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  • Writer's pictureHelen Cottee

24 hours

24 hours ago I was sat on a tiny red chair teaching two four-year-olds how to halve blocks into two piles.

we had sheets with ladybugs with numbers of spots, blocks and bricks and pencils and stickers on jumpers when we managed to understand that 2+2 equalled 4.

these are the children allowed into school, we have about 7 most days.

we try to keep things normal whilst the world spirals into confusion.

we remind these small people that 2+2 will always equal 4, whatever is going on in the real world outside our gates.

the four-year-olds aren’t concerned about covid, they’re simply being four-year-olds.

they tumble and learn and watch and argue and count and colour and eat their packed lunches.

i notice the same with my daughter, they have adapted to the changes and are simply being themselves.

they don’t naturally hold anxiety, they’re too busy running and scraping their knees and eating apples.

we sit in the staff room and compare lives.

no traveling.

feeling odd to be allowed out to work.

the good and bad of being stuck inside with your people.

the amount of baking and board games and Netflix.

we eat lunch and laugh, we read updates and worry.

the head teacher sits for just a few minutes before the next zoom meeting.

more changes to navigate, more things to implement that didn’t exist two weeks ago.

we’re all great at zoom these days.

we plan lessons that may never get taught and provide work for weary parents who are being full-time parents, teachers and holding down uncertain jobs.

we keep smiling because they need us to keep smiling, they need normal and we are one spot of normal on a not-normal landscape.

we do Joe Wicks, not in the way some of us would like, i’m not sure we’re getting better but we’re joining in.

Joe Wicks will be an over-riding memory of this season, curious really.

another zoom meeting, marking of emailed worksheets, more coffee (see, some things don’t change), a quick trip to get milk. we can still get milk.

it feels odd to be in a shop.

i glance around for toilet rolls, there still aren’t any.

we’re down to our last couple of rolls.

the end of the day comes round sooner than it used to.

some ‘farewells’ to new colleagues I’ve only know for a handful of days but have become a big part of my new normal.

my return to teaching has been unusual to say the least.

this is my last day before easter holidays, my final bit of routine will stop for a few weeks, I feel sad.

it’s strange to say but this has been a weird life-line as well as an overwhelming learning curve.



pizza tonight because i’m tired and it still feels like a treat.

treats are becoming more important, like Saturday aniseed balls as a kid.

they mark time and moments because not much else does anymore.

i pour a beer as my oldest friend facetimes me.

she checks in at the right moment, i’m feeling wobbly.

some personalities are finding the social isolation easier than others, some are finding the being stuck in the house with your people easier than others.

my type (i’m an enneagram 4) seem to feel isolated even stuck in a small space with our people.


she makes me feel a little less alone as I cry a bit and laugh a bit and simply allow myself to feel the strange sensations of being in an unfamiliar world.

she leaves me better than she found me.

i hug and kiss my kids, give back-rubs with lavender oil, chat about their day – school from home, laptops, videos, zoom – normal but not normal.

i do a jigsaw puzzle with my daughter – side by side – spending time together we didn’t have until we were forced to have it by half of the world shutting down.

i sit with my son as he races a car on a computer game, he hands me a control.

he knows i suck and neither of us care – this is our way of being together, by me joining him in his 13-year-old world.

i don’t need to be able to race a car, i just need to be willing to.

the three of us watch two episodes of ‘friends’ – we’re starting season one together…

i wonder if they’ll tell the story one day of how they binge watched friends during the 2020 lock-down like i tell them i watched it sat on my first boyfriend’s sofa laughing at the same jokes.

i tuck them in bed and go into my room.

i message my small group, i tell them i’m struggling.

they all live in america and feel a million miles away.

one pours two glasses of wine and videos herself on the deck as an invitation.

my soul accepts.

another plans to send a guy in a dingy to bring me over, it may take a while but the sentiment lands immediately.

my sadness is soothed by kindness and friendship and laughter.

another sends hearts and hopes and i feel myself coming back to my body, grounding, settling.

this is how feelings are here – they appear quickly and violently and pull you under before you can take a breath and then let go just as quickly.

i fall asleep.

i wake at 6.50 and sit with coffee and my dog.

this is how 6.50am has always been and i’m grateful this found a way into the new world from the old one.

the kids arrive with breakfast requests and sleepy faces.

there’s lots of lounging and cuddles and pastries and requests to clean teeth before they have to log on for a new day of schooling-not-at-school.

i look at the news updates.

a 13 year old died of covid last night in london.

i can’t help but cry as this one feels closer to home.

a mother without a son.

a family forever scarred by this disease.

i hear the children are settled so i grab the dog’s lead.

i feel a long walk coming on so i decide to walk the perimeter of the village.

a friend facetimes in, it’s good to see her face, i miss her.

we chat as i walk.

it’s easy because there’s almost no-one around.

the roads are nearly empty, as are the skies.

i can hear birds instead of planes.

after we hang up i keep walking.

in total on a 1 hour 37 minute walk, i pass 7 people.

every single one of them smiles and we always say ‘hello’.

this is a new thing and it’s beautiful.

i’m so conscious of bird song, was it really always this loud before?

the sun is shining which is a tremendous gift and makes every day at least 200% easier.

i only have to stop at one road for a car, before this the streams of traffic were unending.

it’s quieter, cleaner, softer, slower.

i see several parcel delivery trucks and four food delivery vans.

people are running, they may have run inside before this, the gyms have emptied on the pavements.

some obviously didn’t but are starting a new normal with thrown together running gear and stumbling steps.

i smile at each one – i want them to know i see their effort and that they should feel no shame that this is hard because it’s new.

i wonder if we’ll be fitter after this as well as kinder and smilier and slower.

i keep walking, because i may as well.

my day is no longer full of work calls and clients.

most clients are cancelling – money is scarcer now.

i suspect an onslaught when they genuinely accept my offer of coaching without the price tag, but for now they’re simply putting the pieces together of their new lives.

so i have space and time, so i walk and smile and hear the birds.

the play park is wrapped in red and white tape.

in the past two weeks the shouts and screams of happy children have become infectious in a dangerous way rather than a joyful one.

so the parks are tightly bound shut and the joy has to be contained in gardens and homes.

i wonder when these play parks will be resurrected full of sound and life again?

i keep walking.

i do the covid-dodge on the narrower paths when someone is coming the other way.

we’ve all learned to read who will side-step, which one of you will hang back as the other passes.

sometimes one will glance behind and dodge into the road.

the dogs always greet even if the humans can only smile from a distance.

an old lady walks down the middle of the pavement.

there’s no way to covid-dodge if someone is taking up a whole path.

i frown and then see her happy face.

i re-fix my smile and just walk in the road as she boldly claims her path, seemingly unaware of the new etiquette of hugging the edges of pavement.

i wonder about this lady for longer than i usually would.

i’m almost home when we have an awkward runner, dog walker, pedestrian situation, we all get through it appropriately distanced.

we all smile, knowing this may just be the only story we have to tell our people later.

i have a client call in about an hour.

once i’m home i sit with another coffee and a scone.

butter, jam, space.

no longer do i eat on the go, chewing as i type.

no longer do i feel the need to push-push-push to get clients onboarded.

time has slowed down and so has the push for getting-more.

a little seems enough these days.

so now i choose to spend this time on coffee and scones in the sunshine.

later i’ll do work.

for now i’ll simply enjoy the taste of my food.


i hear one of my children on a call with a classmate.

the other one appears for a snack.

the dog gets fed.

i wonder about going to the supermarket but i know that takes longer so i choose to leave that for tomorrow.

we still have freezer food.

i find my headphones for my call.

this is now our life.

it’s new.

it’s hard.

it’s beautiful.

it’s slower.

it’s more connected.

it’s unknown and full of fear.

it’s smiles and video calls.

it’s time for a walk.

it’s the same and yet it’s completely different.

the planes have gone from the skies but 2+2 still equals 4.

i wonder again what it will do to us and for us, despite us and through us.

i wonder what will be permanently changed and what will be return again someday.

i wonder about the stories we’ll tell the generations later who didn’t live through this.

i wonder how it’ll change the world.

i wonder how it’ll change me.

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