Warning: this blog contains gratuitous scenes of overt navel-gazing.

When the first lockdown was imposed almost a year ago now, most people approached it as a challenge to be overcome. In those early days of weekly communal clapping there was a sense of “we’re all in it together”. It was an opportunity, we decided, to get fit, learn a language, rebuild a bit of the house, take up crafting, or even write a book – the one thing I did actually do! We would be strong and positive and make the most of the time. The sun (mostly, even here in Argyll) shone on our efforts, we got a sort of Dunkirk spirit going, and emerged ready to get on with our lives again.

Now we’re back in the throes of it, and I’m finding it much, much harder this time around. I know I’m lucky. I don’t have a front-line job. I am used to working from home. I don’t have to contend with home-schooling kids or being furloughed with no promise of a return to work. I miss my family desperately but we keep in touch and (touch wood) we are all coping in our own way. Plus, I live in a beautiful part of the world, with a big garden.

But some days, telling yourself how lucky you are still doesn’t get you out of bed. The weather is dull and driech, the days are short and cold, and most importantly, there’s no end in sight. Harnessing hope is exhausting. Whatever positivity I wake up with has too often gone into hiding by lunch time and tracking it down again is sometimes just a step too far. So I clean the bathroom or do the ironing or just faff about on-line looking at clothes I’ll have no occasion to wear any time soon.

I know, from friends and family, and from social media and every other kind of media, that I’m far from being alone. I’m not the only one turning away from working out with weights and putting it on instead. I’m not the only one consuming comfort food and cocktails in unhealthy amounts. (And when it comes to this, lockdown has opened up a whole new world. Thanks to Tony’s Fresh Fish van and the shenanigans of Brexit, I can get any amount of fabulous Scottish seafood because it’s not being exported. And then there’s online shopping. Who knew that you could get tinned snails, a French grapefruit liqueur, a Spanish sherry-type vermouth all at the click of a button!) It doesn’t help that since January I’ve been locked in a battle with my current work in progress, which has had more false starts than an Olympic sprint final. Every morning I wake up thinking, this is the day I’ll crack it. And by lunchtime, it’s me that’s cracked, and I have the ominous feeling of version umpteen looming.

But enough, already. I am sick to the back teeth of listening to my internal whinging. Okay, so the book isn’t finished and I’ve a few pounds to lose, but in the grand scheme of things, these are very small fry. It’s time to get a bit of perspective back, and to find a way of being positivity-R-us for more than a few hours at a stretch.

First things first, I’m going to stop being so hard on myself. I’m terrible for setting ridiculous targets, for writing enormously long lists, and then beating myself up when I fail (as I always do) to achieve all of it. It’s hard to be creative at the moment, so any words I get done I am going to be chuffed with, even if I have to delete them the next day. Unless I have resorted to writing All work and no play makes Marguerite a dull girl, over and over. Then I really might have to re-think as I have no desire to star in a remake of The Shining (Heeerrrzz Marguerite!!).

I have the attention span of a gnat right now. I mix up words – the other day I announced that I couldn’t find the hairbrush to put the soup out with. I bound into rooms and then stop short, wondering what I’m doing there, or stare vacantly into a cupboard I’ve just opened. I don’t often forget how to finish my sentences, but occasionally I …. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said, no need to write that down, I’ll remember it, and then a few hours later said, what was that thing I said I had to remember? It’s not an age thing (well, not wholly) it’s a lockdown thing. So really, anything coherent I get on the page I should be patting myself on the back for having achieved, not castigating myself for having only written 500 words instead of 2000. Basically, my ethos is going to be that it’s better to do something than nothing, no matter how insignificant the something is.

I’m applying that to my exercise regime too. I’ve been working out with Jillian Michaels for about five years now and I’m a huge fan, but increasingly a commitment of half an hour (which in Jillian-speak is twenty minutes) is just too much to contemplate. My sisters and Mum discovered Pamela Reif on YouTube and once I got over thinking that I was being unfaithful to Jillian, I tried a few of her routines out. The workouts are ten to fifteen minutes and very targeted, and there’s an incredible range, so you don’t get bored doing the same one over and over. It’s much easier to coax yourself into ten minutes than half an hour, and it’s very easy, once you’ve done say, Happy Cardio, to then commit to ten more minutes of abs and after that, ten more minutes of legs. Hey presto, half an hour, but it doesn’t feel like it. And even if you stop after Happy Cardio, then that’s ten more minutes than nothing. Jillian is still my go-to workout guru when I have time and energy, but Pamela helps me through the can’t-be-gassed days. I’ve also managed to convince myself into doing twenty push-ups and fifty squats mid-morning while I’m waiting on my herbal tea brewing, and it’s amazing just how smug I feel at the end of it.

And now for a paddle in the shallows of my psyche. I am SICK of wearing the same clothes. I miss my shoes and my bags. I am tired of just stuffing my overlong split-ended hair into a scrunchie. Last week, when I was invited by the lovely people at the Greenock Philosophical Society to give a zoom talk, I was so excited by having the opportunity to put on real clothes and do my hair and nails, that I forgot my terror of video conferencing to large groups – well, almost.

The result of an extended period in front of the mirror made me feel way too much better about myself than it should have but there, I’ve already admitted to being shallow. I am not going to start writing in full make-up every day – with a starting time of six in the morning, mirrors have no place. But I have started messing about with my hair. I invested in something that claimed it would give me mermaid waves a while back and I’ve finally taken it out of the box. To be honest, it reminds me of what we called crimpers back in the day, two red-hot plates that sizzle your hair into what the flappers called shingles, I think. But I quite liked the result, and if nothing else it was different.

Only on the very worst of days have I remained in my pjs, but leggings and yoga pants have slowly taken over. I looked longingly at my tightest jeans and decided that the battle to fasten them would probably kill me, but I have some ‘boyfriend’ style pairs that are now waiting in the queue to be worn – these are the kind that are supposed to hang loose on the hips, but I’ll be pleased if I can just get them fastened. I read yesterday in the paper that Bridget Jones-style big enormous hold everything in pants are amongst the most popular purchases from Markies at the moment, but that is one trend I’m going to buck.

Me and my sisters have been arranging and re-arranging our various girly weekends for the last year. Our next target is to get together for my mum’s eightieth birthday at one of my sister’s houses. It’s a standing joke that my sister will have a hot tub installed for the occasion. Whenever it happens, and whether she does or not, I’m determined to have a hot-tub ready body, and to finally get the chance to wear my sparkly polka-dot Converse.

And before that, there is a small matter of a book to finish. Yes, I did another big revamp of it yesterday, and I’m about to delete most of it and start again, but it is now coming very close to the vision I’ve had for it. I’ll get it done, one way or another. I shall keep writing. I shall keep posting my ‘good morning’ pictures on Twitter, and enjoy all the lovely comments I get. And I’ll keep making soup!

Onwards and upwards. And when that doesn’t work, there’s always martini.

How are you coping with Lockdown II? Does any of this sound familiar? Engaging here and on social media is one of the things that has helped keep me going, so please do share your thoughts and experiences.

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  1. Virtually everything you’ve written sounds familiar to me! I’ve managed to put the stone back on that I lost between September and December.

    I struggle to focus, stare vacantly at the computer screen and manage to spend far too much time on FB! I try hard to edit my book so that I can submit it to the RNA NWS for a critique. I do manage to start umpteen new pieces which grind to a halt after about 5000 words! Each time I hope that will have given me a fresh view of my book but no – it’s sticking just as much as before.

    I am lucky that I have a lovely husband whose company I enjoy and who has taken on all cooking duties so that I can write, but I feel really guilty when he brings me coffee and I’m busy writing a review for goodreads. Part of my research (read the genre you’re trying to write), led me to subscribe to Mills and Boon’s we love romance App. So i have read an inordinate amount of books and then I fell impelled to review them – when I should be writing!!

    One thing I have tried hard to do is shower every morning, blow dry my hair, put on perfume and earrings and choose something nice (but comfortable to wear! Seasalt tunics and leggings are marvellous!

    As a way of seizing control, last night we booked a cottage pn the west coast south of Oban for May because cottages appear to be getting booked up fast – fingers crossed – we’ll be able to travel from Perthshire by then!

  2. I am desperately jealous of those Converse! I’d wear them around the house just because I could, LOL. I’ve never been one for clothes, but I am a shoes gal. I’ve missed being able to wear my boots this winter!

    The struggle is still real over here. Its hard to stay positive. Yes, I’m lucky that I have a job, but that doesn’t make it any easier to actually *do* it. I find myself developing mental blocks against the silliest things, tasks that wouldn’t annoy me nearly as much if I was going to the office every day. I’ve struggled mightily with the work/life balance now that I’m confined to a small dwelling most of the day.

    I was talking to a friend who’s stuck working from home in Australia, and we realized that neither of us has taken a sick day in we can’t even remember how long. It’s hard to justify not working because you’re sick when you’re working from home, you know? You can work from bed or the sofa or wherever, and you don’t have to be feeling 100% to answer email.

    It’s going to feel extremely weird to go back to the office again, if I ever do. I’m so far removed from that routine that sometimes I wonder how I ever got into it, LOL!!

    What’s new for me? I’ve been swatching my nail polish collection these past few weekends. I’ve needed to organize the army for awhile now, but I never expected this process to be as much fun as it has been. It’s certainly brought quite a bit of color into my life! Its easy to forget how many beautiful colors are hiding away in storage, or exactly how many limited edition collections you managed to find over the last decade. I want to wear ’em all, right now, but I don’t have that many fingers (or toes), LOL!

    1. Nail polish swatching and shoes. You are a woman after my own heart. I have a huge box of nail polish, and I just cleared out a whole load of colours that I won’t wear any more and handed them into the custody of one of my nieces. Do you know the author Marian Keyes? She is also an addict, and regularly posts on her blog/twitter/instagram about her ‘nail polish museum’. I must admit, I’ve stopped putting any on but I’ve not stopped buying them, so you’ve inspired me to follow your example and to experiment with a variety of colours.

      I hadn’t thought about your point on sick leave because it doesn’t apply to self-employed people like me, but it’s a very interesting and worrying one. Way back in my office days, I did start to work the occassional day from home and always found that I got through masses more work more quickly. I wonder if this is still the case, in which case people should, when they have the choice to go back to the office, have acquired a better work/life balance or if lockdown guilt means that employers simply get a lot more bang for their buck? (Incidentally, I’m writing this from my new home office, which I sorted out after your comments on a previous blog. I bought an office chair and moved into the dining room/sewing room, just to make the break between living and working, and I’m astonished at the difference it’s made. I get a different view too, of the back garden where the black birds are nesting and right now a red squirrel is foraging, so thank you, I don’t know why I resisted it so much.)

      We are waiting here in Scotland to hear about our moves to come out of lockdown over the next few months. It should be hopeful, we should be able to start planning. I hope it will make me get my act together and get on with this book. We’ll see. All we can do is hang in and keep going.

      1. Marian Keyes doesn’t ring a bell for me, but I’m always up for checking out a fellow polish addict’s collection! 😂 Amusingly enough, over the last couple of weekends that I’ve been doing this swatch project, I haven’t actually painted my nails, go figure! Just as an FYI, if you decide to go down the swatch route, I’m using these sticks from amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07RSBDHP3/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o01_s01

        I’m glad my previous comments have inspired you to change up your work environment! I’m looking forward to being able to move back into my creative space at some point – I’ve always had it situated so I can look out the window, no matter where I am. That helps me to think, especially if its a view that’s not particularly busy.

        I saw the announcement of easing out of lockdown on your side of the pond, but I’m still skeptical. We are not done with this virus, even with the vaccine in hand, so I just hope all those people who rushed out to book a holiday aren’t disappointed when they have to scrap their plans at the last minute (again) because of collective stupidity bringing on yet another surge.

        1. I have only ever seen these swatch sticks in the beauticians, I didn’t even know you could buy them. What a brilliant idea.

          We had our Scottish lockdown map announced (partially) yesterday, and are running a bit behind England. Even within my family, that means lots of people wanting to do different things at different times, some of them desperate to stretch the rules to the limit, others super-cautious. Of course I judge in my head, but I try to keep my thoughts to myself, because everyone struggles with different things. And that’s another thing I reckon I have learned in the last year, how to be be kinder (or at least how not to be unkind, might be a better way of putting it). We’ll see how it all pans out, and how permanent it all proves, but spring is coming, and my garden is growing, and if nothing else gets better the weather will, so I’m looking forward to that.

  3. I love Pam workouts and definitely, I will check out Jillian as well. I discovered her after the first lockdown when I gained 8 kg testing Tiramisu recipes 4 or 5 times a week and enjoying way to many Pornstar Martini that I learned to make at home. I was strict till before Xmas and lost around 4.5 kg but lost my way again till February but, luckily I didn’t gain any more weight.

    I have been switching between working part-time and furlough as here in London, the situation sucked. I paid way too many visits to the fridge and the cupboard when and I learned to cook food that’s not good for me when I was too bored.

    I lost track of the days or if it’s day or night. I have to check my phone or luckily my boss reminds me of the day before that I have to work not to forget to set my alarm for the days when I have to work.

    Usually, I am not big on going out on weekends but blimey even me the homebody that does not go out from Friday till Monday in a regular week feels the need to go out to the local pub (which I still dislike after 14 years of leaving in the UK) if I can get to my fave bar in central London.

    The same as many others I spend my life in leggings or pyjamas. The other day I got dressed, did my hair and put makeup on just to go to the supermarket to cover my face with a mask only to see idiots that argue with the security guy in Tesco that he refuses to wear one. What a joy for them to be in that situation when they get verbally abused every day only by having to go to work and my sister that works for an NHS clinic has to put herself in danger for people being irresponsible and not respecting the guidelines as many others that simply do not care.

    Hopefully, we can see insight into the light from the end of the tunnel if everything goes accordingly to the plan the government has. At the moment feels a bit wired thinking that we have to go back to the office as I am enjoying working from home.

    Social media, Goodreads and my kindle helped to keep myself in check so far and to be honest, have been a blessing.

    Good luck with your book and fingers crossed that everything will come together when you least expected.

    1. Hi Emma. I am feeling very reassured to know that my experience is chiming with people, even if it’s not the best of experiences (and it’s always lovely to hear from a fellow martini fan!). I love to cook (and eat) and am turning more and more to comfort food too, which unfortately means high calorie! I think the fact that you’re fighting back is the important thing, and you’ve proved you can do it on the weight loss. And yes, hanging in with the exercise so that when you do lose the weight there’s a nice shape under there. Jillian is tough, but I think some of Pam’s abs and leg workouts are harder, only they are easier to do because shorter, if that makes sense. What Jillian is great for is a good all round workout. I use her DVDs but she has a youtube channel that’s worth sampling.

      I was thinking the other day, on the work front, that what we call ‘normal’ is going to be changed forever. I know lots of people like the social interaction, but I also think that they appreciate the time that can be saved on travel, so I’m betting that where it’s possible most people will opt for a mixture of home and office. Which will radically change our big cities, but is that a bad thing, or progress? (One of the exciting questions, for my sister who is a strategic planner.) Here in Scotland we’re going to be running a bit behind coming out of lockdown, but it does seem like I’m going to be able to have outdoor coffee with a friend sometime in April, and I’m going to let myself start looking forward to that.

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Let’s hope the next time I post about lockdown it will be about coming out into the light.

  4. Everything you said here – totally resonates with me. I am struggling to focus, to keep a thought in my head for more than three minutes, or address all the editing issues I have in my book which I aim to submit to the RNA NWS by the end of April!

    My lovely husband has taken over cooking duties (he’s better than me anyway) so that I can focus on the writing. However, I feel incredibly guilty when he turns up with coffee and a biscuit and I’m perusing social media or busy writing a review for Goodreads or cutting out suitable articles from my Writers’ magazines or reorganising my filing!

    Last year I lost a stone by September and guess what – I have now put it back on – plus a few extra pounds for good luck. I try really hard to keep to a morning routine: shower, blow dry hair, perfume, earrings and something nice (but comfortable) to wear. Seasalt tunics and Crew leggings are just perfect. How I will get back to wearing smart shoes after lockdown is anyone’s guess.

    I know I’m lucky to live with someone whose company I adore because I can only imagine what cracks must have appeared in relationships over this last year with all the stresses in this Covid era.

    1. You’re so right about living with someone whose company you love, Susan! And one who does all the cooking too – what a lovely man. Guilt is the easist thing to feel and the hardest thing to get rid of, but as I said, you have to learn to be kind to yourself. You can’t sit and write for hours on end, and you need to give your brain a rest inbetween, and at least you’re staying on writerly-type social media! (And you’re well-dressed while you’re doing it – I am writing this in my pjs.) The weight loss is something we’re all struggling with, but I think it’s partly a winter thing as well as a lockdown thing. Our bodies are designed to store fat when it’s dark. When spring arrives we’ll all be energised and start shedding. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. In the meantime, go you – and keep writing, you can do it.

      1. Oh I’m definitely going to go with the ‘storing fat when it’s dark’ theory. I think your thoughts about being kinder (especially to oneself) are really important and I agree. I think the anticipation of Spring is very inspiring. As it’s wet and windy today, George is out clearing and cleaning the greenhouse ready to start stuff off. The snowdrops in the garden and buds on my some of my shrubs tell me Spring won’t be too far away and the weight will fall off! Fingers crossed!

  5. What a lovely discovery this is, I so sorry that I haven’t found your blog before now Marguerite. Agh lockdown smockdown it really is a tough one. I started Spring Cleaning today and I am the last person to rush to do any housework in normal times. Now if you ever want a second opinion on your book, I’d be happy to do an alpha read for you. I’m twiddling my thumbs here, although there is always my list of books for review, but, sometimes a girl just needs to get her teeth into something else ( that has no calories!)

    1. Hi Rosie, lovely to see you here. I am hoping that the arrival of spring and the longer days will make us all feel a bit better – and the hope of coming out of lockdown too, of course. I have had my head down trying to finish my lockdown romance, and am in the process of writing a blog about it – and the trials and tribulations of trying write real life into historical! Thank you for the very generous offer of an alpha read, I will definitely bear that in mind – and I have you down for an ARC of this one when I have it.

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