Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al @marysmithwriter

Today’s team review is from Jenni. She blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Jenni has been reading Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al

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I have to be honest, Writedown 2020, a collection of lockdown accounts from writers in the Galloway Glens, was a difficult read for me.

Not because it is bad, quite the opposite. Each writer is beautifully in touch with both their own experience and the world around them, and expresses themselves with stunning combinations of memoir, anecdote, diary, and poetry.

Nor was it difficult because it is overwhelmingly sad. This is not page after page of building sorrow, loss upon loss piled until is suffocates the reader. Writedown contains melancholy, there is pain from these authors as there was pain for all of us across 2020 and the first ten months of quarantine, but it is not oppressive.

What is pervasive though, what made this such a difficult book for me, was the isolation. In one early chapter, an adult daughter is dropping off groceries to her mum and needs to use the toilet terribly. She frets over whether it was safe for her to enter her mum’s home and pee. She worries that a simple bodily function, a necessity of life and that caving to it might accidentally bring the virus to her loved one.

The daughter does enter the house, she touches nothing until she gets to the bathroom, and carefully wipes down every surface in the bathroom after she finishes, giggling through the door with her mum at the ridiculousness of the situation.

She leaves the house without touching her mum.

In years to come, I pray that the mum and daughter in this story continue to laugh at this moment, at the height of lockdown insanity, when going to the bathroom became dangerous. I hope that the children of the family laugh at the craziness of it for years to come when mum and grandmum decide to tell and re-tell it.

I hope that next time I read Writedown, it doesn’t make me cry, because it’s the missing hug at the end that does it for me. The fact that at the end of this silly little episode, mum doesn’t get to wrap her daughter up and tell her everything will be okay. Instead, mum is left alone in her home, while the daughter returns to “her own family where hugs abound.” 

After months in quarantine, seeing no one but my housemates and my cat, I can feel the weight of missed hugs, both my own and others. The absence of back-slaps, shoulder nudges, high fives and handshakes, cheek kisses and warm hugs aches, and that is why Writedown was hard for me, because instead of transporting this reader out of our bleak reality, it nailed me to it, and I have remind myself to be grateful for that. To savor every second in this world, regardless of how isolated I feel these days.

Writedown is beautiful, at times painful, but always honest. It is a necessary record of an extraordinary year, and every contributor should be proud for the part they have taken in it.

5/5, but brace yourself.

Book description

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Anthology Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al @marysmithwriter

Today’s team review is from Robbie, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Robbie has been reading Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al

Last year, my family visited Scotland for a holiday. I remember Scotland as being beautiful, peaceful, and fairly sparsely populated compared to England. I also remembered that it rained a good deal. It was a wonderful experience. When I saw this book about a group of 22 writers living in the Galloway Glens during lockdown, I was curious to read how life had changed in Scotland as a result of Covid-19 and the accompanying lockdown. Living in South Africa during our lockdown period from 27 March to approximately the end of August, I was also interested to know how life in Scotland during lockdown differed from life here in South Africa.

The diary posts of all of the contributors were fascinating, they told tales of active and busy lives disrupted by the lockdown. Mixed feelings of relief at getting a welcome, but unexpected, reprieve from our ‘hamster in a ball’ style lives and frustration at the loss of freedom. I was quite surprised to read just how busy the majority of the contributors are in the daily lives compared to my elderly parents who are retired and live life at quite a slow and relaxed pace.

There is a great sense of loneliness expressed in the words of those who were living alone during this time, very different from my own experience where everyone in my family was schooling and working from home and I felt like I never got a minute to myself. On reflection, I was a bit ungrateful for the companionship and fellowship my family offered. One of the most compelling messages in this book for me were the following words shared by Lynne: “”Language … has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” I craved solitude, but never experienced loneliness. Loneliness can be soul destroying.

There are also many expressions of anxiety conveyed in these diary entries. Anxiety about many things including the writers own health and that of their families, as well as the health of friends and other members of the community, including front-line workers in the medical profession. There were also expressions of anxiety about the economic implications of the pandemic as well as concern about the future and how long the pandemic would last.

The strongest message for me, in reading this book, is the difference between in a lockdown in a third world country, where jobs and money are scarce at the best of times, and lockdown in a first world country where people have more financial security.

In South Africa, economic concerns generally outweighed concerns about health. The lock down resulted in millions of people being put on unpaid leave in the hospitality, tourism and entertainment sectors. These sectors have still not recovered and a significant number of people have lost their jobs. There are less benefits available here and only select people received government aid. The poverty we are seeing in the aftermath of the lockdown is overwhelming and frightening. People are going hungry and are begging for food on the streets. Our crimes rates have also rocketed.

The major impacts of the lockdown in the UK revolve around the psychological effects of isolation, loneliness and depression. In other words, mental health effects rather than the physical effects I see on a daily basis. Having read this book, I am of the view that the mental health issues are just as significant and concerning as the physical effects, and could potentially receive less recognition because they are less visible.

I found this book to be incredibly thought provoking and relevant, and I believe that would be the case for all readers regardless of their personal lockdown experience.

Book description

Writedown provides a unique record of life in Galloway, south west Scotland during lockdown through the work of 22 writers in a collection of lyrical poetry, desperate rants, humour and quiet endurance. They tell the story of a community encountering unprecedented times.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Anthology Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al @marysmithwriter #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Barb, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Barb has been reviewing Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al

Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by [Margaret Elphinstone et al]

My Review: 5 out of 5 stars

We hear so much about covid fatigue—and we all get it. It’s been the hardest year most of us can remember. One of my personal casualties is reading. It’s just been incredibly difficult to pick up books I know I would have loved a year ago. Instead I’ve been spending time catching up with old friends, religiously keeping virtual dates for group video chats, craving human and especially physical contact, and hoarding time spent (virtually of course) with loved ones.

So Writedown is more than a book. It’s a corona bridge—the contact we craved during the first lockdown, and fear losing during the current one. Imagine the chance to chat with a funny, serious, insightful, and above all real group of people. Their experiences are your own, they feel the fears and joys you feel. They tell your life.

There’s the shock of realizing you’re one of the ‘vulnerable’. As Rose says, “The natural order is reversed.” We hear of friends and family who get sick. Some of them die. We have to pay attention. “It’s official. I’m ‘social distancing’.”

I remember the shocked realization that somehow instead of being the one who steps in to make everything okay, I’m now supposed to need protection. As Cath says, “The tables have turned. I’ve always been the nurturing Mother figure, the wise one (or so I liked to think) to whom everyone came for shelter and sustenance. Now the younger generation are protecting us.” 

Our new reality settles in. Family and friends bring supplies but never touch, and Mags realizes, “I need a hug more than I need the groceries.”

One way or another, each of the 22 journal writers is making a journey. And it’s my journey too, to our new here and now. As Margaret points out, the answer is to live completely in the present, “…so I’m being where I am with a vengeance.” 

At first it’s odd. We have these two worlds, the one full of calendars and too little time, the other of freedom and a surfeit of time. Mary realizes “…a surprising sense of lightness at having nothing I need to do, no one I need to meet.” Mike tracks the progress of his busy calendar—booked with exciting trips, family visits, shared celebrations with friends—now all cancelled. “And so we live our parallel lives. ‘Today we would have been…,’ we muse, looking at the cancelled world on our wall. ‘Tonight we would have been going to…’” 

But there’s also a sense that somehow the universe is misbehaving. June notes, “Time becomes strange. A week feels long. Yet each day rushes past.” Rose says, “My diary now works in reverse—I put something in after it has happened. I note down if I have a phone call or unexpected encounter… I need a record of what’s happened, to keep hold of the pieces of the jigsaw.”

We lament the loss of social structures that have sustained us. Weddings are cancelled, people die separated from loved ones, and are buried alone. We have to bear our joy and our sorrow like our isolation—alone. Cath mourns for a lady who died at 109, but whose extended and loving family can’t grieve together.

“No shared sorrow and social communication of memories and stories from all those years. No chance of a rare family gathering which such occasions usually generate. No reminiscences, appreciation and comfort given and received. This is the way of it now.”

There are huge gains from this. I was fortunate, as so many point out, to spend my lockdown in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Did we really have an exceptionally lovely spring and summer, or did we just take the time to appreciate it? Christine celebrates simple gifts. “I could hear the birdsong this morning. I took pleasure from standing there with Jack, and listening.” June marvels at her bird neighbors as she spends time in her garden. “Since lockdown I’ve realised different species take their turn to start singing. Song thrushes were among the earliest, then robins, blackbirds, tits chuntering away in the background. Then suddenly dunnocks. Chiffchaffs arrived, mighty wrens started, now greenfinches.”

As Mary points out, it’s a balancing act. “I feel my life is divided between weight and lightness.” Lockdown time so unexpectedly handed to us is freedom from commitments, duties, “have-to-dos.” But it also bears the weight of guilt while others are dying, performing risky jobs, volunteering, plus the anger at mismanagement by those who should have been stepping up to the national challenges facing our health, economy, and welfare.

I realize I’m not actually reviewing Writedown. That’s because it’s not really a book as much as it is a chat with 22 friends going through the same things I am. Some I like more than others, some of their stories are heartbreaking, some are as completely riveting as the one of the young mother and daughter rescuing Crispy, the baby lamb, and then learning the hard lessons of country life. It’s the story of lockdown in Scotland and it’s the story of me.

Writedown is beautiful and annoying and comforting and sad and funny. It’s all the things that time spent with friends should be except with possibly less alcohol and lockdown haircuts. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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