Cathy has been reading Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al
Writedown is a book that will serve well as a historical insight of shared experiences during a very unusual and difficult time. A group of people in Galloway, Scotland write of their concerns for loved ones, fears and general reactions to living in the midst of what would turn out to be the first lockdown during a worldwide pandemic. Many of the emotions, adjustments to daily life and worries are all too relatable – coping with isolation, not being able to see family, except via a device/computer screen or talking on the phone, especially hard for those living alone or those without any outdoor space – as a ’new reality’ became the norm.
‘Time becomes strange. A week feels long. Yet each day rushes past.’ — June
The individual entries showed people did what they could to fill time, which should have been spent doing other things, spending time in nature, gardening, reading, writing, even making scrubs for hospital staff – luckily the weather was generally very good during those months. Many emotions were expressed, including anger, grief, humour, anxiety and loneliness, and the effects of it all, both mental and physical. On the other side of the coin, it was also a time to slow down, not be tied down to an agenda, a chance to appreciate the beauty of nature which thrived, and with little to no traffic on the road or in the air the earth people were pleased to see the earth showing definite signs of recovery.
‘There are no planes in the sky. The air is clear, even in Beijing: I saw it on the news. How long have we campaigned for this.’ — Margaret
And then of course, there was the awful political news from other countries, plus our own government’s inefficiency and the emotional and horrific reality of the deaths nearer to home, which caused anger, sadness and distress.
‘I don’t often cry, but tears well up when I hear of people dying alone in hospital, with no family around them. A 17-year-old carer gives a client a gift of a cushion on which is imprinted his late wife’s photo. He cries. I cry.’ — Mary
Writedown certainly isn’t all doom and gloom though, there’s humour and lighter moments, appreciating the pleasure of simple things like the beautiful landscapes, flowers, having time to plant and grow. Taking time to listen to the birdsong, admiring the world for its flora, fauna and natural beauty. It’s an intriguing glimpse into how a community coped during an unprecedented time.
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.