This is a longer read than usual, it’s my personal account of the year that shook the world. It is an everyday story of a woman in an uncertain age. This post is a journal-like reflection on my 2020 and a few thoughts on the future. My very deepest sympathies go out to any readers who have lost loved ones this year and my absolute love goes to those suffering this festive season. Each one of us has a story to tell, and mine will no doubt look like many others, unremarkable, but non-the-less here it is…
Woman Of An Uncertain Age
It wasn’t like it happened all of a sudden, not for me anyway. At work, the factories in China notified us of delayed deliveries due to a virus, days passed, then the news reported of a boat stuck offshore somewhere with passengers refused entry due to a contagious disease. We joked saying it was like the start of a Netflix series. Each day we would note which episode we were on, until one afternoon in early March. We huddled around a computer at work as Boris Johnson made an announcement, we watched as it broadcast live through the BBC’s Twitter account.
“working from home”
Well, that’s us working from home then. Off we went feeling like it was all a bit OTT, we’ll be back in a week or two, no doubt. That strange mix of nervous excitement, like when you get a snow day and stay off school. My survival plan involved stopping at the coop at Piccadilly train station, grabbing some frozen sausages, a bottle of sherry and a large bottle of passata.
Slowly the days warmed up, winter faded as the first signs of spring arrived, Manchester’s Northern Quarter was silent, shops were boarded up, the bird song was deafening. “self-isolation” became part of everyday vocabulary, towards the end of March I found myself googling “furlough” as I like many others, was placed in a sort of golden limbo, the no man’s land. With three months of free time, on eighty percent salary, what to do? Checking my list of goals for 2020, I found myself questioning whether I’d manifested this whole situation.
My goals for this year were lofty, involving some major shifts in my forward trajectory and weirdly reflected the situation I found myself in. I’d scribbled how I wanted to have time to dedicated to redesigning The Fabulous Times website, dreamt of spending a summer in the Northern Quarter instead of in an office, vowed not to fly for a whole year- for the first time in living memory. Here I was, grounded, with warm summer days to spend deciding on fonts and layout for the website.
Our bubble felt like a stark contrast to the world broadcast through the evening news. A contrast that brought a sinking feeling of guilt mixed with overwhelming gratitude.
I stocked up on seeds and began to grow, the windowsills lined with new life. Palpable contrasts filled my waking day, as the daily death toll of hundreds of thousands of lungs failed to overcome the grips of disease, the air quality in the city became so much easier to breathe. Self-isolation brought a feeling of connectedness as neighbours stopped and passed the time of day. As the virus spread globally, local communities joined in supporting one another.
I found comfort in simple joys, peppered with moments of profound sadness.
By June the sun was shining, we spent glorious afternoons basking in the sun on the bench we found and put in our makeshift “yarden”. Redundancy from my day job followed. This shift in my everyday routine coincided with the Black Lives Matter marches in Manchester, putting things into perspective. It was time for change.
If this was a Netflix series, I guess this would be how the first season ends.
Season 2: Into the woods
For some time, my attention had been slowly turning towards the climate crisis, opting to make my own cleaning products, shying away from plastic and finding my waking days considering how I can help, in my small way to clean up the grand mess humanity has made.
Ironically one of my 2020 goals was to change my focus career-wise, I found myself constantly questioning how I could use my powers for good, and here I was. My days laid bare, I pondered over the most impactful ways to utilise my time on this planet.
I read an article from Dr Jane Goodall, she blamed COVID-19 on the over exploitation of the natural world, telling of forests being cut down, species becoming extinct, communities being displaced by climate change forcing people to consume meat in a way that disease is able to spread from animals to humans like never before. She wrote how intensive farming is creating reservoirs of animal disease that would spill over to humankind.
This article took me back to 2014 when I went to the TEDx Talks in Liverpool, a lovely day out with my Mother. I recall distinctly Prof. Tom Solomon as he spoke of the perfect storm being created in which viruses can thrive and spread. This talk stuck with me as it was a poignant example of how everything is connected, no cell, human, virus, species, plant, animal, whatever lives in isolation.
We are all connected.
Every action (no matter how small) has a reaction.
For many COVID-19 wasn’t a shock, it wasn’t exactly predicted and of course nobody could have imagined the scale and extent that it has spread throughout the globe. However, for many years medical professionals have been talking about the connection between contagious viruses, increased human travel, overcrowded cities, agricultural changes, overuse of antibiotics, intensive farming, humans and animals being forced to live in close proximity due to poverty and climate change.
So here I was in the midst of a global pandemic.
For the past fifteen years in my day-to-day life, I’ve worked in the fashion industry, an industry although fun, the polluting reality had been playing on my conscience for quite some time. I knew that now was the time for change.
Scrolling through Instagram one morning I saw a picture of a cute curly haired pig. This cute creature shared by Ecologi (who are planting The Fabulous Times forest) made me stop and click through.
Turns out it was a job advert for an environmental reforestation start-up looking for a content and community manager, as soon as I read the caption, I said out loud “I’m going to do that job”. Which was a pretty weird thing to do, seen as though I was sat at my desk, alone. I wrote a letter and made my interest known.
In true 2020 style I had my two-stage interview via zoom, did a practical assignment and was offered the job!
Like many millennials, I have mostly always had a 9-5 and a 5-9 ish working life, maintaining a steady day job and running The Fabulous Times in the evenings, this balance suits me well and always ensures I keep learning, discovering and connecting with brilliant individuals. I was thrilled that my day would now be fully focused on reversing climate change and be in alignment with my beliefs.
Season 3: The ripple effect
By August the northern quarter was mostly pedestrianised, a utopian vision we’d often discussed and dreamt about. We ate Nell’s pizza in the streets (to help out) by day and were hooked on reruns of Miami Vice and the Equalizer by night. My hair grew to “unprecedented” lengths. Weekly we did a family quiz, mostly losing but smiling non the less.
September marked my parents 50th wedding anniversary, our plans to have a huge family party had of course been cancelled. My niece was in and out of hospital with respiratory problems throughout this time, not COVID-19 thankfully, but something unknown and worrying. I started my new job at The Future Forest Company.
As the leaves changed colour and the temperatures dropped, I threw myself into work. I joined a small team on a big mission, to buy up degraded land in the UK and restore it back to health, planting trees to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, creating homes for wildlife and improving the ecosystem. I was excited to learn, my days were filled with brushing up my knowledge of trees, animals, plants and finding out about climate solutions like Biochar and enhanced weathering.
Having worked in offices throughout my career, I was now working remotely full-time, a situation that suits my introverted tendencies. To avoid the usual melancholy of the changing seasons, I vowed to go out each day, typically early mornings, this simple habit helped me to notice the gradual changing of the seasons as the leaves dropped and frost slowly crept in.
Although we live in the city centre, I would walk for an hour or so around Phillip’s Park trying to identify trees and pay particular attention to the wildlife. Back in May I spotted baby deer playing amongst the headstones in the cemetery, in June there were bees ladened with saddle bags bursting with pollen, in July there was wildflowers and butterflies, in August biblical rain fell. September was ablaze with rich autumn colours and by October the floor was carpeted with twinkling, crunchy frosted leaves.
Amidst the majesty of nature, there was of course the drudgery of everyday constraints and anxiety induced by the constant threat of contracting the virus. I limited myself to consuming the news only once per day to stay up to date on any changes to restrictions, this helped to reduce anxiety. My daily walk helped me to reflect on how grateful I was for the health of my family, my friendships, Pickle the cat, and meant I avoided the pit of sadness I often found myself falling into around this time of year. Towards the end of November, I planted winter beans on the balcony, their faces heading for the limited December daylight.
“the Age of Aquarius”
The December winter solstice aligned with parts of the UK heading into Tier4 and Christmas celebrations being limited to a one-day meeting of households. We have passed the shortest day of the year. I read about the dawning of the Age of Aquarius where Jupiter and Saturn align for the first time in 400 years, marking the start of a new age. Astrologers believe that a new age affects humanity, possibly by influencing the rise and fall of civilisations and cultural tendencies.
How incredible and equally overwhelming it is to live through a major shift in human history. For some time now I have been professing about a green revolution, as inevitably things that are not sustainable eventually have to stop. This week, we watched Prof. Alice Roberts on TV as she walked through Manchester tracing the individuals who have stood up, protested and shaped our world. From the cotton mill workers who refused to enable slavery to continue to Emmeline Pankhurst who literally fought to get women the vote. Change started with the uniting of a small group who had belief, had hope for a better, more just world.
Fundamental shifts in humanities trajectory can start with one conversation. The ripple effect lasting decades. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius proved this back in 2015 as she stood hand in hand with representatives from across the globe following gruelling talks to reach the Paris agreement. The ripples of which we are still feeling, in 2020 alone we have seen the UK stop funding foreign overseas fossil fuel development, renewable energy stock out-performed oil and gas in the USA, several species like the big cuddly European Bison stepped away from the brink of extinction.
As the new year approaches, I’m planning ways to create a ripple in my own little way, from greening my daily shopping habits to connecting with change-makers whose work I will share with you.
Half an hour ago a stuck a swab so far up my nose that I sneezed. I waited for the line to show to tell me if I had contracted COVID-19. If this was the Netflix version of reality, the show would end here on this *cliffhanger.
But it’s not. And thank goodness no line appeared. So, I’m planning on enjoying a family dinner at my parents on Christmas Day. I want to thank you for reading The Fabulous Times this year and send my love to you as we navigate our way through this turbulent time, together. (That passata is still in the fridge)
Stay fabulous and have yourself a very merry Christmas, however that may look this year.