Alex has been reading Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al
This is a remarkable venture. Twenty-two writers in the Galloway region of Scotland wrote first hand of their feelings and experiences of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
These personal accounts cover the twelve weeks of the first national lockdown in the UK: March 23rd until June 15th – with many referencing the weeks beforehand where the situation rapidly morphed from a vague interest to shock.
Most of the authors are, like me, retired and perhaps that is why I identify so readily with the sentiments expressed here through quite remarkable prose and poetry. Many of the contributors speak of the contradictions they feel initially during lockdown as they appreciate the rural landscape and wildlife whilst so much suffering is evident elsewhere.
There’s anger, resentment, love, friendship and a desperate boredom.
Reading this book kindled memories that had already begin to tarnish with time. It’s a remarkable account of the day-to-day lives of people at the start of the pandemic and it’s such a comfort to know that others had felt exactly as I had. It’s a book I’ll reference in the future to recall the way things really were for us. It’s a keepsake.
The individual voices come through clearly and the writing is varied but always powerful, moving, reflective and (frequently) laced with humour.
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.
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.
Liz has been reading Writedow: Lockdown In The Galloway Glens At The Time Of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al.
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
I came to this book wondering if these writers would have shared my experiences of Spring 2020 and they did. They speak as Everyman expressing our shared responses to unprecedented times. Through diary entries from March 23rd until June 15th we are reminded of the day lockdown began, of the shortages in the supermarkets, the difficulties arranging food deliveries and of the grief at being cut off from our loved ones. Some had accidents which were more worrying than they would normally be, operations were postponed, yet the skies became quiet and unpolluted and the birds sang.
We lived in virtual reality. There were zoom calls with family, quizzes with friends on Kahoot and, my shared experience, reading to my grandchild on Facetime, even though she told me I was an imaginary Gran. As one of the writers said, “How acute is the isolation when my screen shuts down.”
I loved the reference to “The Subjunctive World,” where a calendar showed where we would have been or the appointment we would have kept. I empathised with Mary’s feelings of the “lightness” of having no commitments, only time to ourselves but also with the “weight” of guilt because no-one in my family has the virus and I have a garden to enjoy. Everyone enjoyed the beautiful weather and the time to garden and Leonie’s detailed description of the wildflowers, insects and birds is magnificent. And yet it was difficult to ignore politics. The murder of George Floyd in America and the massacre in Kabul were also part of life at that time and we shared not only clapping for the NHS but also the feeling that, “our government floundered like numpties.”
Individual anecdotes lit up the entries. I have great admiration for Cath who made scrubs for hospital staff. Several of the writers are widows and they recalled moments of their lives with their husbands. Sharing a phone call with a friend you have known most of your life was something many of us did but one elderly writer decided to phone lonely people in the parish to cheer them up. Little things like having a banana to eat or finding somewhere to swim gave great pleasure.
Perhaps most sad was that although we hoped, “the pandemic would lead to a fundamental shift in society, maybe kinder, and in politics they’d be honest, maybe actually work for the good of the people once it was over,” one of the writer realised, “Maybe that’s a step too far into the realms of Utopian fantasy.”
Barb has been reviewing 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.