It is hard to keep up with all the writing tasks…I submit twice weekly to the Exeter Coronavirus Community Diaries via their Facebook page. They seem to like my posts and have asked whether they can use them in an exhibition which is nice. I do also have to do some actual paid Work. And I am working really hard on completing a guide to observing for beginners which will be launched on 6 October 2020 (hopefully!) at St Thomas Library, Exeter.
Back to work after the Easter break was really bizarre. I just had to remember to switch on the work laptop upstairs…I did get dressed for work though. Bizarrely. It still feels good not to have to rush for a bus. I continue to drive to and fro the hospital to avoid husband catching public transport or anything that might be carried on it. These are anxious times as it was announced testing is only being carried out on people who show signs of symptoms. So, we still don’t know how much of a risk we are to each other or anyone else. Husband puts his uniform in a pillow case and straight into the washing machine when he comes home.
Tiredness is a big problem for both of us. I wake up worrying and having panic attacks. Husband is just tired. And worried. I listened to a radio programme about the therapeutic effects of having contact with nature, even if it is only reading about it. This inspired us to see if any garden centres were open and, delightedly, we found one that was making deliveries. I phoned an order for some compost and a few vegetable plants and we are now able to progress our garden plans. We already had quite a few seedlings ready to be potted on but nothing to pot them on with. My Dad would be proud.
We went out for a local stroll, smiling at a few people who also seemed pleased to see other faces as they smiled in return. It is a struggle to find the right exercise. I continue to do some yoga in the mornings as well as the daily stroll. Housework and gardening also provide some more exercise. However, I used to go swimming two or three times a week and really miss this. My feet prefer a form of exercise that is non weight bearing as I continue to get fit and lose weight after an operation three years’ ago to remove arthritis from the left foot. I had only received been issued with some suitable made to measure shoes which help with balance. It is frustrating not being able to walk on Dartmoor as I signed up for a sponsored trek that was to take place in August to raise money for Alzheimer’s Society. I have neither been able to train nor obtain sponsors!
Daffodils and chocolate mark Easter Sunday this year. No church, no family gathering, a muted celebration, yet still a time for hope in these distressing weeks. The hope that comes with Easter has never been so needed as now. An Easter like no other, it is a weekend for continuing reflection as the ‘lockdown’ continues.
For me, I will always associate Good Friday with visits to Rye with my auntie and uncle, loaded to the hilt with hot cross buns for the bus journey from Eastbourne. I loved the pottery shops, the ancient church with its views over to the distant, receding sea. One year we bathed in the somewhat chilly sea and warmed up with hot coffee and cold cross buns.
Dominic Raab has said he appreciates the sacrifices we are making; that it’s the little things like Easter egg hunts with grandchildren, family get-togethers that will be missed. Surely, these are the big things in life. These are the things that really matter.
Easter Day felt really strange. No normal hustle and bustle of church and family lunches to prepare. Instead, a quiet walk along a nearby lane with views over towards the open countryside and distant Dartmoor. As a friend wrote to me, “Easter is a celebration of hope; so, let’s take some of this into our daily lives. I am sure we all need quite a bit of it.”
My local council has started a Facebook page for Coronavirus diary entries and liked my contribution enough to ask for more. Even better, I won a short story competition and will see the story in Prima magazine in July, as well as receiving £100 for the story. That is a result! One happy writer today.
Sipping my coffee in the warm sunshine, I reflected on how much better I was feeling. My eyes were not strained and dry, I did not feel stiff from sitting for long periods of time and I was comfortably warm: not too hot, and not too cold. My finances may be taking a tumble as my hours at work have steadily decreased from 7.5 to 1.5 but my health is better. My mind can ramble as I flit between Work and work. The latter is completing a book project which will be launched in October; it will happen as a date has been set and I am more than half way through. The bliss of being able to add a paragraph or two when an idea comes to mind is beyond compare. Bored easily, I thrive on switching between tasks, not that awful ‘multitasking’ but properly concentrating on something before properly concentrating on something different.
Monday was a bit grim as we were sent home, duly laden with laptops. As I have been setting up a new position, I felt uneasy as to whether I would actually have a job. I hadn’t taken on any of the new workload to any great extent. However, Tuesday was a jolly day spent grabbling with the laptop and its intermittent attempts to connect with the overloaded internet. IT were helpful and I said they deserved much praise. Unsung heroes if ever there were any – all focus being on underpaid or unpaid careworkers this week.
Wednesday was beyond woeful as I clasped my mobile to me everywhere I went, just in case some work was needed. I needed therapy. I needed fresh air so gave up after lunch and planted some potatoes. This task has been long overdue because of the relentless rain there has been. It also made me aware of sounds. The sounds of old-fashioned summer days with the chatter and laughter of children outside, radios from open-windowed houses. Looking out of an upstairs window, it could have been an old-fashioned Monday with washing hung out on lines to dry in the warm, breezy air. If ever there was a time for spring cleaning, this was it.
By Thursday morning, I felt less paranoid and decided to spend the first couple of hours either at work or on call for it. After that I would check emails regularly, but not too frequently! Lettuce seeds were planted today and stories emailed off to magazines. My day has some structure as I take and collect Roy in order to minimise his risks – of bugs from buses and stress from non-existent buses. There is a reduced timetable of transport and, as there are no buses before 7am anyway from here, there is no change to our morning routine. Well, not in terms of getting up and driving to the hospital. A massive change for me has been the extra time available to do a yoga practice instead of rushing for the bus…which sometimes connects with the appropriate onward bus and sometimes it doesn’t. My own journey to work is fraught with uncertainty. Usually. Now, I just go upstairs when I’m ready. Retirement seems less daunting now.
There was time and energy left over to look outside in the evening. Betelgeuse is on its way to becoming a supernova so worth taking a look before the Hunter heads off for the summer. It is far to the west now. The big red star looked brighter but it could have been due to the clear dark skies for once.
Friday I deemed to be a day for winding down for the weekend so finished off the outstanding Work tasks and get on down to some serious paperwork sorting of my own. Today, Saturday, has more hours as I don’t need to go shopping nor do I wish to. The day will be spent alternating between that book project and cleaning the kitchen. I shall have the afternoon off 😊
There are many adverts on television just now from Plan International which, again, highlight the lack of progress in so many areas of the female world. During the last 30 years or so, it seems I have evolved into a sceptical, grumpy old woman. Following a magazine article in 1985, I was inspired to take out a sponsorship for a young girl in the Sudan. Her story still haunts me to this day. I wrote and received letters and photos written on her behalf in return. It felt good to be taking some action. Then, suddenly, it all stopped. The Sudanese government refused the support of Plan as it wanted money not actual help… A similar story emerged in other countries. I left the organisation when I felt the issues were too big for aid organisations and needed the wielding of some sort of incentive/economic-based argument brought to bear by other governments. An aid worker shot in Pakistan summed up the situation poignantly. In this current climate of individualism and nationalism, I feel that globalisation could be used as a good unifying force around the world. Already, there is united action over climate change by young people. Surely, this is the way forward for all the major issues facing the human race? People are rallying round to raise money to help those affected by the fires in Australia. Hopefully to help people as well as cute koalas. After over 80 years of action, I find it astounding that Plan’s aid is still required. And specifically for girls. It is a sad indictment of our uneven global development that more is not being done at a governmental level for people.
‘Staycation’. Back in the days of my youth, we ‘went on holiday’ to Cornwall. Living in the south east, this was an adventure and often involved overnight car journeys, with Dad driving through the night in a bid to outwit the traffic jams. Before the transformative M5 and road improvements, the nose to tail cars would crawl through Taunton, Honiton, Okehampton, Bodmin…And with what delight did we enjoy the wide sandy beaches and gloriously colourful lanes of Cornwall. Cornwall. The name redolent of early daffodils, cream and mystery, of smugglers and shipwrecks, of fun and childhood. By its very name, ‘Staycation’ implies staying at home although it is, it seems, taken to mean holidays taken in Britain. I think people have forgotten that foreign holidays used to be luxuries affordable by only the very rich. They were exotic and to be treasured. I feel that cheap air travel has devalued the experience of travelling abroad, diminishing the experience to sun and sea. Relaxation is important but so to is the experience of seeing how other people live, what other places are like. I am reminded of my OU course, ‘Explorations of human geography’, in which we studied the effects of global travel upon developing countries. The higher standards demanded by many visitors result in hotels importing most of the consumables needed thus resulting in financial leakage to the detriment of the country being visited. It is reassuring to note that over the years there has been an increase in sustainable tourism and efforts made to reduce the impact of too many visitors to significant sites.
Retirement. Oh dear. We all know the retirement age has been raised across the board with particular effects for those of us of a certain gender and age yet the BBC News website has a statement on there stating there are more people over the age of 50 in work ‘a record high’. Why the tone of surprise or why is it even noteworthy? How many people can actually retire without a state pension at the age of 50. I struggle with the notion that longevity must equal fitness to work in the first instance and why are we all programmed to work until retirement. Surely, the best way forward is to aim to have a better work/life balance? Will Hutton put forward a convincing argument in the 1990s about the lack of necessity for a 5-day working week. He advocated that, with increased technology, we should be working fewer hours while producing the same, or more than, as before.
So, with more free time on the horizon, will I have staycations or exotic adventures…? Or exotic adventures amidst the diverse counties of the United Kingdom?
Sights to enjoy in the dark skies
A new newsletter for St Thomas community is an exciting prospect and I am excited to be contributing a small piece. Some of you will have seen me at St Thomas Library either giving a talk or listening to one. A talk later this year will be a follow up one about the Moon. The Moon Part 2. In the immediate future though my next talk will be a private one to a group of local Beavers. I love sharing my enthusiasm for the night sky and the world around us with practical demonstrations and models to bring the subject to life. Look out for a solar cooker making session during the summer.
The object of my contribution here is to entice you outside to observe some easy to find stars. I am a volunteer at the Norman Lockyer Observatory where I have the privilege of being a trained Telescope Presenter for one of the historic telescopes. Come and see me there on Saturday 7 March during the Open Day for Science Week.
I write this as a storm rages outside…cloud, rain, wind, none of which are good for observing. However, February is generally a good time to start as the atmosphere is more stable which enables stars to been seen more easily. You do not have to stay out late as it is still dark in the early evening and don’t forget the dark mornings! The highlight for many people, both seasoned astronomers and those new to astronomy is the splendid nebula in Orion. It can just about been seen with the naked eye. This is what makes astronomy so accessible; no special equipment is needed to witness something special. Once you have the interest, then a good pair of 10 x 50 binoculars will show you an increasing number of visible stars as you gaze more deeply. Telescopes will show you the nebula in all its glory with the formation known as the Trapezium visible. The nebula is located just below the belt – see diagram below:
Once you have discovered the delights of seeing the great red star of Betelgeuse…this is heading towards the supernova, or end of life, stage in its life so well worth catching…, it is nice to ponder on the distances involved in this formation or constellation of stars. That nebula, which looks so clear, is actually 1344 light years away, while Betelgeuse is 640 light years away. A light year is just 6 trillion miles. 6000000000000 miles.
And, following the mighty Orion, are the harbingers of Spring: Leo and Virgo, the latter with the main star of Spica, or wheat sheaf. I’ll take a deeper look at those next time.
Following on from my comments about Lady Hale in the previous blog post, I was disappointed to see a small paragraph relating to the achievements of the female solo skier across Antarctica tucked away towards the back of a newspaper. With all the royal shenanigans it would have been lovely to have come across this achievement earlier in the pages.
An astronomical highlight was a visit to the Observatory on the night of the partial lunar eclipse (explain briefly) It was good to see the Astroscouts again and to ‘gate crash’ their visit to the big Connaught dome where we viewed the Moon. I am always bowled over by how near the surface looks through a telescope. It was great to show off the Lockyer telescope to a friend who proved an appreciative audience for my favourite telescope. For a first visit to the Observatory, that was hard to beat: sole use of the telescope, a lunar eclipse and a view through a telescope.
A bright sunny day saw Roy and I venture out onto the moors, albeit briefly, just enough to assess the suitability of our clothes and shoes. I need to get some new boots! For those following my fundraising efforts, this was a first step in getting ready.
Thanks to a kind gift from a friend, I have been reintroduced to the writings of Thomas Hardy. I am absolutely enthralled by the interweaving tales of love and astronomy in ‘Two on a Tower’. It was written around the time of the great astronomical discoveries in mid-Victorian Britain. His descriptions of human emotions and angst are enthralling and finely observed. I would have loved a chat with him. Some of his books I have found difficult to get into but this one is staying on the bookshelf!
Spurred on by Thomas Hardy’s evident knowledge and appreciation of astronomy, I took advantage of a particularly clear, starry morning to get my binoculars focussed on the waning crescent moon. I was pleased to positively identify Eratosthenes crater. This just serves to show that astronomy does not always have to involve late nights.
A chance conversation about music at work made me dig out my old LPs and I really enjoyed listening to Barry Manilow’s lovely voice once again. He is now 76 with a somewhat waxy smooth complexion.
Early signs of spring continue to delight with a hellebore in the garden and a display of daffodils down a Devon lane.
Not just the end of the year but the end of a decade and the beginning of another one. Ten years ago, I climbed the rigging of a small Tall Ship and celebrated the new year at the splendid Devon Hotel. These events are still fresh in my mind while my body has shown that it still has some strength in it as one foot underwent a huge operation three years’ ago to remove some arthritis while the other one had to hop. The hopping took toll on that foot but I am mobile and looking forward to walking on Dartmoor once again. The NHS are kindly providing new shoes after a lengthy and unsuccessful attempt on my part to find shoes which would take my feet and the orthotics. I look forward to the year ahead with some trepidation and excitement, and hope for us all that it is a peaceful one.
Christmas is an emotional time, especially this year which has seen so many heavy losses to us personally and to people we know. I hope you enjoy this poem I penned on Boxing Day:
Christmas is for children
so some folks say
perhaps this is so
Hope for the future is
babe in a Manger
light in the darkness
carols and cake
treats in a tree
dreams of times past
of times yet to be
turkey and stuffing
feeling stuffed to the brim
and the rest
pies in places best not mentioned
being with family
whose lives interweave
who once were strangers
now are friends
far flung sons
far flung daughters
Christmas is hope
is a pause in the busyness of life
The present is holding on
throughout the year
to the peace that comes at
Greetings for the New Year from www.karenhedges.co.uk
Boxing Day 2019
November. Yes, it felt like November. Bright autumn colours, rustling leaves and in tune with Greenwich Mean Time. I like the clocks going back to the natural rhythm. Is it natural? Joan Bakewell, in the I paper, argued the case for the clocks remaining ‘forward’ so we could enjoy the golden afternoons. In these days of around-the-clock artificial light there is indeed less need for natural daylight during ‘normal’ working hours for farmers and others who need to get up early. Indeed, many jobs require people to get up earlier than the sun other than outside farm work.
It was a month for catching up with friends old and new. The winter months generally are great for catch ups in warm, cosy pubs in the shorter daylight days. The long summer days are ideal for trips to the moors, to the coast and for summer evenings outside.
In my bid to support local libraries, I have come across Reginald Hill’s wonderful non-Dalziel and Pascoe novels. They far surpass the stories containing the popular duo in that his writing is tighter and the characters come vividly and compassionately to life. I cannot put them down. I enjoy the D&P ones and like to see the TV adaptations but these others, well, I want to read them all. The one I have dragged myself away from to write this is “The Woodcutter”, following hotly on the heels of “The Long Kill”. Not to mention, “Deadheads”…a real treat for gardeners…
Coming from a background of doing everything with one’s husband, my Mum is doing her best to adapt to a future life on her own and has booked an exciting holiday for next spring. It reminded me that my generation are so fortunate to have access to various groups via the internet. Indeed, I am profoundly grateful to a group I came across while going through my divorce in Honiton. We all rallied around to help each other out in whatever way was needed at the time. And it showed me that I (nor anyone for that matter) need not struggle on alone as help was always available if one looked for and asked for it. In Exeter there are a great many groups to appeal to any age and interest and through the local community group on Facebook, I am making new friends and enjoying local meet ups and events. The latest one was an international shared lunch with belly dancing and music and craft to follow.
Looking slightly ahead to the month of buying gifts…I shall be at a craft fair in Woodbury next week with my books and other things. The All About Space magazine did indeed include by books in its gift guide and, excitingly, I had my photograph taken with the magazine where it was on sale in WH Smiths.