Poland, the country I no longer know

Warning: a long read on the subject I know little about, but when did that stop anybody?


Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza (Election Gazette) used to be my favourite source of news and gossip from Poland. The journalists were of decent quality, the writing entertaining. Alas, Gazeta Wyborcza became subscription-only a few years ago, not even one free taster article a month, just a few lines fading away before it got interesting. Subscription fee is negligible but it’s the principle that I object to; so Gazeta was out.

I do not watch Polish TV, not since I got tired of maintaining the charade that the Cyfra+ satellite dish affixed to the side of my London house was in fact firmly screwed onto a wall somewhere in Poland. The owners of this particular satellite TV insisted that only people who resided in Poland could access their services; Cyfra+ was out too.

My visits to Poland over the years have been short and far between and when I did go, it was to immerse myself in a picture perfect countryside, my tourist status shielding me from everyday Polish realities.

I left Poland more than three decades ago. For several years after that I busied myself designing, building, destroying, and re-building my new life in London. My days were spent moving and decorating houses, giving births, getting and losing jobs, and performing similar life-defining rituals. All this left me with no time to follow the news from Poland. I did not keep up with any of the major political, social, and cultural changes that Poland was going through after the end of Communism.

The crazy 1990s came and went, my stormy personal dramas went with them, replaced by so-called life stability. At about the same time, the Internet started to gain momentum, so I could read the latest news from around the world with my morning coffee.

Gazeta Wyborcza was in its infancy, but it was still free of charge. I understood little of what I read; with a few exceptions, all names and faces in Polish public life had changed when I was busy elsewhere, which was frustrating. I felt the growing sense of detachment. Poland was slipping through my fingers.

A few more years had passed, my life was running at full speed, and then suddenly, wham! Poland joined the EU, and the job seeking Poles began to arrive on these shores in their tens (hundreds?) of thousands.

Names of new generation of Polish politicians and public figures were slowly finding their way to my consciousness again, but it was all strange, foreign, and surreal. Donald Tusk stood out with his speech about the power of love after he won the general election, possibly in 2007, but don’t quote me on dates. Tusk is better known here as the EU President during recent Brexit negotiations, but he is also an ex-PM of Poland.

The only thing I was still able to understand was the language, but even that had morphed into an inevitable twenty first century version of itself, which did not exist when I lived there.

Around the same time, but my time frames are wonky, reading about Poland online led me to a few shock discoveries. The biggest one was that Lech Wałęsa was no longer the Gdansk dockyard strike hero I remembered him to be.  His widely respected status as the Solidarity leader, the Peace Nobel Prize winner all forgotten; he was suddenly being denounced as a double agent and a traitor, seen as bringing nothing but shame and embarrassment to Poland worldwide. The shift in perception, brought about as a result of ongoing political in-fighting and mud-slinging, stayed mainly within Polish borders; the world at large continued to see Wałęsa as before – the one man symbol of Poland’s fight against Communism in the 1980s. The discovery of the change in Wałęsa’s status in Poland was a definite sign that Poland had become the country I no longer knew, the country in which nothing made sense any more.

Where am I going with this? Good question.

Let’s fast forward to the present day. Year 2020, glorious springtime weather.

The world that I do know is making shaky small steps out of lockdown. Public discussions revolve around when and under what conditions it might be safe to open schools, pubs, restaurants and IKEA stores. The threat of the second wave is paralysing the hope of long term return to normality. Finding the vaccine is the Holy Grail. We nervously listen to any new information coming out of China, just in case it’s more bad news. We read about what is happening in the US, and we shake our heads with disbelief. We are curious whether the Swedish way might prove a winner after all.  That’s more or less the mood of the last few weeks.

What is happening in Poland at these unprecedented times?

Poland is getting ready for their presidential election. Again. The election was originally scheduled for the 10th of May, the government refused to cancel it until the very last moment, there was a plan to hold it entirely by postal vote, but that caused issues with GDPR (Poland is held hostage to GDPR on the scale we cannot imagine here), it was finally postponed and now due to take place in July.

A new candidate has emerged recently, to join a long list of already existing candidates. Social media revel in comparing the level of spoken English the new candidate displays, against that of the incumbent president, to a marked disadvantage of the latter.

In other news, Polish small business owners have travelled to Warsaw every other Saturday afternoon for the last few weeks, to hold a ‘strike action’ as they call it, on the streets of the capital, where they are being challenged by the police for breaking social distancing rules. Arrests are made, faces are burned with nasty government-issue spray. From what I’ve seen online, the protests do not attract huge numbers of people, and from where I stand, it is not entirely clear what exactly their demands are. Admittedly, I might be standing too far. I asked a few better informed friends, but I got classic Polish answers – we are fighting for freedom, democracy, justice, dignity and did I mention freedom?

Poland walked away from Communism in 1989. That was a trendy thing to do at the time if you were an Eastern European country, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia all happening the same year.

Poland followed its own unique path to that historical junction, after an eventful decade of changes, taking the birth of Solidarity in 1980 and the Martial Law of 1981 in its stride.

What happened next continues, unbelievably, to this day.

31 years later people still accuse each other of past or present Communist sympathies, they call their political opponents ‘the commies’, although it is unclear to me what this term even means in 2020 Poland.

Catholic Church continues to play a huge part in Polish lives, their iron grip on the country’s ‘morality’ is unprecedented in Europe. The country is currently governed by a far right, ultra-Catholic, socially conservative Law and Justice party (L&J), their opponents quick to point out that Lawlessness and Injustice would be a more fitting name.
Abortion is illegal except in the most extreme life-saving situations.
Gay marriage is an offensive concept among considerable portion of Polish population. Homosexuality in general is seen as an abomination by more people than you would think possible in the 21st century.
Large shops are closed on three out of every four Sundays a month to allow Catholic Poles to respect God’s day of rest and spend this day with family, focused on worship and spiritual reflection.

There is more. There is an ongoing ‘assault on the independence of Polish judiciary’ if you listen to the opposition, or ‘the purging of the justice system of deep-rooted corruption’, if you are the government supporter.

Polish public has learnt to live with these rules and attitudes, although a large number of progressive liberal Poles despair about the country’s political direction.

The opposition is hopelessly fragmented and as such cannot agree a united front against the government. Every now and again a fresh face appears among the liberals – I use this term loosely, a catch-all for the anti L&J activists – and captures the hopes of all those who oppose current rule of hard-line Catholics. None of them stays long enough to mount successful campaign though, because nobody has recently managed to unite large enough numbers under their leadership. They either lack charisma, or they manage to offend various sections of society with their ill-advised comments, or both.
And then there are those who fantasise about bringing back Donald Tusk as the nation’s saviour in its hour of need. It’s all a mess.

Remember the outrage a few years ago when it was discovered that Polish immigrants in the UK were claiming British Child Benefit for children living in Poland? It would not happen now, the new Polish child benefit is five times higher than ours. No kidding. How can Polish government afford it? No idea, but their investment paid off and the Law and Justice party won their second term in office in October 2019. Their opponents say that they bribed their way to victory by offering generous packet of welfare benefits to the worst off sections of the population.

All these political squabbles and relentless anti-government mockery on social media continues this year, almost entirely undisturbed by Covid-19.  Official figures coming from Poland suggest that the pandemic had been kind to Poland with total of 1025 deaths at the time of writing (26/5/2020) in the country of nearly 38 million.

Are these figures to be trusted?
Who knows? It’s Poland. The country I no longer know, no longer comprehend.



Week 7 and a half? The end?

Word of the week is: Confusion.

Does anybody know if lockdown ended on Wednesday?
Are we now meant to start releasing ourselves from seven weeks of hostage situation and onto the streets? And if so, how? Whatever feels right for each of us individually, or is there in fact a method in this madness and I simply missed the memo?  Does it mean I can stop writing my lockdown diary without being seen as somebody who never sees anything through to the end?

Schools are still closed, but if the unions have their way, they will remain closed for the next decade, so that is no longer an indicator of anything.

My daughters have arranged to meet up with a school friend later today for some socially distanced face to face time, as my understanding is that we are now allowed to socialise with one person from outside the household. This means that the three of us will stay within current guidelines, but their friend will be three times over the legal limit, as she will be meeting three people from outside her household.

I still cannot go to the hairdresser’s, I am however encouraged to go back to work, but preferably not by public transport, which is equal to saying don’t go to work, because how else do I get to Central London? I look at photos of overcrowded rush hour tube trains, and there is no way in hell I am going back there. Not to mention that going to work without seeing my hairdresser first is totally out of the question.

Freecycle websites are confused too. Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth are opening for business slowly, but Croydon, Merton, Lewisham and Sutton are still firmly locked. That’s right, I am a member of 7 local Freecycle groups; what is your hobby?

Crystal Palace Park traffic levels leave me none the wiser. Saturday night was packed with gangsta boys burning rubber in the car park, blasting rap out of mean looking trucks, and giving us dirty looks for daring to glance at them, but Sunday was back to usual grannies with their shaggy dogs, plus a few skaters and roller-bladers on the bridge.

Another dilemma. Do I invest in a pair of insanely overpriced Sweaty Betty jogging bottoms, to give my lockdown-inspired running routine an early boost it sorely needs, or do I save the money I don’t have for a series of hair and beauty treatments that are desperately overdue? My face and its surrounding areas are so washed out, all my features have blended into this beigey-grey pixelated blob. Restoration work will be neither cheap nor easy, and I am fine with that. What I would like to understand though is when I am going to be legally allowed to have my eyebrows plucked by somebody else rather than my daughters.


Week 7

Just when I thought I would have nothing major to show for the lockdown era, this week had a surprise for me.

This week I went for a jog.

I wouldn’t quite call it a run. Those of you who know me are already busy picking their jaws from the floor.

What’s more, I really think I might be onto something.

I might have accidentally discovered a doable method of easing yourself into jogging if you are a lazy, unfit, slightly overweight middle aged woman.

It is really simple.
A few easy steps.

In the spirit of lockdown generosity, I am sharing my method here for free.

First, you lay the foundations by spending the initial few weeks (lockdown conditions helps) walking the same bloody route around Crystal Palace Park every single day. By all means use your local park instead, no need to crowd our narrow paths more than they already are.

This part is crucial. Walking the same route for over a month makes you so tired of it, you begin to look for ways to speed up the routine, and you start toying with the idea of picking up speed and running the length of your route. A case of familiarity breeds confidence.
By the end of week six you foolishly convince yourself that you might actually be able to run it. You know for certain you could walk that path with your eyes closed. You know every bush, every twig, every beer can on the way, you have been watching the duck family of 8 with fondness every day for a month, and you know which tree the green London parakeets screech the loudest in.

So anyway, day 42 and you think, fuck it, I could run this path if I wanted to, surely I could. Do I want to though? You then spend the next couple of days walking it so fast you overtake everybody along the way. You set yourself a challenge. Wednesday. Still safely a couple of days away. That’s when you are going to do your first jog. Wednesday arrives before you are ready for it, but you have foolishly announced your plans to the family so true to your word, you break into a jog.

You are doing well for the first couple hundred yards, and then your chest is beginning to feel funny, your stomach does somersaults, you wish you didn’t eat so much for lunch.
You carry on until you absolutely have to stop. You walk for a bit, but that makes you feel like such a pathetic loser you pick up pace again. You end up half walking half running around the lake and back to the bridge by the leisure centre where you started. Your cheeks are burning, you are sweating like a pig, and you are breathing heavily, mouth open, chest doing overtime.

You did it. First time this side of thirty, not to mention fifty. It feels good. Tomorrow you will do better. So there, jogging, nailed it.


Whilst we are in the generous sharing mood, I am happy to impart a few other lockdown surprise findings, or What I’ve Learnt So Far.

It is possible to spend all day doing nothing and still go to bed feeling you’d run out of time to do what you planned.

The way things are going I can see that the day I finally master a well-balanced lockdown routine, will be the day restrictions end.

When the going gets tough living with teenagers is a blessing. Their optimism, sense of humour, and energy are keeping me sane.

Eggs and flour make a huge difference to one’s quality of life.

Human nature dictates that we choose the path of least resistance whenever possible, and that means alternating between Netflix, Amazon Prime and the fridge.
There are annoying exceptions to this rule, the people who did not google the path of least resistance before deciding how to spend the enforced slowdown period, and they can be seen in tight fitting lycra on early morning run, or late at night watering their newly sprouted courgettes or whatever.

Cheese on toast, jam on toast, banana on toast. All greatly underrated dinner alternatives in the ‘no delivery slots available’ world.

Lockdown Week 6

Week six went really quickly. So much so I did not keep up with the diary, or much else for that matter. No idea how and where the time went, all I know is I frittered away the whole week with very little to show for it. I blame the heavy rain on Tuesday. Or was it Wednesday.

After initial confusion arrives a semblance of clarity. Certain things are becoming obvious.

Number one. I am not going to achieve any great things during lockdown. Despite promising early signs in mid-March, I am not going to emerge at the end of June, or whenever, as a skateboarding pro fluent in French. Not happening.
I have managed to dodge every opportunity to improve gardening and baking skills too.

The closest I come to mindfulness is staring out of the window for prolonged periods of time. It’s a nice view. Very therapeutic.

I am the true embodiment of ‘the lack of time was not the problem’ meme.

If I were destined to achieve greatness in anything, it would have happened by now, I would not need a global pandemic to spur me on.

Arriving at this harsh home truth does hurt a little, so I quickly click play on yet another episode of Silent Witness (I am on season 12 now) to dilute the full meaning of week six reality check.

Number two. It might be an age thing, but I’d rather do without certain things altogether than go for their online substitutes on Zoom, or YouTube. Theatre shows, art exhibitions, coffee with friends. I miss all of the above, but doing it online is not doing it for me. I’d rather stare out of the window.

Three. I discovered that there comes a point in the life of a vanity prone middle-aged locked down woman when the state of her roots is beginning to overshadow pretty much everything else. This point is most likely reached sometime during week six. After that, any face time communication is strictly limited to members of immediate household until a satisfactory solution is found.

Moving on.
Workload has gone up a notch this week. The increase has been mainly due to a large number of NHS 111 calls relating to severe dental pain. Mixed blessing as by the end of each such call I feel as if I all my teeth are aching.

Meanwhile, my husband is making a name for himself as the Waddington Way Juggler. Every afternoon without fail, he goes out to juggle on a strip of grass surrounded by woodland at the end of our road called The Lawns.

He informed me recently that he had developed a juggler’s shoulder, an injury akin to tennis elbow, which afflicts top jugglers everywhere. No, not really, but it sounds good.

What is true however, is that he has been approached by total strangers, asking him excitedly, ‘Are you the Juggler?’, to which he proudly replies, ‘Yes, I am’.

If he plays his squishy balls right he might become the first family member to earn a blue plaque.
The Waddington Way Juggler stood in this spot every day during the 2020 Lockdown’. 

This would be only the second time in history that a blue plaque has been awarded to an Upper Norwood resident.
The first one went of course to Pickles, the mixed breed collie, who found the stolen FIFA World Cup trophy on an evening walk with his owner in Beulah Hill area in March 1966. Which is a juggling ball’s throw from The Lawns.


Lockdown Week 5

This week something slightly different.
I am sure you have had enough of my online shopping battles and my failed attempts at tackling housework. I know I have.

20/04/2020 Monday
Today my daughters’ school reopened for online business as usual after a two weeks Easter holiday. I have two daughters at the school, one in Year 10, and one in the Sixth Form, Year 12.  My relationship with the school has not always been smooth. It was partly them, partly me. I have been known to scream, not always in my head, against school rules and against some individual teachers’ questionable competencies. My husband banned me from talking to certain members of the school staff a couple of years ago.

All water under the bridge now.
The school has been closed since the 23rd of March. The whole country switched to online learning. I have heard stories of how this has been working, or not, in other schools.
Our school has been nothing short of amazing.
We, the parents, receive daily email updates from the head teacher. Nothing much, just the ‘touch base’ message at the end of each school day. Every day just before or just after 3pm. I have grown to see these daily emails as comforting messages of stability and reassurance, a sign that that there are still some things we can rely on.

My Year 10 daughter registers at 8.20 am and is ‘at school’ until 3pm, with a 45 minutes lunch break from 1 pm to 1.45. She tells me off for interrupting her lessons, if I wander into her room during school day.  Every single teacher puts in a lot of effort into preparing every single lesson. They use Google classroom for all communication purposes. I receive daily Google classroom updates on what each daughter did during the day. If anything, I feel overwhelmed by all the information I receive at the end of each school day. My daily updates give me access to the messages each teacher writes for the students. Their instructions are detailed and clear. Teachers encourage the girls to ask questions during or after each lesson. Some teachers greet them with a cheery ‘Morning Ladies’ (it’s a girls’ school). One way or another they have managed to keep the learning on track, and the motivation going.
St. Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls, Carshalton, Surrey. Outstanding in every lockdown category.

22/04/2020 Wednesday

The thing is, I don’t mind the lockdown.
It took me a while to reach this conclusion, but there it is, I said it now.
I reserve the right to change my mind later.

Lockdown works for me.
I totally take other people’s word for it that prolonged downtime is an absolute disaster for this thing called the economy, and I appreciate that many people suffer hardship, loneliness, misery, delayed medical treatments,  and mental health issues because of it. I am aware of all of it.
But for me, personally, being confined to my house on the outskirts of London has not been an unpleasant experience so far.

I love waking up to unlimited amount of time. The time to do whatever I feel like doing, or if I don’t feel like doing anything, I give myself permission to do nothing at all, and, for the first time in my adult life there is not an iota of guilt attached, and it’s brilliant.

Because of all the extra time, I managed to establish something resembling a regular fitness routine for the first time in over twenty years. I know, I can hardly believe it myself.

Food shopping remains a pain, but I am finding ways to keep it simple.  I have always been a woman of basic culinary tastes, which helps.

Not earning much money is an issue, but equally, there is precious little to spend it on, so it nearly balances out. The few expenses I do have are being covered, for the time being, by refunds from cancelled theatre shows, school trips, and Easter family holiday.
I am aware that this is not a viable long-term financial solution, but it works for now.

23/04/2020 Thursday
To pick up from yesterday’s admission about enjoying the lockdown, I have compiled a list of everything I do and don’t miss about ‘normal life’.

The things that I miss the most are, in no particular order;

Face to face silliness with my son. Attempting to do it over the phone does not work.

Sitting at a window table in Cafe Nero at Morleys in Brixton, opposite the giant underground sign, watching the world go by.
Catching up with friends, one at a time, in town, for lunch, gossip, and coffee.
The first sip of the ice-cream pina colada at the Everyman Cinema in Crystal Palace.
The basement, the first floor and the roof garden of the John Lewis in Oxford Street.
The view from Waterloo Bridge from a double-decker bus.

Theatre, any theatre, and in particular seeing a show with my daughters and discussing it over Costa coffee afterwards.
The South Bank.
Pub lunch after a Sunday walk in the country.
Reading India Knight’s column in The Sunday Times. Stopped buying it 4 weeks ago to avoid all the alarmist, negative, depressing, frightening, panic-inducing news.

Pret-A-Manger prosciutto and tomato baguette.
Driving to obscure places near London with my husband, and watching him get excited about a Victorian sewer or abandoned gunpowder works.
Ice-skating at Streatham on Sunday afternoons.
Crystal Palace Haynes Lane market.
Clothes shopping with my daughters. I never thought I’d say that.

And that’s about it really.

Now for everything I have not missed at all.

Public transport, especially the London Overground, especially the Jubilee Line interchange at Canada Water.
The rush hour fast trains from Norwood Junction to London Bridge.
The Northern Line.
Noisy teenagers on buses.
Chicken Cottage boxes on buses.
People who talk to themselves on buses, people who take two seats on buses, long waiting times for buses, and buses which do not open doors when there is still standing room available. I need to find a way to live my life without buses.

Catching 6.50am 468 bus to catch the 7.23 Orpington train from Herne Hill to catch the 8.12 Dover Priory train from Bromley South to get to Maidstone by 9.30

Permanent roadworks between West Norwood and Tulse Hill.

I am also very happy to live without celebrity news, reality TV, Brexit negotiations, climate change luvvies, Premier League football, and knowing the price of every dress Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, wears in public.

Lockdown Diary Week 4

A story of everything I did not do in the last seven days.

12/04/2020 Easter Sunday
I cannot remember the last time we did not go away at Easter, so I am a bit all over the place today.

We are living in undeniably interesting times. So why is everybody so desperately bored?

13/04/2020 Easter Monday
Every week I discover that I am living yet another lockdown cliché.
This week the theme is streamlining, and letting go. I have taken an obscene amount of pleasure in unsubscribing from numerous services, offers, and just about everything that lands in my inbox. The realisation that ‘I don’t need this in my life’ is a true celebration each time.

14/04/2020 Tuesday
EastEnders is being rationed like toilet paper was a few weeks ago, and the worst thing is that it is going to run out altogether unless the world goes back to full throttle soon. In the meantime I pour myself a glass of good red and relish the experience to the very last drop of every Duff Duff on Mondays and Tuesdays.

In an even bigger blow to my viewing habits, tonight Holby City showed the last episode for the time being, possibly until July. Last vestiges of normality are being snatched from under my feet. I know that in the great scheme of things the fact that my soap operas are no longer available is totally unimportant, and being put out by it is pathetic. I always suspected that my shallowness ran deep, now I have proof. There is more.
My grey roots are now showing clearly, whatever the lighting conditions. I try to avoid small confined places with mirrors, but it’s not an entirely fool proof strategy.

15/04/2020 Wednesday
Getting up around 9.30 has become the norm. Getting dressed by midday is the current measure of self-discipline.  Meal times have mostly disappeared, replaced by leisurely grazing, but we did manage a sit-down Sunday roast, albeit on a Monday, the other week.

I have always been a competitive level hot beverages drinker, but the last few weeks have seen my personal best go through the roof. Today I did not allow the kettle to rest until I’d consumed 5 coffees and 7 black teas, so yeah, I’ve got skills.

16/04/2020 Thursday
My workload pattern has established itself more clearly now. I average between two and three hours paid work a day, and I am beginning to miss being in full time gainful employment. This is both surprising and worrying.
Surprising, because I thought it would take many months before I began to miss being verbally abused by drunken clients.
Worrying, because that might mean that retirement, something I had been fantasising about a lot recently, might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

I pop into my husband’s company HQ, aka the master bedroom.
– Oh, man, John won’t leave me alone today. He keeps sending me emails.
– Who is John?
– A client. One of the project managers, he keeps asking me questions.
– Well, at least this way you don’t feel lonely. Loneliness kills the same number of people as smoking 13 cigarettes a day.
Husband escorts me to the door and closes it firmly behind me.

Still Thursday.
We were just told that lockdown is to continue for at least three more weeks. For the time being, I am staring blankly at this piece of news, no coherent thoughts forming. Anyway, time to get ready for the weekly cheer for the NHS at the bottom of the driveway, so I will think about this later.

Unexpected triumph at 10.30 pm tonight! After being rudely rejected by Ocado (‘you are not on the priority access list’), I never gave up searching for alternative food delivery services. Iceland was very low down on my list, but today all this has changed, all is forgiven. They have delivery slots this Sunday morning! I rushed through their online store, throwing random items in, hardly believing my luck, and yes! Success! I am excitedly awaiting a haphazard selection of food items from the shop I used to boycott in earnest on the basis of their salt and sugar content.

17/04/2020 Friday
The novelty of it all, if ever there was any, has worn off. Boredom and frustration are seeping through, no matter how hard we try to insulate against them.

I have walked every inch of Crystal Palace Park many times over. I know the location of every sweet wrapper, every beer can, every bag of dog poo left on the grass. For a brief moment today I considered making a map of the park with all these items in it, but then I remembered I can’t even read a map, never mind drawing one.

High-brow cultural pursuits I used to pride myself on have ceased. Amelia and I watched all five Die Hard films this week and I loved every single one of them all over again. I highly recommend them as a guilt-free lockdown activity. Guilt-free because they are cinema classics, right?

18/04/2020 Saturday
Alcohol consumption has increased slightly. It remains within government guidelines for now, but what with the roots, the EastEnders, and Holby City situation, I am not ruling anything out going forward.

The cleaner will be the very first person we invite back in after lockdown. Our own efforts remain scant and unimpressive, but I am mesmerised by what Lidl’s W5 Limescale and Grime Remover can do to a bath tap.


Lockdown Diary Week 3

Not sure how much longer I will feel like writing another version of more of the same, but for now, here it is.

5/4/2020 Sunday
This week I have succumbed to a popular lockdown trend which is all about counting one’s blessings and being grateful. I am not going to torture anybody with attempts at poetry (small mercies), but I will say this. I fully appreciate how lucky we are to be locked down as a group of 4 people who get on well together. On the whole. Most of the time. Imagine being stuck in this scenario with a religious zealot with ambitious quarterly conversion quotas. Or with a militant fruitarian. Or that guy from GMTV who shares the sofa with Suzanna Reid.  Lockdown is bringing out the best in our family.  The girls have been amazing, and we have had some truly priceless moments of nonsensical fun in the last couple of weeks. During the day we mainly go about our own separate business, only bumping into one another by the kettle, but in the evenings we all gravitate towards the kitchen and living room area. Tonight we had an impromptu general knowledge quiz with Alexia as the quiz master, Amelia and I keenly competitive players, and my husband taking it easy. As predictable as it gets and equally comforting. Other days we cook and bake together. What I mean by this is my husband cooks, Amelia bakes, I load the dishwasher and Alexia shows us her favourite tiktoks.
So there. Blessings, counted.

6/4/2020 Monday
My husband took up juggling as his once a day exercise activity. Every afternoon he puts on his tracksuit bottoms and trainers, picks up his balls, and off he goes to a stretch of grass at the end of our road. He comes back 45 minutes later, out of breath and rosy cheeks. I ask him how juggling can be so tiring, he says he drops the balls so much that he is up and down all the time so it becomes a proper jumping frog workout.

Lockdown sofa conversations;

– I want to grow something unusual this year. What can I grow?
– A pair of balls?
If looks could kill.

– I am going to have a bath today.
– Good idea. The whole family appreciates it.


7/4/2020 Tuesday
Holding my breath for Boris for the second day running. I am scared to switch on the radio.


8/4/2020 Wednesday
In the parallel universe which I planned meticulously, and which did not happen in the end, we would have been spending this week in North Yorkshire.
Smoked Kipper Cottage, pet friendly, three storey, walking distance from Whitby harbour, sleeps 6. The refund is in the post.

As a substitute, we are watching a nature programme set on the riverbanks of Dorset. My husband’s choice. We are being shown a type of mayfly which has a window of only one day to mate. My husband is visibly moved by their plight. He reacts with solemn ‘Shame, man’, the all-encompassing South African expression of empathy. I console my husband the best I can.

9/4/2020 Thursday
Went to Sainsbury’s for the first time since the introduction of queuing 2 metres apart and standing between strips of tape on the floor. Let’s just say, I will not be doing that again in a hurry.
Back to corner shop diet for the foreseeable.

Trying to remember what the exact point was of having a different name for each day of the week.

10/4/2020 Good Friday
Duolingo has been sending me angry emails for not sticking to the daily lessons plan. Being a totally predictable lockdown cliche I decided to brush up on my French. I have been meaning to do that for a while and now finally I have no excuse. Duolingo is not allowing me to access more advanced modules before I complete the warm-up sessions, so I have spent the last few days listening to ‘les femmes et les hommes mangent les pizzas’. I could of course move on to a different app, but I am dying to see what the Spiritual, Politics and Economics modules contain. La curiosité a tué le chat

11/4/2020 Saturday
I am amazed how unstressed I have been about almost complete lack of work and what follows, income, over the last three weeks. Must be the wine.

In other news, I have continued to shun the news as much as practicable. Replacing BBC Radio 4 and LBC with Magic FM and Capital as my favourite car radio was a master stroke.
I have managed to make descaling a kettle the whole day job.
Each family member successfully dodged all house cleaning activity.

A brisk walk in the park has now become a fixed item on my daily agenda, and it is beginning to look suspiciously like a recommended amount of weekly fitness activity, something I have not come close to in years.

Lockdown Diary Week 2

The quality of my writing is becoming inversely proportional to the duration of social distancing and the lack of fresh food in the house. I am sorry about that.

29/3/2020 Sunday
Enforced 24 hour close proximity to family members is beginning to take its toll.

After yet another episode of incessant chatting by Alexia, her older sister Amelia offered to give her £20 in hard cash if she didn’t talk for a month.
Alexia said she would need to a significantly larger monetary incentive to consider giving up one of her hobbies for a month.
After Alexia’s father promptly offered another £20, Alexia went to her room to learn sign language. She has not been seen for the rest of the day.

30/3/2020 Monday
Have not read or listened to the news since last Friday. Well done me, but it’s early days, as I used to be a total news junkie, and they say it takes three weeks to break a habit.
My finger still hovers over the news icons on my phone several times a day, but I am being strong. A news detox within within a lockdown. Highly recommended. I am not going to pretend that not reading the news has brought me an ultimate nirvana, but I am much less anxious, and free to get on with everything else. Which is not much of course, there is nothing to get on with, but still, the lack of news has been good for my soul.

Watched JoJo Rabbit today. Double whammy.
Firstly, judging by the trailer, and minimal spoilers (a little boy having Hitler as his imaginary friend) and Rebel Wilson’s presence, I expected over the top nonsensical comedy all the way, It wasn’t. It was touching and funny, and tender, and moving, absurd and comic with a big layer of arty.
Secondly, watching it in lockdown London added an uncomfortable new dimension to the experience. Only a short couple of months ago when the film first came out, none of us thought it could possibly become even remotely ‘relatable’ again in our lifetime. Fast forward a few weeks, and ‘What is the first thing you are going to do when you are free?’ is once again the question many of us are quietly fantasising about.

31/3/2020 Tuesday
My husband is a very special person. Truly unique. Instantly likeable, big-hearted, warm and friendly. So far so perfect. However. He is determined to go through life unfussed (his word), and refuses to take anything seriously, with the exception of his morning skincare routine and South African rugby.
Don’t get me wrong, he does his bit for the NHS like the rest of us, washes his hands until they bleed, and has eagerly embraced social distancing long before the government asked the rest of the country to do so.
What he valiantly refuses to do is engage with any aspect of the unfolding worldwide drama. Today, as soon as I woke up, he greeted me with a joyful twinkle in his eye.

– Did you know that termites and ants build their highways next to each other, and they both put guards at the edges, the guards face each other, they don’t fight, they just guard the highways?
– How do you know about this?
– I watched a video about it. Fascinating stuff!
-How do you know it is not fake news?

He is not speaking to me.

1/4/2020 Wednesday
Two weeks ago we cancelled our cleaning lady until further notice. We then spent the next 14 days watching the dust settle slowly all around us. Quite a calming experience, but after I had not stopped sneezing all day yesterday, I could not put it off any longer. Today I set off to clean the house for the first time in more years than I am prepared to admit. Our cleaner managed to do the whole house and the ironing within six hours. After two frustrating hours, I was not even half way through the kitchen, and there is a real possibility the hob might not work again, after I drowned it in some orange gloop. The good news is I can only get better at it.

2/4/2020 Thursday
My hands aged a decade in the last fortnight. In a serious case of over-washing, they are now covered in a multitude of itchy red bumps, and no amount of coconut oil seems to be doing anything for the wrinkles. I feel for Lady Macbeth, I really do.

My son’s room has been designated as a quarantine depot. Everything non-fridge that comes through the front door gets labelled with a safe-to-touch date three days after arrival.
I have become that anal-retentive person I’d always laughed at. I also hope my husband has not ordered any perishables from ‘Viking Office Supplies’.

I must be every inspirational meme maker’s dream. I took up skateboarding today. Took up is probably getting ahead of myself a little bit, but I stood on a skateboard for the first time today, holding on for dear life to my daughter’s jacket’s sleeve.
YouTube channel to follow.

3/4/2020 Friday
Woke up with a short lived surge of excitement, it’s Friday! It did not last. It’s not as if the weekend is going to be any different to the previous ten days or so. Still, old habits die hard.

We continue to introduce our home-grown teenagers to the industry-defining films from the 1980s, paying special attention to classic movie quotes. Yesterday we watched the original Terminator. Half way through he did say ‘I’ll be back’, but it sounded positively lackadaisical to me, or lame to my daughters’ ears, so clearly, it must have only been in the subsequent episodes that the phrase became truly iconic.
Movie trivia level lockdown achieved.

4/4/2020 Saturday
This week has been all about taking one day at a time doing exactly the same as the day before. I have a lie-in each morning, because every day is an unwanted Saturday.
Days are slipping through our rubber-gloved fingers with little to show for them.
The only scraps of routine we hold onto, for now, are our daily walks in the park, 5.30 pm for an hour.

In a cruel twist of fate for all involved, I have been nominated the family food shopper (ffs) for the duration. I am not yet ready to face an hour long queue outside Sainsbury’s keeping 6 ft. gaps, so food is scarce and unexciting.
We have not yet opened any of our impressive collection of tinned Three Beans Salad, but the day is drawing nearer.Cream crackers with mature Cheddar and smoked mussels in sunflower oil have become a perfectly acceptable dinner option.
We had a fruit and veg delivery this week, from Clapham Fresh. Best blueberries I ever had. Otherwise, it’s whatever I can grab at the corner shop and Co-op. Ocado virtual queue is a distant memory.

Work. Still non-existent, bar a few NHS 111 calls a day.

And finally. I learned a new word this week. Furlough. Thought it was something to do with horse-racing. Fortunately, my husband was on hand to mansplain it to me.


Lockdown Diary Week 1

This is as unexciting as it gets, but I like to keep a record.
If you are looking for something inspirational, please keep looking.

Day 1
Friday the 20th of March 2020. School’s out. Until further notice. I stare blankly into months of having two uprooted teenagers in the house. They don’t don’t yet realise how hard they are going to be hit by this, but I do. They don’t yet feel they have been robbed, but I do and I feel sorry and anxious for them. They are bursting with life and raring to go, they are not meant to sit at home at Google classroom they are supposed to live each day to the brim, and I am raging against all of it on their behalf.

Enough of that. Serious and sombre is not going to work for me. Never have.

Day 2
Would the real corona-stricken spirit of Britain please stand up?

Whilst selfish stock-piling is an undeniable fact, our whole street has been on a mission to get a few oranges for Judy from number 47 (not her real number) who is on 12-week self-isolation due to age, strictly imposed by her daughter. By midday Judy has had enough oranges to start her own range of Norwood Marmalade.

Day 3
As we are all at home all the time with precious little to do, Charlie our hedgehog, has been getting more attention than ever. He is hating every minute of it.

Mother’s Day today. A walk at Selsdon Park Nature Reserve. Chinese and Indian takeaway. Knives Out on TV. Well, not really on TV, as it was still showing at cinemas until they closed, but I’ve learnt not to ask unnecessary questions. Altogether a lovely day. Not ‘in the circumstances’, not ‘all things considered’, just a really good day.

Day 4
8.40 am. School online registration time. Younger daughter fully dressed, post-breakfast, bed made to perfection. Older daughter invisible from under her duvet.

The younger one explains cheerily that she needs the routine to protect her sanity. The older one growls from her room, ‘You can only protect something you actually possess’. She turns over.

Day 5

The headteacher offers us a quote from Lenin in her daily lockdown update email.  “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” A headteacher of a Catholic school quoting a Marxist leader. The world might truly never be the same again.

Still Day 5, later in the evening. We are treated to a spontaneous kazoo concert on the landing.

Day 5 still. Is 8.52 too early to go to bed?  Days have never felt that long. I have time for everything and nothing to do.

Day 6
Provisions are running low. We cannot put off going to the shops any longer. I am wearing an impromptu face mask made out of Henry hoover bag, fastened with two safety pins and hooked up over my ears with a couple of matching loom bands. Remember loom bands? Not throwing them away all these years ago is paying off.

Day 7
Watching Dirty Dancing with the family.
Alexia,14, hears ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’ for the very first time. Young people today learn everything so much earlier. I had to wait until I was 21 to watch it. That’s when the movie came out.

On the subject of watching. This week I watched all of Series 6 of Silent Witness, am now on Series 7, first broadcast in 2003, the year I got married. Amanda Burton in the lead role. London in the early noughties. Pure unadulterated escapism available on iPlayer.

Day 8
Neighbourhood Whatsapp group is on a mission to buy eggs for Judy so she can comfort bake in her isolation. Neighbour after neighbour has reported failure to locate eggs within three miles radius.

On an off chance, out of curiosity really, I go out to our corner shop. They have everything! Eggs, toilet paper, milk, bread, and, wait for it, a hand cleaner!  I buy the lot.

Today I might have discovered the best way there is to cope with what is happening. It is not easy and it takes effort, but it works wonders, so I am determined to stick with it. Today I did not read a single news headline, and limited social media to sloth lovers Facebook group, and I feel the best I felt for weeks. I used to add a mix of Daily Mail, The Guardian and BBC News to my morning coffee, and then checked the headlines in regular intervals throughout the day.
No more.
From now on I am going to make not reading the news my new daily goal. I don’t usually bother with daily goals mind you, but everybody’s talking about doing something useful with all that quarantine time, so I am going to have a go at Not Following The News.

Day 9
Saturday. Highlights of the week. Very few. For the first three days of the past week I amused myself by logging in to Ocado website, only to be put in virtual queue for two hours, whilst I could watch the little green lorry moving slowly forward, and the counter telling me I was now 230642 customer in the queue. Finally my turn came to book delivery, only to be told that there were no delivery slots available, and I was thrown back to the end of the virtual queue. That game lost its appeal after a while, so I stopped playing it. I popped in today, but the game has changed again, and the queue has been paused altogether.

Work. Yeah, about that. There is none.

What else. I’ve been going for my daily constitutional at the Crystal Palace Park most afternoons. Walking on the grass to keep my distance. It’s a big park but I am beginning to recognise every blade of grass there. I wish I could add something exciting about these walks but I cannot.



Funny place childhood. A minefield of memories, a goldmine of recollections, long gone, it lingers on, vibrant, and alive. Our mind plays tricks on us and distorts the past, yet we treasure its fragments, gloss over the cracks. What remains of our beginnings is patchy, and yet, we hold on to it, re-imagine it, keep returning to what we once were. The world that ended, yet never leaves us, as we search for the reasons of what we have become, and strive to save it all from the blackness of not remembering.

When I was about six years old, my parents took it upon themselves to redecorate our tiny flat and further decided that this necessitated packing me off to my grandma’s on my dad’s side, to spend a couple of weeks in her equally tiny, but paint fumes free flat on the other side of town.

Off I went, Mr Bear, the yellow teddy in stripy dungarees firmly head-locked under my arm. I was always jealous of his rainbow-coloured dungarees, and used to fantasise about getting an exact same pair as a surprise birthday present from my mum, because she must have known I loved them. Never happened.

Grandma’s flat consisted of a bedroom-living room, the world’s smallest kitchen, and even smaller windowless bathroom which smelt of clogged up pipes. I guess you could call it studio flat, except nobody did back then. The main room, which was five paces long four paces across, contained, miraculously, a sofa bed a desk a table a dresser a few chairs and two wardrobes. It was impossible to move around without holding your tummy in. Or crawling under the numerous items of furniture on all four, which was my preference. The furniture was dark mahogany, with crocheted napkins scattered on top. The look and feel was heavy vintage with a hint of past family grandeur crippled in equal parts by historical event of the twentieth century and personal tragedy.  To my small curly blonde self it was just the perfect size exotic paradise.

Grandma was very old. She was so old I thought she might die during my visit, and then what would I do? Grandma had a big heavy black telephone, and I thought I might use it to call somebody to tell them that she’d died and to come and pick me up, but then I remembered that I would not know who to call in the event of her death. My parents had not had a phone line installed yet at the time. I could call my other grandma, I knew she had a phone, I’d spent hours on it listening to the talking clock, except I didn’t know her number.

Having ruled out calling anybody, I moved on to what I would do next in the event of Grandma’s sudden death, and decided that I would have liked to touch her hair, to check whether it felt the same that it looked, newborn chicken’s downy feathers, and then I would touch her deathly white face to find out whether it was naturally deathly white or did she use an impossibly pale powder to make it so, but then I thought, if she was dead then perhaps her face would have turned deathly white naturally, and then I would never know. I made a note to try and find an excuse to run my finger down her cheek when she was still alive to see what happened.

Many years later I looked things up and worked out that Grandma was 66 during my visit to her flat, not a hundred and twenty as I thought at the time.  She went on to live for another ten years, but when she did die, she did so alone in her flat, and that gave me guilty goosebumps for a long time, as I could not help thinking I brought this lonely demise onto her with my childish imaginings.

Grandma delivered a series of most extraordinary monologues during the two weeks I spent with her.  They were not conversations, because she could not possibly have expected me to respond in any meaningful way to the sentiments she expressed.  There was one particular thing she said that stayed with me for a very long time, truth be told it pops into my head every now and again even now.

‘I am sure your mother is a nice lady in her own way, but she just isn’t, never was a suitable person for our family. Your dad could have, should have done so much better.’

My grandma thought this was a perfectly suitable thing to say to a six year old me. She also thought it suitable to follow it up with a long look of despair mixed with tenderness. She must have felt acute regret of what could have been if only my dad had married somebody who ticked all suitability boxes instead, like her best friend’s daughter for example.
What Grandma said confused me beyond words. My mum not suitable for our family? My mum was my family, how could she have been unsuitable. What about me? Was I suitable? What makes somebody unsuitable for something and how did grandma know this?
Grandma entertained me with endless stories about her family history, my family history, during those two weeks. Proud tales of aristocratic connections, counts and duchesses, honorary titles, scholarly achievements, high ranking military heroes and medals for bravery seemed to have adorned several branches of our family tree down the centuries.  I found all this hard to follow and could never recall a single coherent story, but the overall impression was of impossibly grandiose lineage, long lost splendour, grand pianos and vast acres of land. Pitched against this background, my mum might have indeed appeared utterly unsuitable.

Mum was born in a small village on the Vistula river, in a modest wooden house, given to my great grandmother Helena by her parents on the day she married Jan, a local village teacher in 1911.  I have clear memories of that house, as it remained Jan and Helena’s family home until Helena’s death in 1982, coincidentally the same year my Posh Grandma died too.

Mum spent the first seven years of her life in the village, six of them taken up by the world war.
I can easily relate to the geography of Mum’s childhood because I too spent a bit chunk of my early years at the same place, same house, same views over the Vistula river bends from the top of the hill, same cabbage patch, same raspberry fields, same barn, same stables.

This story is not really going anywhere, I don’t have a neat ending for it. I could possibly make something up and go all nostalgic and even homesick about it, but all I really wanted to share was Grandma’s comment about my mother not being suitable for our family, which was one of those fleeting moments which happen to people and then they are stuck with them until they make a big deal out of them, and totally overthink them and try to make them sound like something significant and relevant, a defining moment, which contributed to shaping their lives. So there, I’ve done it.