Since the initial lockdown began on 23rd March, several of our wonderful Glasgow Women’s Library volunteers have been sharing weekly reflections, diaries and creative writing. As well as being fun, this has been a great way of checking in with each other. Each piece of writing provides a different perspective on the pandemic. We’re delighted to share a selection of these with you.
Week ending 3rd April 2020
Extract from ‘Supermarket Sweep’
‘I don’t think you can freeze wine,’ says the woman next to me on her phone, frantically scanning the alcohol section in Tesco’s. I shake my head, bemused at the craziness the Corona virus has unearthed on humanity. I seem to have been lost in action in these aisles for a ridiculous amount of time.
Having made the mistake of trying to do both my mum’s and my weekly shop simultaneously, I am suddenly further hindered by a chance meeting with an old neighbour (albeit her intention was good). She whispered that she had it from a good source, that as of 5pm tomorrow, we will be in ‘lock down’. ‘Well, at least, in London first, then moving here, to Scotland, shortly after,’ she assured me. Agh!! (cue high pitched screeching ‘Psycho’ strings in my head). I was now for sure, unable to do my usual, quick as a fiddler’s elbow, in and out of the aisles, weekly shop. The further implications of a ‘lockdown’ were yet to be considered.
Faced with blank, empty shelves, staring at me, petulantly, daring me to buy something other than my mum’s usual carrot and potato, I stare at the lone asparagus, all that was left of the Greens section. She was not gonna like it. Asparagus? Asparagus! ‘AspAragus,’ as my mum had first pronounced it as a child.
I now wander, like a lost child up and down the same aisles, several times. No tins of tomatoes, no pasta. ‘Tinned meat?’ I ask the assistant (my mum was getting a tin of corned beef, whether she had, ‘gone off it’ or not). He points me in the right direction and calls, ‘Good luck’, as if waving me off on some ill-fated voyage to the Antarctic. All around my fellow shoppers appear dazed, bomb shelled, like Stepford Wives, whose program has malfunctioned. The aim of their mission, deleted, as they wonder ziggety-zagetty across the Supermarket floor.
At the cash desk, the cashier is wearing plastic gloves, she shows me how her Barbie pink pointy nails have pierced a hole. I tell her a joke, I saw on Facebook; man wearing a plastic collar, type usually worn by dogs after an operation, to stop them scratching. The dog is saying, ‘Noo, it’s fur yer ain good. Nae scratchin!’
I tell her, ‘My mum’s not gonna like the ‘no potatoes’ report’. As far as my mum’s concerned, a dinner without tatties, ‘Jist disnae bear thinking aboot’. The cashier whispers (whispering seems to have become a thing), ‘A woman yisterday, tried to buy twenty bags o potatoes and then another yin, thirty bottles o wine’.
I recall having a wee joke with the same assistant, only a week ago, about the loo roll panic buying. I’d jested that we’d just have to cut up The Beano, the way my mum says she used to, during the war and smirked, ‘Only, it’ll be The Metro, we’ll be fighting over next’. A friend, in fact, later proudly posted a photo of her cyclamen pink face cloth, neatly cut into little strips, ready, present, and correct for re-cycling duty.
Week ending 17th April 2020
This week marks one month exactly since I was last in the library. It has not been an easy month. The most difficult part is trying to get used to the uncertainty. Naturally, there is so much uncertainty at this time. As a higher risk person, I have had to get used to a new and growing anxiety about leaving my home. I used to live in a country where this was a normal feeling. I never felt secure when I had to venture outside, and I was constantly looking over my shoulder, expecting the worst, even if it never came. I have had to deal with the return of these unwanted feelings. Finding excuses not to leave. Getting ready, and then backing out at the last minute. Putting it off, until I realise, I haven’t been outside for over a week.
There is the added stress of financial uncertainty. It is possibly one of the worst moments in modern history to be unemployed. Searching for jobs is impossible. The ones that are available require you to work in public spaces, putting yourself at risk of catching the virus. The ones that are home based, are generally called off at the last minute, because companies and organisations are also dealing with uncertainties and are unable to hire new employees at this time. It is difficult for these companies to pay existing employees, especially if they have been forced to close down and have no way of making any money.
It can be so easy to let the uncertainty creep in and slowly eat away at you. But what has helped me through this time is hope. I have hope that we will come out of this changed for the better. I have hope that we will realise all the shortcomings in our society and hold our politicians to correcting them. I have hope that we will look at our friends and family in a new light and appreciate them more. I have hope that we will look at our leaders and pay close attention to the ones who have fought for us, and the ones who have not, and remember that for our next vote. I have hope for us. I have hope for our future. And that is all we need. Rebecca Solnit says, ‘To hope is to give yourself to the future – and commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.’ We will see the light again, and for now, at least we have the rainbows.
Week ending 15th May
This week I have been catching up with online book events! The Virtual Literary Festival site put on a Big Book Weekend which featured talks from the many festivals which have been cancelled in the last few months.
I particularly liked Mairi Kidd’s interview with Bernardine Evaristo, and not just because it was the contribution from Glasgow’s very own Aye Write. Bernardine won the Booker Prize last year for Girl, Woman, Other which I read a few months ago and absolutely loved. It has 12 main characters who each have their own chapter, but as you read you begin to see the connections between them. I used GWL’s copy, sadly not currently accessible, but if you can get hold of the book by other means I recommend that you do so.
The talks are all still online at myVLF.com if you fancy a look. Other authors I listened to included Marian Keyes and AL Kennedy, and still on my list are Jackie Kay, Maggie O’Farrell, Juno Dawson and others. One of the organisers of the Big Book Weekend was Kit de Waal whose writing I also enjoy – try My name is Leon.
I also caught up with Sara Sheridan’s talk ‘Where are the women’ via the National Galleries of Scotland site. In her book of the same name, Sara reimagines Scotland as if all the streets and monuments named after men were named after women. I particularly like that she chose to call one of the paths in Kelvingrove Park “Stephen Way” after Suffragette Jessie Stephen, my favourite woman on our GWL walks. Unfortunately, Sara’s book is also locked away in GWL but I hope someday soon we can all consult it again.
Finally, I’m still collecting pictures of rainbows and other window decorations on my daily walks. I thought this one was appropriate for GWL – together we can!
Week ending 15th May 2020
This week started out funny, mostly it takes until Wednesdays but Monday was not its usual serious self. Drama Queens by Zoom is just funny, even if we were not working on a script, the things these clever and creative women bring in is phenomenal.
This week I have surprised myself. I have done things that I would never have considered doing, and spoken to people I would never have dared speak to before. I have learned a few things which might address the balance for the many things I have forgotten. And here I am putting pen to iPad and ranting.
Emailed an MSP, Adam Tompkins, when I read (Times Scotland) conflicting reportage about whether weddings were to be allowed to take place in Scotland, with reduced numbers of guests. However Registrars in Scotland are still unable to grant licences unless under extremely special circumstances. So, how does this work? Actually admitting I put my legal qualifications after my name, lawyers take other lawyers seriously, even if they are numpties.
Done things I would not have done before:
- Cooked vegetarian food for a whole week including the weekend. We survived.
- Set up a Zoom Family Group as host, our son is now producing a Family Murder Mystery, and our daughter-in-law is formatting a children’s book where we each write a chapter based on the bizarre life of our black cat Gizmo who was a local celebrity as she rode the local Cathcart Circle trains, and often turned up for hockey games at Hutchison Grammar’s playing ground.
- Finally finished a cross-stitch Tree of Life for our daughter’s marriage, whenever that happens. It has taken 6 weeks and given me a dowagers hump.
- Made a list of friends that I have not seen or spoken to in 6 months and phoned, WhatsApp video called, FaceTimed or just turned up at their houses and spoke through windows, porches or closes.
I have learned:
- How to with circular knitting needles and double pointed needles, now I know why there are five.
- Never to knit with alpaca hand spun yarn, it breaks off into wispy ends and has to be knotted, frequently.
- How to fall and get back up safely, courtesy of a friend and a YouTube video. I was knocked over by a cyclist in Pollok Country Park, he/she failed to stop but had the smeddum* to call me an old tart! I didn’t mind the tart bit but old is not me. So I needed to learn to fall over and get up faster so that in future I could give chase to fascists.
- I have learned to listen more and speak less, enough said. I have learned to scream and swear silently when doing Pilates by Zoom unsure whether I’m muted, hoping that the uber-lithe Odile cannot lip read from a distance, I may consider a mask.
* smeddum – old Scots word for cheek, brass neck, swagger
Week ending 24th April 2020
This week I have been keeping calm and flexible with daily Zoom yoga from the wonderful Yoga Healing Glasgow studio teachers.
I’ve also been sending home-made face masks to family and friends.
I’m grateful for my balcony from where I can chat to my neighbours, watch the birds on and around the Clyde and soak up the spring sunshine.
Week ending 22nd May
Written for a Mass Observation diary day on 12 of May
Extracts from ‘Clootie Dumpling’
Today, 12 May 2020, would have been my grampa’s 97th birthday and it is the first of his birthday’s without him. He died on Friday 16 August last year after a decline in health from the end of the preceding May. On this day last year, we visited him as a family: my mum, my aunt and uncle, two of my cousins and their husbands, with their three children between them, the smallest only three months old on her first visit to meet her great-grampa.[ . . . ]
Today, I woke up and scrolled through photographs on my phone looking for pictures of him. There are a couple of pictures of old photographs from when we cleared out his house. He is on holiday, in polyester polo shirts, in his sixties, already retired, already a grampa but still young. A series of blurry snaps of him chatting to me, that he didn’t know I was taking. Him looking through the newspaper, in the hospital, even though he had had a stroke and could no longer really read; the last picture I took of him.[ . . . ]
I am working from home during the coronavirus pandemic but I have taken the day off. At the beginning of this year, I thought I would spend today with my mum, aunt and cousin, sorting through the box of old photo from my grampa’s house. My mum is a key worker and still travels to work each day which is not too far from where I live. I’ll take a walk to briefly see her today for the first time in the eight weeks since restrictions began. [ . . . ]
The main task of the day is to make a clootie dumpling—a Scottish, sweet, fruit cake. It is a family custom that my grampa, and my gran when she was alive, make a dumpling for you on your birthday. He did this for all his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren every birthday (whether they liked it or not) and still made one for my birthday last May just before he became unwell.[ . . . ]
Grief has crept up on me again. After a death you have some compassionate leave but after that time you force yourself into old routines which don’t leave much room for the reflection and contemplation and space and time that useful, satisfying grief requires. I wanted more time, but I was able to do without, so I went back to normal. Now with much more time alone, I find myself tearful at my desk as I work. [ . . . ]
My mum and I were at the hospital when he died. We stayed there for the second night in a row. Eleven weeks earlier he had a fall and went into hospital. Two weeks after that he had a stroke—the only Saturday he didn’t get his bet on. He never properly regained his speech after this but learned to walk with help and we walked to the social room to watch the racing on Saturdays.[ . . . ]
I hope we all take time to grieve and reflect now, for the world, for those who’ve died and those who are suffering. I hope we don’t force ourselves back to normal. I hope we keep up the compassion and patience we have learned for friends, colleague and strangers. I hope we have learned we don’t need to burn fuel or money or time. I hope we have realised that we have the power to change things instantly, when we want to, when we unite with one shared goal.
Once the dumpling is ready, I will dry it by the fire, warming the room with cinnamon smells. I’ll cut some slices and take them to my mum. We won’t hug or talk for long – we shouldn’t be meeting. But I’ll see her and we’ll both remember him today by eating clootie dumpling and chips, and by going on. One minute left and it’ll be ready. Right.
Week ending 12th June 2020
I’ve just finished my hundredth mask. Making things has, for a long time, been my refuge: when my hands are busy, my mind is quiet. People who don’t craft often react with wonder at the things I make, like I’ve conjured aether into art. It doesn’t feel like magic, not when my hands are littered with nicks and small iron burns. My right hand has new callouses from gripping the sewing machine wheel over and over.
Maybe there is a magic in this act but it’s not in the creation; the true magic is in the disappearance. Once a week someone comes to my door and takes the masks away. I leave them in a basket on my doorstep, I never even see them go, never see the person who takes them away, our only interaction is when I buzz them into my close. When they’re gone, the only evidence of their existence is the empty spools and blunt needles that litter my desk.
A quarter of my masks have gone to family and friends, some of those whisked away by the Royal Mail hundreds of miles from Glasgow. Others, I cycled around the city myself, leaving in boxes, bags, whatever vessel is safest for the receivers. I’ve made a point of not asking for anything in return – profiting from this would feel perverse. They’re mostly made from scraps of fabric from my stash: leftovers, old clothes, remnants I bought long ago because I liked the pattern but had no immediate use for. So far, all I’ve had to spend money on is white thread and elastic.
All I’ve asked from friends who receive masks is that they pay it forward in some way. Masks sent to London and Manchester both resulted in donations to their local food banks. Friends with a car brought me a bag of compost. Another gave me a large box of teabags, oat milk and soap. One of my friends decided the best way to pay it forward was to cover what expenses I have incurred and transferred me twenty pounds. I now have a growing collection of thank you cards which one friend jokingly described as “trophies of your objective goodness”.
The rest of my masks are donated to a group called ‘Angelic Threads 2020’. When they appeared on Facebook, knowing that I’d made masks for myself, at least three friends tagged me or sent me their details. It’s nothing as formal as a charity, just a group of volunteers organised by one woman – who I suspect is probably paying for things like elastic out of pocket – run through the internet, text message and phone call. Fabric, donated by those who can’t sew but want to help, gets dropped off to volunteers to make more. [ . . . ]
Isopropyl alcohol has become my best friend during this, even if it does make my flat smell like cheap vodka. My tools, machine, drying rack, everything that comes into contact with the masks gets spritzed in it. Like the vinyl gloves I wear to handle the sanitised masks, it was something I thankfully already owned – the alcohol for doing my nails, the gloves for everything from hair dying to spray painting to kneading dough without wrecking my fresh manicure. Perhaps not things every household would have to hand but things that quickly went out of stock early in the pandemic.
Each mask is five pieces of fabric, sixteen inches of elastic and a five inch piece of wire. My first set of pattern pieces disintegrated from overuse. My second set is already heading that way. I’ve still got plenty of usable fabric, the need to stay busy and the time to make more. We don’t know how long masks will be needed but we know that overwhelmingly women will be the ones filling that need, because in times of crisis that’s what we do.
Jo Beth Gray
Week ending 5th June 2020
In response to the horrific news of another man dying because of his skin colour and police brutality, and the riots that sparked fires and protests, I have tried to make an attempt at capturing some of the feeling. I found it very challenging, but I tried to speak from the heart.
Disliked, by minority pink people?
The majority who, are colour blind?
Not innocuous, red, and green,
But obnoxious, black, and white.
Rigid thinkers, in tight blue uniform,
declaring their way, or no way.
Seeing red because you’re brown,
no respect if you’re in town.
No excuse, needed to bully,
No reason, needed to restrain,
No apology, needed for killing,
George, black, and blue and in pain.
This disdain for life isn’t yellowing.
We’re fed up with brazen lies.
We want justice.
And a reddening of cheeks,
under enlightened eyes.
We want the whole force,
of the law, to bow on one knee,
admitting this is not the way,
to treat equals, in the land of the free.
We want Floyd to die a hero.
His final breath making it clear.
That the colour of your face
doesn’t determine your value here.
The law needs to be transparent.
No fear in black communities.
Knowing every life is deserving
of respect, of love, of opportunities.
I’m so sorry of your death
And the many lives before you.
Please forgive me for standing by,
White flags everywhere,
need raising high.
This racism must end.
It starts with you…
and stops with me.
Week ending 12th June
This week my thoughts have again been turning to what I’ve done differently and enjoyed during lockdown, and might like to keep once life opens up again. It feels important to prepare for that time and not just let it come upon me, and for the moment, these are the things that come to mind:
- Staying aware of and enjoying the beautiful things that are close to home and realising that you don’t always have to go far for new experiences and lovely sights: the birds singing in the garden, tree blossom, rhododendrons coming into flower, a walk in the park.
- Activities that I have enjoyed and would like to continue, such as writing: a diary, blog posts and short texts for GWL.
- Doing less and feeling less rushed: no travel, fewer commitments, meaning I have more time for other things or for doing nothing.
- Realising that time is a precious resource, not to be squandered.
- Being prepared to let go of planning and accepting that plans may need to change.
- Being able to focus on myself rather than accommodating others.
- Appreciating and spending time with (virtually or for real) the people who matter: my partner, my siblings, my friends.
One thing I have been doing a lot more of and that I would like to let go of, is being so much online. It has been a fantastic way to stay in touch with others, follow courses and get information, but I am currently feeling as if there is too much virtual life and not enough real life, and I sense that, for me, that will need to change.