This time last year I was in London taking part in what is unquestionably one of my most favourite events of the year, judging a couple of categories for the Free From Food Awards (#FFFA). The first lockdown changed the way that the awards ceremony itself took place, with a rather wonderful evening spent celebrating the best of what had been tasted online instead of the usually glamorous night out at the Royal College of Physicians near Regents Park.
I’ve missed the opportunity to escape home for a day or two and reconnect with friends from the allergy community, or indeed make new ones as well as the chance to uncover some potential new big hits for G and M this year. The way the 2021 FFFA will be judged is currently being reviewed in light of yet another lockdown, and may end up going virtual, though the logistics of that will be somewhat more difficult as we usually judge blind with the products only being revealed once all votes are in. Of course we’ve all got our fingers crossed that reducing numbers, the vaccination roll-out and lifting of lockdown might mean we can all get together once again, but only time will tell if that’s what will actually happen albeit potentially a little later than normal this year.
When I started judging 6 years ago, M was on his highly restricted diet of just a handful of safe foods and I was delighted to discover the amazing Borough 22 doughnuts, which are still one of our all-time favourite allergy-friendly foods ever. Over the years I’ve managed to find more and more safe options as M’s repertoire of foods has steadily increased, sometimes at a faster pace than any of us expected, and this year is no exception. M can now eat far more normally than it sometimes seemed possible, although he still follows a strict MEWS-free diet with some other known problem foods also excluded.
This improvement to his dietary options has been much celebrated at home, so it was perfect timing when the email from the FFFA team dropped into my inbox asking if both children would like to be involved as judges of the FFFA’s “Child & Teens” category for their first time ever. Unsurprisingly both leapt at the chance and have embraced this new mantle of responsibility with great aplomb. The products have been slowly trickling into the household over the past couple of weeks and its been wonderful to see G and M getting as much joy from the judging experience as I have over the years. There have been one or two big hits (watch this space for future updates) and one or two absolute “NO”s, although those have mainly been the result of individual taste and general fussiness rather than anything really wrong with the product. Their feedback has been honest and all they really want to know is whether they’ll be able to take part as judges again in the future!
With a new year comes so often new year resolutions and the inevitable challenge of seeing just how long those plans for a new you last. I’m not one for making resolutions on a regular basis, and this year really isn’t any different apart for a determination to keep going with some of the changes to our exercise regime that we introduced during the first lockdown in early 2020.
Back in the spring we were fortunate to mostly have glorious sunshine and longer days, so it wasn’t difficult to summon up the enthusiasm to go out for our daily walks or to kick the children outside during the day, especially when we came across beautiful new friends like this one. G took to fitting in an hour’s dance every lunchtime and M spent innumberable hours out on the trampoline. Comparatively this time round, the cold, grey, wet and miserable weather has made everything that little bit harder. Mike and I are still managing to get out daily to fit in our 10,000 steps, although it’s almost always dark by the time we leave the house. Our longer, more adventuresome walks are restricted to the weekends, when we can just about drag both children with us without too many complaints and we can venture a little further as the daylight hours allow.
The bigger challenge has been in getting M and G up and exercising during the week. This time round they are both following their normal school timetable with live online lessons, and so have much less opportunity to get outside during the school day. Thanks to Joe Wicks and his return to YouTube PE lessons, I’ve been able to get G and M doing a 30-minute session every couple of days and a colleague of mine has shared a 7-minute workout that G and I are trying to do daily. Stagecoach has also returned via Zoom and that gives them 2.5hours every Friday evening which is much needed and enjoyed.
The biggest disappointment of all has been our impossibility in successfully getting M out and onto the trampoline with any sort of regularity. During the summer months, he spends hours out there merrily bouncing around, but the wet weather makes the mats slippery and more dangerous for him to be on. You may recall we lost our new trampoline over the summer when Storm Francis took down one of the trees in our paddock and squashed it into a tangled mess. We replaced it and despite the declining use of it as the weather worsened, it was great to have it as an easy exercise option for M. Unfortunately, the arrival of Storm Bella over the Christmas period saw us sacrificing a second trampoline to the weather as our 12ft behemoth was whipped across the garden and driveway and dropped on its side in the garden at the front of the house. The damage is enough to render it unusable for the time being, though hopefully it’s simply a case of replacing a couple of pieces to get it back up and running soon for all our sakes!
There’s no question that everyone was looking forward to turning their back on 2020 and looking forward to the new in 2021. The news of the COVID-19 vaccine being approved and starting to be administered in the UK before Christmas was a definite light at the end of a very dark, long tunnel, even if it does feel like it could be a lengthy wait until the program is fully rolled out to all.
However, 2021 has had different ideas and with the steadily increasing numbers of positive cases in the UK and the discovery of a new highly infectious variant of COVID-19, my suspicions that another lockdown was just around the corner have rapidly come true. One week in and we find ourselves more or less back where we were last March, with G and M home-schooling, me back to full-time working from home and this time the big difference of Mike being able to continue to work.
With COVID-19 dominating the picture worldwide, it was difficult to imagine that anything else could top the news headlines and yet Mike and I sat watching the news last night with growing disbelief of what we were seeing unfold in the US. The US has had a turbulent year with COVID-19, the BLM riots and movement and the presidential elections, but nothing prepared us for the storming of the Capitol building yesterday in protest of the electoral results. The news footage coming out of Washington was, quite frankly, terrifying to watch and actually quite hard to believe as it played more like scenes from a dystopian story than anything I could have imagined would actually happen.
I don’t know what the rest of 2021 will bring, although I hope for a more positive end to the year than the beginning has been so far. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, I hope that it is a peaceful year for you and that the turbulent waters we currently find ourselves in soon settle down.
The last couple of weeks have been busy, filled with car park pantos, eye surgery, Christmas, board games, family quizzes, new tiers and changes to the school term about to start. Who knows exactly what 2021 will bring (we certainly couldn’t have predicted how 2020 turned out!), but I wish you all a very happy and peaceful New Year.
It doesn’t happen very often, but somehow we’ve managed to have the day off work *together* to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary. Of course, it’s not just us at home, but G and M as well since the government announcement that schools must finish a day earlier for the Christmas break, but I’m hoping that we might manage to grab 10 minutes here or there on our own. Our plans for a special dinner out are on hold until we can actually go to a restaurant, so I imagine it will probably be a bottle of bubbles and a meal from M&S instead, but that’s okay with me. We might not look quite as fresh-faced as we did 21years ago, but we’re still in this together and that’s what’s most important.
With Christmas now just a smidgeon over a week away, you’re probably in the process of winding down at school and at work in preparation of a few days to quietly celebrate Christmas in whatever way you’ve decided to do so this year.
However, December marks one of the busiest months of the year for us and this year, even with all of COVID-19 restrictions, has proven to be no different with birthday celebrations had, Stagecoach achievement awards received for 13 (G) and 11 (M) years of uninterrupted attendance and the end of the school term as well as anniversary celebrations and Christmas still heading our way. I simply can’t wait for next week and a chance to put my feet up and rest!
When we marked G’s sweet sixteen this time last year, we were looking forward to a year filled with next steps and new adventures. Her GCSEs were looming and plans were slowly being made for her Sixth Form choice and beyond. And then COVID-19 hit and everything started to look a little different. Weeks on lockdown at home together have flown past, the new school year arrived before we were really expecting it, long hair was cut into a stylish and far more grown-up look that I certainly was ready for and just like that, here we are celebrating G’s birthday once again.
This year continues to be unlike any other and G’s hopes for a small dinner out with her closest friends have been put on hold as we linger in the restrictions of Tier 3. Instead, it will be just as she has asked – a quiet day together as family with a film of her choice, a Chinese takeaway supper and the one thing that hasn’t changed since she was small, a birthday cake baked and decorated with all the love in the world.
Happy 17th birthday sweet girl, love you for ever and always xxx
There is no question that the last 9 months have had a huge impact on the mental wellbeing of all in the UK and worldwide. The rapid change to our usual routines left many feeling extremely discombobulated and the uncertainty of knowing when we can get back to anything that even vaguely resembles our old “normal” can lead to a sense of a loss of control, which itself can drive anxiety levels sky-high.
As we’ve all adapted to a life that is a great deal more home- and family-based than many of us are used to, so have many organisations similarly changed how they work in order to continue providing their services in whatever way they can. The benefits from doing 4 weeks of Stagecoach on Zoom were absolutely tangible for G and M, and it was encouraging to hear them giggling their way through the 3 hours of classes on a Friday evening. They’re delighted to be able to be back to “real life” classes this week and seeing some old familiar faces, both teachers and friends.
One organisation that has definitely gone the extra mile is Over The Wall. I’ve written numerous times about the amazing impact their camps have had on G and M over the last few years and this year was no different. It would have been so easy for them to simply shrug their shoulders when it became clear that camps couldn’t be held as normal, but instead they rolled up their sleeves and worked hard to produce the fantastic online “Camp in the Cloud” sessions for all who had applied for camp places. The week-long activities broke up the mundane experience of life in lockdown and challenged both children in a different way that they very much needed. That opportunity to connect with other young people who really understood how they might be feeling once again proved invaluable. Some might think that this charity’s determination to still deliver their regular offering as best they could despite the circumstances is going the extra mile, and I wouldn’t disagree, but I’m actually speaking about that something more they’ve now gone on to do.
Following the resounding success of their online camps, OTW has gone that one step further and continued to hold cabin chat sessions via Zoom on a monthly basis. G and M were both keen to participate and that hour or so at the start of each month has been a real lifeline for them. Cabin chat was open to anyone who had attended the virtual camps no matter where they are based and so both children have found themselves in groups with others from across the UK. It has been an hour to chat, laugh, accept and set challenges and just generally share how the last few months have and are affecting them. They’ve both made new friends and once again the boost to their mental wellbeing has been evident immediately. The planned chats have now finished, but we’ve all got our fingers tightly crossed that they will start again in the New Year.
Of course, none of these things could happen without the dedicated team of staff and volunteers at Over The Wall and we can’t thank them enough for going that extra mile and once again supporting G and M as best they can. Over The Wall have announced today that they are planning to continue with the virtual camps next year and beyond, even once the residential camps are able to start up again, which is quite simply the best news ever.
Yesterday’s announcement of the proposed tiers that the various councils will be going into next week when second lockdown ends has left many up in arms about what central government is suggesting. Social media is buzzing with commentary, criticism and complaints about the allocations made, especially with the change to rules for the Christmas period adding to the general confusion.
The news for our area has come as no surprise to me at all as I’ve been predicting our tier for the last 8 or 9 days and have been proved correct. To be perfectly honest, the tier level we end up in makes little or no difference to us. Since lockdown began 9 months ago, we have reduced our activities outside of our local area and taken every precaution we can when we have to be out and about. I now work predominantly from home, with just 1 day in our Head Office weekly to ensure that there continues to be a finance presence there, which gives me an opportunity to catch-up with colleagues face-to-face and not just via Zoom. M and G continue to enjoy being back at school and despite the odd hiccup with required self-isolation or the alternatives to traditional learning needed, are thriving in both their academic and extra-curricular activities.
The next big question for us all is about Christmas and my Mum and I have had many lengthy conversations about this to date. We’re both very much of the opinion that having been so cautious over the last 9 months, it would be a shame to throw it all away by having our usual family get-together without due consideration. No conclusion has been reached as yet, but I’m very much leaning towards spending the time at home in our separate bubbles, with a organised present opening and family quiz via Zoom. It won’t be the celebration we would love to have, but it may be the one that will best allow us to have a better one next year.
Today on our local radio I heard this comment, which I understand was made by Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford about the opportunity to break from our assigned tiers and meet together in social bubbles specifically during the Christmas period: that we should be choosing to do the best we can do and not the least we can do in the current climate. For some, this will unquestionably be getting together with family members over Christmas for the sake of their mental health and wellbeing, but for others that decision may simply add to the anxiety they feel about an increased risk to either themselves or to loved ones and so they opt to stay at home. Both will be the right choice for those individuals and we need to not judge others on the decisions they choose to make.
When we headed into lockdown last March, one of the activities that G and M missed the most was their weekly Stagecoach lessons. With G marking 13 years and M 11 years of attendance at our local Stagecoach school this Christmas, the loss of it was palpable. Between them they’ve only ever missed a handful of lessons, with M continuing to go weekly no matter what – feeding tubes and broken limbs have barely slowed him down.
Like so many organisations and schools, Stagecoach Head Office attempted to introduce an online platform for their weekly sessions, but neither child really connected with it and found their own ways to explore their creative tendencies at home instead. With September and the return to school, so also came the return to weekly Stagecoach sessions and the children have really thrived from being back with their friends despite the necessary restrictions in place. An unexpected and forced 2 week hiatus due to M’s need to self-isolate was a disappointment, but G and M embraced the challenge and took to practising their dance routine in M’s bedroom whenever they could instead.
With the second lockdown coming into play before they managed to get back to actual lessons, G and M were worried that it might be weeks until they could get back to what they love, but the local Principal had different ideas – and so Stagecoach on Zoom was launched. Every week they log on to join the rest of their stage for their usual 3 hours of Stagecoach and our sitting room is cleared, with the furniture pushed to the sides to make room for their dance and drama. It’s been something of a learning curve for everyone as they learn to navigate the finer details of Zoom sessions, but it’s also been a huge success.
It’s been great to have this touch of the normal back as part of their weekly routines and whilst G is missing her regular dance teacher – who knew she’d miss his criticism and yearn to not be told how amazing they all are – the benefits they’re reaping are definitely tangible. I’m even enjoying being able to reclaim a few hours of peace and quiet to myself, even if it is just in a different room!
The culture of bullying ,abuse & corruption at mental health charity MIND ruins lives. This national organisation has an annual income of £56 million and provides no frontline services. Yet they dupe the public into believing they do and asking for yet more cash! Those in positions to effect change must listen! MIND is not fit for purpose and MUST be held to account.. My personal account as a former member of staff and victim of workplace bullying at MIND.