Hello Home…

Hello Home…

Here we are in lockdown again with you, dear home. Only allowed to work outside the home if our work is deemed essential. Only allowed to leave the house once a day for local exercise. Not allowed to let anyone else inside our home. These are all sadly familiar rules and in some ways, it feels a little easier this time around. What makes it undoubtedly harder are two, sad, cold facts.

One, the virus has mutated and this new strain spreads faster and easier and is now hitting younger people. The NHS is under incredible strain as the peak threatens to outgrow the last one. Quite simply and horrifically, even more people are going to die.

And two, this time our isolation at home happens in the bleak mid-winter. January – the Monday of all the months.

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on January 10, 2021. Image may contain: tree, sky, outdoor and nature.

So, here we are home, back within your safe, warm walls. Me and the children huddle within you, with extra socks and warm jumpers and numerous cups of tea to warm our cold hands. Even without the heating on, even without a fire lit, you still withhold the warmth we have built in you.

Each morning, I leave the house to let the animals out. The grass is covered in thick frost. Every blade and every branch, twig and leaf in the garden is sparkling with a layer of icy frost. It’s beautiful. And freezing. I rush about, from one end of the garden to the other, filling the watering can to provide the hens and ducks with fresh water. Stuffing fresh warm hay and straw into their hutches and houses. I let the rabbits out but keep the guinea pigs indoors until the frost has melted later in the day. I watch my breath form in the air around me. I, in turn, am watched by the horses in the field at the end of the garden. I say hello, but I don’t know their names. Jesse pup skips about with me, keeping me company, while you shelter the children, all now home from school until we-don’t-know-when.

When the early morning jobs are done I rush back inside, grateful for your warmth and stability. House, you are our home and I have been grateful to you since the moment we first stepped inside your gate. I remember I worried that we could not afford to rent you, yet we also knew we were getting an incredible deal. Your garden plot was more than I could have dreamed of and my head filled with pictures of shrubs, trees, flowers, vegetable plots and livestock.

Even now, in the depths of a freezing, frightening winter, I am grateful for this little bit of land, with its fir trees and sycamore, with its buddleia and holly hedges, with its bramble and fruit trees. The largest trees were here when we arrived, the rest I have planted myself over the years, to say thank you.

  • Photo by Chantelle Atkins on November 04, 2020. Image may contain: tree, plant and outdoor.

Your front garden used to be a square of gravel surrounded by holly hedging. It’s now a jungle of shrubs and trees and flowers with a path winding through it. We keep the birds fed so we can watch them from the kitchen windows. I love this garden, I love this house, I love this lane and all the land, the fields, the common, the woodlands and rivers that surround it.

And during lockdowns the road falls silent and all we can hear are the clip clop of horses as they pass up and down the lane, the haunting cry of the buzzard as she hovers above, the chattering of crows roosting in the Oaks, and at night, my favourite, the constant calls of tawny owls. I sleep with my window open because of them and so that I can fall asleep to the sound of the green river rushing by.

Home, we are so lucky to have you. During the first lockdown, I could have cried with love and gratitude. Some people had small houses and gardens, some people had no gardens, some people had no homes. We are so, so lucky to call you home.

Those warm, sunny months, we ran, hid, climbed, hopped and played on every inch of the garden. We set up bases and camps with army style tarps and netting, we dragged branches around to make walls, we gathered fir cones for bombs, we lit tiny fires and roasted marshmallows, we made mud pies and had scavenger hunts. The garden was our PE lesson, with running, jumping, skipping and our favourite The Floor Is Lava!

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on July 17, 2020. Image may contain: one or more people, tree, plant and outdoor.

We planted new things and watched them grow.

We ate nearly all of our meals outside, surrounded by green. And without people bothering it and abusing it, Mother Nature gained ground all around us.

But the human race and the powers that be seem incapable of learning anything…and so we find ourselves locked in and locked down. And I find myself counting my blessings once again. This lockdown is different. We are inside more than out. We have fires and drink hot chocolate. We eat cheese on toast and scrambled eggs to keep warm. We never venture far without a hot drink in our hands.

Darkness falls early and the tawny owls come out to call to each other. I know that Spring is just around the corner and already I see the smallest signs. A camelia in bud. Daffodils poking through the earth. And we are already planting new seeds so that we can watch them grow.

Home, you keep us safe, you keep us warm, you are steady and true. Every day I place my hand on the wooden gate and smile at you. My family is nurtured inside you – despite the coldness and the fear beyond your windows. Staying home keeps us safe and we fill our time with home-schooling and new lockdown projects.

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on March 21, 2020. Image may contain: plant, tree, sky, house, grass, outdoor and nature.

We lose track of days and time is strange, a bit like an extended Christmas. Tensions rise within your walls – the teenagers feel trapped and isolated from their friends – they are missing out. We pull away from each other, desperate for space and time alone, and then we pull back again, needing comfort and laughter. The youngest fills you up with laughter and silly noises – the loudest child that ever lived! He bounces around your rooms, thunders up and down your stairs and races from one end of your garden to the other. I hope in years to come they all look back so very fondly on you, Home.

Guest Post #5 Pandemic Pets – How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Welcome to the last post in my Pandemic Pets feature! I have been welcoming guests to the blog to tell us how the furry friends in their life have made getting through the Covid 19 pandemic that much easier. Today I’d like to extend a warm welcome to my very own big sister, Fran Hemsley. Fran is not a writer or a blogger, but I felt she had an interesting experience during lockdown, so I asked her if she would consider contributing to the blog.

When I found myself furloughed back in April I did what a lot of people in my position did – I started running! Every day I escaped home-schooling and the house full of people for about thirty minutes of ‘me time’; something I have never really indulged in before.

During lockdown I experienced the sudden death of my beloved Weimaraner Beau. I’m not ashamed to say he was the love of my life and my best friend. To cope with this unexpected bereavement I turned to running even more and found it even more beneficial as a means of ‘escape’.

Beau

It was during one such running session that I first came across Mr Fox. Well, I think he was a mister! He was sat as bold as brass in the middle of the road and when I paused to talk to him, he bounded on over and stopped at my feet.

And so an unlikely friendship developed in the midst of the global pandemic and the loss of my best friend.

After that initial hello, Mr Fox started appearing on my drive when I returned from my runs. He quite quickly started to follow me through the gate of our side lean-to. Even when the running stopped and I returned to work, if I left the gate open, he would appear like clockwork at the kitchen door.

After Beau died I was left with some very expensive dog food, so of course this went Mr Fox’s way. As did his wormer and flea treatment.

Mr Fox

Some people don’t like foxes being fed in urban areas, but their opinions don’t bother me. We have taken over their natural environment with the urban sprawl, turning them from hunters to scavengers and with the modern wheelie bins being so tall, it is hard for them to find our leftovers. Every single person I have spoken to about Mr Fox, bar one, does not have a problem with me feeding him. In fact, many neighbours confided in me and said; ‘Well, don’t tell anyone, but I feed the foxes too!’ It seems to be a very well kept secret where I live!

These days it’s too cold to sit in the lean-to and wait for Mr Fox to appear but I leave food for him out the front every night. Our property is kept clean and tidy and he must devour the food quickly, as we do not have a rodent problem in the area.

Brave Mr Fox

Making friends with Mr Fox was totally unexpected and magical and really helped me to get through the lockdown and the loss of my beloved Beau. I really hope to see Mr Fox again in the Spring.

Thank you so much to my sister Fran for sharing this with us and thank you too to the other bloggers and guests who shared their pandemic pet stories!

Guest Post #4 Pandemic Pets – How Are Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Welcome to another Pandemic Pets feature! Each week I will be welcoming a guest to the blog to tell us how the furry friends in their life have made getting through the Covid 19 pandemic that much easier. Please welcome YA author KM. Allan who tells us how her new kitten Dash helped fill the hole left by her previous writing buddy, Slinky.

How Having A Pet During The Pandemic Made Things Joyful

When lockdown began in Australia during March, I’d had my new kitten Dash for only a few weeks. He wasn’t a lockdown pet, but a cat I’d been waiting to get for a few months, having lost my last cat, Slinky, to cancer 2 years prior. I’d had her for 15 years and was looking forward to having another furry companion and a new writing buddy.

Slinky – writing buddy

That first lockdown lasted from March until June. Then we had a second lockdown in July that’s still ongoing, although the harshest of restrictions eased last month. Having spent 7 months of the year in lockdown—mostly at home for 23 hours a day—you get to know a kitten pretty well.

While Dash spends a good amount of time sleeping, he’s also playful. Sometimes that playfulness happens at 3am and I wake to find him trying to steal my pillow, but it has made lockdown more bearable.

I tried to keep a routine during this time and stick to writing with the #6amAusWriters on Twitter, and this became part of Dash’s routine too. He’d get up with me and sit near the desk, often stealing my chair (until I got him his own) and would keep me company on cold winter mornings. It even got to the point where he’d wake me if I didn’t get up when my alarm went off (yes, really. And his idea of an alarm is biting me!)

Dash – writing buddy

While I didn’t get a pet to help me through lockdown, I wonder what it would have been like without one. I probably would have checked the news more often, letting the sadness of the world get to me more than it did. I wouldn’t have taken breaks through the day to throw soft balls around and marvel at how high a kitten can jump, and I wouldn’t have discovered how much Ragdoll cats are like dogs and will play fetch with you.

I would have known what it was like to pass the Groundhog Day sameness of lockdown by doing a puzzle without a cat stealing the pieces, but I wouldn’t have arranged boxes from online orders into cat tunnels or upgraded to a cat play system. I got to do those things during a time when we’ve all done things we probably thought we wouldn’t.

Dash – box tunnels

It was, and still is, a hard year to cope with, and I’m glad that I had a pet to help me through it.

Dash wasn’t just there on the days when all the creativity I could muster was to set Netflix to binge. He was also there when I achieved milestones like publishing my first two books.

In a year when being a debut author meant missing out on bookstore events, in-person launches, and celebrations in restaurants with family and friends, having a cat who was just as excited as me to open a box of my published books was fun. Okay, so for him, it might have been about a new box and not the books, but I’ll always smile when I see the picture of Dash nosing his way into the carton.

An event that didn’t pan out like I thought it would because of 2020 was still joyful, and it and many more events throughout year were, simply because I had a pet to share them with during the pandemic.

Thank you so much to Kate for joining us on The Glorious Outsiders and introducing us to the gorgeous Dash! It sounds like having him around really helped the strict lockdowns become more bearable. If you would like to know more about KM Allan and her books her links are below! And if you would like to write a personal piece, story or poem on the Pandemic Pets theme please get in touch!

K.M. Allan is an identical twin, but not the evil one. She started her career penning beauty articles for a hairstyling website and now powers herself with chocolate and green tea while she writes novels and blogs about writing.

When she’s not creating YA stories full of hidden secrets, nightmares, and powerful magic, she likes to read, binge-watch too much TV, spend time with family, and take more photos than she will ever humanly need.

Visit her website, http://www.kmallan.com, to discover the mysteries of the universe. Or at the very least, some good writing tips.

Guest Post #3 – Pandemic Pets – How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Welcome to another Pandemic Pets feature! Each week I will be welcoming a guest to the blog to tell us how the furry friends in their life have made getting through the Covid 19 pandemic that much easier. Please welcome author Val Portelli who has a fascinating tale to tell about some unusual lockdown visitors!

I love animals, except meeces, I hate meeces. I’m not sure why they make me neurotic; they’re tiny, supposedly more scared of me than I am of them, and it’s not as if they can harm me. Although I’d be worried if I came face to face with a charging lion, at least that would be logical. My first lockdown visitor was a mouse. My personal supply of cheese and chocolate diminished rapidly in an effort to tempt him into oblivion, but he was a clever-clogs and managed to avoid or jump over traps and sticky things.

It was as well we were not allowed visitors as they would have had hysterics at the sight of me banging on the kitchen door before opening it, and yelling, ‘I’m coming mouse, hide, I don’t want to see you. Alright?’

Sometimes he listened, sometimes I didn’t bang loud enough and saw him scuttling into a corner, while I shook in fright. With the aid of my household cavalry, I plucked up courage to re-enter the kitchen, but even when they saw him scuttle off, there was no way he could have squeezed into the tiny gap between the floor and the cupboard under the sink. Where had he gone? Was it in fact a ghost mouse come to haunt me?

I’ve always loved dogs and when I was growing up, they were part of the family. It didn’t seem fair to have one when I first bought my own property, and was out at work all day, but fate intervened. A casual visit to some friends with my fiancé resulted in us coming home with a bundle of mischief I named Pacer, after the character in one of my favourite Elvis films. Our friends had holiday-sat a Labrador who had got frivolous with their Alsatian and somehow a puppy ended up coming home with us. We had nothing ready for the new addition but for the next seventeen years Pacer was part of our household.

‘No more dogs,’ I said, when he went over the rainbow bridge. ‘Holiday arrangements are impossible, they want walkies even if it’s snowing on Christmas day, the house is always a mess and losing them breaks your heart.’

Six weeks later Mij, a staff mongrel, took up residence and was the boss for another sixteen years. When he joined Pacer, I realised that apart from a few weeks, the house had never been without a canine presence, and I had no-one to blame if it was untidy.

Next to appear on the scene was ‘Cheeky.’ This was a fox who appeared in my garden one day, and decided I was a soft touch. Over time he realised the chairs in the conservatory were quite comfortable, and they still bear the claw marks from where he wriggled down for a snooze. He would eat from my hand, and wander about as if he owned the place. Sometimes when I was engrossed in writing, I would look up and find him next to my desk in the office, but I’m not sure how impressed he was when my first book was published.

He was followed by Chico and Rosie, who visited regularly for a few years. Chico was the larger and more confident of the two, but woe betide him if he tried to snatch all the goodies. Rosie would give him a tongue lashing and put him firmly in his place. I was sad when I returned from a few week’s holiday and they didn’t appear. I hope they had found alternative lodgings, but as by then they were quite elderly perhaps they had gone to join their predecessors. For a while there were no animals around as restricted mobility meant I was unable to have more dogs who needed exercise, and the house felt empty.

Around the time the virus hit, I noticed a new fox in the garden who ran off as soon as I appeared. A box of cheapo chicken wings went on the shopping list, and Spiro became a regular visitor. What was surprising was his size seemed to alter slightly, but that might have been because of the dark evenings and his fur being flattened by the rain. It took a while to build up his confidence, but gradually, instead of leaping the fence as soon as I appeared, he would sit and wait for me.

The mystery was solved when he came for dinner late one afternoon while it was still light, and through the trees I noticed another face watching. There were two of them! No, actually three! Spiro was very slightly larger, but the twins, Lucy and Luca were identical. I now had to buy giant sized packs of chicken, to feed the growing family. Although I wasn’t responsible for the great toilet roll shortage of 2020, a lack of chicken wings in the shops might have been down to them. Lucy was the most nervous of the three, and it became a game to ensure they all had their share. As the most confident, Spiro would grab one piece, then sprint back for the two others before she got a look-in. Luca would often take one off him, leaving Lucy with nothing.

I wonder if the neighbours thought I had totally lost the plot through Lockdown if they heard me calling ‘Come on, quick. Before the others get back. I’m not going to hurt you, but if you don’t learn to trust me, you’re going to starve,’ especially as it looked as if I was talking to the tree.

Although I live fairly close to the city of London, it made me appreciate the joys of having a garden. The menagerie currently comprises three foxes, one occasional squirrel, the odd jackdaw, a pair of magpies, and various roaming neighbourhood cats. I seem to have taken on the role of referee, often having to break up fights by clapping my hands at 3 o’clock in the morning, and threatening them if they don’t quieten down. Like stroppy teenagers, they’ve also learnt to answer back. I’m not expert in speaking fox, and hope they are saying ‘Thank you,’ but I have a sneaking suspicion when they stand and bark it me, it’s actually ‘We’re hungry. What kept you?’

With love from the crazy lockdown fox lady.

© Val Portelli November 2020

A huge thank you to Val for this gorgeous piece and beautiful photos of the foxes. My sister was also visited by an urban fox during lockdown, one that has become so friendly it enters their house to take food. I’m trying to persuade her to write about it for my blog! If you are interested in finding out more about Val and her books her links are below. If you would like to write a personal piece, story or poem on the subject of Pandemic Pets then please get in touch!

Val’s Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Val-Portelli/e/B08272K1R4?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1607110915&sr=8-1