in the future. How are you going to set a drama in 2020 and not bore the pants of people with endless virus talk? If you don’t, everyone will know just how unrealistic your words are – so you won’t be able to win either way.

And how will chick-lit survive? Maybe those furtive looks over the top of a mask are a start, but if your characters aren’t allowed within two metres of each other, the romance is going to fade pretty quickly.

She might find the man of her dreams, but can they get into each other’s bubbles?

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Here we go again

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Candice: I’m a little at sixes and sevens this week. After an enjoyable week off work and time hanging out with family – flying kites, building sandcastles – something that felt almost normal, we are back to going into another lockdown.

And it’s not something I am looking forward to. I’ve got my head around the working from home again until Spring next year, it is what it is and, to be honest, I’m not sure how I going to feel when I have to get into a car to commute again. But the thought of not being able to socialise with family and friends have got me down. Each time the rules change you find a new way to cope, ‘Ok so you can’t come in but let’s sit in the garden, Ok not in the garden but we can meet in the park,’ and now we can’t really meet at all.

I’ve gone Christmas buying mad as I don’t want the little person to miss out. I think we have most of Smyth’s Toys hidden in the house. This makes me happier as she’s been writing her list since August so I’d be sad if she didn’t get some of what she asked for (though she’d not getting all of it, it’s a long list). We’d just booked a trip to see Santa too but I’m not sure if that is going to happen.

What I haven’t done it stockpile loo roll, something I believe is happening again. We’ve got enough to last a few weeks so I’ll wait for the madness to die down, though I’ve just had an email from Asda about our delivery this week to say they don’t have any eggs. Come on people, they aren’t closing the food shops.

Last night I started to think about how I get through this next month. With no gym to go to, I’m dusting off the spin bike and looking at the online classes my gym are offering. Planning to go for a walk in my lunch break when its light, not when it’s dark. And then meeting up with one friend when I can. Phil – meet you in the park soon, we can kick some leaves around!

and P.S. I will be diving into some books for some great escapism.

 

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The Internet is lying to you. The rise of clickbait headlines.

James Bond: Superman Henry Cavill on replacing Daniel Craig as 007 “Very, very exciting”

Phil: This headline popped up on my tablet a couple of days ago. From it, you might conclude that Henry Cavill has bagged the job as the next 007. You might be surprised, having read that Tom Hardy was already lined up for the role a couple of days earlier.

What has happened?

Basically, the newspaper who “wrote” the Cavill story has turned an old quote saying he would like the role, and was the second choice to Daniel Craig*, into some words online. What they want is for you to click through and read.

The title is “clickbait”.

Clickbait: content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.

OK, so you might not think this matters. It’s only an entertainment story, and since you know it’s going to take you to the Daily Express, not likely to be something of great importance.

Why do they want your visit?

Advertising. Land on their page and you’ll find loads of ads as well as more clickbait headlines to try to keep you on the site. Your visit will also raise their traffic levels, making the page more appealing to advertisers.

In publishing, this is called “reach” and it’s valuable. Very valuable indeed. Greater reach means you can charge more for adverts. It creates greater demand for your ad space. Sometimes it’s as valuable as actual sales.

Which is why media outlets look for people with headline writing skills. Yes, there will be a story of sorts behind the headline, but it’s all about the clicks, Don’t get me wrong, writing lots of clickbait headlines is a serious skill. Short, snappy and containing what the marketing world terms “a call to action”. If you can churn out a few dozen of these a day, stick it on your CV, it’s a saleable skill.

Does this matter? I think it does. At the moment, every news outlet is vying for your eyeballs and the best way to do that is shout the scariest news imaginable. Bad news sells, it always has done, and the worse it is, the better the “sales”.

In the middle of a pandemic, you’d like to think accurate information would be easy to find, but what we are served with are ever more apocalyptic headlines. Whichever numbers look worst, those are the ones we are told are most important and the figures are then twisted to suit the narrative. And those headlines keep coming. Endlessly.

As I write, more people die each day in the UK from suicide than Covid. Does this get reported? Of course not, because then someone might suggest that the endless stream of bad news is killing people.

Clickbait is deadly.

*Humourous book note: In our first novel, Dave is compared favourably to Daniel Craig emerging from the sea in a Bond film. I did not write that bit. I might have suggested we didn’t need quite so much detail in the description.

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The Hidden Army

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Candice: Six months ago on this date we were told that the UK was to be locked down. A lot has happened in that time.

I’ve been reading a lot of reports in the news about how the economy is struggling, the number of people unemployed, generally how this pandemic isn’t really doing great things for the world of work.

Behind all of this are the people who are working away from spare rooms, kitchen tables, lounges, and probably toilets if they need to. People who are suffering from bad backs, eye strain, migraines from working in unsuitable conditions. Those who have to deal on a daily basis with frustration, loneliness, tears, and anger both from themselves and their colleagues.

I call them ‘The Hidden Army’. I’m one of them, as I have been fortunate enough to have been still in a job through the last six months. We don’t get a clap every Thursday night, or often get mentioned in the news. Everyone is too busy talking about how students are coping without socialising in their first term, or what job they will get when they graduate. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t envy those who don’t have a job and I sympathise with those working in the NHS. But there are a large group of people out there who are working hard to keep the economy going and are largely going unnoticed.

So this is my post for them, 40% of the population according to the Sunday Times, who have been working remotely for all this time, and don’t always enjoy it. Those of us who get fed up with looking at the same four walls every day, who miss interacting with their colleagues over the watercooler rather than by Teams, who find that some days they are frustrated or angry for no reason at all and often take it out on those same colleagues.

So I’m going to clap to my fellow workers and share some of my tips for keeping sane. Exercise is number one – talking a walk, going for a run, going to the gym, anything to clear my mind and get rid of the anger.

Talking to people – some times I don’t want to but the times I have I’ve always felt better. Its all about finding the right person to talk to, and not just talking about work or Covid 19.

Take some time for yourself – even a trip to the shops for 20 mins is a chance to remember what normality is and to escape the house, your partner/child/cat.

Keep firing up that laptop and slogging away. And when you look at that picture of the far-flung beach on your desktop just remember that our time will come. In the meantime take the time to explore the UK, take breaks when you can and look after number one.

 

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What’s in your background?

Phil: In the world of lockdown and social distancing, while we might not be meeting up with others, another portal has opened into all of our lives – the Zoom video call.

Suddenly, your friends and colleagues are able to gawp into your house and we can see into theirs.

This calls for some work on our own personal TV studios. Politicians go to great efforts to include suitable books behind them. In general, books are a safe choice as they say that you can read – and being able to read counts as being an intellectual nowadays. The suspicion is that no-one has actually opened the volumes behind them but interviewers never seem to ask.

Others take a different tack. My favourite is seen above. George Hinchliffe, founder of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. In the video for their superb and hilarious rendition of Wuthering Heights (get me with the literary references) he has casually hung some printed 50 euro notes among the instruments. They are never mentioned, just there. The rest of the band, also working from their own homes, have entertaining staging.

I’m not immune. Recently, I had to interview telly star Tim Dunn, and realised that the background of my clutter “office” wasn’t quite right, so dressed the set with some trains (we were talking about trains).

There is even a sneaky advert for the magazine I edit.

Tim, being a proper nerd, had done likewise.

What you don’t see, because I edited it out, is the discussion over the large scale High-Speed Train in the background. Tim also recognised some of the models behind me. He is that much of a rail anorak.

The point is that we have yet another way to send out subtle messages about ourselves. Like the face coverings last week, this is all new thanks to COVID. Twelve months ago, who would have really considered all this, now it’s second nature.

Anyway, time for some entertainment. Just play this.

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Covering your face, in style

Phil: Phil in a face coveringFace coverings, or masks, are in the news at the moment as the government flails around trying to work out if we should be wearing them. I’m no scientist, but even though don’t have to, as I write, I have been wearing a covering in shops and confined spaces for a couple of weeks. Some would suggest that this is a good thing, virus or not.

Exactly what you cover your mug with is a big decision. These things are going to become like ties – a way to express yourself.

My main mask has VW campervans on it. I’ve also Dr Who, steam trains and a sort of trendy stars design. This collection is likely to grow over time. They are fun, as well as potentially helpful for health.

This makes me wonder what sort of covering the characters in our book would wear. After a little discussion with Candice (there is fashion involved, I’m out of my comfort zone), here are our thoughts:

Kelvin – He’s in IT and has no sense of style. One of those blue disposable paper jobbies will do the job.

Gareth – He’s going to keep forgetting his mask, but it’s probably going to be something picked up on his wife’s cattle farm. She will disapprove of the idea but when he askes, she’ll have something from an agricultural supplier handy. If he’s lucky, it won’t smell of dung. If he’s really lucky, someone in the office will save him from Tracey’s joke present of a gimp mask.

Dave – A sporty number aimed at cyclists.

Tracey – Now we are talking. Tracey will want a covering that says designer. It must have logos. It must be exclusive and expensive. This article from Vogue will help.

Kate – Our hero will quickly acquire a selection of discrete coverings that will co-ordinate with her outfits. Not for Ms Smith, the leopard print that Tracey will doubtless be sporting. Maybe she’s started with this Wolford number as worn by Jenifer Aniston as it’s streamlined and will go with most business attire. These Citizen’s of Humanity masks send out the right message to the more “right on” client, her wardrobe is all about image after all. It’s politer to drop hints via the medium of clothing rather than shout, “WE’RE REALLY KIND AND CARING AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT!” at a new lead. The one she won’t be wearing, is the Kittens and Cats mask someone in the office bought her as a joke, no matter how much any of the cats looks like her Olly…

So, what’s on your face?

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101 days in Lockdown

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Candice: So, it’s 101 days since the UK went into full lockdown. Since then I’ve:

  • got very familiar with the local park and housing estate, as I’ve walked around them about 100 times.
  • been very creative with card and tissue paper, coming up with ways to entertain a 6-year-old.
  • made so many cups of tea I’ve lost count, though I don’t think going back and forth to the kitchen counts anywhere near enough steps on my watch.
  • sorted through a huge box of old toys and dolls clothes delivered by my parents and discovered lots of memories (and some great things for my daughter to play with).
  • moved around bedrooms in the house as I’ve tried to find the ideal spot to work, or make it feel like I am going somewhere different each day.
  • tried not to become obsessed with the deliveries arriving for the neighbour who is doing lots of work on their house.
  • got used to one routine: child at home juggling work and school work, to now drop off and pick up at school, with what seems like a very short window between the two.
  • used my bike lots, riding back and forth to school, escaping on bad days for longer bike rides to clear my mind.
  • discovered I can work out at home, but it’s not as effective as going to the gym. (Joe Wicks, you’re good but it’s not enough to offset the sweets/biscuits/Haribo that is consumed when you are having a bad day.)

I’ve proofread two books, read at least 10 more; some good, some truly terrible (Phil, why did you make me read ‘The unbearable lightness of scones’, that is 4 hours of my life I’ll never get back!)

I’ve got frustrated, been in tears, and been angry with the stupidity of all this, and all the people who will insist on putting stupid comments on social media. I’ve turned off my social media and then slowly dipped back in, but once a day rather than every half an hour, to temper my anger.

I’m still not sure what the new norm will be. I’ve got used to only going to the shops occasionally and timing it for when it’s quiet – my bank balance is much happier for this. I now look up when I hear the sound of a plane going over, as this is a very unusual occurrence. I crave a holiday, but I have no idea what that will look like when it comes. I know I’ll be shattered when I eventually have to start travelling to the office, and I’ll have no idea what to wear. And the idea of having to do my face and hair each morning….

But I know I’ll look forward to seeing people. I have really missed socialising. I’ve been lucky and seen quite a lot of my family but, apart from school-related people, everyone else has been hibernating. I went for a run on Monday with a work colleague, at a distance of course, but it was so nice to see someone different!

And my writing chum and I – well we have our second meet on Friday. Coffee, cake, either end of a park bench and book talk. Sounds good to me.

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