No I bloody don’t want to self-improve during coronavirus lockdown thanks

Sam Harrington-Lowe no thanks to new crafts coronavirus www.samhl.co.uk

This Easter I don’t want to learn to make hot cross buns, or bloody Simnel cake. Nor do I want to learn how to craft cutsey little chicks in baskets, or hand paint personalised Easter cards, or even whip up homemade chocolate truffle ‘eggs’.

And whilst I’m at it, I don’t want to learn a new language, get fit and lose weight, make fucking sourdough, write a novel (jury’s maybe out on that one), or meditate every day.

I don’t care about Tiger King – it looks unsavory and not nice for tigers – and as for learning to make my own pasta or learning to bake… I’m 50 years old. Who the hell gets to 50 without knowing how to do that already?

Deepak Chopra’s 21 Days of Abundance. No! Foraging and hedgewitchery? No! Making tofu. Egad. No!

What’s wrong with everyone? Have you all gone mad?

I’m writing today, in case you hadn’t realised it yet, about the hideous, insidious message that if you’re not doing something productive or creative in lockdown you’re somehow failing. Whatever else I’ve learned about Self-Isolation in Covid-19 Times, it’s that there’s expectation out there, and it’s worse than ever.

Fed up with lockdown coronavirus Sam Harrington-Lowe www.samhl.co.uk

TRYING TO DO EVERYTHING

I watch friends of mine, parents with businesses or jobs, trying desperately to home school and earn a crust at the same time, whilst being locked in together trying not to kill each other. Yet still feeling somehow that if they’re not crocheting a new life or cooking up a virus-beating foraged nettle soup and posting it on Instagram (hastag inittogether), they’re somehow inadequate.

People are trying not to go mad, locked in with The Fear and their ghastly families. That’s challenge enough, frankly

Stop this shit! So many people are literally just trying to rise above the panic of incarceration on a daily basis, and this jolly heartiness is unfathomably icky. They’re trying desperately not to go mad, locked in with The Fear and their ghastly families, or on their own, trying to stay sane. That’s challenge enough, frankly. They don’t need more pressure.

Goalcast is touting a smarmy ‘get better at life’ video on Facey at the moment with the caption, “NOW is the time to conquer the little tasks in life, because this pandemic may open windows of opportunity for long-awaited change… So how are you going to conquer today?”

Um, well actually I’m going to try not to leave my house, for the umpteenth day, and I’m going to work, like I do every other week. And make a meal with whatever shite is in the fridge. And not crack up, thanks. How about you?

BUSINESS AS USUAL

For me – and for countless thousands of others – this pandemic is largely business as usual. We work quietly at our desks, breaking out occasionally for calls or meetings, and not only have you now got to try and crack through that, you’ve got to do it at home. With children/pets/other halves whining around your feet, trying to do Down Dogs and fucking PE, whilst you’re preparing a presentation and trying not to look like Jabba the Hut on Zoom.

How to cope working at home coronavirus www.samhl.co.uk

And my god I hate online meetings. I know they’re a lifeline for keeping things rolling. But the awkwardness. The glitchy connectivity. The backgrounds of clients’ homes. It’s SO WEIRD!

The things I miss terribly about this whole situation I can probably count on one hand. I miss long drunken lunches with friends probably the most of all. The other things are less of an issue, but it’s the company of my beloved mates that’s the loss here.

Which brings me on to my next ugh. Jesus, the WhatsApp groups, and groups on Facebook. Sorry to those of you who have added me to them – you’ll probably notice I’m conspicuous by my lack of interaction. I find these things terribly uncomfortable, sorry. And I can’t believe it’s just me.

I want to join in, in my head. And I feel like I should make the effort. But then I open the thread and I’m filled with dread. And as for online group events like drinks evenings and so on. Okay, I know these are a salvation for some people, but the idea fills me with a desire to hide behind the sofa. Sorry girls who’ve added me to these things. I love all of you individually but the group stuff makes me feel like I’m at school trying to do House competitions. And being the weakest link.

Speaking personally, I am just trying to get through each day alive. And in the evenings I eat, maybe watch Poirot because it’s safe and cosy and not real. I might even read a book – but I’m knackered from a day’s work. Remember that, those of you furloughed?! I still have to do the do. It’s no different for me right now.

And I talk to people on the phone, but individually. I love a chat, but I don’t want to do it in front of loads of others. That’s just weird – and feels like when you’re made to do a presentation that nobody really wants to hear.

I appreciate that people are just trying to cope, I really do. And if this stuff works for you, and you have the time, then great – I don’t want to take the joy out of making something and learning new things away from you, I really don’t. But I think for a lot of people, this hearty, jolly homespun craft stuff is just something else to stress about. Another pressure. And yes, particularly for women.

Me? I have simple needs. I want to go on holiday, want to have lunch with mates. How I miss inappropriate nights out. And I want not to die of Covid-19. Right now I want to just relax when I’m not working, and not feel like I have to whip up a storm in the kitchen and master new skills. Honestly, I congratulate myself for getting up each day and not giving in to ennui. I don’t need to fight with learning Inuit on top of those challenges.

So for now I’ll just watch you guys making sculptures and learning origami, if that’s okay. And be happy for you.

And wait for this thing to be over.

The trouble with being mates with your ex

Being mates with your ex Sam Harrington-Lowe www.samhl.co.uk

Why do partners wait until you split up to finally find the strength to be all the things you wanted them to be?!

The world went into collective hysteria this week when Brad and Jen were seen Being Friends at some awards. They seem perfectly able to be mates, but the world is not grown-up enough to cope apparently. They can’t even have a hello hug and kiss without screaming headlines. It must be very irritating.

Being mates with an ex brings all sorts of issues into play, as I am discovering at the moment, whilst trying to be mates with an ex. I mean, it’s nice that we have split up without creating a whole bunch of carnage, and that we can hang out together without wanting to kill each other, most of the time. And I’m genuinely very fond of him. But being close so soon after splitting (less than six months ago) brings its own challenges.

…the biggest challenge I’m facing is ‘why the fuck couldn’t you do that when we were together?’

There’s the ‘you look good, oh no do I still fancy you/did I make a mistake?’ challenge. And the ‘wow I wish you’d been this pleasant to me when we were together’ challenge. And who hasn’t felt the ‘ugh do you still do that?’ challenge? But the biggest challenge I’m facing is ‘why the fuck couldn’t you do that when we were together?’

This can be anything from apparently now being able to organise social activities, having been allergic to making arrangements for around a decade, to finally going to the gym and taking care of oneself. Perhaps he looks at me too and feels the same, I dunno. But bloody hell. The man he is now is a much improved model on the one I used to be with. Why does this happen?

The weekend, and friends are house-guesting. M likes them too – and they him – so I invite him along for dog walk and breakfast on the Sunday morning. After some overthinking from him (“It’s just yes or no to breakfast, not an opportunity for a relationship post mortem,” I say eventually) all is fine. We have a nice walk, the sun shines, I fall over and hilariously get muddy, nobody snaps at anyone, and we repair to mine for coffee and a bit of the old convivial afterwards.

The conversation turns to my friend and her improved sleep due to husband getting a machine to fix his sleep apnoea. “It’s marvellous,” says my friend. “N has got a special mask now that has completely transformed our lives! No more snoring and he doesn’t nearly die all the time trying to breathe. I love him again!”

AND THEN M casually drops the fact that he’s seeing a sleep clinician about his snoring and apnoea too.

I stare. I am genuinely shocked into silence. I’m instantly, helplessly remembering the nights I’ve taken myself to a sofa in tears because of his snoring. The times he’s been angry with me for turning him over because of the noise. The night I got out of bed at a hotel I’ve wanted to stay at all my life to make a bed on the floor out of towels, because of the noise. The times over a TEN YEAR period I desperately begged him to see someone about the snoring and the noise. And – not for the first time but for very different reasons – I can’t quite believe what I’m hearing.

He starts to explain how they’ve done tests and discovered he’s not getting enough oxygen blah blah – by this point I’m not really listening properly, I’m reeling, and speechless. Because I knew all this, and he repeatedly told me there was nothing that could be done. More to the point, he wouldn’t even countenance exploring the options. Not once.

The night time noise – for me – was probably the biggest nail in our coffin. Not being able to be close to him and sleep peacefully. Not being able to snuggle on the sofa in case he dropped off to sleep. His snoring, and inability to breathe properly was tortuous and as I say, the fact he never even once tried to fix it… It was HUGE in our relationship breakdown. Maybe he doesn’t know that?! He must. Surely?

“Wow,” I manage. “That’s excellent, I’m really pleased for you.” Or words to that effect. I’m impressed I’ve managed to say them out loud and not actually lunge across the coffee table and prevent him from breathing right then.

Something in my voice must alert him though, or perhaps he can see past my thousand yard stare and realises what’s happened, because he starts to talk about how he didn’t go on purpose, and it was picked up whilst he was seeing the quack about something else.

We get through this and he leaves, without me killing him. And my friend and I drink Bloody Marys and watch Poirot and everything is fine. But I can’t stop thinking about this, and when I’m in bed later it takes every fibre of my being not to text him and ask him why.

Why now? Why not when we were together? Why couldn’t he love me enough to at least make ONE BASTARDING APPOINTMENT to find out if there was anything that could be done? All the years I’ve worn earplugs, laid there worrying about his inability to breathe, cried because I can’t sleep. And NOW THIS?

I don’t text. I sleep badly – ironically – and I’m glad when I wake up that I didn’t berate him. It’s hard not to look at how we drifted apart and know that it was – in part – because we couldn’t sleep together, or relax cuddling together on the sofa. And it’s hard not to wonder, if he’d got it fixed, or at least bloody tried, whether we’d still be together.

But I decide I don’t know the answer to that. And it’s too late now anyway. I’m very fond of him but we have, um, made our bed. And it’s nice being friends.

But still…

Grr!!!

The truth about punching after 50

Sam Harrington-Lowe punching above your weight www.samhl.co.uk

A friend of mine has recently started seeing an ugly guy. I don’t just mean ‘not attractive’. This one is kinda creepy looking. Like, if you saw his mugshot on a police show about serial killers you’d see his face and be like, oh man look at that weird looking guy with his dead eyes.

And yet he’s a lovely bloke. He’s kind and thoughtful with her, really generous with his time and his not inconsiderable money, and proves once again that you can’t judge a book, etc.

How can she have sex with him?! Does she look at him, or do it with the lights off?! Because I know I would have to.

But I look at them and wonder about it. I can’t help it. She’s gorgeous, you see. She’s in her 50s with a glorious head of hair and a bubbly, never-a-dull-moment personality, and she’s clever and successful too – she’s an absolute beaut of a catch. And he’s quiet and weird-looking and a bit introverted – they seem so mismatched. And it made me wonder; is she settling? Could I go out with an ugly guy? How can she have sex with him?! Does she look at him, or do it with the lights off?! Because I know I would have to.

Before you all get bristly about the eye of the beholder, or how shallow I am, let me remind you what it’s like for younger women. We’re judged almost solely on our looks until we’re about 40, when – after breeding age has waved goodbye – we are finally to be considered more for our character. I’ve often felt men really only take me seriously now I’m a bit older, finally loving me for myself, and not my yellow hair. But I’ve had decades of male gaze making me feel like a display product – are the tables turned now I’m knocking 50?

I’ve often felt men really only take me seriously now I’m a bit older, finally loving me for myself, and not my yellow hair

Because the reality is, now that we are all past breeding age, that men generally lag massively behind women of their own age. Personally I take care of myself, I’m pretty fit and successful, and know I look good for my age – and I have tons of absolutely gorgeous female friends who have everything going on. But I also meet plenty of men my age and even younger who I wouldn’t give a second glance to. Why is this? Do men feel like they don’t need to bother?

I’m single for the first time in ten years and I’m finding dating at 50 is very different to dating in your 20s. I feel like it’s my turn in the driving seat. I know my worth, and what’s most important, when it comes to having a relationship or children, I can take it or leave it, which gives me enormous power. I don’t mind being single – in fact I quite like it! At least I get decent sleep. It’s going to take something pretty special for me to give up this freedom.

Dating again

I joined a dating site and good grief it’s grim. Men who would once have been young and handsome are now paunchy and bald, with baggage and weekend children in tow, beaten-down expressions, and poor health from not looking after themselves, and they just don’t float my boat. They wave and wink and I’m just like, no. I couldn’t. Look at yourself man. Are you serious? What kind of denial leads them to act like this? Do they look in the mirror and see their 25 year old selves still staring back?

And if I even get past the photo hurdle (ugh, the photos!) and look at the profile blurbs, so many are poorly written or lazy. Ugly AND stupid? No no no. One guy even had on his profile – in total – ‘If you want to know about me, just ask’. I immediately imagined what a life with him would be like, always having to ask him to do stuff, always having to drive the conversation. He’d be the sort of bloke who’d never know what restaurant to book and would ask you all the time what you wanted. Jesus man, if you were a peach it might be worth the effort. But you’re 58, overweight and bald. Who cares about you and what makes you tick?

Okay so that’s a bit brutal, even I’ll admit. And I digress; I didn’t set out to write a feminist rant (although hey, it’s so easy to find material). But isn’t it interesting, being female in the dating game later in life? I’d be enjoying the schadenfreude if the line-up of potentials weren’t so dismal.

I’ve had two dates so far – after all, I’m not a monster. I will give people a chance. Both the dates had looked okay in their photos, and I’d liked both of them more, once we’d exchanged a few messages. However both were also dead ducks.

One talked incessantly about himself – I can safely say we came away from the experience without him knowing a single, solitary thing about me – and the other was nice but too serious. It was like going out with a solemn, unsmiling headmaster. Plus he had kids under 10 years of age, which is a deal-breaker for me – been there, done that. Not my bag of frogs at all.

So I’m left wondering, should I compromise? Might the ugly ones be a better bet? A male friend told me yonks ago that he went out with ‘dodgy looking birds’ because ‘the ugly ones are more grateful’. I can sort of see where he’s coming from now. Might I get more change out of a minger? Should I punch down?

No. At the end of the day, I’m quite enjoying being shallow about this. I don’t care if I don’t meet someone, or end up with someone. Maybe I will care in ten years’ time when I need someone to come with me to my medical appointments, but right now I’m not bothered. So I’ll just wait and see what comes along. In the meantime I’m not planning on kissing any frogs. Not unless they’re 25, have a hot body, and all their own hair (not too much on the chest) and absolutely no interest in children. After all, isn’t that the dream?!

Saying goodbye to the dog

Ruby pug - saying goodbye Sam Harrington-Lowe www.samhl.co.uk

Through my years growing up, we always had dogs. Dogs came and went and I don’t remember being upset when they died. Some went after I’d already left home. Some when I was a kid and I remember being sad but not exactly gutted. I do vividly remember my sister being devastated when Ginny, one of her cats, was run over when we were at school though.

She was so mangled my dad, trying to save her feelings, buried the cat in the walled garden before she got home. She couldn’t believe it was true – we found her later on, sobbing and trying to dig up the cat to check. She was so small she could barely hold the fork. I can remember my rabbit dying and how gutted I was about that – my mum fed it hemlock by mistake – but as for the other various furry family members. I don’t ever remember being that sad. They seemed to come and go a lot.

Two days ago, we put our dog to sleep. It was absolutely the right thing to do. We’d rescued her, and from the minute she arrived there was always something wrong with her. Admittedly, not obviously life-threatening stuff. But we had her dislocated knee fixed, and tried to find food that wouldn’t make her sick, and discussed the best way to investigate why she was sick so much.

But through most of that she was just an utter joy – a happy, healthy dog with a tendency to eat too much, as pugs do, and a constant need to be close, to sit on you, to lick and love you. I’ve always generally had terriers before, and they’re fun and feisty, but Ruby was a pug. And the pug is a different country altogether.

Comical, gentle, loving and sweet-natured, I’ve never had a dog like Ruby before. She arrived in a fat panting panic, her little world turned upside down as she’d been moved from her old home to ours, and it took us a good few weeks to settle her in. But she was an absolute joy. Like, you couldn’t imagine a nicer animal. Everyone adored her and she adored everyone.

And so when we found out she was absolutely riddled with lesions and cancers and a cirrhotic liver, there was absolutely no question that we would put her through any suffering she didn’t need to endure. She’d already had a dodgy month or so being ill, whilst we did tests and found out what was wrong. I think we knew in our hearts for a few days, even before the tests were confirmed. I’d been crying for days already. We knew.

Knowing it’s the right thing to do helps. It really does. And when we made that final trip into the vets and the vet even said – I’m not supposed to say this but you’re absolutely making the right decision – well, that helped too. I’m not sure how many times we all said to each other, this is the right thing to do, isn’t it? But there’s always that feeling of doubt, even when there shouldn’t be. Maybe if we did this, maybe if we tried that… but we all knew that would be so that selfishly, we could keep this joyful waggy little character with us a bit longer. And that would have been awful.

She’d lost a load of weight, had terrible dermatitis which made it sore for her to walk, and didn’t want to eat. She shook a fair bit too, which we took to mean she wasn’t having a great time internally. And when you add all that up, taking into account the almost invisible tiny liver that was so shot to pieces. Well, no choice at all really. Who the hell would want to keep a dog in that sort of state? That we made the decision swiftly and moved fast is something I shall always be proud of us for doing as a family. None of us wanted her to get any worse, however gutted we were.

Surreal, going to the vets. We took in her comfy little bed so that for her final sleep she’d be in her own stinky nest. And honestly, she went so fast. We all held her as she slipped, the weight falling out of her, laying her down. And that was it. No struggle, no last twitching or anything … she just went, and we lowered her down gently to sleep.

I felt a real sense of relief – the morning leading up to the trip to the vets was horrific. We all wanted to hold her and keep her close. She wanted to eat and had a hearty breakfast. She seemed to be having a good day. I’m glad that her last morning was a good one and that she was pretty chipper. If we’d had to carry her into the vets in a right state it would have been horrible. But Jesus, those doubts I mentioned – they came in spades in those few hours, watching her beetling about.

We did well to stick to the plan. But actually what ultimately made it easier again was watching her after she’d eaten. About ten minutes after her hearty breakfast she had to lie down, trembling as the food hit her tumour-filled stomach and she coughed from her newly, aggressively growing mass-filled lungs. Oh Ruby Doo. Why you?

Anyone who has seen someone go under anaesthetic will know how different it is to seeing someone sleep. The body is completely flaccid, no muscle tone or tension. And it’s the same watching them die. My 15 year old daughter held her little body as she went, and I’m eternally grateful she was there to see her beloved pug go off. She had thought she’d say goodbye at home, thought she wouldn’t be able to face the whole euthanasia process. But there’s a definite finality about seeing them off properly. And we all cried, and stroked her, and said goodbye. It was – as much as these things can be – lovely. And she wasn’t worried. She’d got into her bed, and gone to sleep. She was the only one who didn’t know she wouldn’t wake up again.

The finality is the hard bit. Coming back to the house, there’s a million Ruby things kicking about. It’s not just the emptiness of the house, it’s a sense of disbelief that she’s not actually there. Her blanket is here. It smells of her little warm body. Her toys, still wedged in parts of the house. Sweeping the kitchen floor I find myself loathe to throw away the sweepings because it’s full of dog hair – previously the bane of my life and not at all good for anyone coming into the house wearing black. It’s like – there’s bits of her everywhere; her bag with her leads and collars and stuff, different foods and treats. Even poo bags! Good god, it’s just awful.

But at the same time, we’re not quite ready to remove her from view. We won’t throw stuff out – we’ll keep it. And at the moment it’s sort of tidied away into little piles to try and minimise the spread of her stuff. When we’re less raw we’ll sort through it all.

So here we are. Dogless. We were dogless for years before Ruby, and Ruby came to us less than a year ago, but the hole in the house feels about ten years wide. Friends and family have been lovely, but nothing is going to fill that gap for a while, and when the tears stop flowing and we can let Ruby go properly without wailing every time we see a bowl or a blanket she loved, we’ll think about another dog. But for now, we are dogless, and it’s hard to believe we lived like this for so long before she came. I will never forget her.

RIP Ruby Doo Pug. Nov 2007-June 2016