What do Rita Ora and Kay Burley have in common?

They are on the naughty list!

Hang on a moment, there is no naughty list!

Did you break any rules during the pandemic? How do you feel about it?

Your answer may well depend on the ethical or philosophical framework you use to make decisions. I suspect that most of us are now truly fed up with the lockdown. Maybe not, my sister suggests your preference for introversion or extraversion will indicate your preference for lockdown. Her hypothesis is that, introverts are loving it whilst extraverts, like me, are having a hard time. It is true that I have dark days when I can’t see people and yes, Zoom, Teams, FaceTime and all help a little but they don’t replace the joy of hugging friends and family.

As I am writing this, BBC news is playing in the background and a man is speaking. ‘What’s the point of living if we can’t meet people. There is no point in living!’ Well it seems that both Kay Burley and Rita Ora agreed with him.

Kay and Rita both celebrated birthdays by hosting parties that broke the Covid rules. Both have apologised and Kay Burley was suspended from work for six months. Both are probably financially comfortable enough to be able to withstand any fines or penalties from their actions. There is a view that ‘celebrities’ are called out more often for rule breaking. They are certainly more visible when they fail to comply. Both of them are role models and one of them is employed to communicate the news and that probably includes some sort of implicit understanding that her role is to help reinforce our awareness of the rules.

So, why do it? Why take the risk? Why break the rules?

Over the past few years, I have realised that I am a compliant person. I didn’t start my adult life in this way. I always thought of myself as a rebel and a rule breaker. I never meant to be compliant, I just somehow morphed into being a rule follower. Is it because I am getting older, or that I can’t be bothered to expend the energy required to be rebellious? Or is it because I really care about reducing the numbers of people needing NHS help?

Some of my friends are doctors, medical workers, front line workers including teachers, tram drivers and police and they are fed up with the mixed messages they are receiving from Government. They are told to keep working, work collaboratively, put themselves at risk, do whatever it takes to keep the country running. But, and this is a big but, don’t hug your grandchildren, extended family or friends. Don’t even consider having a meal or a drink with people from another home. Don’t meet your work colleagues, who you see everyday, in a restaurant or a home to celebrate a birthday or other special occasion.

So how do we decide whether to follow or break the rules?

It seems that it all comes down to the ethical paradigm we use to take decisions. We may be in one to two camps or we may cross between the two depending on the situation. These camps are teleological (more utilitarian) or deontological (more Kantian)? Great words and I felt I had to use them.

Do you make decisions based on character and relationships, are you more concerned with being a good person with good intentions and is the goal the most important thing for you? If you answered yes, then you operate using a teleological ethical paradigm for decision making. For example, if you spend your day in a school and put yourself at risk and a friend invites you to her house for a socially distanced drink, you might decide to go even though it breaks the rules because she is lonely. You and your partner may decide that helping her feel less isolated is more important than following a rule. You conclude that the goal of making her feel connected is more important than a blanket law that doesn’t deviate. You may further conclude that you are being a ‘good person’ by helping your friend.

If, on the other hand you decide that you must follow the rules, which clearly do not allow mixing of households, so decline the invitation, then you may be operating from a deontological perspective. Deontology derives from the Greek for Duty. It is a duty based approach concerned with taking the ‘right action.’ It is sort of Kantian. If you are a rule abider then you may adopt a more Kantian approach. An article in The Irish Times asks, ‘Are we all Kantian’s now?’

What intrigues me, is that the Government initially applied a rules based Kantian approach to the lockdown. Then, we had the Dominic Cummings affair which turned everything on its head. He and various MPs broke the clearly defined rules and faced no consequences. Dominic Cummings definitely applied a teleological and not a deontological approach to his own situation. He talked at length in a televised interview and explained why he was a ‘good person’ for protecting his son, his wife and himself without putting other people in London at risk.

I believe the actions of Dominic Cummings directly affected the subsequent behaviour of people across the UK who started adopting an approach along the lines of: if it’s okay for him, then it’s okay for me to break the rules. Over the last few months of 2020, the Government’s language changed and responsibility was shifted more to the individual. You could say, the Government shifted from a Kantian approach of ‘follow the rules’, to a more utilitarian approach of ‘take your own decisions.’ That approach didn’t appear to be working, so in January 2021 we were placed, once again in lockdown. The messaging reverted to the one used in the first lockdown (more Kantian!). ‘Stay home – Protect the NHS – Save lives.’

In preparing for this blog I spent quite a bit of time reading about the ethics of lockdown and there are some interesting articles about different aspects. One article in the New Statesman suggests that the Government decided to loosen the rules for Christmas because people would probably break them anyway. Another article in the Spectator asks, ‘Is it ethical to lock us down again?’ It comments that lockdown inflicts agony, particularly on the young.

The United Nations Office of the High Commission on Human Rights suggest that the two messages of the modern public mental-health approach are:
1. There is no health without mental health; and
2. Good mental health means much more than the absence of a mental impairment.

There is a lot of information on the internet about the impact of lockdown on our mental health. I know it has affected me. There are also various resources available from the NHS, Mind and others. I have also offered free coaching to anyone who needs someone to talk to. So, do message me.

Lets go back to Kay Burley and Rita Ora, they both applied a Teleological approach – in the style of Dominic Cummings – to their decision making. At least they both apologised profusely and Kay Burley has accepted the consequences of her action.

Since the beginning of March 2020, when we started to withdraw into a smaller world, I made my opinions clear to all friends and family. We have decided to follow the rules. When friends tell us about the various deviation from the rules they apply and their rationale, we assume they have identified and mitigated the unintended consequences of their actions.

As the vaccine takes hold and our lockdown eases, we will all choose how we wish to behave in this new phase of the pandemic. It won’t be easy, particularly if we receive mixed or unclear messages from leaders.

So, if you struggle with decisions, ask yourself, are you doing something because its in your nature and you believe a breach is okay if it makes you or a friend happy? Or, are you trying to follow the rules? Understand that every decision you make will be grounded in a deeply held philosophical perspective, which may be different to the one held by others.

How to survive the pandemic

Spoken in the tone of Lady Whistledown

My advice – and I am known for giving prodigious, wondrous, inspiring and often life-changing advice – is to find a magnificent series of books, a series of at least 20 different titles. 

Use your most beautiful duvet cover and dress your bed with a glorious quilt featuring vibrant hues of colour. 

Put on your favourite pair of pyjamas, wrap yourself in cashmere and get into bed. You must only get out for food or exercise! 

All Zoom, Teams, Facetime and WhatsApp calls can be done from your berth. 

Friends and family, video on, others, video off! 

Looking for something fun and not at all challenging.

What do your xmas decs get up to?

Two Christmas decorations having a conversation!

‘Bloody hell, Tortola, I’m totally knackered. Can’t wait to get back in the box.’

‘What’s that you’re sayin’ Gorda?’

‘Oh, I can’t be bothered, been up and down like the vicar’s knickers.’

‘The Vickers knickers? I think you mean the Whore’s Drawers.’

‘Wash yer mouth out, Tortola!’

‘Oh, okay, the vicar’s knickers it is.’

‘Something like that, 20 years up and down, in the box, out of the box, in the attic, out of the attic.’

‘But that’s our job, Gorda, we get out so we can be put up. We remind her of the islands. Of her honeymoon.’

‘Yeah, for the first five years we were always top of the tree, front left. Then top of the tree front right. Then when his mum started to visit we were moved.’

‘Aah, yes to bottom of the tree out of line of sight of the new mother-in-law. Gorda, what was her name?’

‘I don’t know and I don’t care, Tortola. She took one look at us, tutted and said something about hideous tourist crap. I may have been sold in a tourist shop in the BVI’s but I was proud to represent my island. Proud to be a Virgin Gorderer!’ 

‘Is that even a word, Gorda?’

‘Well I’ll be damned, course it is. Us Gorderers are very proud people. Do you know where she found you?’

‘No, not sure that I can remember that far back.’

‘She found you at the airport, Tortola, said she wanted two of us, two boats. One for her and one for him and we’ve been together all this time.’ 

‘I love that we’re together in the box all year, and then, when its time for us to shine, we’re on the tree together again.’

‘And now? Where are we, Tortola?’

‘Back of the tree, Gorda.’

‘Ooh the shame of it. I’m tired, Tortola. I wish she would give me away, give me to a family with children. They’d love me.’

‘Gorda?’

‘Yes, Tortola?’

‘Do you think they’d love me too?’ 

‘Sure of it.’ 

This piece was written in a new writing group which I joined for a day on 20th December 2020. The story follows two decorations that appeared in a piece I wrote last year, but I had more fun with it this year and challenged myself by keeping it purely dialogue. 

I do have two small boats which I bought in the British Virgin Islands and every year my husband looks forward to seeing them go on the tree. The rest of the story is pure fiction, they are always central front of the tree as a reminder of our honeymoon!

Sailing

We got up early. The tide was running fast and against us and we had to get away from the pontoon before 7am or we would spend the next four or more hours on the mud.

I did the breakfast and tidied the galley. Harry got the ropes ready and did a briefing. Steven, Annabel, Rosie and Tom all busied themselves doing nothing very much.  A few shouts, some ropes released and we motored out of the marina.

The wind was strong and we had two reefs in the main. By lunchtime, we were ready to tie up outside Yarmouth. It was a complicated manoeuvre and we lost the boat hook. Anabel and Harry couldn’t agree on how quickly to move the boat and Harry couldn’t reach the buoy. Lots of shouting, a near miss with the ferry and eventually we tied up.

Lunch was tuna, mayo and sweet corn sandwiches; the sailing staple. We spent an hour eating, chatting and watching the boats. The wind, which had been gusting, calmed down to a steady consistent strong breeze. Lunch finished, we put up the foresail and sailed off the buoy, it was a first for most of us. The boat glided through the water, reaching seven knots. The sea glistened under the cold sunshine.

When I had the helm, I willed the boat to go faster. Faster than when the others helmed. I wanted to hit the eight knot mark but it never got there. We had the main and foresails fully out. Sometimes the mainsail flapped when I got distracted but Harry gently guided me in the right direction.

Before today, I hadn’t really noticed him. He wasn’t as tall as Steven but was taller than me. His voice was at least three octaves lower than any man I’d ever met. He laughed a lot and he listened to me and everyone else on board.

We sailed all afternoon until it was getting dark when we finally settled on a berth in Lymington Harbour. That night, as we all huddled up for warmth, I wondered if Harry was feeling the same emotions as me. I wondered if he would make a move.

As I untangled myself from the group and headed for the showers, I wondered if tonight would be our night.

This is a fictional account of a day sailing with some friends.

The Joy of Contemporary Quilts

There is a small group of people who spend their life looking for new ways to work with fabric. They eschew commercial fabrics. They dye, paint, embellish and design their own fabrics. They like nothing better than an old, discoloured, polycotton sheet which can be transformed into a work of art.

These are the ‘Contemporary Quilters.’

In January, I started to learn about the contemporary quilters. They look for ways of recycling and reusing fabric. They can work with anything from an old tablecloth to scraps of thread or fabric used in the making of other items. I joined this group for an academic term to identify new ways of working which I had hoped would enable me to develop my own creative process. The term was cut short because of the lockdown, but since early October we have been meeting online for a couple of hours every week.

In January we started with paper transfer dyes. We painted designs onto A4 sheets of paper and this was then transferred onto fabric by placing paper and fabric into a heat press. I found that the transfers worked best on polycotton with slightly less success on full 100% cotton, which surprised me.

Once the fabric had colour, we applied Bondaweb and then cut it into different shapes. With Bondaweb, fabric can be reconfigured into any shape. My theme was, unsurprisingly, sewing. When I reviewed the outputs from the day, I found one colour that I really liked but couldn’t remember which colour or type of paint had been used. I was frustrated with my lack of a diligent process.

Later we continued with the paper transfers but I decided to be more methodical in my approach and created colour swatches of papers and fabrics. Now, at least I know which colour I used on a project and I have some chance of recognising and replicating it.

At home, I started to put the squares together and quilted them. I added some binding and whilst I didn’t like the actual piece, I have at least finished the project.

We moved onto resist dying and used soya wax to cover some parts of fabric. I decided to try to write sentences and my theme? You guessed, sewing! I researched sewing and quilting quotes and came up with the following:

My life is full of little pricks!

This is not a mistake it’s just a new quilting style.

Measure twice cut once, curse and do it again.

Only, I wrote ‘Measure once, cut twice’ and when I realised I had made a mistake  I finished the sentence with ‘fuck, redo!’

I treated myself to several pots of silk dye in colours I love. Using the fabric which now had the soya wax writing, I applied different colourways. The results were okay for a first attempt, but I need more practice writing with the various tools. I ended up with four panels I had no idea how to use. At that point, I didn’t have the courage to cut them up so I packed them away in a plastic bag while I procrastinated. A few months later, having moved the bag around my sewing room several times, I took the plunge and I cut them. I then added some commercial fabric to make a quilt top. I think it’s okay and I can’t wait to see it after it has been professionally long arm quilted.

On the course, we continued to use an array of techniques for dying, but I always came back to silk dyes and 100% cotton. I made a few squares which I used in a log cabin design adding fabric a friend had brought back from India. I really like the end result. It needs quilting but at least the patchwork is finished.

Like most sewers, I have lots of scraps; bags of them, even tiny squares get saved. Our tutor suggested weaving our scraps. She provided us with a home made frame – an iron hanger shaped into a square. I was able to use some fabrics from the collage stash and I love the results. I am now a bit addicted to weaving my scraps and have started a new project with commercial fabric scraps. I will be using all of these squares in a hanging.

I have often been told I have a mind like a butterfly; it’s not meant as a compliment! The hardest part of any sewing project is deciding on a theme and then sticking to it. So this term, I am enjoying learning about design and how to build up a piece using a theme. I am still exploring themes and fabric designers such as Lucienne Day 

The greatest thing about Contemporary Quilting is that if you make a mistake, it doesn’t matter. You can applique, paint or even paper over the offending error. Contemporary quilting embraces, at its core, sustainability and reusability.

For now, I am a sponge learning just as much as I can from amazing people. I wanted to share some of my work with you and have included some other projects in a gallery below.

Seven months

Boris on 23rd March 2020

So, on Friday it was seven months since Boris Johnson announced a national lockdown.

Seven months of fear, isolation and uncertainty.

Seven months of shopping for essentials, as if conducting a procurement exercise.

Seven months of trying to avoid people, as I walk along the tow path.

Seven months of reading books, as if it were my new work.

Seven months of worrying about friends and family.

Seven months of self dying and cutting my hair, which I am told looks okay!

Seven months of learning via zoom, teams, google classroom and Webex.

Seven months of limited work reaffirms how much I love working and engaging with others.

Seven months of making new friends, in virtual spaces, who I may never meet in person.

Seven months of learning to live in very close proximity with my lovely husband.

Seven months of spending time in my garden, my new vacation spot.

Seven months of obsessively watching the news, BBC, Sky where they repeat the same inward looking stories all day long.

Seven months of watching Aljazeera, to find out what is going on in other countries around the world.

Seven months of limited impulse buying on a Saturday morning.

Seven months of Amazon, Hermes and DPD deliveries, so many, I now know some of the driver’s family stories.

Seven months of fretting every time I cough, sneeze, feel bunged up.

Seven months of hoping for a vaccine, which may mean I can travel again.

Just to be clear we are the lucky ones!

So, today I am thinking of people across the country, across the world who are not so lucky. Thinking of people who are being pushed to the edge. Wondering what I could do to help make things a little better for at least one person.

The Funeral – a story

Exercise two The funeral a short story written with Jojo Thomas and friends. The subject is a funeral. I chose to do a piece of fiction loosely based on the preparations for my mothers funeral.

We gather around the fireplace and wait. We drink coffee and tea and watch the flames climbing, escaping. No one speaks, we are waiting for the priest.

I can’t quite remember him but I think he is a tiny little fella with grey hair and flaking skin. I never much liked him, but mum loved his visits. She used to say that he always had the gossip!

We hear a car make its way up the hill. By the time I get to the door, its parked and a tall slim man is walking towards the steps. It’s not Father Joe, so I don’t know how to greet him.

‘Good evening father. Is father Joe coming later?’

‘Father Joe had to go to Dublin. Lucky divil!’

‘Oh, and you are?’

‘Father Gordon. New to the parish. I met your mam a few times. Lovely lady. So sorry for your loss.’

Father Gordon is about six foot four with dark hair, chiselled cheek bones and the brightest blue eyes. Without the getup, he could pass for a rock star. He shakes my hand and I lead him into the lounge.

‘Will you have tea father?’

‘Sure tea is grand, but a drop of whisky is better.’

‘Oh, yes, of course. Sorry, I didn’t think…’

‘What that priests drink, in Ireland?’ His bright blue eyes look into mine for a moment too long.

‘Oh, sorry, yes, stupid of me I will get that in a moment. Let me introduce you to my sister Hanna, my brother Alfie and my husband Jacob.’

I point to each of them. They stand in turn, as if being presented to the Queen, at one point I thought Hanna was actually going to curtsy.

Everyone is quiet as the father drinks his whisky. We are waiting for instructions for the funeral on Friday.  The priest looks at each of us in turn and I instantly start to feel a little like Red Riding Hood in the sights of the Big Bad Wolf!

He addresses all of us. ‘So, where do you all come from?

‘London’ It’s a chorus as we answer together.

‘Ah a great place. Spent a few years there when I was a novitiate.’

It seems he is determined to chat, I nod and try to conjure a smile.

I start to flick through the papers I prepared for his visit. I look over at my husband hoping he will register my feeble smile and see it as a call to arms to take over the conversation. As if reading my mind, Jacob leans in and asks Father Gordon about his time in London, where he lived, what he liked to do, where he went after London. I watch Jacob conduct the conversation drawing in Hanna and Alfie at key points. He is like a skilful conductor, slowly but precisely drawing in each instrument of a very small orchestra.

My neck aches from all the time spent leaning over my laptop researching poems and hymns, I should know what her favourites are, but I don’t. It took me back to the last time I attended mass.

I stopped going to mass when I was about 14, it was after a long conversation with dad when he told me I had a choice about whether or not I attended.  So, the very next Sunday I declared my intention to stay at home. Mum was not pleased and made me look after Hanna, I complained and mums retort was that it was better than the punishment I could expect in Hell for missing mass!

I move my head to one side and then the next, slowly, so I don’t draw attention. I don’t want to discuss my faith or lack of it. Jacob is still managing the conversation so I can tune in and out as I choose.

Father Gordon is explaining that he was a military chaplain in Bosnia. His smile has faltered and my husband lets the conversation die, much as the fire is dying in the crate.

We are silent while Father Gordon reads the notes I prepared for the service. He then advises us on the hymns and readings, we are attentive and almost compliant. He is talking about Holy Communion, do we want it. I want to shout at him that I really don’t give a fuck about Holy Communion but, instead, I say that its up to him to decide, I wont be taking it.  Hanna can’t resist poking the priest.

‘What about Jacob father, he isn’t one of us you know, is he allowed to take it?’

He thinks for a minute and then answers her, ‘only if he doesn’t swallow! ‘I nearly cover him in the tea that spurts out of my mouth. Hanna looks shocked and excuses herself.

Father Gordon now has Jacob in his sights. ‘Sure I have no problem with other religions, you can take it if you like, it wont hurt you and it may even do you some good.’

Jacob is smiling. I can see he likes the priest; anyone who can get one over on Hanna is in his good books. Jacob replies to the priest, ‘I will give it a miss, but thanks for the offer.’

Father Gordon leans in and his head almost touches Jacobs when he says. ‘You know you’re not going to heaven, don’t ya?’ He sits upright again waiting to see how Jacob will respond. I am tempted to rescue, someone, anyone, but stay silent. Quick as a flash Jacob responds. ‘Maybe not; But then, maybe your not getting in either father.’  Alfie’s sharp intake of breathe expresses my thoughts exactly. I don’t want Father Gordon to take against us, he has vast swathes of power in the pulpit. Seconds later Jacob and Father Gordon both burst out laughing and shake hands. Now, I can breathe again.

As he gets ready to leave, Father Gordon points to the three cars parked outside the house. ‘Those cars out there, are they yours?’

The worst winter in a decade meant we were all driving four wheel drive cars, Hanna has the Mitsubishi, Alfi a luxurious Range rover and we have an Audi.  They did look impressive all standing to attention.

Alfie answers. ‘Yes’

‘What will happen to your mam’s car when you leave?’  I forgot about the bright red Hilux parked around the back of the garage. How does Father Gordon even know it exists?

Alfie, who hasn’t spoken much this evening takes control. ‘Now father we haven’t decided yet. Sure we want to help people out an all, but you wouldn’t be edging for one would you?

Father Gordon is not one to be put off lightly, ‘If there’s one free, I wouldn’t say no!’

We all laugh, pretending that Father Gordon is having the gas with us, but we know the score. The church expects and most people deliver.

Back to School

Why is it that every September I get an urge to buy new stationary?

People who know me well, know I love a new notebook and that I have a bit of an obsession with fountain pens and colourful felt-tips! So far I have resisted the urge to splurge on stationary. A couple of weeks ago I tidied my stationery cupboard and neatly organised existing ‘virgin’ notebooks. I also cleaned some of my old fountain pens to get them working again, ready for the Autumn term.

September has always felt like its a new beginning, it brings endless possibilities and opportunities. When I was at school it meant a new classroom with a new teacher but mostly the same pupils. We shared stories of holidays and gasped at each others exploits. It sometimes meant new uniform. For most of my working life I embraced it as a time to renew skills and dust down some of the old ones ready for the onslaught of work.

This year is different because work is sparse and likely to stay so for the next few months. Having accepted the situation I now believe that this gives me time to think about new skills. Over the past few weeks I attended several online workshops. Although initially uncomfortable, I am now embracing zoom and google classroom. I love that I can sit in my own home and learn from wonderful tutors from across the world, chat with colleagues in breakout rooms, read materials and view videos at any time of the day or night. I am learning the content they are teaching, but even more importantly, I am learning what works and doesn’t work on these platforms. So, this year instead of a notebook, I treated myself to wifi headphones and stands for my iPhone and iPad.

Last week I had trees in my garden pruned and other plants cut back.  We do pruning to help send nutrients to the healthy parts of the tree. If we don’t cut it back, the tree will keep trying to send nutrients to bits that are dead or dying. Perhaps, in the past, by using a new notebook I no longer felt burdened with old notes or finished works. Maybe a fresh, new, and blank page gave me permission to explore.

I have decided that this September is a time to cut out less valuable activities and work, so that I can let new things in. Perhaps where any part of my working life is fading I need to cut it back so new shoots can emerge. I have enjoyed a great many years working with inspiring people doing engaging work and I believe that was only possible because, every few years, I gave myself permission to adapt and change my working world.

Like many people, I don’t know where 2020 will end for me, work-wise, but I do know that I intend to keep learning. I absolutely believe that learning is a creative process which leads to adventure, engagement, and sometimes it leads to great opportunity. Back to school is, for me, an important stepping stone.

I wonder how other people are experiencing this September and would love to hear from you.