The Personal Touch - Gifts and Cards
I woke up this morning to a lovely 'Happy Songkran' card from my friend Duang in Bangkok. She is also the esteemed illustrator of two of my children's books 'The Day the Wi-Fi Broke' and 'Just Five More Minutes'. (She draws under the name NokIsMe). The card featured a Happy Songkran message with the star of the book, a little girl called 'Lucy' wearing a protective face mask. It made me smile and once again, I wondered whether I should return to this series and write some more titles. (A thought for another day!) My thought for the current time was how nice it is to get personalised messages, cards, and small gifts. This took me to a podcast I'd been listening to yesterday, which emphasised how completing altruistic acts can reduce anxiety and generally make a person feel better. This is something that we could all benefit from right now!
Kind Things to Do When You're Bored
With this in mind I have come up with a few ideas of things to do that are kind, altruistic (thus anxiety reducing), fairly cheap and easy (I'm not the best crafter) and can fill the time during these strange times of self-isolation.
Right now, I seem to feel quite busy - in fact, overly busy, some of the time - the truth is that I am only busy (fulfilling my personal goals, (as designed by Annie) and being mum, daughter, etc. (sadly not wife so much at the minute, as Mick is stuck in Bangkok.). I'm making my day as full as it can be so as to stay sane. I'm not sure my kids will vouch to the fact that I'm succeeding, but ...
Looking back at my suggestions, for things to do when bored they do seem to be a bit nostalgic, leaning towards getting in touch with people we haven't seen in a while and might not see in a while. It is nice to keep in contact with people though and now is definitely the time to share good feeling and kindness.
I definitely plan to pass the time by completing one or two of these activities today. The focus of doing so will hopefully make me feel a little less stressed with life too. If you are bored and complete any of them, let me know in the comments how you get on.
Missing your Boyfriend or Husband
The Flint and the Flint Smith ladies are all without their men! Dad is in a carehome with a broken leg in pot. This is particularly hard on my mum as she can't even visit him now. Mick is over in Bangkok overseeing online learning at school. He isn't allowed to travel in case the schools suddenly open. This is, in my opinion, utterly rubbish. Betsy's boyfriend is down in Dagenham. As an 'at risk youngster' he wasn't able to travel to spend her birthday with her as planned, so that was a blow for them. Finally, we dragged Annie away from Spain, wanting her to be back here and quarantined with the family, Poor old Annie, what with leaving Bangkok, then London and now Spain she seems to spend most of her life saying, if not goodbye, at least farewell to special people in her life. :(
So, all in all, you would expect us to be rather gloomy. We all do have our down moments, but overall we are doing pretty well at staying positive.
Ways to Deal with Missing your Significant Other
These are our tips for keeping our spirits up:
Communicate Frequently. The Flint and Flint Smith ladies are all doing this as far as we are able. As I mentioned, it is much harder for mum and dad than the rest of us. Dad's sight is too poor for him to easily use a phone and the carers are in the home are very busy, so we don't want to be a nuisance by continually taking the careworkers away from the residents. I am able to ring Mick. I like to chat whilst I am doing my daily 'isolated' walk. This is heading towards Mick's headtime where he is very ready for some interaction after a day of isolation in Bangkok. The girls, communicate late into the night. Their communication techniques are far more advanced than ours and include playing online games, watching shared films and series as well as good old fashioned chatting.
Complete Tasks. This is something that I try to do anyway when feeling anxious and the current situation is certainly anxiety inducing. In our household we have our days divided up into 'tasks' time and 'chilling out' time. (Betsy hates the word 'jobs', but that's what 'tasks' are!) and goals. Our jobs include regular day-t0-day stuff like washing, hoovering, folding laundry etc. (but the iron has NOT been out!). In addition Annie has been keeping busy by painting the fence and garden bench, I've sorted out the garage and Betsy has become a dab-hand at bathroom cleaning! We have all agreed to be mindful that tasks do need doing so as to live harmoniously together!
Remember to be Grateful and Kind. In recent times it has felt, occasionally, that the cards are stacked against the Flints and Flint Smiths. There is, though, a lot to be grateful for. We ladies, at least, can be together; Dad is being well-cared for; the weather is good so we are not completely confined to the house, but can get out in the garden. There's loads more things too. My strategy is to write three different things down every morning which sets the day off positively.
Take a Challenge. I like nothing better than ticking things off a list and tracking my achievements, however small they might be. (I've been doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge for several years now and it still gives me a thrill when I complete it.) Annie has a similar mindset to me regarding challenges. She has made a 'goal calendar for April where we tick off daily the things we accomplish. My own goals are to improve on the piano, do some exercise and either read or blog daily. Betsy has also 'allowed' her name to be added to the April challenge, but I'm not so sure that it is quite her thing. 'Lists' are another one of her taboo words along with 'jobs' and this particular challenge does include an element of ticking off and recording what we've done.
Try to Avoid Over-Worrying. When apart from a loved one it is very easy to focus on them all of the time. This, of course, makes sense and is fine to a point, but it can be anxiety inducing. I am quite a fan (in principle at least, though it doesn't always work in practice) of using Cognitive Therapy Techniques to manage worry. It helps to phrase events as positively as possible. Instead of thinking "we will never be together again," it is, perhaps, more helpful to rephrase to something like "there will be an end to this situation and we can look forward to being back together."
Accept your Sadness. Whislt there is lots that we can do to distract ourselves, fill the time and channel our negative feelings as positively as possible we are still sad to be apart from our loved ones. I'm a believer in transparency in all parts of life, "better out than in" is something I often say. I think being mindful that it is fine to feel sad and to express sadness is a good thing to be. A good cry is cathartic and 'getting the sadness out' will make it easier to stay positive for the majority of the time.
Do Something Romantic. Being apart doesn't mean that you can't still indulge in a bit of romance. My mum, for example wrote my dad a letter for one of the careworkers to read to him in the home last week. I thought this was a very speical thing to do. There's something lovely about receiving n old-fashioned card or letter. Being romantic doesn't mean you have to 'splash the cash' but if you're feeling extravagent then why not. Judging by the review Mick wrote here, I can tell that he was very happy to have a special anniversary gift last week!
Stand by your Man and Tell the World you Love Him
I once heard Tammy Wynette saying she has spend a lifetime of defending the song 'Stand by her Man' to feminists. I am a feminist and to be honest her defence of the song doesn't help her case! I do like the song though, and choose to interpret it along the lines of if you've got a 'good guy' in your life then what's wrong with shouting out that fact of the rooftops. (Perhaps that's because I'm always talking about Saint Mick of Thana). Absence, it has been said, makes the heart grow fonder. There is no doubt that our hearts are full of fondness right now. Perhaps you are also missing a partner. What strategies do you have for managing time apart from a loved one?
Book Review of Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
The story, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, shares the events prior to and following the disappearance of several children who go missing in a slum area of India. It is a powerful story with beautifully drawn characters, revealed to us from the perspective of nine year old Jai, The 'Afterword' provides factual context and tells us that up to 180 children go missing every single day in India. This turns a poignant and moving work of fiction into a tragic insight into reality. In fact, I can't think of a book with a more powerful 'Afterword' in any work of fiction I've come across.
Having a child narrator in fiction can be problematic. They are required to share with the reader that which is likely to be beyond their own sphere of understanding. Anappara manages to combine a childlike narration of a nine year old with an omniprescent narration brilliantly, without any jarring of purpose and voice. The reader can share Jai's excitement regarding 'solving a mystery' whilst simultaneously empathising with his parents fear and despair about any harm coming to their children.
There is a sense of inevitability and loss that pervades the text. The circumstances leading to the abduction of Runu-Didi is particularly powerful and enlightening, as it explores how she sees her own role as a female growing up in contemporary India. The structural and narrative changes of these interspersed chapters work extremely well as a tool for exploring social, economic and political issues.
There is nothing romantic about Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line. It doesn't have a happy ending and praying to 'Mental' isn't effective. Nevertheless, it isn't lacking in hope and is an exquisite observational account of humanity.
Book Discussion Questions for Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
Discuss the title of the book. Why is the story called Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line?
Why did Runu-Didi stay in a quiet and deserted area of the basti?
Were you surprised by the level of corruption in Jai's neighbourhood?
After the events of the novel Faiz's family decide to move to a different neighbrouhood with more Muslim and less Hindi residents. Around the same time Pari wins a scholarship to a 'better' school and leaves the neighbourhood. What is Anappara telling us by including these details?
The character Quarter is in the 'background' of the novel throughout, largely presented as a sinister figure. What is your opinion of him and what is his role in the novel?
At what point in the novel did you work out who was abducting the children?
What did you find the most brutal observation within the book?
If you were to write or read a sequel to the book what would happen to Faiz, Jai and Pari?
The first chapter begins with 'This story will save your life'. On a first reading did you find the opening difficult to understand? If so why? How do you interpret the opening chapter having read the whole book?
What genre do you think Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is?
If Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line was a film what child actor (past or present) would you allocate the key roles to?
Bookclub Questions for Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line (if you haven't read the book!)
What other books have you read with a child narrator? Did you enjoy them and why or why not?
The book uses several Hindi terms that might need translating to someone living outside of India or not familiar with Hinduism. Do you like books to have a glossary in cases where authors make an active choice to use language specific to a place or culture? Is this question negatively indicative of Western bias?
Do you believe in Djinns?
In Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line some of the parents and siblings blame themselves for the disappearance of their families. This is the case, for example, with Chandni who wants to make the night better for her family by buying sweet treats so venturing out in the dark. How quick are you to take the blame for things that you are not necessarily able to prevent from happening?
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line begins by saying 'This story will save your life'. Have you read a book that have massively impacted your own lives? How and why has it been important to you?
Share with the group any books by other Indian authors or books set in India that you would like to recommend. What did you enjoy about them?
Personal Reflection based on Deepa Anappara's Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
In the very dim and distant past I, and my now husband, spent several months back-packing in India. Our budget was tiny and we stayed in many 'low end' hostels. We met a lot of local people, travelled the length of the country by train and had a lot of experiences - good and bad. This was all with the knowledge that if the chips were really down then we could fly home. We loved the trip and India has remained a special place in our hearts.
Reading Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line brought back so many memories, smells, tastes, insights and love for this vibrant country. Over and above this made me, for the first time, reflect on the arrogance and sense of entitlement I had during our visit. I'm finding it difficult to express what I mean but I know that I'm currently feeling ashamed of how little I even really tried to understand the country and the people from a perspective other than my own. Reading Djinn Patrol made India real to me in a way that my extended visits to it didn't. I can now make connections to what I saw and experienced, enabling me to try and move beyond a subconscious post-colonial bias that I didn't even realise I had. This, I hope will positively influence my future attitude and outlook and make me just a little bit less egotistical and self-centred in how I perceive people and places outside of my norms. For this, I thank Deep Anappara.. Djinn Patrol is one of the most powerful pieces of fiction I've read. I'm putting it right up there with Bernadine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other for great books I've read this year!
A Reprieve from Empty Nest Syndrome
As my friends and family know Mick and I really struggled when both girls left home to go to University. I've talked a lot about the girls finishing school and posted about managing Empty Nest Syndrome several times. It is strange then to be posting about how to manage having grown up children back at home...
Annie is in her third year at UCL, but was abroad in Spain as an Erasmus student at the University of Salamanca, and Betsy was studying at York, when the Coronavirus brought them both back home to me in Broughton. (I should probably say me back to them, as thery had both returned back before I left Bangkok to return to them and my parents).
I guess to show that I had really managed my Empty Nesting Anxiety successfully I ought to be saying that it is now a hard adjustment to have two fully-fledged grown up women back living in our small bungalow. That would be a complete fib though - whilst the circumstances leading to their return are rubbbish, I am DELIGHTED to have them back with me. It is hard on the girls though; it feels like Betsy has had uni life interrupted before it had hardly begun, and Annie has had to leave an independent and full life behind (one that she might not return to) and instead hang out with her old mum. In addition, both girls have to get used to being around each other again.
Tips for Living With Grown Up Children
We are only two weeks in, but so far are doing ok. These are my tips and blunders so far:
Empty Nesting No More
I've always been a firm believer that I am the girls' "mum" not their "friend'. I think though, the final thing that can help for a harmonious return to grown up kids living at home is to change this mindset just a little bit. Of course, I am still their mum with all that comes with that, but in terms of actually sharing the same living space, treating the whole experience as equal friends (well nearly equal) living together will ('m telling myself) create harmony. I have a feeling if I tell my girls that's what we are doing though, they might just laugh at me and ask who I am kidding. Perhaps I am trying to return to my lost youth!
Something to Make you Smile
During these turbulent, Corona Virus dominated times I need to count my blessings; my family is so much luckier than many. I am very grateful to have the girls safely with me, but I have still felt a bit gloomy about this and that over the last couple of weeks. It was, for example, super sad yesterday when my mum and dad couldn’t celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary together. Dad is still in a care home due to a broken leg. In addition, only last week we spent an anxious night in Accident and Emergency as my mum was ill (not Corona Virus related!). Thankfully, she is much better now. It also seems sad not to spend my 24th anniversary with Saint Mick of Thana tomorrow. I know it can’t be helped, but it is rubbish that he is stuck in Bangkok away from us all, with no sign of being able to return home any time soon. On the plus, Mick (by which I mean he asked the girls) did send me a lovely bouquet of Moonpig flowers through the post. They are beautiful, though should those drivers be out delivering flowers? I’m not sure.
I am very grateful that I can talk to Mick daily and complaining doesn’t help anything, so that’s enough of that. Being mindful of this I’m trying hard to stay positive and I thought I’d inject a little humour into the day. When I realised yesterday (yes, I know I’m a latecomer to that realisation) that Corona is a brand of beer, as well as the name of the virus I started to think about how drinks might typify a person’s personality. I thought it might be fun to share my thoughts with you.
The Joy of Smiling
Seven Pints Sam. Seven Pints Sam can usually be found, along with Whiskey Chaser Brian propping up the local bar several nights a week. He is known as ‘not being short of an opinion.’ Whilst not going quite as far as to denying the existence of Corona Virus, Sam feels that most things can be cured with a pat on the back. He thinks that most of what is written is ‘utter nonsense’. Sam claims to have a good immune system so therefore thinks it is fine to visit his local supermarket daily and ignore the social isolation rules. Sam tuts at any sign which mentions the ‘two metre’ rule and says that he only deals in old money. He reluctantly stands ‘six feet’ away from the next customer. Seven Pints Sam is considered by some, to not be an intelligent man, but who knows what his back story is. Reading back, he reminds me just a little bit like Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove.
Black Coffee Brenda. Brenda likes nothing more than a walk round a car boot sale or a mooch through the jumble at a coffee morning. She is a pillar of the community and despite recent cancellation of bingo sessions, afternoon dances and meatboard sales she is keeping busy ensuring the elderly are catered and cared for during these difficult times.. In fact, Brenda has never been busier; this is a good thing as Brenda hates to be bored. Just this week she has been volunteering to fetch groceries for the over seventies and chatting to people from a safe two metres distance. There is no doubt that Brenda is a good sort and the eighteen cups of coffee she drinks a day keep her bright, alert and chipper. Some neighbours and friends do question her need to promote her own good deeds on facebook quite as frequently as she does. In addition, the jury is still out as to actually called the local evening telegraph to do a ‘local heroes’ interview with her. We all need a Black Coffee Brenda in our lives.
Proscecco Guzzling Petra. Petra is someone I feel really sorry for right now as she is struggling to manage her anxiety. She is terrified of catching Corona Virus, so is strictly adhering to the guidelines of self isolation. It is for this reason that Petra sent her husband Pete to Aldi to buy up the whole bottom shelf of wine. Petra was afraid to venture outside and was sensible in following the guidelines of not making unnecessary trips to the shops, but Pete has now been banished to the shed in quarantine for the next fourteen days. Petra is leaving food outside of the shed door and is being innovative in the kitchen. She has learned to make a variety of proscecco-based sorbets and breakfast smoothies. As these items are considered food she can and does eat them in large quantities, without breaking her rule of not drinking prior to ten o’clock a.m.
Two Sugars Please Tim. Tim is arguably more sensible than Proscecco Guzzling Petra. Tim knows that running out of sweeteners for his favourite drink, a cup of tea, doesn’t justify a trip to the shops. He is using sugar instead. Tim is a generous type and is willing to forgo his daily exercise slot in order that those more in need, such as Lucozade Loving Len can take exercise twice daily (Someone needs to tell Len this fact). Tim doesn’t like wearing lycra but does enjoy wearing grey sweat pants whilst eating biscuits and cake. Tim is gaining weight rapidly, but thinks in the grand scale of things it doesn’t really matter. Tim will regret this mindset if he is able to go on his eighteen/thirty holiday to Lanzarote in June. Tim is actually thirty-two and feels that the holiday may be his less chance at finding love. Tim should be aware that is unlikely that he will be able to travel so may as well enjoy eating cake.
Vodka Vera. Before the Corona Virus Crisis Vodka Vera could sometimes be found chatting to Prosccco Guzzling Petra over the garden fence. They even went to the same church and used to take it in turns to top up the communion wine. The communion wine never seemed to last long, but no one really knows why. Vera hasn’t been seen in pubilc at all since the Corona Virus outbreak. Black Coffee Brenda has been asking around though and has heard a rumour has Vodka Vera has gone to stay with her grown up children, who have grasped this opportunity to ‘dry her out’. This is likely to be confirmed later by Vera later today whose head is clear enough, for the first time in months, for her to venture onto social media without a fear of what she might write whilst ‘under the influence’. Vera has been successfully managing her anxiety by spending the days completing colouring activities with her grandchildren. As the days pass by Vodka Vera is getting much better at staying between the lines. She may soon be allowed to have a pair of child safety scissors to help her grandchildren complete their online learning tasks.
Diet Coke Dan. The truth is that Diet Coke Dan is addicted to both diet and regular coke. He can easily distinguish between Coke, Pepsi and the lesser known brands. Whilst his favourite tipple is Pepsi Max he is prepared to drink any and all of them. Diet Coke Dan is also prepared to go to any lengths to acquire supplies. Although signed up to online for shopping at Waitrose, Sainsburys, Tescos, Morrisons and Lidl he is unable to wait six weeks for the next home delivery slots so plans to to mask-up and take a tour of the supermarkets to make some essential purchases. Dan does have a social conscience and knows that this isn’t strictly adhering to the rules of Corona Virus induced shopping guidelines, so he is compensating for by adding rum to his coke during his evening tipple. This, he states, will make his wrongly procured coke supplies last longer. A responsible, conscientious and caring Dad, Dan has helped his children complete online Science learning by completing the ‘soak a tooth in coke’ experiment, thus demonstrating to them the dangers of drinking too much coke. He personally helped his young son extract a tooth for this and has put a lock on the kitchen cupboard door where the cokes are kept, so that the kids won’t be tempted to drink too much.
Lucozade Loving Len is secretly quite pleased at currently having to work from home. As an Estate Agent business is slack and he has plenty of time to focus on his passion for health and fitness. Lycra-d up to the hilts, Len can be seen indulging his hobbies of running and cycling and flexing his muscles (not necessarily in that order) as he powers around the village in his designer Adidas trainers. Although of optimum physical perfection with a six pack that would be coveted by Two Sugars Please Tim, Len isn't always as upstanding as his physique is tall. He has been known to cheat on the recently imposed once a day exercise rule, but is confident that he will escape from being caught on camera by overhead drones or passing police. Despite his running pants matching the lucozade he loves to drink, the speed at which he moves means that if you blink then you are likely to miss him.
I better stop being silly .. Me. I’m quite keen on a latte, but I identify with aspects of all of my drinkers!
The Power of a Smile
A doctor friend reminded me the other day about the positive power of laughter and the need to smile whenever we can. She was of the firm belief that humour is a great tonic whatever the situation. It is therefore, kind of with her blessing that I’m messing around on my laptop like this and decided to post my ‘silliness’. I almost didn’t for fear of seeming insensitive to everything that is happening around us. I hope that this isn’t the case as I am so thankful to all the amazing essential healthworkers, carers, retail staff, drivers and everyone else who is keeping us all afloat. I do feel a bit calmer though for having spent some time on this writing. It’s what makes me smile and serves as a stress buster. What strategies are you using to manage stress at this difficult time?