Dreaming Of Another World

On the 17th of March 2020 I was sat in my car about to go into a primary school to run an after-school writing club. I checked my phone and found an email from one of the other schools I work at, stating that schools would be closing at the end of the week and all clubs were cancelled. I felt a whoosh of fear and shock and checked my news feed for more information, all of which confirmed that the government were closing schools and putting us into lockdown due to the outbreak of Covid 19. It was probably the most surreal moment of my life. I went into the school and ran the club and I haven’t seen those children since. I haven’t been able to work since either, apart from a few bits online. I can’t yet go back to the libraries, museums, halls and schools I normally work in.

At the end of that week, life changed for everyone over night, just like that. I blogged about it almost instantly because it was just so strange, so historical and unprecedented and because writing about it helped me to make sense of it. Here’s the link to that post; https://chantelleatkins.com/2020/03/18/and-just-like-that-everything-changed/

And then, being the highly adaptable creatures we often forget we are, we all just got on with it. We worked from home, or we didn’t work, we home schooled our confused children, we stayed in, we entertained ourselves, we thanked fuck the internet existed and we very slowly but surely got used to a new normal. Humans are adaptable. We’ve proved that. Perhaps we’ve all realised how resilient we are capable of being. At the start of this, I blogged about how everything had changed over night, I blogged about the ups and downs of home schooling and I blogged about how weird had become the new normal, as well as the positives I hoped could come out of the pause in our lives.

Life is for many of us, slowly returning to normal. At the start of lockdown, it was eerily quiet in our garden, with barely any cars sailing by. Instead we had a constant flow of walkers and cyclists. Now it’s back to normal and that’s a bit sad. But I’m one of them now, aren’t I? Doing the school run again.

And I can’t help feel a bit lost and sad. Don’t get me wrong. I want all of my children to return to their normal lives and I am desperate to get back to my writing clubs and workshops. I just can’t help comparing the stillness, the silence, the gentle creep of Mother Nature reclaiming what is hers, at the start of lockdown, to the way it was before Covid 19 stopped us all in our tracks.

But the return to everything else makes me feel sad. Driving here and there, constantly in traffic and adding to the fumes that are heating up our only planet. Racing against the clock to get it all done, pick everyone up and get everyone where they need to be, dreading getting up and it all starting again.

What we were doing to the planet before Covid 19 was wrong. All of it was wrong. And we knew that…yet we couldn’t or wouldn’t change. And then lockdown… clear skies, grounded planes, silent roads, birdsong, sheep playing on roundabouts and deer walking down the streets, dolphins in the canals of Venice…so many beautiful, beautiful sights. And in our homes, we became creative. We sought out more and more ways to entertain ourselves and our children. We got into gardening! And self-sufficiency! We worried about where food came from and whether we could get any. Our eyes were being opened and we found we were not helpless. We had power.

I’ve always been into gardening, with varying degrees of success. I think it is actually one of the most therapeutic and simultaneously rebellious things you can do. It’s hopeful. To believe in a garden is to believe in tomorrow, they say. And that is so true…. On my darkest days, when life weighs so heavy I can’t breathe…I need my garden, I need fresh air and grass and dirt under my nails. If I plant something, I am optimistic. I am hopeful. And I am clawing back power. We used to feed ourselves; we had that power and that connection with Mother Nature, and not even that long ago. But we’ve lost it, moved so far away from it we forgot it was even possible.

And to care about this planet we have to feel connected to it! We have to feel part of it, part of everything and we have to believe that everything has a right to be here, to be treated with respect and dignity.

And during lockdown, the most amazing things happened. People started growing again. There was a massive increase in people buying seeds and plants and greenhouses. I was overjoyed to see this, even among my friends and family and social media contacts. People were discovering, many of them for the first time, how addictive gardening is. People were getting excited about growing a lettuce or picking their own strawberries. There was also an increase in people getting chickens for the first time. And undoubtedly, there has been an increase in people exploring their local wild places and perhaps fully appreciating the natural world for the first time too. Pond dipping, bird watching, identifying trees and leaves, bug hunting, walking and hiking and playing in rock pools. I have seen so much of this going on and it’s absolutely heartwarming.

But what now? Do we all go back to our ordinary lives and forget any of this happened? I really hope not. I really hope people continue to think about where their food comes from, continue to grow some of it themselves, continue to make ethical consumer choices, continue to do their bit to fight climate change, continue to respect animals and wildlife, continue to walk and cycle if they can and so on. Because I don’t know about you but I am constantly dreaming of another world.

Another world where we are connected to wildlife and nature, where we respect and value and protect it above all else. Where money and wealth are not idolised or deemed more important than human happiness and dignity.

Sometimes I go there in my mind and wonder if I can make it possible, even just for me and my family. It’s perhaps not realistic, but something I can’t stop thinking about it. I call it my basic life. Because going back to basics is what I crave. In my basic life, I live in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and rivers and streams and meadows. I grow all my own food and keep ducks and chickens and perhaps a few goats.

I have solar panels, wind turbines and a well. I have orchards. I go out each day and forage for food. I cook everything from scratch. I only go to the nearest town once a month for other supplies. I only have limited access to the internet. My kids are home schooled and spend their days swimming in rivers, climbing trees and learning survival skills. We sit around the fire outside at night under the stars, swapping stories and jokes.

I spend my time growing food, tending the animals and the children, writing, reading and listening to music and we are all at peace and at one with the Universe. Did I also mention our only means of transport is a battered VW campervan?

Haha, just a pipedream, but I like it. I go there in my head at night. I try to build up little parts of it in my real life, such as extending my vegetable plot so I can grow even more next year.

I dream of my basic life and another world while fearing and grieving for this one.

What about you? What do you hope changes when this is all over? Do you think this will ever be over? What do you think should change? Will you be changing anything in your own life? What kind of other world do you dream about?

Home Schooling Day 1; is bribery okay…?

Today was our first official day of home schooling. As I write this, the Prime Minister has announced total lockdown of the UK, so things are changing fast. With three asthmatics in our family, we were not planning to leave the house other than for dog walks, so this won’t affect us too much. Husband works in a supermarket so he can still leave the house to do that.

Anyway, back to home schooling. If I’m honest, it’s something I have always been curious about. I hated school when I was a kid and would have loved to be home schooled. I considered it when my eldest child was struggling in Years 9 and 10 but thankfully she got over the issues she was having and we didn’t have to look into it too much. I run two writing clubs for home educated children and I often envy their lives. They seem to do so many fun and educational things and all at their own pace. Often before coming to my club they would have had guitar lessons or horse-riding, and after it might be discussion group or philosophy. They are all lovely, well-rounded and relaxed children so it obviously suits them well.

As for me I love the idea of it and but have never imaged I’d have the patience to teach my own children all day every day. It’s nice to have a break from them when they go to school! But here we are. Life has changed dramatically in the blink of an eye. I think that’s the hardest thing to get your head around. We all feel a bit shocked, I suppose. This time last week I was tired from a very busy but typical Monday. This week, I am tired from schooling my 5 year old all day!

My older children, aged 12, 15 and 17 are quite able to get on with things themselves. They have work sent to them from school or college and I trust them to work through it. It’s the 5 year old’s learning I’m now responsible for and yes, I was daunted, and yesterday I felt horrible all day, panicky even. Today was better because we were busy. Less time to think or doubt yourself!

My 5 year old is a typical little boy of that age. At school he is a delight, perfectly well-behaved and very keen to learn. At home, he is noisy, attention-seeking and at times quite demanding as well as over sensitive. We all adore him, don’t get me wrong, he is without a doubt the funniest and sweetest person in our household. But we can all agree with a roll of our eyes that he is exhausting.

So, armed with masses of helpful links which have been splashed all over Facebook since school closures were announced, plus activity booklets we printed out, writing books we already had and the stuff school sent home…I planned two weeks worth of timetables and today was Day 1.

How did we do?

Pretty good if bribery is okay!

It went a bit like this;

‘You’ve got to get dressed now so we can do PE Joe on YouTube,’

‘No, I don’t want to.’

‘Well, you sort of have to. Its good for you, it will be fun. We are all doing it together. Come on, get dressed.’

‘No, I don’t want to.’

‘After that you can run your own snack shop and sell the snacks?’

‘Okay then.’

Result! Me, the 12 year old and 5 year old spent twenty odd minutes jumping around in front of the laptop with the excellent PE Joe. I enjoyed it. 5 year old did pretty well but had his eye on his snack shop the whole time. This was another brilliant idea from Facebook. I chose some snacks and told them they could ‘buy’ two to last all day and the 5 year old could sell them from his little wooden toy market stall. He loved this.

He then did art with one of his sisters outside. Another win. He made a rainbow to hang at the window. Something all the kids are doing to cheer people up. We followed this with free time, or ‘discovery time’ as they call it at school. To placate him from moaning, his sister let him play Happy Wheels on her laptop. Snack time, then I did his phonics with him. This took 5 minutes because he’s pretty good. But I had to bribe him again because he really wasn’t in the mood. I can’t even remember what I bribed him with but it worked.

We had garden time then, playing with the dog, digging up nettles around our ‘sit spot’ and planting primroses. He mostly marched around with a massive stick, scaring the dog and getting shouted at by his unimpressed sister. He likes the ‘sit spot’ though; an idea I came across after signing up to Forest School activities. The idea is you create a quiet, peaceful place to sit and observe the world, practice mindfulness, that kind of thing. Not sure he cared much about mindfulness, he just asked if he could bring cars to play there and I said yes. As for me the sit spot is now my favorite place and I use it often…

His best part of the day was definitely the science experiment which was in one of the booklets I printed off. You just put raisins in lemonade and watch them go up and down, but he LOVED it. He loves stuff like this, so of course we added marshmallows and pasta which didn’t go up and down and we talked about why the raisins did and I learned something new… I got him to draw and label the experiment and then I let him have an ice cream float. (Yes, another bribe…head hanging in shame…)

Is it me or does this look like a Dalek?

Free time again (I swear every activity we do lasts about 5 minutes??) and he found a movie to watch. I wanted to get writing and spelling ticked off so out came the bribery again because he was really whinging now. If he did a bit of writing in his book he could have his second snack….if he then came on a dog walk with me, I would bring biscuits.

I mean, I’m not offering him much, but it’s still bribery right?

He wanted to play zombies on the dog walk but I really didn’t have the mental energy. I felt too much like a zombie myself. Of course more bribery came up…if he kept going, when he got back he could play Plants Vs Zombies on my phone…That worked for us both to be honest, because I escaped to the sit spot with my book and a coffee. Bliss!

So, I think we survived our first day and I even gave him some more biscuits at bedtime for being such a good boy and doing so well. We have some maths and computing planned tomorrow plus two lots of art and some forest school stuff. I’m looking forward to it. The other bonus so far is that because I’m in his face so much, when he gets free time, he does not want to play with me! That’s not how it usually works. He’s usually terrible at playing by himself!

All in all, I feel positive, despite the blatant bribery. Whatever works, right? And like I predicted in my last post, I’m sure many parents already have increased respect for teachers who do this every day with thirty plus kids! It’s different with my writing clubs because I love writing so much, anything that involves writing is pure joy for me.

If you’re home schooling for the first time, how are you finding it? Any highs or lows so far? Any tips?

Growing Your Own; A Positive Rebellion

Gardening is a lot like writing. It starts with a seed, and with love, care, attention, commitment and imagination, it grows into something much, much more. For me, gardening and writing are similar because they both involve creating something positive and injecting it into the world. They both make the world brighter and better. They both involve hope, love and rebellion.

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I’ve always been attracted to gardening. My parents grew vegetables when I was a kid, and so did my grandparents. I have fond memories of sitting on cool concrete steps with a plastic bowl on my lap, popping peas from their pods. There is nothing in this world quite as divine as the pungent scent of a full grown tomato plant. As soon as I had my own place, I started growing my own. There is something so deliciously simple and satisfying about planting a seed and growing it into a plant, from which you can pick and eat food. If you’ve never had the pleasure, I can assure you it’s an incredible feeling. Like all is well with the world. Like you’ve just solved all the world’s problems, by tugging out a handful of carrots and shaking the dirt from their roots. It never fails to make me smile, the sight of home grown food, picked and ready to eat. It just makes you want to sit back and go ‘ahh’.

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We live in tumultuous times. There are many days when I want to avoid the news, for fear of what will dismay or horrify me next. I sometimes wish I could turn the clock back for all of us, back to a simpler time, where we all grew our own food, worked the fields, and reaped what we sowed.

When I am feeling distraught, just like writing, gardening will make me feel better. I forces me to take a deep breath, it forces me to get on with things, to get on with life, and to do something positive. Getting my hands dirty, feeling the soil under my finger nails, pushing seeds into the earth, it all helps me to feel grounded again and more in control. Being outside, kneeling in the dirt, choosing what to plant, putting my back into turning over the earth, it helps me remember where I come from, where we all come from. Gardening is therapeutic; I keep telling people this. I get my little man out there with me, and I want him to feel the earth and take care of the seeds, and tend them and watch them grow. Right now, I can’t think of anything more important for him to know and understand.

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Gardening grounds me, calms me and satisfies me. From the beginning, it is a labour of love and good intentions. I have the old adage of ‘you reap what you sow’ in mind nearly always, for I know I will get back what I put in. The seeds are the hope, you see. Like new life, bursting with potential. A freshly dug and turned over plot is like the womb, spongey and fresh, eager to provide and sustain. It’s exciting from the first moment you plant the seed. When it rears its head, it’s like birth. You care for it, water it, protect it and finally, you are rewarded with food. The cycle of life right there. And around it goes again, the plant itself providing the seeds from which to start the whole process again.

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When I’m in my garden, I’m calmer and happier, but I am also filled with grit and determination. For I am taking back control. Working the land, growing our own food used to be the norm. It was how we survived. But over time the food industry grew into a monstrous thing, delivering us convenience, but taking away so many other things. What have we traded, what have we compromised on in order to be able to do all our shopping under one huge roof? We’ve not only handed over control of the food chain to massive faceless corporations, we’ve compromised on animal cruelty and environmental damage and destruction. We’ve increased waste massively, through packaging, delivery, and distribution. We’ve lost contact with what is put into our food, what it actually is, where it comes from, and what or who has suffered in order for us to have it exactly as we demand it.

When you try to grow your own food, you remember how it used to be, how it could be again, how important it is to get back that control and to reconnect our roots with the earth we walk on. We have no respect for nature when we are removed from it. When all the hard work is done for us, when we have no idea how foods are made or what is in them, or what damage has been done to the planet in order to obtain them. I believe it’s crucial we teach our children where food comes from. Reconnecting them with the earth and their own wild roots is going to become increasingly important.

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It’s not easy for everyone to grow their own food. Not everyone has the space and barely anyone has the time. But in years to come, I truly believe it’s going to become imperative to learn how. We are going to struggle to feed people on this planet for many reasons. Climate change may be the biggest challenge of our generation, endless war, struggling economies and falling wages will all take their toll. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that food prices are rising.

Growing your own food, planting a vegetable patch, may be just about the most positive and rebellious thing we can do right now. It’s two fingers up to the establishment, it’s a break away from slavery to the supermarkets, and a refusal to be complicit in animal cruelty, environmental destruction and the taking from those who have less.

Growing your own is saying, go away, I don’t need you, I can do this on my own. I’ve got a new motto this year in my house. It’s ‘I won’t buy it, if I can make it myself.’ Now this only applies to food so far, and is a work in process, but a good intention heading in the right direction. I’m digging my heels in and saying no. I don’t need to buy supermarket naan bread when I make a curry, because I can save the packaging and make my own. I don’t need to buy pizzas, or jam, or pastries or pies, sauces, breads, cakes or biscuits, because I can make my own.

I need to be outside right now. This world is breaking my heart and filling me with terror. I need to be planting things, growing things, nurturing things. I need to be responsible for new life and hope and potential. I need to believe that good things can happen if you are a good person. I need to believe that there is a possibility for a greener, brighter future for my children.

When I am writing or gardening, I am reminded that I still have power.