The first words down are so important, they set your store, draw in your reader and sum up what you are going to say. Starting is always hard. Writing this, well, writing anything, has been extra hard of late. I’ve committed not a word to this blog, or in private, for almost three months. And it isn’t simply because I’ve not had anything to write about. Yes it is true that I have had no events; no gigs/concerts/exhibitions since Erland Cooper on the 10th October, but it is more than that. So much more. There were events I did go to that I didn’t write about before October 10th. I didn’t know how to write about them. Writing is a form of therapy and helps me process. There have been plenty of things to think about and process and yet, I haven’t known what to say or how to say it. The words they wouldn’t come.
Simply staying alive, keeping me and my boy as safe as I could, has taken almost all of my energy. Running a household alone, continuing to work, solo parenting a growing teenager, new health discoveries and diagnoses against the backdrop of a global pandemic didn’t see me feeling at my creative best.
Two of the Doctors I work for were seriously ill with Covid, one in ICU. Both thankfully recovered or recovering, but it was pretty worrying when they and around eight other colleagues became ill at the same time. It made it all feel very real and very close. I also had friends who were ill, with long Covid, in the first wave. I know people who have lost loved ones, father in laws, beloved Mum’s, a wife not much older than me and at work we lost one of our transport drivers, a man who had plenty to give for and who should have had more years to live. Covid has circled close enough to be something I’ve feared. Doubly true as an asthmatic with other chronic illness who has experienced both what it feels like to lose the ability to breathe (asthma attacks are frightening things) and what it is to lie in a hospital bed not knowing if you will make it through the night (Sepsis isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs either). Those experiences, plus many others, have left me with a form of medical PTSD. Covid scares the beejesus out of me. It should us all to one extent or another. My fears have not simply been for myself. That’s the thing about believing in society, in caring for others, even those who do not care for you. In a global pandemic, heck even when we are not, we are all responsible for each other. Any one of us could carry Covid asymptomatically and infect others, who in turn infect others and bam, without knowing it you’ve killed someone. Or changed their life forever with long covid. I don’t want that on my conscience, neither should you. That is why we distance, that is why we wear masks, that is why we leave windows and doors open, that is why we clean surfaces and wash our hands. That is why we cannot see friends and families nor gather together as humans have always done. Not just to protect ourselves, but to protect each other. For many it has been hard to understand how their individual actions make a difference, well, they don’t, but when all of us, enough of us, do them together, they make all the difference in the world.
When you work in healthcare, you can’t escape illness and death, even if you work remotely as an administrator like I do. It is literally our business. Everything we do is about helping people to get the best outcome we can and we are all trained in infection prevention and control. I knew how to wash my hands properly pre pandemic! We are all also engendered with some sort of belief in helping others. Many of us could do our jobs in other industries or areas but choose to work in public service. You have to believe in society to work for the NHS, you certainly don’t sign up for the pay!
I’m unusual in being a frequent flyer patient as well as a member of staff within the NHS, so I often see things from both sides. I have had to risk assess so many times that it is second nature to me now. That aspect of the pandemic has been easier for me to adapt to than most; find information you can trust and rely upon, cross reference your sources, tabulate them together, decide what risks you are willing to take for yourself, your immediate circle and then wider society and make decisions from there. I have spent my entire adult life chronically ill one way or another and I’ve had to make decisions that weigh up the risks and benefits of drugs and surgery so often I can do it in my sleep. Give me info, give me stats, find me some graphs and figures and I can make a choice easy enough. Covid was difficult at the beginning because there was so much we did not know. Sources that were reliable and trustworthy felt harder to find, as speculation and conjecture filled the air. Slowly and then rapidly that changed, open source data made the geek in me very happy. Realising in early September that I was more likely to contract HIV than Covid made going on a few dates seem reasonably safe (at distance, outdoors, wearing a mask as risk mitigation factors). Of course, when things changed, which they did at an alarmingly rapid rate in Bristol, I ran new risk assessments and made different decisions based on those updated outcomes. As risks changed, so did my behaviour. I am still dating, but exclusively with one person, who lives alone and so we have been able to form a support bubble. For me, the benefits of adult company and companionship (including touch) far outweighed the risks. At this point and with the information available, of course.
I have adapted, as we all have, to our changed world. I haven’t thrived, but I have survived and that is enough. It is enough. In tough times you find out who you are, who those around you are and what sort of society you live in. I knew I was tough, I’m basically made of granite, but I have surprised myself with how well I’ve managed this year at times. I knew I had few friends or people who truly cared about me and the ones who have made an effort to stay in touch this year will not be forgotten. The ones who haven’t won’t be either. That the society around me has been deeply polarised hasn’t been much of a surprise either, leave/remain, Labour/Tory, Corbynites/AnyoneElse, vaxxers/antivaxxers, we’ve been heading down that destructive path some time. The arguments between those who believe in forms of collectivism and those who are individualistic is much older than I.
My escape, my home, my place of safety and respite has always been music and my challenge of 2020 has been coping with it all it has thrown at me without the one thing that steadies me; live music. And no, listening to records or the radio or even a livestream is nowhere near the same experience. This time last year I had been to 100 concerts. I had spent countless hours on coaches and trains travelling to gigs, tens of nights in cheap hotels. I managed 3 nights away before March lockdown (one of those on a sleeper train) and I snuck in 2 nights in London in Aug/Sept when Covid rates were a lot lower, but other than that I’ve spent every night of 2020 in my own bed. I’ve been on public transport so little that I am even missing, and feeling nostalgic about First Buses (believe me, this is really saying something). I live not far from Temple Meads and yet I cannot get on a train and have an adventure somewhere. Anywhere. Not even Bath or Cardiff or Oxford, all places I would day trip to for exhibitions and gigs. My world has shrunk to about a mile and half from my front door, distances that I can reach on foot as I do not drive. I have never wished I had a driving licence and a car more than I have in the last couple of months. I yearn, long, ache, to see the sea, hills, clifftops, mountains, countryside. What I wouldn’t give for a walk in the Mendips, or Cheddar, or to see Devon or Cornwall again. Yes, even in the rain and cold of winter. Waterproofs and thermals are all I’d need. I miss the swell of the sea and the ebb of the tide and the open expanse of nature. I miss being able to escape the City and all its infernal people! I love my local parks, I really do, but they are not the same and they are always busy. I need to feel sunlight on my face and wind in my hair somewhere a little bit wilder than a park. I also need music and art. If I cannot stand in a gallery and stare deeply into the eyes of Frida Khalo again, or gaze at a Cezanne for hours, losing myself in time and space, well, well I don’t know what will become of me. I need art. I need music. I need them like oxygen. Art is what makes us human. I need ballet, contemporary dance, opera, musicals, theatre and even panto. I need paintings and sculptures and installations. I need this stuff injected into my soul. And I fear that not only will it be months before I can, but that what I will be able to indulge in will be severely limited. When the arts return, they will have been decimated by Covid and by Brexit. In whatever shape they do return, I will be there, trying and failing not to cry, feeling all the things I’ve not allowed myself to feel this year. They will pour in and out of me and I will break down I am sure. I will weep at the ugly beauty of a Donatello again. I will fall to my knees in prayer to a God I’ve never previously believed in due to the power of an El Greco, I’ll stand in awe of Cezanne and Van Gogh like I always have and I’ll discover new artists and be changed by the way they see the world as I have been by Steve McQueen and Kara Walker and Mona Hartoum. And I will hold my hand behind my back to stop myself stroking the Rodin’s, however much I want to feel that beautiful marble beneath my fingers. I’ll discover strange museums and learn about all sorts of things, whiling away happy hours in gardens/ruins/stately homes/provincial art galleries and museums. I will.
I will also get to gigs again. I will get to sit in concert halls and stand in sweaty venues and share the experience of live music with a room full of strangers. I’ll get to gabble at the musicians afterwards and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to hold hands with Nils Frahm or hug Guy Garvey or weep all over Erland Cooper or Hannah Peel again. I miss you all so much. I miss every single thing. Even the terrible toilets. I haven’t really allowed myself to think about how much I miss live music for fear of it being too sad, too upsetting. But a huge part of me is missing. I feel the loss of live music in the way most people are missing the warmth of their loved ones I suppose. I have no loved ones to miss. I would be spending Christmas alone anyway. There is me and my boy and that’s pretty much all I’ve had for ten years. I’m used to a level of loneliness. I am also used to having art and music there to fill the void. Without them I have felt lost, confused and even more lonely. I am made of granite, but even rocks need support.
I also know I’ve been lucky in so many ways. I have a job, I’ve been allowed to do that job from home, neither me or my boy have been ill, I’ve not lost anyone close to Covid (or anything else), I have enough money coming in to keep the heat on and food in our bellies. I have enough life experience of tough times to draw on to know that somehow I’ll get through this. I know all of that and I am grateful for it. I still miss the things that give my life meaning and make me feel what it is to be human, music and art. Without them I feel the colour has been drained from my life and I used to live in glorious technicolour. My life was saturated and now it is muted, grey and shrouded with mist. Wouldn’t it be just heavenly to dance in rainbow coloured rain again?
This is the trouble with not writing for months. Words, when they do come, spill and slip and I’ve meandered without finding a destination. I am not sure where any of this leads me, you, us. I know I needed to get some of these thoughts out of head and share them with someone, anyone. Thank you for reading, and maybe come say hello @EmmaIsAChampion on Twitter, or @EmmaChampion6 on Insta. Take care of yourself and those around you. This will end. None of us know when, but it will.