This week #FriendBlogFriday welcomes Cosi Doerfel Hill, a lady I’ve known for many years, since my days of student living. Cosi runs, ‘The Octopus Project,’ a community group that provides fun, educational experiences, away from computer screens, for children of all ages, in outdoors spaces. Cosi is also involved in the, ‘In Limbo Project,’ which gives a voice to the 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK post Brexit. Cosi is a fascinating and multi-talented woman, and I’m thrilled to have her with us today.
What I have been up to in Lockdown ?
We currently find ourselves in a novel and unusual situation, but this being a global “we” is also novel. Every country in the world has been affected by the current pandemic: my friends in Japan, Cameroon, Australia, the Caribbean and Brazil as well as my relatives in Germany and Italy now share this experience. The countries of course have not all responded in the same way and likewise the effects of quarantine and lockdown on each of us are quite different.
Even within my own family there are huge differences. I used to dream of home-schooling and was working from home for over twenty years until exactly a year ago when I started a ‘proper job’ for the first time in my life; working 9-5, Monday to Friday, in an office. I joked that I had managed to dodge that bullet for thirty years!
Over the last year I have struggled with balancing the full-time job with motherhood and all my other activities. So, for me, lockdown is in many ways easy. I literally was in the office one day and working from home the next. I have everything I need right here at home and for the last three months have only left the house once a week to go shopping for food. Yes, I miss some of my colleagues whom I don’t have occasion to regularly speak to via video call and have made a point of reaching out to the odd one here or there with a little email to say hi.
Some aspects of the work are different and we have to work harder to achieve less, but others are easier, and I certainly don’t miss the daily commute. And yet… be careful what you wish for… It’s not all plain sailing! It’s neither hard nor a hardship, but it is very challenging.
First of all, I still have not managed to organise my work space. For a year my office was used as a dumping ground and I have not found time to organise it as there is always too much to do.
Speaking of time: it just flies! A minute ago the cherry tree in my garden was in full bloom! The bluebells at my front door came and went unappreciated, as I only go out back into the garden now. It feels like yesterday that I was waiting for the blue tits to take up residence in the bird house, but they have nested, reared their young and flown the nest already.
Not only is work keeping me busy – my social media have exploded and there is so much on offer online that I want to take part in. On top of that, there is more to do in the household as we now all eat every meal at home and cook everything from scratch. This week, for my birthday, we had the first takeaway in twelve weeks and it’s not like the husband or kids are particularly good with tidying up and cleaning.
Ok, I should say that hubby has been great about cooking more! However, he does not generally cope well with being out of work. For the last three months he has had to mothball his business and the support he received from the government did not even meet his overheads, so we are very thankful for my full-time job. If this had happened at any other time in the last two decades when we were both self-employed, we would have been utterly screwed. Mentally, he has actually coped remarkably well. He threw himself into the gardening and looking after his truck, as well as organising the voluntary group he helps with.
The ones who have really had to make the biggest sacrifices in our family are our children. We have two girls, aged 10 and 12, and this is the list of what they have had to miss out on:
Dance classes (ballet, modern, jazz), choir, singing lessons, gymnastics training, trampoline, creative writing, Guides;
Child two: guitar lessons, swimming lessons, gymnastics training, Brownies, archery. One-offs: Gymnastics competition, ballet exam, jazz exam, Brownies trip to an activity centre (last before moving up to Guides), medieval festival, 10th birthday party (she had been planning a picnic in the park and sleepover since before Christmas….giving this up really did hurt), music festival, Guides trip to Switzerland, Ballet scholarship in Devon.
And that’s completely besides not going to school. They are surprisingly un-bothered by missing out on school and for the first few weeks were very good about keeping up with the school work. Things have pretty much descended into full-time online gaming and watching EVERY video ever posted on t’interweb, but hey ho. They are still connecting to their friends via various platforms, sometimes they get dressed and sometimes they stay up way too late and then sleep late. They wash regularly and occasionally go out to the park. What more could I want? We all have the occasional meltdowns and I have taken the executive decision that we are each entitled to one meltdown per day. And then we pick ourselves up again, take a breath – and exhale! – and move on.
This experience has actually brought us closer together emotionally and although we cannot escape each other when there are clashes, we seem to understand each other better at other times. We know that we are fortunate: we have a house and garden big enough for each of us to retreat to their own space if needed, we have an income and food on the table and we are all healthy and above all, we have not lost any family members to Covid. My heart just breaks for my friends who have lost loved ones.
My husband is now slowly starting to take on new jobs, but spends a lot more time risk assessing them to ensure that he can do them socially distanced, which means that he only takes on a very small number of jobs. We’re adapting to a new normal.
At the start of this crisis, I saw many people completely unhinged by the sudden change and especially by the uncertainty. Of course I felt this as well, but somehow I think that I was able to deal with these emotions, because I have lived with a feeling of huge uncertainty for a little time which meant that I have learned to cope with it.
In the last four years my sense of belonging and my sense of home was repeatedly assaulted by political events completely beyond my control. You see, Thirty-two years ago, as a teenager, I moved from the country of my birth to my home where I gained all my qualifications and am now raising my children. Due to various political treaties between my original country and the country of my residence, I never needed to have an immigration status, but over the last decade or so the rights afforded to me have slowly been eroded. This was completely unbeknown to me until about three years ago when I discovered that the decision to become a work-from-home-mum when my kids were little meant that my right to having the same citizenship as those children was taken from me without me being informed of this.
I discovered that if I had become homeless I would have actually been in danger of deportation until I could secure an immigration status. This has completely turned my life upside down and I left my career of 25 years and gave up both my businesses. I contributed to a book project with my personal story and became a political activist, advocate for citizens’ rights and campaigner. I had to learn to deal with the heartache of politicians calling me insulting names, based entirely on the colour of my passport while at the same time taking away my right to change to a different passport, and had to find a way of staying sane despite ever-shifting deadlines and not knowing whether I would be allowed to continue living in my home beyond a few months at a time.
At several points the deadlines were shifted with less than a week to go. I had learned to live with uncertainty and an overwhelming, terrifying sense of foreboding. For me, going into lockdown was almost a relief, because it felt like whatever the foreboding was announcing had arrived. And this time it was a more universal and ironically less isolating experience as everyone else is in the same boat.
At the beginning of April, a friend of mine started some writing workshops and I joined for the fun of it, just to have a go at something different and not to let the opportunity pass me by, not expecting to find a new creative outlet to help me channel my feelings. Little did I anticipate that she would ask for a short story to submit to a new book project about this Strange Spring and what we wrote in isolation. Last week I submitted my first ever work of fiction, a short story about the daily reality of living in quarantine due to a virus which, although only a little more deadly than many other viruses, spreads and keeps people ill for a long time. This means that health systems struggle to cope with the demand for services.
A young man, living alone, adapts to working from home. His parents, his friends, each isolate in their own places. Some cope better than others. Some are able to work from home, some lose their jobs, some are able to use technology to bridge the gap and create connection to others, some get lonely. Eventually he gets sick, he succumbs to the virus, and his parents have to deal with his death. Writing my protagonist’s death was a surprisingly moving and cathartic experience – there I was in the middle of the night, dancing with a deadline, and tears were streaming down my face while my fingers flew over the keyboard.
It’s exactly three months ago today that I was last in the office and this time has certainly been filled with surprises. I don’t even want to try to imagine how different the next three months might be. We are certainly living in interesting times.
If you would like to learn more about Cosi, or connect on other media, please check out the links below:
@in limbo project
@dolyang herbals FORMER BUSINESS
@octopus project (a community group I run)
FB and Twitter