The Museum of Ordinary People

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

I don’t know about you, but I’ve started deleting – without reading – the endless stream of emails about you-know-what. Unpresidented times indeed (not a typo). New York. My most frequent holiday destination. I will miss you.

My nephew simply posted the following word to his instagram.

INTERMISSION

Kids who thought the next six months were full of revising, exams, prom, the obligatory Leavers hoodie then travelling, and possibly University, are suddenly homeschooling themselves. Boomers, Gen X, Millennials; stand aside and make room for the Quarenteens, folks. And don’t even get me started on how long it took to convince the oldies in my life that they had to stay in, and they could not just “pop out” for a haircut or a newspaper for the next three months!

We’re all pretending we knew what furlough meant before a fortnight ago. We’ve stopped ironing our clothes. We eat more biscuits and some have taken up jogging. The local police use drones to monitor dog walkers who are driving to the countryside where they shouldn’t be. Our beloved pharmacy and toiletries store, Boots, had a virtual queue of 200,000 people last Sunday just waiting to be allowed onto the website. The postie now knocks on my door and leaves the parcel on the ground. I have The Guardian Live update on constant refresh and BBC1 at 5pm has become the place to be for the latest news from 10 Downing Street. I can see a school playing field from my house. The children may be gone, but a family of foxes and an eagle have taken up residence, along with a tiding of magpies, who enjoy jumping and hopping around chasing each other. I hope that grey squirrel made it.

I’m lucky. I was already working from home so have continued to do so in my slowed-down bubble of first world problems.  My worries and anxieties are trivial compared to most.

I’ve been keeping a daily journal for the Museum of Ordinary People (MOOP) of my thoughts, feelings, opinions, experiences and observations during the virus. Along with the other participants, these diaries may provide an insight into the personal, social and cultural impact of the Covid-19 outbreak. Who knows what will happen in the future? Life is very different now to what it was a month ago and will never be the same again.these+times+crop

Keep safe, and stay at home.

Nicola x

 

 

 

 

 

 

56. Invisibility Cloak

“It’s sad but it’s true how society says her life is already over.”

’22’ by Lily Allen

I know you’d rather not see me. I’m an inconvenience, pushing up your council tax bills to pay for my two lots-of-fifteen-minutes-a-day-care, whilst I swan around all alone in my half-million pound house that cost less than three months of your salary to buy. I bed block the NHS because there is no-one to look after me but I’m too fit to go into a nursing home. I’m the shuffling old woman, wearing a big coat and hat in summer, pushing her shopping trolley, taking an irritatingly long time to sit down on the bus. I’m grateful to get a seat. Not everyone will give them up these days. They all look at me with pity and horror. They’ll never be like me.

I was the woman who peacefully protested in the street for the right to vote.

I was the woman who was locked up in prison for a month without charge, kept in isolation, restrained and force-fed twice a day.

I was the woman who was a trained nurse and kept the night watch during the war. I put out fires, pulled people from the rubble, delivered babies in air raid shelters, told young soldiers that everything would be alright, whilst holding their hands as they breathed their last.

I was the woman responsible for the breakdown of society.

I was the woman who fell when the guns began firing and escaped by crawling under a pile of bodies, pretending to be dead.

I was the woman who wrote and painted under a male pseudonym to be taken seriously.

I was the woman who gave a man back his job when he returned from fighting.

I was the woman who sold her body to put food on the table for her children because her husband had drunk it all away.

I was the woman who fought for contraceptives and the right to choose.

I was the woman who was expected to remove all hair from her eyebrows downwards.

I was the woman who had to get her husband’s permission to spend her own money.

I was the woman who let herself go because I aged entirely appropriately.

I was the woman who had to undergo a virginity check before I was allowed to join the army.

I was the woman who had to leave her job upon marriage, because it was the law. I never had any national insurance contributions credited, because I stayed at home being a good wife and mother. My ex-husband had a very generous final-salary pension, but I was entitled to a pittance.

I was the woman who was publicly shamed for doing something consensual with a politician. He kept his job. I changed my identity.

I was the woman inventor whose name has been dropped from history.

I was the woman who should be ashamed for ruining a rapists life because I put him in jail for one mistake.

I was the first person to win this award three times, but ignored by the media in favour of the first man to win it three times.

I was the woman who was paid less than a man for doing the same job.

I was the woman who promised to obey so needs to shut the fuck up when told.

I was the woman who was expected to nurture and care for her man and not provoke him into hitting her.

I was your manic pixie dream cool girl muse. Unless I have an opinion. Then I’m annoying.

I was the woman who was on a calorie controlled diet her entire adult life.

I was the woman whose natural bodily functions were dismissed as emotional rather than physical. I was told and made to feel that having period pains, being pregnant or menopausal was me deliberately making life inconvenient for other people.

I was the woman who was no longer considered desirable due to the changes to her body after it had made and fed three children.

I was the woman who refused to be ignored, talked over or have credit for her contributions stolen by men in meetings, so was labelled difficult to work with and an awkward bitch.

I was the woman who was blamed for being a bad mother because my son killed someone.

I was the woman who went back to work after two weeks maternity leave to be told I was heartless for leaving my child.

I was the woman who went back to work after one year of maternity leave to be told I shouldn’t expect my old job back and I had to start at the bottom again, because I’d been away for so long.

I was the woman who was expected to have a temper because I had red hair.

I was the woman who was a life model for over thirty years. One of my nudes is in Tate Britain.

I was Shakespeare’s sister.

I was the girl in the band.

I was the female football manager, pilot, doctor, athlete, explorer, who was told time and time again the only reason I couldn’t do it because I was a woman.

I was the woman who was told time and time again that the only reason I got the job was because I was a woman and they had quotas to fill.

I was the woman whose value was solely based on her looks. After I had my “last fuckable day” (Amy Schumer) I was expected to dissolve and disappear.

47. And I Feel Fine

*This post contains descriptions of killing animals for food.

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I am the child of a pair of post-war natural preppers. Survivalists. Hunters, farmers, make-do-and-menders, be grateful for what you have got, eat it or go without. Keep calm and carry on is their outlook on life.

My mother grew up on a farm and went to an agricultural school. She can raise, kill, cook animals. Nose to tail. Nothing is wasted. Seasonal vegetables, preserves, chutney, quilts, saved string, hand knitted jumpers, mended clothes. Honey and beeswax. Bread and yoghurt. Smoked meat and bulk meals. It’s where I get my maker’s streak from.

One time when I was a child, I remember saying I didn’t want to collect the eggs because there was a particular goose that kept trying to get me. My aunt reassured me that it wouldn’t be pecking me anymore. We had goose for that evening meal, but it never occurred to me that it was the same one…

My father grew up dirt poor and often went hungry. Last one up didn’t get shoes that day. Everyone who was in the house at meal times got fed, whether you were in that family or not. If you missed the meal, you could have bread and apples. Grammar school wasn’t an option. The uniform was too expensive.

He can make anything out of bits of wood. Tell the time by the sun. Dig and plant the garden, long after others have given up with fatigue. I’ve seen him ride horses bareback, herd sheep, feed baby rabbits with an eye dropper of milk and swim half a length underwater without coming up for breath.

The sense of community, compassion and sharing culture featured strongly in his upbringing, which I am grateful to have inherited. Job options were to go down the pit or join the army.

Going for a walk whilst camping, we would collect everything we needed for a feast. Foraged greens, nettles or pine needles for a hot drink, watercress, tiny crayfish, mushrooms, elderflowers, dandelion leaves and petals. I’ve eaten grubby maggots and zingy citrus ants.

Later in the summer, free, brown-limbed, in that very particular golden afternoon light, came the real treats of scrumped apples, plums, cherries, cobnuts, chestnuts and blackberries. Then the weird and wonderful pumpkins, that always looked better than they tasted.

My attempts at trying to grind tiny amounts of grain from grasses always failed.  I think I was trying to make some sort of cracker or biscuit. Whilst I was trying not to lose my efforts to the wind, I failed to notice the creation of a rope from the plaited grass stalks, miraculously strong enough to take a person’s weight. Dad’s hands red and sore from twisting.

The humanity of dispatching a rabbit kindly with a few moves was not lost on me. Dangle the rabbit and hold its back legs, push the head back. Pull. Two minutes later, a clean pelt in a single piece with perfectly butchered, jointed game ready for the pot. Innards used as fish bait. Prepare your meal during the day so you’ve got time to cook it properly, bury the pot under the fire, so animals don’t dig it up. Rub an upside-down can on a rock until you see bubbles of liquid. The top levers right off.

We did once find a small stash of canned food with a knife and a little tobacco tin of interesting bits and bobs (fish hooks, half a candle, beef stock cubes, nylon thread, a piece of flint, matches, needles, aspirin, and a single cigarette) wrapped in a tarpaulin in the woods. We left it, because it wasn’t ours, but if this was the real deal, then we would have definitely taken it. I’d like to hope that we would have left them something, but then who knows until you’re actually in the survivalist mindset? When there’s no law, what do you do? What would other people do?

My parents have incredible stories from the early eighties, when the threat of a nuclear war was very real. Preparing for the possibility. Protocol and structure. Systems organised. Plans made. We tried inventing our own 24-hour ration packs as the official ones were pretty disgusting.

I read a book written by a family friend, about how to track people, whilst staying hidden yourself. The fascinating descriptive consequences on his body of living off the same foodstuffs for too long. Competitive games of being holed up in pitch black darkness for days, with no way of knowing the time except through hunger, with the winner being the one who timed their stay to the closest predicted minute.

Resilience. Getting through this. Mind over matter. Positive attitude. Grit. Dry socks. Hot drink. Sleep. Repeat. I’m still not sure if dowsing for water works.

These things have definitely influenced my life. I’ve sometimes trudged though snow in my Sorel boots and Fjällräven parka to work on days when other colleagues ring in saying they can’t get in because of the weather. I buy food for homeless people. No-one who visits my house ever goes home hungry.

As a child I never realised that the end was not definitely nigh and it’s left me with constant low-level anxiety and a continuing obsession with the apocalypse. Many years of rumination followed, but once I had rationalised that I would probably die early on, I felt strangely relieved.

Odd as it may seem to spend hours locked in enthusiastic debate with one’s parents about recent films and TV shows depicting the aftermath, it is something we all enjoy doing as a family, so will continue to baffle others with our tales of conspiracy theories. Just saying the words, “What would Sarah Connor do?” can spark a whole afternoon’s conversation.