Plague, Poverty and no bloody Jamaican Ginger Cake! Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day!

So, that was a week wasn’t it. In my last blog, I said how uncertain things were and that I wondered what the future would bring, little imagining that in under seven days both Miss F and I would go down with the Corona Virus. Well, we think we have – a high temperature, exhaustion, headaches, achy joints and muscles, a tight chest and a cough that just won’t stop! Sounds like it, doesn’t it? But then, there are a 101 other things it could be. Better safe than sorry, I guess, and into isolation we went.

That was Wednesday. On Thursday we had our Tesco order finally delivered after waiting nearly a week for it and daily seeing so many things taken from our basket, substituted, put back in and taken out again, that by the time we were finally unpacking it we had no clue what was actually going to be in there.

No eggs, okay, we can manage without for a while. No toilet rolls, no surprise there, thank heavens I tend to stay well stocked with those anyway, so we have enough – for a while. No hand soap, it’s okay, we have bar soap, that will do. No pasta, ok, we have enough for a while if we eke it out. No pasta sauce or passata, I have tomato puree so can be inventive with that. Luckily, Tesco had thought outside the box substitution wise – no almond milk, have oat milk instead. No sliced bread, have a bloomer. I’d put a few treats in the basket to enliven an otherwise bland and spartan diet and had put a Jamaican Ginger Cake in, because we both love it. Well, apparently so does everybody else because they were sold out, we got Golden Syrup cake instead. Hmm, okay.

I did get an absolute blinder of a result. I’d slipped a tiny bottle of cheap gin into the basket and some Tesco bog standard tonic water. For heavens sake, a girl needs some treats. Yep, you’ve guessed it, my £7 bottle of gin was sold out, so they substituted it for a £20+ bottle of artisan Parma Violet gin, and my cheap tonic water was substituted for Fevertree posh stuff. Thank you very much, Tesco.

We certainly have enough for our two-week quarantine period, and, if we ration ourselves and plan our meals sensibly, enough for a couple of months of frugal living. Because we are going to have to be frugal now, very frugal. Friday evening, both Miss F and I found out that our companies are closing for the duration of the virus. That’s right, we are now unemployed for the foreseeable future.

Miss F was only working fifteen hours a week, so we don’t know if she’s entitled to any kind of compensation. Sure, they’ve assured her that her job will be waiting for her when they re-open, but no one seems to know how long that will be. My situation, as of course I am the sole breadwinner, is a lot more serious. My company has closed all of its stores as of next Wednesday. The government has promised to pay 80% of our wages for three months, my company have said they will dip into our holiday pay pot to make up the difference – not sure how I feel about that, but have no say in the matter.

However, before everyone starts rejoicing for me at having three months off on full pay, hold hard. The government are only paying 80% of our basic pay, not the commission we earn on top which changes our pay from subsistence to a living wage. Commission that we will no longer be getting. My basic pay is only about £600 a month. Think about that. Could you pay all your bills and eat on £600 a month?

Miss F and I held an emergency meeting this morning to plan our next move. Discussed were practical ways we can reduce our outgoings, so simple stuff like no lights or devices left on unnecessarily, be mindful of water and take showers every third day, save any unused water for the pot plants, it’s getting warmer so heating off unless absolutely essential (we have open fires and plenty of fuel), reduce the use of the washing machine and hang out clothes on the line whenever possible and not use the drier.

Meals are being reduced to two a day. A substantial brunch at 10:30am then a good dinner at 5:30pm, and not a scrap of food is to be wasted. We’re going to take a look at any subscriptions etc we currently have and cull where we can. Sorry, NowTV and Amazon Prime, but you’re for the chop. Finally, once our quarantine is over, we’ll go through the house with a fine toothcomb and sell anything that we can bear to part with – that’s if anyone is buying of course.

It’s daunting and scary and frightening how quickly our civilisation is being brought to its knees by a virus that still doesn’t seem that deadly. I hope the government does make good on all its promises to help, because the thought of a nation suddenly plunged into mortgage and rent arrears, starving and unable to pay their bills is horrific. I’m sure it won’t come to that, and you never know, maybe this will teach people again how to be thrifty and self-reliant. After all, we did it in the War. Millions of people survived on a lot less than we expect as our right now, perhaps we just need to re-discover that within ourselves.

I think families will be forced to reconnect with one another. If you’re stuck in the house for weeks on end be it through self-isolating or simply because there’s nowhere else to go, then you’re going to have to learn ways to get along without killing each other. Luckily, we have places in our home where we can go to have separate time from one another, otherwise it would turn into the night of the long knives.

In terms of self-reliance, I am better placed than Miss F in that I have so many things I want to do and up until now simply haven’t had the time to do them. Obviously, writing. If I haven’t produced at least one new book by the end of this period, then shame on me. But there’s also reading and reviewing, with twenty books in my physical to be read pile and about 200 on my Kindle, I really have no excuse to be bored. I’m also working on re-releasing Erinsmore and am in the process of giving it its final polish so watch this space for some exciting news about a publication date.

Next on the revamp list are books one and two in the Blackwood Family Saga – Lost & Found and Fixtures & Fittings – and they are currently with my editor. The third book has been written and it will also be going through the editorial stage. So, look out for publication dates for those. Finally, I will regain copyright for The Book of Eve in July so it too will need editing, reformatting and sprucing up for a re-release in August. As you can see, busy busy, lots of plans.

Aside from writing and bookish plans, I also want to deep spring clean my house from top to bottom. Like most busy working women, I tend to get by on a lick and a promise. I clean the bits that show and promise myself that one day I’ll do it properly. Well, one day is now here. Facing at least three months of time off, I have no more excuses. I can take my time, a room a week if I want, but at the end of this, if there ever is an end, I want a house so gleaming with love and attention that Kim and Aggie, those cleaning busybodies from that Nineties TV series could visit and I wouldn’t care.

There’s also the garden. It’s been thoroughly neglected for years because I never have the time to do anything about it other than keep on top of basic chores. My fences all desperately need painting and I’ve had the paint since the beginning of last summer, just never got around to doing it. No excuses now, as soon as the weather warms up a little and I’m feeling less like a worn-out dishrag, then I will be donning my old clothes and getting out there with a paintbrush and my Bluebell garden tones paint. Yes, you heard me, my fences will be blue. That alone is weeks of work and will have the added benefit of getting me outside in the sunshine and fresh air to get exercise and top up my Vitamin D levels.

But Miss F doesn’t have any such plans. Faced with the possibility of an even longer period of enforced house arrest than me as the colleges and schools have all now closed until September, possibly longer, and with no work to go to, no voluntary placement and no coursework (they’ve done their exams so it was just recap work they were doing anyway), she has been left rather adrift. To my comments that sitting around in her PJs for months on end playing video games is neither desirable nor healthy, she snapped at me. I’m afraid I may have to get tough with her. It is essential for her mental and physical well-being that there is structure to her days and definitely some fresh air and exercise in the mix. Perhaps I should force her to pick up a paintbrush with me, although I dread to think what a mess she’d make of it.

I guess we’ll be okay. No, we will be okay. I’ve weathered worse shit storms than this before and one thing I’ve learnt is that this too shall pass. Okay, it may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass. In a few weeks, months or years, we will look back on this and we’ll all have our survival stories to tell of the terrible plague of 2020. There is some positive news out there. The cases of people contracting the virus in China seem to have slowed and there have been no deaths for two days. We are about three months behind them, so by June hopefully this will be at an end. I hope so, for all our sakes, I really hope so.

There’s news of a vaccine, although with the amount of testing they will have to do before it’s available to the general population I fear it’s a future preventative not an immediate cure. There are stories of the situation bringing out the absolute best in people with generous offers of aid and charity from people of wealth all the way down to next door neighbours helping each other out. I myself have benefitted from a friend dropping off eggs on my doorstep only this morning – thank you, Mary, I owe you big time.

But, sadly, it also seems to be bringing out the worse in some people as well. I’ve been sickened by stories and images of people fighting to get the last pack of pasta or toilet rolls, pushing elderly and sick people out the way and even taking their essential supplies from their baskets. It’s dreadful to think that in this time of global co-dependence and mutual need, that there are those who only seek to ensure their own well-being, taking more than their fair share and stealing from the vulnerable and needy. Come on guys, we need to stand together now more than ever, seriously, you want to behave that way over a packet of penne when you have a whole cupboard of the stuff at home? Don’t be that person, be better than that.

It’s growing late and it’s getting chilly. Although a sunny day outside, inside it’s definitely cold. Normally, I would have put the heating on but today we are merely piling on the layers and I’ve found a pair of woollen fingerless gloves to keep my hands warm enough to type. I feel very Bob Cratchett from A Christmas Carol, and it’s hard to explain but there’s almost a sense of not enjoyment – that is the wrong word – but satisfaction in knowing that we will cope, whatever happens, we will overcome it. Plans for the rest of the day include making a thorough inventory of all our supplies which we will then use to sensibly eke out and plan our daily menus. I need to bring in wood and coal and lay the fire for this evening and bring in the bedding from the line which will hopefully then only need five minutes in the drier to make sure it’s aired thoroughly.

Dinner tonight will be eaten by the fire with just a single lamp on and maybe a candle or two, with Netflix to entertain us. Yes, we’re keeping Netflix for the moment. At only £8 a month it represents good entertainment value and we need distraction of some kind or else we’d go mad and murder each other.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. A mysterious looking parcel arrive in the post this morning as Miss F ordered it before all this happened, but I won’t get a card, quarantine took her by surprise and she’s been unable to get one, which is fine. We have a fun afternoon scheduled tomorrow to celebrate of games by the fire and a nice dinner with a glass of something alcoholic for Mum.

It’s sad to think so many won’t be able to be with their mothers tomorrow. My own mother is in self-isolation due to being in the high-risk category, but I did leave her cards and flowers at the beginning of the week and I will speak to her on the phone.

I hope you are all well and safe. Wherever you are and however this virus is affecting your lives, please remember to be kind and treat others the way you would wish to be treated yourselves. Oh, and if anyone knows where I can procure some Jamaican Ginger cake, please let me know.

Julia Blake

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