Guest Post #2 Pandemic Pets – How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Hello and welcome to another guest post in my Pandemic Pets feature. Each week I will be welcoming a guest on to The Glorious Outsiders to talk about their pet and how the experience of owning one helped them through the Covid 19 pandemic. For our second post, please welcome Simon Finnis to the blog. Simon is a regular writer at my adult writing group and a fantastic poet and short story writer. Here he talks about how walking his Labrador Harvey made lockdown more bearable.

Pandemic Pet

If we had not fully appreciated the value of a dog as a companion, a source of therapy and love, a force of sanity and comfort in a seemingly crazy world, we certainly do now. Months of vacillating uncertainty as the pandemic raged across communities and nations. The agony of personal doubt and tiptoeing around the edges of pits of despair as the supposed certainties of a previous pre-Covid life are thrown into turmoil. Our Labrador-retriever’s contribution to the year 2020 has been enormous!

My wife and I have had plenty of time and opportunity to better acquaint ourselves with our beloved four-legged friend. His energetic and loving welcome at the start of each morning injected a greater sense of purpose and meaning into our days as a new routine began to take shape. How were our days going to work out? All at once, walking the dog would take on a new enhanced status. Something to cherish.

At a time when it was easy to feel so negative about the world, here was a reason to feel privileged. We had an even stronger motivation to go out and explore our beautiful and varied surroundings during lockdown. Suddenly we found new places to walk close to home. It became possible to relate to the world more from an animal’s perspective, to take time and have a more sensual and engaged relationship with both nature and our built environment. There was certainly less need to rush about crazily as had so often been the case in the past, constantly being driven by the clock; less stressing about work, traffic, shopping or meeting up with friends in time.

There is something infectious about the undimmed enthusiasm of a furry, four-legged companion. Whether at home or outdoors, their curiosity and playful nature has become the perfect antidote to a seemingly grim reality of coronavirus being drip-fed through the media over the last few months. One upside to all the turmoil was a now daily opportunity to escape from all the noise and overwhelming busyness that had hitherto been filling our lives. It was time to see the world from a new perspective, to turn down the volume, adapt to a new rhythm and value each day. I believe that there is much that pets can teach us as humans. If anything, the pandemic has offered the space to develop a greater bond with our dog, fully sensing all the light and beauty it brings into our lives.

Thank you so much to Simon for joining us today! It was lovely to hear how the family dog made lockdown so much more bearable. If you would like to tell us about your pet and how they’ve helped you through the pandemic, then please get in touch! Stories and poems are also welcome!

Guest Post #12 Dreaming Of Another World

Welcome to what will be the final guest post for my Dreaming of Another World feature, but do stay tuned for news on a brand new guest feature coming soon! This was all inspired by a post I wrote about how lockdown forced me to pause, think and dream of another world, one I could just glimpse when we were all forced to stay still. I asked other creatives for their thoughts, feelings and experiences during this strange time and I had a wonderful response. Please welcome Adeola Sheehy to The Glorious Outsiders and enjoy her personal piece on her lockdown experience. You can find out more about Adeola at the end of the post.

The Outside

When the unknown woke me from sleep in the night, I used to be able to tell the time by the activity from my window. Lying still so not to wake the baby I would listen for the vans and lorries hurrying past to signal the early hours. A few hours later the headlights of the earliest workers would slice through the blinds, sliding down the wall as the cars turned the corner and quietly began their day.

Next the encroaching daylight. How slowly the darkness lifts, as though it wants to hold you in its grasp for as long as possible. On the rare occasion I slept in I would be woken to the marching herds of school children, chattering loudly to hear themselves over the swoosh or the cars and buses, and the stomping of their own feet.

That’s just an echo now, their feet are hemmed in by walls and walk only across the soft carpet of their homes. The car engines are cold as their owners try to remember to leave them running every so often, so their batteries don’t die. How strange this static, stationery waiting. This pause.

As we huddle indoors, the news speaks of a sinister thing lurking outside. It is alive and hunting us, preying on the weakest among us. It has learnt how to travel unseen, invisible as it stalks us. We go out only in the daytime, for short periods and never altogether. The roads are quiet but even though the houses are full, they are quiet too. I hear no children in the gardens, or laughter from an open window. There is a hush, a waiting, a palpable fear.

Then in the night, I wake to darkness. There are no sounds or lights to offer me clues, only the rhythmic breathing of my dreaming family. What is it out there, prowling the streets?

I feel the presence of the fairy tale wolf prowling an isolated village in ever tighter circles. It’s come in from the dark woods, no longer in a distant far away land, it’s come to the doorstep. The village shuts their doors against the threat, but also to each other. Their once united community split into multiple tiny islands. Each fearful, focused on survival, and weakened by being alone. The wolf has the run of the town now, it can walk anywhere it likes, it has taken over a new territory and the villagers must come out sooner or later. It’s an unwinnable siege of their own making.

The shadows and the darkness have melded into one suffocating thing. My body is still and my breathing steady, as only my eyes move, tracking back and forth, searching out the presence that has my arm hair standing on end. I see the curtain twitch.

I left it open just a crack, so we could breathe a little freer. I watch it move, the delicate white lace against the dense dark. Through it a plume of white steam pushes inwards. It dissipates quickly only to be replaced by another warm breath fogging the air.

And another.

The wolf is at my door.

Author Bio

A home educating mother of four, Adeola’s writing has adapted and changed over the years to fit the time constraints of a full life.  

From short stories, to essays and articles and with various characters nagging in her ears wanting their tales to be told, you can currently find her writing in magazines such as Roots + Wings and Juno, as well as the soon to be published Hear Our Voices collection by Conscious Dreams Publishing, and in the Fireside group at The Kindred Voice.  

Lockdown seems to have broken the dam, and her pen is firmly attached to the page, so follow her on Instagram at @adeola_moonsong to see where she’ll be popping up next. 

Thank you so much to Adeola and ALL of the creatives who have participated in this feature. We’ve had short stories, poems and personal pieces and they have all been amazing. I am thinking about collating these pieces into a collection at some point (subject to each author’s permission of course) but I would like to make it a really diverse and interesting one. So, for my next guest feature I would like to know how your pets helped you through lockdown, or the pandemic in general. If you are a creative with a furry friend, then please get in touch! Perhaps you even got a pet for the first time during lockdown? I’d like to know about you and your pet, how you got together, what you do together, whether they have a positive impact on your mental health and how they have helped or hindered your creative processes and your everyday life during the pandemic. Please get in touch 🙂

Guest Post #11 Dreaming of Another World

Welcome to another guest post for my regular feature Dreaming of Another World. This feature was originally inspired by a post I wrote about how lockdown made me imagine and long for another kind of world, another way of doing things. So, I invited other creative people on to The Glorious Outsiders to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Here is a thought provoking short story from author Val Portelli. At the end of the post you can find Val’s author bio and links to her work.

The Grass is Always Greener

‘Shush, I want to watch the news.’

‘I don’t know why. It’s the same thing every night. Who would have believed six months ago.…’

‘Quiet. It’s starting.’

‘Good evening,’ the dulcet tones of the presenter began the broadcast. ‘The Leader announced today that with the devastation of our planet showing little signs of receding, further emergency measures will need to be put in place. These will include the temporary reduction in food allocation and have a knock-on effect on travel. Those who have already received a confirmation of their bookings will take priority, and the committee are working flat out to accommodate others a soon as possible. Please join us tomorrow for further updates.’

Marcia switched off the appliance and sighed.

‘I knew we should have booked while we had the chance, but you insisted we wait for a better deal,’ she said to her husband. ‘Have we left it too late?’

Dane tensed, hating that Marcia was upset but not knowing what to do about it. They had discussed the trip endlessly, weighing up the pros and cons and saving every spare penny so their dream would be everything they envisaged.

‘I’m sorry, love. The discount for going out of season was too good to ignore. Another four weeks and we would have been on our way. Who would have guessed this would happen? The whole universe has gone crazy, but don’t give up. I’ll sort it out somehow.’

‘No, it’s not your fault,’ Marcia said, going over to give him a hug. ‘No one could have predicted this would happen. When we made our plans, life was normal and we assumed it would carry on that way. I should have told you I wanted a crystal ball for my birthday, then I could have said “Told you so.” As it is, we’ve got to take our chances with everyone else who’s in the same boat. We’ve got the advantage we’re prepared. Tomorrow we’ll register and the first space that comes up we’ll take it. Agreed?’

‘Agreed,’ Dane said, determined to spend as much time online as necessary to make sure they got away as soon as possible. Although he tried to stay positive it wasn’t easy as daily life became more of a challenge. No longer able to work as further restrictions came into force, they were forced to exist on half the income they had enjoyed previously. At times they were

tempted to dip into their savings, but that would mean they would be unable to afford their dream, so they made do, and tried to stay positive.

The increasing heat made them feel lethargic, and concentration difficult. Usually they were happy in each other’s company, but being confined 24/7 they were both snappy and unreasonable. Weeks passed until one day it all got too much and Marcia took out her frustrations on Dane, blaming him for everything going wrong. He retaliated and soon they were in the middle of a full-blown row. In temper, she threw two plates in the sink which promptly smashed, he shouted at her for being unappreciative and destroying the crockery set he had worked so hard to buy. All their pent-up anger and bitterness spewed out and he spent the night sleeping in the spare room.

The next morning the atmosphere was quiet and tense. They spoke to each other only when necessary, both too stubborn to make the first move and apologise. That evening Marcia felt tears welling up as she was cutting their last remaining vegetables for a meagre meal. Unable to see clearly, the knife slipped and blood spurted out from the gash in her finger.

‘Darling are you alright?’ Dane asked as he rushed to her side.

‘They were all we had left,’ Marcia sobbed. ‘Now I can’t even feed you properly.’

‘Hush, it’ll be fine. I needed to lose some weight anyway,’ Dane joked as he took her in his arms and comforted her, until with a final hic-cup she managed a weak smile.

‘If we had any other ingredients I could make a black pudding,’ she said, ‘or perhaps we could turn into vampires and not have to worry about food.’

‘That’s my girl. You can bite me any time you like, but first we should clean up that cut. It looks nasty,’ Dane responded as he went to fetch some antiseptic and a plaster.

With harmony restored between them, he salvaged what he could for their meal, and on impulse brought out their last bottle of wine.

‘I know we were saving it for a celebration,’ he said, ‘but I think we need it tonight. Perhaps it will bring us luck. Sorry sweetheart, I shouldn’t have taken my temper out on you. Cheers.’

‘It was my fault. I’m sorry. Whatever happens, we’ve still got our dream. Cheers to a brighter future.’

Once they had cleared up, he logged on as usual, prepared for another disappointment. To his amazement a vacancy appeared, two seats available, leaving in three days’ time. He was shaking so much his finger could hardly press the “book” button. Half excited, half gearing himself up for disappointment he sat biting his nails until the confirmation with full details appeared, when he let out a loud whoop of delight.

‘What’s happened? Tell me,’ Marcia said as she came rushing in to ask what all the commotion was about.

‘We’re going, we’re going,’ Dane shouted as he picked her up and twirled her round the room. ‘In three days’ time we’ll be leaving this hell-hole planet for good, and on our way to earth. No more 40 degrees heat, no more confined to the house, no more food restrictions, no more rulers dictating what we can and can’t do. We’ll be free to wander about and enjoy life the way it used to be.’

Neither of them truly believed it would happen until they received their immigration papers, medical confirmation for a clean bill of health, and were seated in the space craft ready for take-off to a new world. Life on earth was their dream finally coming true.

It was only as they exited the craft and joined the queue for new arrivals, they were able to learn of the restrictions affecting their new planet. Global warming meant average temperatures were similar to home, the virus meant food shortages and confinement, with additional regulations affecting their every move.

The grass is not always greener.

A huge thanks to Val for sharing this story with us! You can find out more about Val and her work below. If you have a blog post, short story or poem on the theme Dreaming of Another World, then please get in touch!

Author Bio

Despite receiving her first rejection letter when she was nine, from some lovely people at a well-known Women’s magazine, Val continued writing intermittently until a freak accident left her housebound and going stir crazy. The completion and publication of her first full length novel helped save her sanity during those difficult times.

Six books and various anthologies later, she is currently working on her long neglected 100,000 word plus manuscript, in between writing follow ups to two of her earlier novels with the intention of making them into a series. She writes in a variety of genres, although the weekly short stories she posts on her Facebook author page tend to include her trademark ‘Quirky’ twist.

Val lives on the outskirts of London, where she provides a free restaurant service to various generations of foxes who have obtained squatters’ rights since her dogs passed over the rainbow bridge. She is always delighted to receive reviews, as they encourage sales, and help to pay the exorbitant supermarket chicken bill to keep her visitors fed.

In her spare time she studies how to market her work to a wider audience, before resorting to procrastinating on social media, and seeking advice from the unicorns she breeds in the shed at the bottom of the garden.

Links

Amazon author page https://author.to/ValPortelli

Voinks blog and Val Portelli web site. http://www.Voinks.wordpress.com

Quirky Unicorn web site. http://www.quirkyunicornbooks.wordpress.com

Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/wwwgoodreadscomVal_Portelli

Twitter https://twitter.com/ValPortelli

Guest Post #10; Dreaming Of Another World

Welcome to another guest post for my feature Dreaming of Another World. This feature was inspired by a post I wrote here a few months back, where I considered whether another world was possible and could just be glimpsed when lockdown forced us to stay still. I was interested in how other creatives reacted to lockdown and the changes it pushed upon us and opened up my blog to their responses and experiences. I’ve had a great response and here is guest post no.10 from fantasy author Rick Haynes, where he reminisces about leaving the house for the first time after a prolonged spell of isolation.

A TRIP INTO THE UNKNOWN by Rick Haynes

My wife and I thought hard. Due to the impact of Covid-19, we had spent many months cooped up in our nice comfortable prison, but dare we venture outside? But the rays from the sky were sending warmth, giving the prospect of new life to old bones. And after much discussion about the safety aspects, we agreed to depart our sanctuary. For an hour or so, we would take our first trip back to reality, whatever that was.

Now for the checklist. Face masks? Check. Sanitiser? Check. Gloves? Check, but did we need gloves? Medical kit? Check. Blanket? Check. Jackets? In case we felt cold, check.

Taking a drive through the roads of our virus-ridden country was never on any previous menu, but times change for boredom had been our permanent friend for months.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at our destination. The car park at the local garden centre was more than half full, but – in for a penny – as the saying goes. Yet, we hesitated. I could see my wife shaking as we approached the doors of no return.

Inside, the carefully designed twisty routes – to make you see, and hopefully buy, more of the things you don’t want – are like a one-way street. Once in, you cannot reverse and have to travel forward.

With her hand firmly in mine and a nod of her head, we adjusted our masks of fear and entered a world of all things gardening. Much to our surprise, the visitors were few. Wondering about the car numbers in the parking area was over in a flash. Maybe this visit would be less hazardous than we thought?

We placed one foot in front of the other and began the long walk along the meandering trail, eventually emerging into bright sunlight. We inhaled deeply as a world of fragrance, freshness, and clean air instantly hit us. It was good to feel the heat, even better to view the rows and rows of plants and take in the intoxicating scent from the multitude of flowers. With large smiles on our faces, this was our first step into the future but a giant step towards normality.

Our good neighbours – shielding like us – had visited the centre in the last week and advised us to try the coffee shop. They said it was run with military precision, big spaces between seats – inside and out – and you order from the table. Everything was sanitised. Visitors only leave their table to pay and that is to a lass sitting behind a large screen. It worked. We enjoyed our coffee as we felt safe.

And when we left the café behind us, it wasn’t time to go home, as the number of visitors had declined, the walkways almost empty now. My mind wandered back to the decision to shake our fists at the virus, and, without thinking, I was grinning like an idiot.

My wife was looking at the vast array of small shrubs on display. With some being heavily reduced, she thought about buying two small Hebes, one purple and one pinky red. They would do nicely in our new garden, she said. Covered in bees could be the clincher but when the rare Humming Bird Hawk Moth arrived, it was game set and match. The moniker for that stunning moth is long and for that reason, we have always called them, Mobys. Rare in England? Yes, but we have seen many in Greece.

With my wife entranced, I wandered lonely, as if? This garden centre had an aquarium and I sauntered over. It was lovely to see so many highly coloured fish behind glass but I’d rather see them in a large pond. With that in mind, I saw a massive tank to the rear of the aquarium. I climbed the few steps and peered into the murky waters.

At first, I saw little in the gloom. A flash, the tail smacked the water and, like a great magician, the fish vanished. I stared until my eyes were bulging but could see nothing for the tank was murky and at least eight or nine feet deep. The far side was a mystery as I could barely see it.

I turned to go, heard a slap of a tail once more, and felt water hitting my shoulders. I peered into the deep, and like the greatest aqua performers, the Koi Carp made an impressive arrival. With shades of black and hues of gold, orange, and red, the large fish shoaled around the area nearest to me, their eyes seeking something. Eventually, my brain engaged and I realised the fish were awaiting food. Alas, I didn’t have any but the stones at the bottom of the steps looked promising. The first one I lifted was swarming with woodlice. Grabbing a handful, I lowered my hand into the water, released the insects and the fun started. Koi madness took over as the water erupted with fish jumping high, slapping the water with their tails, and lunging into each other. The picture of demons from the deep sucking me under came into my head, but I couldn’t stop now, even though my shirt was damp. I picked up more woodlice and two large spiders and returned to their feeding spot.

The water was unmoving; the fish had vanished. I could see nothing through the murk, not a flash of colour, nor a fin breaking the water.

With my hand full of fishy treats, I slowly opened my palm. And as I began to ease it from the water a huge mouth appeared. It touched my fingers, sucked hard, and gently pulled. Without thinking, instinct took over. I pulled back, and the toothless grin of the largest Koi Carp I had ever seen emerged from the dark waters. 

My panic quickly turned to stupidity and then to rational thought. The remaining insects were learning how to swim for their lives, and the black and red giant monster sucked them up quicker than our carpet cleaner could. Within a minute all was once more serene in the tank of amazement.

Sitting on the lowest step leading up to the massive tank, I sat and pondered. Why did such a huge fish like that hide and then propel its self forward to take a meal from my hand? It couldn’t be that hungry, could it? In my world, fish either bite you or leave you alone, not try and suck you to death. Nevertheless, I checked all my fingers for any bites, sighed with relief, and knew it was time to go. I pulled myself slowly upright and waved to my wife some distance away. Within seconds, I slammed on the brakes for my eyes had homed in on a small and faded notice.

Feed the fish here. Only £1 a bag.

Stupid? I felt like a man with no brain as I walked away.

“I’ve been looking for you, love. Where have you been?”

All I could manage was the grin of a brainless idiot.

A huge thank you to Rick for sharing this post with us! If you would like to find out more about Rick and his books his author bio and links are below.

AUTHOR BIO

My passion is epic fantasy and my first two novels, Evil Never Dies and Heroes Never Fade, have received excellent reviews. As one reviewer posted – ‘Fans of Games of Thrones must read this book!’

My new novel, Outcast, a tale of love, betrayal and giants, has recently been published.

I also write short stories. Several have been published in Scribble, the Portsmouth News and The Chania Post.

I love writing.Rick Haynes
www.rickhaynesauthor.com