Getting by and getting on


I’ve spent a lot of time online shopping these last two weeks. Shopping for food.

Before we went to Australia we’d let the store cupboard run down as we didn’t want to come home to rats, mice or moths. When we arrived home it was to a literally empty freezer and cupboard. So getting ourselves fed was our first priority. We didn’t want to hoard, we just wanted enough to live on. Government instructions were then for us to self-isolate for two weeks. We went on a hasty gloved and masked trip to a supermarket to get some immediate necessities, but most things were sold out. A lucky delivery slot and a neighbour’s gift of eggs and loo roll saw us through the first week.

However, we had to find a more secure source of food and groceries. I used all of my online searching skills, which are I might immodestly say are considerable, to track down most of the things that we need and organise regular deliveries. Result.  While we don’t have the same range that we are used to, we will now be fine. We even have the odd treat coming now and then.

But now we have to self isolate for much longer. Not just a fortnight, but a likely three months. (Or even more.) I’m vaguely panicked about the prospect of  having to keep on worrying about food, something I’ve always taken for granted. Being secure about food wasn’t the case for my parents’ generation. They lived through the Depression and WW2. As a result, my mother and father made sure they always prioritised food and a roof over their heads. They saved enough to buy a big block of land in an undesirable suburb where they kept hens, planted a small orchard and a large veg garden. My mother also baked, dried, pickled, preserved and jammed any surplus. And thanks to them, I know how to do all that too – but it’s been about lifestyle choice, not necessity, for me. My father also retained a deep suspicion of banks, and after he died we kept finding little cash stashes hidden away. In fact I found another few notes just a few weeks ago as I was going through some old papers – and that’s some thirty years later. Current events can have profound effects on the smallest aspects of our lives.

So as I write this, I wonder how cosy first world middle class families like mine might find their behaviour and attitude changed by our current circumstances. Are we suddenly rethinking our privilege, and shelter from the kinds of hardships that other generations experienced, and huge numbers of people all over the world still face on a daily basis? Do those of us in lucky countries and lucky classes now appreciate differently how fortunate we’ve been? And how might this realisation change our behaviour in the future?

I also find myself trying to remember the flu epidemic I lived through – just. I was six. I can remember losing my voice and then nothing much, other than nearly unstoppable nosebleeds, until I woke up after an emergency  operation on the kitchen table – no room in the hospital – which apparently saved my hearing. I still can’t get a whiff of ether without feeling a combination of the terrible nausea and panic I experienced in home-based post-operative recovery. There’s always also a moment of gratitude for our local card-carrying Community Party GP who was able to act swiftly and skilfully. And a flash of going back to school and hearing about some children who didn’t make it – and the wonder about what made the difference between those of us who survived and those who didn’t.

Ah, but what’s actually going on now? Right now. I tell myself that the existential anomie I’m feeling is temporary. The feeling of vague dread is probably a passing thing. The desire to be cocooned is likely to be short lived. The odd fantasy about a Rip Van Winkle sleep for three months, waking up to a new post Covid19 world is just that, a waking day-dream.

My current analysis of my own situation is obvious. Trite even. I’m going through an early stage of adjustment. In part, this is about a changed work situation.  Even though I am used to working at  home, and even though I have been distracted by becoming a digital hunter-gatherer, I have a new lack of enthusiasm for reading and writing. I used to love working at home when it was a respite from work. Now that being at home and working is the new normal, I feel a bit out of sorts with the prospect of nothing but being stuck to my screen and mouse. I find myself reading depressing pandemic news rather too often. I’m much more drawn to reading fiction and working on my current crochet blanket than I am to getting on with the next writing project. I don’t want to just be working at home. I also want to be working at work. After a lifetime of managing the blurring of home/work, and taking pleasure in each, the two have now morphed together. And not through choice.

Adapting to this new situation is obviously not easy, even for the most advantaged of us. And I’m certainly highly advantaged – a secure job which means I don’t have to go out to work, and thus income, roof, garden, internet, hot water and a supply of soap. Nor am I on the front line and I don’t have any family who are, but like most people, I do have friends who are, or who are ill. I worry about both. Figuring out how to manage the new home/work in the middle of a global crisis is clearly not a simple, or perhaps even quick task.

So this post is really just to say to the doctoral researchers I work with, and those who I work with indirectly, it’s OK not to be on top of it all. I’m not. Take the time to sort out how to manage. I am. Acknowledge your feelings. Look after yourselves. Do the best you can. That’s me too. Day to day. One thing at a time. And importantly, don’t hesitate to seek social support online and with your peers, supervisors and colleagues. See what your university has on offer at this time – please please ask for financial assistance if you need it. Campaign for funding and deadline extensions if you are up to it, and if you’re not that’s fine too.

I get it. You do what you need to do now in order to make a new kind of life at this time.

  • Acknowledge what’s going on.
  • Step away from the news.
  • Connect, find community.
  • Empathise with others.
  • Look for ways to adapt.
  • Live in and with the present.
  • Set small goals.
  • Take baby steps.
  • Find new routines.
  • Celebrate each achievement. Yes. Every one. Even getting a single tin of tomatoes.
  • Be grateful for what you can still do.

That’s certainly what I’m going to try to do too.