A pain in the neck

There is a lot of looking backwards going on right now. No doubt we feel a little nervous about blue-sky projecting as goal posts beyond our control keep shifting. It is easier to be an expert on the past than it is to predict the future and it is also a year since we went into the first Lockdown so we have had this novel anniversary to reflect on. It has given us a new distraction, but comes with a health warning – if this is not an anatomical tautology – that too much naval gazing can make us become a pain in the neck.

I have never been a great one for looking backwards but I have found myself peering awkwardly at my shadow and this may explain the crick in my own neck. I have a feeling that in years to come, if have the inclination to look back on the last seven days, these will be the ones when I recognise I hit the proverbial wall – the week when I had to dig the deepest for some positive self-talk; the week when I sometimes just could not be bothered. Forgive me, for I have had little sympathy for those who haven’t been able to find their inner Pollyanna over the last 12 months ; I apologise, for I realise that I have needed to mine a deeper shaft this week in my own search for diamonds. Quite frankly I have become bored with my own sighing, whinging and general grumpiness. I have become a walking, talking frozen shoulder.

By realising that it is exactly one year since I sat in a very impromptu Year 11 Leavers’ assembly – an event hastily cobbled together when GCSE and A Level exams were cancelled – it has allowed me to do a little audit of the last 12 months and get down to the roots of my black dog. Since I have blogged my way through the last year (sorry), I do at least have a catalogue of my chunterings and if I can bear to read back through those witterings I may be able to drill down for the good stuff that went on, I may potentially get my dragonfly back into orbit and I may be able to reboot my mojo. This is the plan.

It is no good getting older if you don’t get wiser and we are all one year older so I need to apply the transferable skills I have been acquiring over the last 12 months.

The fact that I have turned into a grumpy old witch slapped me in the face last Sunday when I realised that my response to receiving the Covid vaccination was the binary opposite of Favourite Man’s. We were jabbed together at our local football stadium and FM saw it as our first date night out in months – don’t get me wrong, we have had a valiant attempt at date nights, but over the year they have fatigued from candle lit dining into kitchen suppers, and then into tired TV takeaways. We have given crockery and cutlery the cold shoulder treatment. Very sad.

From the get go last Sunday, FM was in full-on giddy kipper mode, eulogising about the efficiency and scale of the Covid pop-up vaccination centre. After a year of WFM, FM was clearly chuffed to have an excuse for a legitimate ‘night out’. He was excited about taking his car on the motorway; I was irritated by the absence of travel sweets in said car, muttering that I had driven this section of the motorway every day for the last year. All I could whinge as we entered the stadium was, ‘the last time I was here I was watching ‘Take That’ with my daughter; I miss those days’. FM pretended not to hear me, deflecting my rain off his parade by chatting away to the volunteers and medical team from behind his freshly ironed mask. He was justifiably elated about moving into the next phase of our Covid journey; I was treating it as an irritating intrusion into my Sunday evening – as if I had needed to cancel a better offer. FM wanted to cap the evening off with a drive-thru take away celebration en route home. I just wanted my bed.

Even our physical reactions to the jab were juxtaposed. FM sailed through; I felt like someone had put my arm through a concrete mixer and could not stop shivering at work the next day. On my return home I went straight to bed sporting my coat, scarf and hot water bottle. I resurfaced next morning more vexatious than ever. I knew I had hit a road block when a colleague reminded me that we had Red Nose Day to look forward to. I heard myself thinking, ‘I have no capacity for comedy right now, point your red nose in the opposite direction,’ and hoped that I had not said this out loud. I was floundering into a situation where I would be the only teacher not dressed up for a day of enforced fun, even though I truly believe that laughter is contagious. At the very worst, if I had any integrity I would need to find a default position – surely I could find a red rag with which to torment this load of bull I seemed to be spouting?

Fortunately, by the time I was bored enough with myself to look up from my pity party (Wednesday to be precise), I had a run booked in with one of my most positive friends. She skilfully contextualised my grump and suggested that I plan out some time to note some achievements and high fives from the last year – looking backwards to look forward, if you will.

I challenged myself to write positive things only onto a large piece of paper and kept adding to it as the week proceeded. I actually came up with quite a lot – I filled two sides of A3 -which may explain my fatigue.

As a result of this exercise, I can now share with you some edited highlights from the last 12 months.

  • I relinquished my sea-side bachelor pad/sanctury and made the bold decision to move in with FM between Lockdown II and III. (Thinking about it, this makes his upbeat attitude even more of a miracle). I wait for a call from the makers of ‘Love in the Age of Corona’; our story must be of interest to someone.
  • I am closer to selling a house (that has refused to sell for over two years) than I have ever been before. I hope I do not jinx the sale by writing this. All I can say is that my estate agent is a saint and I wish that the solicitors and mortgage brokers involved could move at his pace. Enough said. I feel tired just typing this.
  • My Lazarus of a 94 year old mother has given us plenty of health scares, but has risen from the ashes each time. Her little pearls of wisdom have navigated me through some tense times on bullet points 1 and 2 . I managed to see her on Mother’s Day and was impressed to realise that she had completed her first flower arrangement in years. Squeezing past her stair lift to get upstairs, I was less impressed to find all her flower arranging boxes piled high on the landing ; ‘If you could just pop them back up in the attic dear, that would be great. I was fine getting them down, but I know you won’t want me tackling that ladder again. When you’ve done, I wondered if you could cut my hair? I fancy a change – a blunt bob perhaps.’ (As an update on the hair cut, it is a good job that mum is not so adept at looking backwards as I have been this week – her rear view mirror may lead to disappointment. I did my best).
  • Favourite Daughter and Favourite Son – they are not my achievement but they have made me so proud. I do not think I could have survived a Lockdown in London when I was their age. I know they have had no choice, but they have remained upbeat, wise and playful. I love the way they continue to invest in their careers – though mostly stuck at home – and the way that they have juggled relationships and been as creative with fun as Boris will allow. I have no doubt that Red Nose Day will have been a walk in the park for them, even if they could only walk in the park with one other person.
  • Technology. Although I now have a diet too rich in Zoom and Teams for my liking, when I think back to a year ago, I would not have been able to run the yoga, family catch ups, work calls and remote teaching that I can now just about manage. I would never have put myself on a course to learn these things . Necessity is indeed the mother of all learning. I have apps on my phone that I personally uploaded and am actually able to use.
  • Exercise. I am no doubt larger and heavier than I was this time last year, but I am proud that I have managed – mostly – to turn up for every run, yoga class or boot camp that I have booked in to (well nearly, I missed one because of my grumpy Covid Vaccination reaction this week). These sessions have punctuated the year and have exercised my brain, even if my body doesn’t look like it has much to show for it. I have honestly never felt worse for completing one of these physical challenges and my goodness am I grateful for the structure that they have provided.
  • Dora the Explorer (aka my little blue mini) remains a loyal best friend. Acquired between Lockdown I and II, this little treasure has made up for the absence of date nights. While I moan about my motorway commute to school (the flat in my first bullet point was 10 minutes from work, reader – showing that affairs of the heart do little for logical decision making), her heated seats have warmed my backside each morning during my new 40 minute drive. Her Sat Nav has remained largely untested, but we have travelled through vicarious Thelma & Louise moments thanks to her limitless access to an extensive podcast library. My commitment to a weekly wash and valet (for Dora, you understand, my own ablutions are daily) has no doubt contributed to her loyal secrecy about my drive-time choice of music.

For a hint of realism, I was going to end with some headlines about the things that haven’t gone so well over the last 12 months, but since typing the list above, I find my neck suddenly only wants to face forward. I ask myself, who wants to read about menopausal hot flushes and home bread baking anyway? Now I am no expert, but I think I may just go with my newly locked neck and trust that it is directing me to look forwards towards a finish line that surely has to be closer than the start line. I am off to re-starch my face masks in preparation for the week ahead.

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