We’re not quite there yet, but I feel in our home we’re keen (like many) to see the back end of 2020, so back in November a portion of the Christmas lights went up, to say we’ve gone overboard on our lit model village display would be a mooosive understatement and we shipped ribboned garlands, baubles and a myriad of lanterns up from the shed weeks ago. This place is decked out with more festive bling than a Liberace concert suit…
But this isn’t a woe betide me post. Without wishing to sound like a blogging cliché, this post is actually about what I’ve loved and been grateful for during the most extraordinarily year we’ve ever experienced… I’m not religious, but I do have a good splattering of spiritual bones in my body (thanks grandma), so often I pause and give thanks for all that I’m very fortunate for.
“COMMUNICATION LEADS TO COMMUNITY”
Let’s kick it off, appropriately, with a little chunk of my life that exists online. Instagram, or rather I should say the flesh and blood of the forum – the people, the followers, the community and its supporters… this little family, often of like-minded souls, has been a positive distraction, a support base and the best source of inspiration for someone who loves to keep the creative fires burning… A creative community that transcends all the normal social norms that you may fall into, in a physical setting. Beyond someone’s passion or talent, you (often) know little of their life but I find the relationships I’ve built with fellow makers and regular customers/followers genuine, supportive and real. This is a happy contradiction to how staged and negatively intense I so often find social media in general. Instagram has been, almost exclusively, my online happy place this year.
I’d much rather look at a creation on a #shelfie than a ream of #selfies – the former says more about the depth of that person than a myriad of faces staring back at you (although I grin and bear the-back-to-school-kid-photographed-in-front-of-door tirade that happens each September!). In a year which took ‘disruption’ as is its middle name, this community has given me drive, purpose and routine. From crafts, interiors, illustrators, interior designers, furniture makers, architects and designers – I could happily get lost in pictorial heaven.
But whether on or offline, ‘people’ have been the mainstay theme in what I’ve appreciated in a year which has prevented us from normal interaction.
I’m pretty outgoing, I’m a joker and love to have a laugh, but I’m also very at home ‘at home’, in my own company (and that of animals!). But this year, I think I held people closer, even from afar. Reminiscing with friends and family and looking forward to good times again reminded me it’s not necessarily the experiences (dinners, concerts, weekends away) that I missed, it was simply the people I normally do those things with.
“THE EARTH HAS MUSIC FOR THOSE WHO LISTEN”
Now we’ve made it – like a scene from The Hunger Games – to the last month of the year, this one may now be deemed an over-egged cliché, but I’m going to celebrate it anyway: finding more time to enjoy nature. Many of the adjustments we had to make this year have been reliant on technology. Ironically, these ‘remote’ infills were in a bid to keep us connected – be it home schooling or sharing a drink with friends over Zoom or House Party – and whilst this was all valuable, I really found getting OUT was a therapy I almost craved as much as a large glass of something in evening, patting myself on the back for managing to be a proper, solo parent!
My sister thinks I’m a bit weird (good job it’s trendy to embrace ‘weird’ nowadays – always been a trend-setter me) but I’ve always been captivated with biophilia. My childhood collections of sheep skulls, shells and gemstones have been upgraded to (ethically) mounted taxidermy jewel beetles, beautiful raw crystals and fossils… But I’m equally as happy with the simpler selection that can be found in our gardens. Getting out in nature has been a massive release and psychologically, a basic need. Lazy dog walks replaced highly-charged (… not always…) PT sessions, strolling was a great head-clearer and, as our worlds got smaller, I noticed so many beautiful details through the changing seasons – which seemed to move in slow mo’. From blossom and bluebells, to birch, berries and briars, brooks, beetles and buttercups, blackbirds, butterflies and bees … It was a comfort, a constant. Whilst the press bombarded us with scary scenes and uncertainty, nature held fast.
It’s no coincidence we used nature – a rainbow – as our emblem of hope during those early weeks. Nature is beautiful and powerful. If you love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.
“BY COMING AND GOING, A BIRD WEAVES ITS NEST”
Nesting… nope, no news to announce! But I always go through spells of changing things up at bit at home. I’ve loved both our married homes so much, but it’s not so much about the four walls, as what you put inside it. The home is such a fascinating diary of someone’s life and like life, I can’t sit still with it. When is a home ever ‘done’?! It should be a collection of passions, past-times and loves, a treasure trove and liveable exhibit. Even if it’s putting a string of fairy lights around a door frame or dressing a window sill with a new vignette of accessories, having little projects for your home on the go is like wrapping your family in a blanket. Spending more time than ever at home this year meant really valuing the small touches and changes that can make such a difference.
And at home this year, it’s not about heaping wrapped presents under the tree, but enjoying the build up and excitement of Christmas, because frankly we all deserve some positive prospects!
Rushing towards 2021 with renewed hope for a vaccine, immunity, even a partial return to ‘normal’ – or all of the above – has fast-forwarded Christmas, as I touched on as I opened this blog. But for the first time in years, I’m focused on the anticipation of Christmas in terms of all its magic. I don’t feel under the same stress to get all the lists ticked this year… Maybe I’ve afforded myself more time or perhaps, because much of what we’ve looked forward to all year has been taken away from us without warning, this is something we know, it’s in our control, we do this every year, so let’s gather those (reindeer) reins up and soar!
The buzz this year is about making a cosy grotto at home – lighting fires, punctuated by the smell of pine sprigs tucked into picture frames, having a pan of mulled wine on the hob to dip into, sealing presents with gorgeous wax stamps, tied with vintage lace and sprays of basil leaves – never mind what’s inside! Have we been given a wee wake-up call as to what really matters in some senses?
Sometimes, even in the toughest phases of 2020 a negative managed to contort itself (albeit a little ungracefully) into a positive, which leads me onto my next story…
“AFTER THE STORM COMES A RAINBOW”
During the first lockdown, our third little rescue terrier didn’t deal well with the confusion and changes to her pack – first my husband disappeared (working away from home for 13 weeks as a keyworker), then my sister’s dog moved in. Then, all that got undone – like a confused kaleidoscopic mergence my husband returned, my sister’s dog left for her own home and it was too much for Marmite. I had to – very quickly – do something I’ve never done before and rehome her to close friends. As I’m known for rehoming and rescuing anything with 2-4 legs (and anything in between) this was heart-breaking for me.
It’s not in my DNA to fail an animal (how it felt at the time). I am the woman that donned a head torch, a pet carrier under my arm and a ladder to climb up a tree at dusk to retrieve a dumped cockerel years ago (he’s just turned 10!), looking very much like a dodgy poacher…
But as it turns out, in a bit of a roundabout, typical 2020 way, we all ended up giving Marmite her happy ending. And the dynamic in both households is more positive for it. My old boy has a new lease of life (this translates as he will happily destroy toys which cost £7.99 a pop, working out at around a pound a minute of enjoyment), the other pup is calmer and as a unit they’re a close team. Marmite has landed on her paws in a home where she is protected by a gentle chocolate Labrador, is worshipped by our friends and has had more staycations in beautiful parts of the UK this year than I’ve experienced in my life! She lives close by, so even Covid can’t prevent me from bumping into her on walks and waving to her over the wall at playgroup drop off – and I still get the occasional hug.
Which just goes to show, even if you think you have empathy and an understanding of animals and try to do your best for them, we can always learn from these sensitive, intuitive pack animals, who cannot talk to us but need to tell us so much… We miss her hugely, but we’re safe and warmed by the knowledge that she has a happy, stable home for life and in that respect our rescuing of her in the first place did indeed lead to her own happy ending (albeit in 2020 style!).
THE WORLD GOT SMALLER – & I LIKED IT
As planes were grounded and, closer to home, we were told to stay put, our world shrank and we regressed in many ways back seventy years … no bad thing – my favourite era of all time… I’ve always been convinced if I did past life regression I’d find myself propped up in a milk-shake bar in a polka dot skirt! … I digress.
Our restaurant was swiftly turned into a food hall (always in the plan, pre pesky virus landing) and it was warming to see these smaller, independent businesses thriving during the first lockdown. They became the centre of communities again, as corner shops, hardware stores and groceries were years before the supermarket and branded chain models took over the way we shop. This bought people together (socially distanced) too, which was so vital during those weeks of isolation. Our local post office morphed into a coffee shop, sold slabs of lovely cakes and exhibited local craft-people’s wares. People’s buying habits changed – we couldn’t keep up with the demand for flour and yeast – and these little hubs often made people feel safer, rather than taking on scores of people at the supermarkets.
Contrarily, being more reliant online has switched my allegiance up a gear to small producers, creators and suppliers. As the supermarkets and large garden centres forged a monopoly on non-essential items on their shelves, I turned to Instagram recommendations, Etsy, Not on The High Street and independent sellers for gifts and toys. As soon as we were able, I headed out with Short Stuff to our local toy shop and bookshop which has survived in our market town’s High St for as long as I can remember. They deserve a place there post covid too.
Amazon’s owner’s net worth has more than doubled during the pandemic… And hat’s off – their model is amazing. It’s efficient, easy, all encompassing and its delivery barely ever fails me. But we can all do our bit to keep small businesses buoyed and profiteering. And what Amazon can’t compete with is the one of the kind, unique gifts garnered from independents, and there’s more thought in those than any mass produced, branded item will ever give you.
HAPPY DAYS & A HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!
P.S. I’m not completely, piously ‘cured’ by 2020…
… I’m gagging to get on a plane and explore other cultures again.
… I will fist bump the air when I get to book a table to sit down and have dinner with five other friends again (or one other, as it stands right now!).
… When we ‘graduate’ from covid, I will happily toss every mask owned in this house in the air with the same gusto extended to mortarboards… (afterwards I will snap the ties off so as not to endanger wildlife and dispose of them properly, obvs).