Path through a field by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

I don’t how you’re doing but I’m feeling a big old tumult of thoughts and emotions about all the world has been throwing us in 2020. I can’t seem to settle to anything, there are so many BIG issues to try and engage with. If it’s not Covid-19, it’s Black Lives Matter, the looming recession, or the environment. They are all very important but I feel as though I’m constantly reeling. My nursing job is a never-ending carousel of changing working conditions and practices, in response to Covid. This week we have all been told to have our lunch in our cars as our office is no longer considered Covid secure. Even though we were previously told we shouldn’t be seen outside in our uniforms and without our masks on because it is bad for public confidence, we are now allowed to sit on the seagull poo splattered bench in the public park to eat our sandwiches if we would prefer not to sit in our cars. We are allowed to go home for lunch but would have to strip off at the front door, put our uniform straight in the wash, change into civvies to eat (although I suppose no one would know if you ate shivering in the nude to save a few precious minutes), and then put on a new uniform to return to work. Uniforms must be washed separately from the rest of the household washing at 60 degrees, as soon as they are placed in the machine. If we are not prepared to change and wash our morning’s uniform then we may sit in our gardens, assuming you have one (and it’s currently raining), and not change our uniform. Apparently this is readily achievable in a 30 minute lunch break. As long as you don’t want to actually eat any lunch. 

I wouldn’t mind if anybody could provide me with a decent rationale for this change. We’re rolling back hard won employment rights, like having access to fresh drinking water and hand-washing facilities during your lunch break, for the sake of what exactly? We haven’t been using our tiny staff room since the Covid outbreak began because of social-distancing restrictions, and we all sit two metres apart to eat our lunch in the office. Every day I walk through the office door and brace myself for a new slew of restrictions to try and remember, never mind fit into the working day. The children are the same at school, though their teachers bear the brunt of the ever-changing guidance. It’s as though public sector workers are in a real-life version of the children’s game ‘Lava’, where each moment of the working day is spent trying to stay upright on a wobbly rock during an interminable volcanic eruption. I think weariness has set in now too. We have all been working so hard and trying to stay positive for so long. I don’t often moan and I love my job, but today I’ve had enough. I’m going to take a break from the blog next week and regroup a little, but I promise to be back with a spring in my step the week after  🙂

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I’ve been thinking about how The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle was supposed to be out in the world this week, and in all honesty, I’m very relieved it’s not. What a strange time it would have been, to be launching a book! And then I remembered that I don’t think I told you about a blog post I wrote in June for the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) blog as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF) (there is a connection, I promise). You can have a read here.

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Mini adventures

The car I drive for work is a Mini I inherited from my father-in-law. Whether I’m negotiating tight passing places in narrow country lanes or squeezing into impossible parking spots in town, it’s ideal. It has a small boot crammed full of all my nursing equipment but not so large as to tempt me to carry too much. How many spare urinary catheters does one nurse really need? It is a faithful companion. 

Yesterday I pulled up outside a cottage in a quiet village, donned my PPE, and went inside with my colleague Sarah. About ten minutes into the visit, and knee deep in bandages, we heard a car alarm. The village in question is a particularly out of the way village so I joked, “I bet that doesn’t happen often around here. I hope that’s not my car.” We all laughed. I didn’t for one minute think it was my car! 

A few minutes later Sarah straightened up. She happened to look out of the window and her expression made me look too. I was just in time to see my Mini sailing backwards past the window. I watched it pick up speed as it sailed on down the hill, out into the lane, bounced off the hedge on the opposite side, rolled back into the lane, and then came to a standstill, lights flashing. I mustn’t have put the handbrake on properly! Apron flapping, I went racing after it. 

As I wrenched open the door, desperate to get my car out of the way of any oncoming tractors (they take no prisoners), an old man popped his head over his garden wall where he had been working on his beds and asked, “Did you mean for that to happen?” Did I mean for that to happen???!!! That is such a Devon thing to ask. No one rushes to a conclusion in Devon. Not if there’s the option of chewing the cud, considering the options for the next century or two. 

Thankfully my Mini was none the worse for its adventures. My antics made my patient laugh and were soon eclipsed by one of the team sending in pictures to the office of her disastrous hair dying attempts. Lockdown restrictions on hairdressers have led to desperate measures amongst my teammates. She had turned her hair blue, but we all consoled her, at least she hadn’t given herself chemical burns like another one of the girls last week.

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This is a photo from half term. I sat on the beach in the sunshine while the children pottered about in the shallows. No one needed a wee or a snack, no one was having a meltdown, no one was whinging, and there was no bickering. I tentatively pulled my book out of my bag, waiting for all hell to break loose. When it didn’t, I found my bookmark, scarcely daring to draw breath, and began to read. I felt as though I had reached the pinnacle of motherhood! My friend with teenagers scoffed at that!

Since then the rain has poured. My phone signal flickered on a WhatsApp call to grandparents yesterday afternoon. It was swiftly followed by a flash of lightning and a rumble of thunder, then the heavens opened again.  On my morning bike rides the river speeds past, swollen but by no means full. I am very glad of the rain. Watering just isn’t the same. A lot of my allotment produce seemed to be hanging on for dear life. Only the strawberries were flourishing. We must have eaten a whole punnet nearly every evening. I employ Little Owl to hunt them out for me. The strawberry patch is a veritable jungle.

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No more words

Patchwork view (Devon) by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

I haven’t watched the video of George Floyd’s death but I have seen the pictures. They transported me in an instant to ethics lectures during my nurse training. I remember the stunned silence when we learnt that it was doctors who supervised the mass killings in the gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps and pronounced the victims dead. I suppose I had assumed it was the guards. Nurses were involved too. It was nurses who headed up Nazi euthanasia programmes of disabled children. Our lecturer demanded to know how we were going to prevent ourselves becoming complicit in any such future horrors? In the time I have been away from nursing, Human Factors training has become a key tenet of healthcare staff induction programmes. A video is often shown of Martin Bromily, an airline pilot, describing the death of his wife Elaine, during a routine sinus operation in a British hospital (you can watch it here). Martin, incredibly, through his grief, began applying his knowledge of airline safety to the circumstances around his wife’s death.

One of the key questions Martin wanted to answer was why, even though the nurses in the situation knew that something was going very badly wrong, they did not act to prevent Elaine’s death. A key element of the answer was bound up in the concept of organisational culture. The Health and Safety Executive define organisational culture as “the way we do things around here”. “Culture forms the context within which people judge the appropriateness of their behaviour”, and it can have a dramatic affect. We absorb ideas and patterns of thinking from those around us, without even realising it is happening, and this influences both our actions and our inactions. Those nurses in Nazi Germany might have been loving mothers at home but they went to work and committed atrocities. My ethics lecturer wanted us to understand that ordinary people do bad, and at times, evil things. She wanted us to interrogate the ways in which we had already been socialised. As nurses she wanted us to be alert to the way in which the institutions we worked in would go on to socialise us, and urged us to be critical and self-reflective to prevent ourselves becoming tools of injustice. 

I wish I could say my ethics training worked comprehensively but human growth is traumatic. Certainly mine seems to be at any rate, and not just for me! I have made many mistakes in the past, and cringe to think of my thoughtlessness. I remember one particularly awful incident towards the end of a 12-hour shift, not long after I had qualified, in which my intention was to be kind but I got it very wrong. At the time, my lovely mother-in-law generously reminded me that I had done the best I could in that moment, being the person I was, and with the knowledge I had, but I still think of it. Maya Angelou puts it like this, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Of course, I am talking in the general about all the opportunities we all have to respect human dignity, stand against injustice, and understand the way in which culture influences us. Racial injustice is a specific aspect of that, with a long and horrific history. Far wiser, braver and more knowledgeable people than me are currently sharing their words on this. What is required of me at the moment is to listen, so, no more words, but…perhaps, I could share this… 

“It’s Good for the Soul”

This is a link to an article in the Guardian from the end of May.  It’s easy to feel that our actions count for very little. Whether it’s the environment, or racial injustice, what difference can we really make? The people in this article are ordinary, their eyes down, acting on their values, getting on with caring for a square of earth, unaware they were part of a patchwork of people doing likewise. And it turns out, that patchwork is making a measurable difference.

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Half term

Buttercup meadow by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley-co.uk)

The word ‘half term’ has lost a bit of its significance during lockdown. I mean, is it half term? Are we sure? Is it still May? And what day of the week is it anyway? But no, it’s definitely half term. We hurriedly applied for last minute annual leave when we heard the children’s school would be closed in preparation for the phased return of pupils next week. Our usual rota of grandparents, aunties or a holiday club not options at the moment.

It seems that schools all over the country are managing things differently according to availability of staff and the nature of the facilities they have to work with. My niece will be going in to school three days one week and two days the next. Little Owl, Finch and Wren will be going in almost full-time but will be taught each in a separate ‘pod’ of fifteen children based on age by three dedicated staff. Each pod will have an allocated area of the school building, and an allocated slice of outdoor space. Fortunately it’s a modern building which is easy to segregate. If all goes well with keyworker children, they will begin bringing back other year groups. The unspoken issue remains that under those conditions all the children won’t fit in the school and there won’t be enough teachers. It’s a logistical nightmare.

So we are dusting off uniforms and Finch is cross about having to wear collars again. And we watch the newly arrived swifts screech over head, and compete to spot blue tit bottoms disappearing through the front door of the bird box on the gable end.

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VE Day

On VE day most people down our street got out their deckchairs and sat outside their front doors. There was bunting strewn between houses, and we toasted each other with tea and scones. The kids rode up and down the street on bikes, scooters and skateboards, mostly social distancing, but very occasionally not when a rare collision occurred. No one could bear to tell them off. It was like a scene from my own childhood where every front door stood open, and packs of kids ruled the road, not cars. People cried to see each other in a way we never would have done before Covid. It made me realise the myriad of ways we humans find connection. Even those little everyday chats with neighbours on the street in passing, are strands that make us all feel part of a bigger piece of fabric. I talked with my Bulgarian and Israeli neighbours about how the war is remembered in their own countries. Later on a chap who does regular pub gigs got out his guitar, and even later a family of morris dancers jingled and hopped in formation. That bigger piece of fabric is so full of colour and pattern isn’t it?

The thing I missed most about VE day was talking to my mum and dad about family memories, and going through old photographs. I made up for it by reading about other people’s families, and there were so many wonderful stories. Today these photographs arrived in the post from my mum. My grandma was in the WAAF. The tale goes that she was conducting a parade in the market square of the little Welsh village where my Grandpa was from (he was a mechanic in the RAF). Being a shy girl she couldn’t really bear to shout, the parade descended into chaos, and then she got the giggles. I can well believe this because my grandma’s giggles were notorious. She was helpless to them, and generally infected everyone within earshot, until the whole room would be writhing around in uncontrolled mirth. My Grandpa saw all this and thought she was wonderful. Later on he spotted her on the top deck of a bus, and the rest was history. Don’t they look young? The picture of my Grandpa is from the beginning of the war, when he was 18.

These frothy, light-hearted tales are the ones they were happy to tell us but I know the reality must have been much darker. On my dad’s side, there were pilots shot down and POWs in both Germany and Japan. My nan nursed in London. People say it puts Covid into perspective but it doesn’t really. What they went through is unimaginable. The elation when it was finally over must have been enormous

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Buttercup strength

Letter from a child. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

I had a bit of a slump in spirits last week. Nothing had particularly changed, and perhaps that was the problem. There’s only so long you can go on gritting your teeth. Things remained intense, challenging, hot, and confined. And the juggling… I was fraying at the edges. I don’t think the speculation about the lifting of lockdown restrictions helped much either. 

One day after work, as I changed out of my uniform, I heard a rustling under the bedroom door. A letter was being pushed through. It was Finch. He had made it for me at school that day. It has real leaf and buttercup petal juice melded into it, with added squashed buttercups for good measure. Now it takes commitment to create such a letter! And just like that, everything seemed a little bit more bearable. 

We are all having our courage tested during this pandemic, and we are not out of the woods yet. If your courage fails you in the midst of confused advice and a myriad other strains, let me share with you some buttercup-infused love to restore your strength.

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Wacky dreams

Daisies in a Jug by Hannah Foley. All rights (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

In general, I tend to have pretty wacky dreams, and unusually for most people, I often remember them in vivid detail. During this pandemic, my dreams have got a whole lot weirder. The other night I dreamed I was an international spy in full spy get-up, complete with balaclava and night goggles. During an epic heist I successfully stole secrets from an evil corporation which was trying to enslave the planet. Unfortunately my getaway was ruined when I had to go back to use the loo. Psychoanalysts would have a field day!

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A bright pebble

I found this pebble hidden on the path outside one of my visits this week. The neighbour’s front window was open a small crack. Inside the house, children’s heads bobbed around the windowsill, trying to hide, but desperate to see. It was hard to ignore the stifled giggles and shrieks of excitement but I managed not to look in their direction. I did my best grin (so they could see it from a distance) and exclaimed loudly, “How beautiful! That has made my day!” Then I carefully hid it somewhere else for them to try and find again once I had gone.

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