I know there are different rules in different parts of the UK, as well as in other countries, but, for me, Monday 17 May 2021 is the most significant date we’ve had in ages. It is the day we hit Stage 3 of the Lockdown Roadmap. We hit Stage 2 in early April, the main highlights of which were that non-essential shops re-opened and we were allowed to have up to 6 people round in the garden, or meet for outdoors for food. Possibly even sit with them on a park bench. I KNOW! Prior to the last lockdown, my bit of Yorkshire had constantly been in the highest tier of restrictions so, like many, I haven’t been allowed to do much for a very, very long time. The three main highlights from the Stage 2 period have been:
1.The very day we were allowed, my sister and her family came for a day of garden fun. She lives in Cheshire, I live in Yorkshire, I hadn’t seen her in person for the best part of a year, although we speak most days on Whatsapp about important issues such as how much chocolate we’ve eaten that day, and the unfair burdens of being a modern woman. The only downside to this was that it was absolutely freezing. I found two solutions to this: wearing a huge puffa jacket, and drinking loads and loads of prosecco until we didn’t care any more! Hurray! Sadder times for her husband, who was driving and could only rely on the big coat method. Anyway it was a lovely and joyous day, and really brought home how much we’d all been missing out on.
2. The very minute we could make it work, I met up with my two best friends (they live in the North East), and our kids at Bolton Abbey, a place of outstanding natural beauty 25 mins from me, and 2 hours from them. I did pretty well there. We have been friends since we were all 6 years old, and we hadn’t all been together in person since lockdown began, which is the longest we’ve been apart since approximately 1983. It was a pretty perfect day and I didn’t want it to end. Once again, a reminder of what we’d all been deprived of for so long.
3. I went to Homesense. I stupidly saddled myself with a puppy a couple of months ago (I am joking, she is the light of my life and ridiculously adored) so I haven’t really been able to leave her to get to any shops in person, but Homesense is 10 mins down the road and open until 9pm, so I was able to dodge out one evening. I was so delighted be out of the house and in a shop, in relative freedom, I did two laps of both floors. I bought a lemon squeezer that catches the pips. A great outing.
Emerging, blinking, into Stage 3
As of Monday, we’re movin’ on up! We’re allowed to eat INSIDE restaurants! We’re allowed to drink INSIDE pubs! We’re allowed people INSIDE our houses! WE CAN (cautiously) GIVE THEM A CUDDLE! This feels massive. The indoors-ness of it all is extremely exciting since, at the time of writing, it is 15 May and I am looking out at the torrential rain, in a chunky jumper and woolly slippers, with the heating on. It has been freezing for as long as I can remember. Mother Nature is being a right miserable git. Having friends round to the garden, or sitting outside a pub in April, initially evoked images of balmy evenings, maybe wafting round in a floaty dress on the patio, or sat in a fairy light strewn pub garden, the clinking of glasses mingled with evening birdsong. Nope. I met some school mum friends for dinner in the local pub’s outdoor area, and between us we brought enough blankets, hot water bottles, gloves and enormous coats to see us through an Arctic expedition. So fun to try and catch your chips as a strong gust of wind carries them off down the road (I’m exaggerating, we had a lovely time, but it would have been lovelier indoors!).
I should add that, although this new Indian variant of the virus is very much in the news, and the possibility of further restrictions lurking in the shadows, I’m just going to ignore that, look forwards and assume it’s all going to be ok. It’s self preservation. And these are the things I’m most looking forward to:
1. A Roof Over Our Head
So, yeah, being able to go out for brunch, dinner and drinks somewhere that isn’t open to the elements will be a joy. Unfortunately, I am not one of life’s super organised people, preferring to bob along in an easy breezy manner, and the rest of the population have massively got one over on me by booking solid every possible slot, at every possible cafe and restaurant within a 20 mile radius, for the foreseeable. One group of friends and I excitedly decided to meet up for dinner next Friday – amazing! We found only one restaurant that could accommodate us. At 11pm. They’re now coming round to mine for a takeaway. But this brings me on to the most exciting bit for me – I get to use my ‘new’ kitchen for entertaining!
We finished our big building project on the house, and waved goodbye to the last tradesman, on 20 December 2019. On 20 December 2019, I came home from my work Christmas lunch and collapsed like a sack of spuds, the poorliest I can remember being for years. The culmination of 6 months of non-stop building stress and some virus or other (it was very Covid-like, I’ve got to say, but I’m no epidemiologist) left me bedbound for ages and totally ruined the whole Christmas break for me. One thing I’d been dreaming about throughout the whole build was sorting my new kitchen cupboards out, creating a system, getting rid of tatty old stuff and making everything lovely. It was the light at the end of such a long tunnel. What actually happened was that various family members put everything away willy nilly, while I languished upstairs like a tragic Victorian heroine. My sister and her family came for Christmas that year, I remember very little about it, apart from being slumped in a corner, mostly asleep. You know in Victorian times when they used to prop up deceased family members and take photos of them with their living relatives as if nothing had happened? It was quite like that.
I digress. Basically, I spent January and February 2020 decorating the new kitchen and then we all know what happened in March. As I mentioned above, my bit of Yorkshire has been under permanent highest-level restrictions when not in full lockdown, and the upshot is that I haven’t been able to have anyone round to the new kitchen for dinner since it was installed. *Probably* not on the list of the most important of pandemic consequences, but nonetheless frustrating after spending my whole adult life dreaming of having a lovely big kitchen space to entertain in, realising my dream, and then no-one being allowed over the threshold.
Thus, I am looking forward to flinging open my pretend-Crittall doors and doing that thing people on the telly always talk about when discussing an open plan kitchen – having a glass of wine at the island whilst cooking, and chatting to my assembled guests. I’m more than happy to be that tired cliche. Or to order takeaway and sit round the table enthusiastically necking prosecco, whatevs. It will just be lovely not to be in a puffa jacket.
2. A Possible Project…
Remember at the start of the first lockdown, when everyone was reeling from being forced to take a step back from the endless, manic, hamster wheel of life, and stay home? Like lots of people unused to downtime, I immediately began an intense programme of lockdown DIY, cracking on through the long list of things that need putting right when a team of builders have trashed your house solidly for 6 months. I repainted scuffed woodwork, freshened up tired walls, upcycled Ikea furniture, hung pictures, decorated the kids’ rooms, gave the en-suite an unnecessary makeover…. and then I stopped. The pandemic raged on, as did homeschooling combined with homeworking, my enthusiasm levels waned and I gave in to the inevitable and embraced loungewear, cake, Netflix and chill (very definitely actual chill, no saucy business) in what little spare time I had left.
It’s only now that things are looking up that I’ve even begun to think about a possible new project. The house isn’t finished, you see. There is a top floor, never shown on my Instagram account. It’s like a giant car boot sale up there. It’s somewhere to handily stash things I don’t want in my sight any more. There are two bedrooms and a bathroom. I’ve actually sorted one of the bedrooms, which I made into my dream study, because I work at home a lot, even when it’s not a pandemic. Here it is:
The trouble is, my dream study was finished about a week before the builders started in 2019, and became my eldest daughter’s bedroom for the duration of the build, and then some, as it took a while for her actual bedroom to be redecorated and sorted after they’d gone. Then, as lockdown hit, my previously 100% office-based husband was suddenly forced to work from home and that was the end of my study. It’s now his study and my lovely vintage desk has one door hanging off (how? why?), there are Diet Coke cans liberally strewn everywhere and massive computer monitors all over the place. I have a kitchen I’ve never entertained in, and a study I’ve never worked in. Woe is me.
There remains one good-sized bedroom which has been completely untouched since we moved in, and a bathroom which is the same. This larger bedroom is usually where poor guests get shoved when they come and stay, and I’m really keen to sort it out now, and have somewhere lovely for them to sleep, as opposed to being in the worst room in the entire house.
The reason I haven’t touched the room, aside from it being a low priority in terms of the overall house, is because I want to knock it about a bit, and knocking it about a bit is always expensive. To me, the room isn’t light enough, it’s crying out for more Velux windows to really make good use of the sloping ceiling. I also want to build in eaves storage, and convert the loft space above into storage space, mainly for my husband’s enormous collection of books and magazines which Cannot Be Thrown Out. Marie Kondo would hate him. Then, we’ll need to rewire, move and replace the radiators, sort the knackered walls out, get rid of the last of the manky blue carpet in the house and put new flooring down. I feel tired just thinking about it all. A lick of paint never, ever suffices in this house. However, we’ll then have a great space for a big bed, more wardrobes, maybe even a little sofa and telly situation. I’d love to get cracking, even if it’s just sorting the storage issues for now. Watch this space…. (but not too intently, because it may very well not happen).
3. The Garden
Much as I am rejoicing over being allowed to meet people indoors, I am also hopeful that we can have some garden funtimes too. One of the main things which got us through Spring/Summer 2020 at home was the unusually excellent weather, which very much took the edge off things (that, and all the wine). I really hope the weather is going to perk up before too much longer, we all deserve it.
We have a reasonably nice garden, it’s a bit of a funny, long, shape, with lots of different areas and levels in it. The people we bought from were amazing gardeners and, as a result, pretty things pop up throughout the year. I, however, have absolutely no gardening skills whatsoever, and the overall effect is best described as “wild”. My in-laws usually visit for a few days every couple of months in non-pandemic times (they live down South) and attack the garden for us. This keeps it looking nice. All I can say is, you can tell they have not been allowed to visit for a long time.
Now, the whole thing really needs landscaping and a full overhaul. I feel it could be brilliant but, while I am very confident with all things interiors (in my own home, anyway), I am an absolute garden novice. I grew up in the North East with only a back yard, complete with outside toilet (N.B. we were not required to actually use this, lest you have visions of me and my family in rags, taking turns to share the bath water in a tin bath in front of the coal fire, after a hard day down the pits). Then there were the student/’young professional’/bachelorette flat days – I didn’t need to trouble myself with grass trimming and hardy perennials there either. My first proper house was in a lovely, shared building that used to be a Baptist College, and it had huge, communal gardens, but we all paid a service charge for a gardener, so that was easy. Then I got this one and I’m just a bit hopeless. I booked a gardener 3 months ago to come and dog-proof and generally sort the garden. He, in the grand tradition of every gardener I have ever known, is now ghosting me, and we all still have to shadow the dog round the garden in case she pegs it out of one of the many escape routes.
Anyway, I have managed to create a couple of habitable areas. I worked with a brand called Moda Furnishings on an Instagram project, and so now have a very nice garden sofa/table set which has transformed one of the little patio areas. I also have a dining area, on another patio area. The patio is so old and knackered, there’s serious risk of breaking a limb every time you walk on it, but re-laying it is a pipedream at the moment, so I just stick an outdoor rug over it. We don’t actually use it for eating out much, as it’s under an enormous cherry tree and the whole patio ends up covered with cherry stones, bits of twig and blossom/leaves. The tree is very pretty to look at, but a right pain in the backside in reality. Also, the many birds who sit in the tree like to poo all over the table. All the time. I can’t be doing with it.
I’m talking to a lovely, local gardening school at the moment about an Instagram project which will a) improve my gardening skills so I can make some changes myself, and b) maybe have an actual expert sort out a small area of the garden, so it looks pretty! This is highly exciting to me, so we’ll see how this pans out over the next few weeks. Then we just need the sun to get its hat on!
What are you looking forward to doing with your impending freedom?