Corona Class #9

Imperfect positivity

I have read a lot of self- help books in my time; ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers, ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Toll and my personal favourite, ‘When I Say No I feel Guilty’ by Manuel J Smith. The one I am currently reading isn’t strictly a self help book it’s The Artists Way’ by Julia Cameron and is lauded by the self- appointed guru of Essex, Russell Brand as ‘A practical, spiritual, and nurturing book.’

I have enjoyed engaging with Cameron’s advice because it offers ways to access your creativity which, makes self improvement fun, and memorable. Usually with other books my renewed understanding of the world slowly fades within a month of reading it partly because I believe that, if I just follow the instructions everything will be fine.

Yet, happiness as most people know, is not a state we dwell in for long and to expect to live in a constant sense of well-being, joy and contentment is impossible. Yet, I think that is what a lot of self- help books promise to do. They provide people with hope that perfection is achievable if, you just think the ‘right’ way and if you don’t, you’re somehow lacking.

My Mum teases me over the amount of self help books I have acquired over the years and my naïve belief in their power to ‘fix’ my thinking. But I am not naïve enough to think that self- help books can ever take the place of talking to a trusted friend or a counsellor.

But those two things are not always readily available so for me, I find taking practical steps such as exercise and meditation are positive, practical steps which makes me feel better equipped to deal with my emotions.

During Covid 19, negative emotions abound, so there is a greater push for positivity which attempts to gloss over any legitimate and understandable negative emotions which people have. This myopic view of reality is known as toxic positivity.

For example, I recently broke my wrist and before the operation on my wrist I needed a Covid swab which would determine whether the operation could be carried out or not. “But” I asked the tired sounding NHS office clerk “What if the test is positive? What happens then? Do I just have to live with a broken wrist?” My attempts to ask the right questions and be practical were met with “Just try and stay positive”. But I didn’t feel I was being particularly negative, just practical. She probably wanted to give me a better answer but given the lack of knowledge and guidelines about Covid 19, she couldn’t.

I was understandably anxious and in normal times you could say I was ‘catastrophising’- a symptom of anxiety, but, this is the ‘new normal’ and the ‘new normal’ is pretty catastrophic for everybody, with or without mental health issues and dismissing those feelings isn’t going to make it any better.

The novelty of lockdown has faded and the survival mode that we needed to remain aware or productive is an unsustainable way to live yet, a common feature of everyday life. The enthusiasm for ‘making the most of it’, learning Spanish, baking bread and writing novels has worn away, leading to a disconnection with our true emotions.

I see a neurologist to help manage my epilepsy and he referred me to a neuropsychologist who, listened to me and gave me lots of practical advice on how to manage my condition which a counsellor cannot do. She gave me good advice on how to practically deal with stress and loneliness and during one session she showed me this video which totally struck a chord for someone who expects to be happy all the time:

It’s OK to be unhappy, scared or confused these are normal human emotions and no one is defective for having them, even if they are unwanted. I believe it is better to feel something rather than nothing because after all, indifference is not a human emotion and being emotionally numb is usually a sign of falling further down the greasy pole of depression. Although, in tough times, it’s understandable that indifference is preferable.

Now more than ever, life is hard, maintaining relationships is hard, but the need to remain mindful of our emotions and of other peoples has never been so important. Yes, be grateful for what we have, yes, do what we can to be healthy, but just drifting into a state of mindless positivity won’t solve anything. Because trying to hide or deny our feelings can lead to more stress.

Happiness is only one emotion on the spectrum of human emotions and belief that this is the ‘best’ one reduces the ability to differentiate between feelings and truly understand ourselves or the world around us. Being unwilling to ‘open up’ and grapple with difficult emotions stops us from getting emotionally close to people and our obsession with perfect positivity affects work life too; No job is ‘perfect’ no relationship is ‘perfect’ but some are worth putting up with if they add more to your life, than they take away.

Corona Class, Lesson #8


Insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results, Mark Twain was referring to addiction, which, is definitely worth a post given that lockdown has seen a spike in drug use

But I am not referring to a cheeky glass of Zinfandel of an evening but another addiction of mine: cycling. I love it, however, I had a reality check a couple of weeks ago when I fell off my bike and broke my wrist. But, when it heals, I will get back on my bike out of love but also, currently, out of necessity.

As the governement is warning people to avoid public transport they now have to reassess how people travel. For me, cycling is a no brainer: it’s fast, fun and free but for others cycling is a plan C after the car and bus. I see cars as moving death machines and don’t really understand their appeal so a £2 billion package to encourage cyclists in cities and decrease reliance on cars is a welcome chink of light.

However when I went to A&E for an X- Ray, the nurse said they had treated a lot more cycling related injuries, so with this in mind, I have compiled a list of cycling Do’s and Dont’s that I have picked up along the way but which, admittedly I don’t always follow.


  1. Wear a helmet. Enough said. Although my reluctance to get helmet hair, puts me off. But I need to ask myself, what would I rather have, brain damage or weird hair?
  2. Watch out for drains and metrolink tracks or you will get your tyre caught in them and fall sideways
  3. Invest in bike lights but make sure you take them off when locking up in public or there is no guarantee that they will be there when you get back
  4. Invest in a good Krptonite U- lock they are immune from bolt cutters
  5. Make eye contact with drivers, to make sure they have seen you


  1. Listen to headphones. On the road you need all your senses
  2. Stand on your pedals to speed up, use your gears
  3. Ride on the pavement, one of my pet hates, is trying to avoid getting knocked over by a cyclist who doesn’t know their place
  4. Jump red lights, drivers hate you for it
  5. Trust Audi drivers. People who regularly speed in fast cars generally have little regard for other road users

Obviously with cycling the risk of injury is an understandable concern but don’t let that put you off, cycling is great and you don’t have to tolerate standing underneath someone’s armpit, getting a waft of last night’s garlic breath and of course, risking exposure to Coronavirus on public transport.

Just like lots of areas of life cycling requires confidence to keep your balance and moving forward so have fun, but follow the Covid 19 mantra and stay safe!

Corona Class, Lesson #7

Living for the city

‘What is it that separates us from animals?’ asks Professor Bauer, the Anthropology teacher in the hilarious comedy, Community. ‘Tools!’ she declares ‘Like this blow gun I used to hunt monkeys in the Amazon’ upon which, she shoots a dart from her blow gun and tranquilises an annoying student with star shaped sideburns.

For now, most of us, apart from key workers of course, have literally downed tools and the streets are largely deserted. I regard the city as another ‘tool’ that is fundamental to carving out a life and is the ultimate testament to human endeavour. But without people using the city, what is it but a collection of roads and buildings?

Manchester has its fair share of beautiful buildings but it’s no secret that its friendly, talented people are just as good. People, give a city its purpose, meaning and soul. Equally, a city can give you a purpose, meaning and soul, in other words, an identity because ironically we need the need the identities of others to know ourselves.

As we roam around, we can see people who have made similar choices to us and recognise them as part of your ‘tribe’. We take part in ‘social display’ as described in Grayson Perry’s TV programme All in the Best Possible Taste our choices about what we wear and where we go, reaffirm our identity and send constant indicators about who we think we are.

Cities are a playground for expression, but with no where to go and no one to notice, we are forced to be at peace with our essential selves without the big bad city. Manchester based photographer Ahmani Vidal has captured Manchesters inhabitants at home, during lockdown, using Facetime, the portraits capture subjects at their most relaxed, away from the world outside.

There are 2.813 million people living in Greater Manchester, I use the same streets as everyone else, but it feels like no one uses them, the way I do. There is a formal version of Manchester in maps and tourist books and an informal version, your version. Those buildings which tourists admire mean something different to you because they hold memories that only you have.

Runner in Alexandra Park, Whalley Range

Everyone makes their environment their own. One of my favourite descriptive phrases is ‘desire lines’ those renegade paths which people create and are a common sight in parks now, from people keen to maintain their two metres distance. Desire lines are not on the official maps of Manchester, this is people making the city, their own and is described by some academics as a sign of ‘civil disobedience.’

For me, Manchester Central Library is not just a brilliant example of Neo Roman architecture, it’s a place where the smell of old books instantly takes me back to being twelve years old in my Mums office at the Library Theatre where she worked, or my first job there as a seventeen year old theatre usher. Despite this being twenty years ago (God, I’m old) as soon as I smell those old books the memory is as fresh as if I was seventeen again.

It’s a cliché but remembering something as if it ‘happened yesterday’ proves that our personal narratives are not just linear, they spread out too and are shaped by time and place. We can go for years staying the same and within minutes experience a fundamental shift in attitude depending on our, environment.

Although it is profoundly sad to see a once buzzing city centre, subdued and empty there is also a strange ethereal beauty to the empty streets and a strong will to make Manchester liveable again. This is captured beautifully by Luke Shepherd for Lemontape videos.

An empty city is like having a free house. At first you roam around it, doing what you want, feeling free but after a while with no one to share your space with, the novelty wears off and it’s pretty dull .

I am an eternal city kid and have never lived in any other environment but I am beginning to understand what it might be like to live in a small, rural village: seeing the same four people every day, with limited opportunities for entertainment and expression.

But this is not necessarily a love letter to Manchester or cities in general I understand that they can be crowded, smelly and unwelcoming places and now, more than ever it’s sweet relief to escape to the country. Being in nature frees you from small concerns which seem somehow of great importance in everyday life. You no longer have to worry about social display and have the freedom to just ‘be’. But, after a large dose of fresh air, I am ready to come home again and follow my own path.

Corona Class, Lesson #6

Whole Time You

I have travelled and lived in three continents and I am very proud of having the guts to go and look back on my times away from the UK with fondness. But, it was hard work: hot, stressful and at times, traumatic, travel is not always the fairy tale dream it’s perceived to be. Still, like any experience it has its high and lows, darkness and light.

I lived in Vietnam, teaching English, I loved living there but didn’t like teaching (my sole source of income) and after a year, I started to miss the UK and Europe in general. The majority of the friends I made were moving on too. But, I couldn’t hack the idea of going ‘home’ because I knew I’d have to pick up where I left off and there wasn’t much to pick up. I had few friends, no job and nowhere to live so I took the only sensible option: apply for another teaching job, in Spain.

Once I arrived in Spain it became obvious, after a month, that I wasn’t entirely committed to the idea of working in Spain and wasn’t enjoying teaching but stuck it out doggedly and comforted myself with sunshine and vermouth, a worthy distraction from my emotions but one which has no longevity and lacks self- awareness.

Fast forward to now and I am back in the UK self- isolating in a terraced house in Old Trafford, Manchester. But I am still me, whether I’m stuck at home during a pandemic or bombing about on a scooter in Vietnam. Despite some of the challenges I faced in Vietnam I felt refreshed and more appreciative of life when I got home and that’s the hoped for outcome with most travel experiences but, it took the situation to end, before I felt those feelings. Equally, now, people are hoping for a change in perspective and shift in values after Coronavirus even though the day to day existence in lockdown is, at best, tough.

House arrest has hit people hard, but no matter where you are geographically you are still you, emotionally and spiritually. It reminds me of a poem called ‘You’ by Dennis O’ Driscoll, ‘The earth has squeezed you in, found you space; any loss of face you feel is solely yours- you with the same all old daily moods, debts, intuitions, food fads, pet hates, Achilles heels.’ You cannot run away from yourself but you can learn how to manage yourself.

Equally being holed up at home, going on Netflix odysseys and drinking your weight in wine will distract you from reality but once the TV is off, at some point, you have to face how you feel there is literally no running away from it. Before this lockdown, I approached my problems by making innocuous to- do lists and doing something, anything, as a strategy to avoid how I felt, which can be just as unhealthy as wallowing in self- pity and watching TV to cope.

Before I even stepped foot on a plane I became obsessed with the book The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton which, says, ‘We are inundated with advice on where to travel to; we hear little of why we should go and how we could be more fulfilled doing so.’ The urge to escape is strong with anyone wishing to travel but if that’s your sole reason for going, you’re in for a rude awakening.

For most people your way of seeing while away from home, in new surroundings, is wide eyed and receptive, you’re ready to be educated and surprised from one moment to the next. But why can’t we apply this attitude to our ‘ordinary’ life? This idea is touched upon by the French philosopher Xavier de Maistre who applies the principles of wonder to his home life by not leaving his bedroom for a year and treating the experience like he was travelling in the big, wide world.  He published a book about this experience originally titled, Journey round my Bedroom.

He resolved to treat his surroundings as though he’d never seen them before and to consider everything as of potential interest. He followed his philosophy with a second book Nocturnal Expedition round my bedroom where he looks outside his window, collecting a few insights and wondering ‘What would it cost those who are out for a walk or crowding out of the theatre to look up for a moment and admire the gleaming constellations above their head?’ Maybe they were too busy talking about the play or on the 18th Century version of a parking meter?

Obviously time is an important component in this, as most people don’t have the time to soak in each and every moment and while I believe practicing mindfulness can help you appreciate life and improve mental health most people have pressing responsibilities which stare them in the face and prevent them from looking around. I have more time than most and whenever I am in a mindful, disposition the tendency to see the world the world as a fascinating place is strong.

I am by no means a Zen master but sitting with my emotions through meditation has helped calm my monkey mind. However I still carry around the same beliefs, memories and insecurities the only variable is how I manage them. Yes, distraction from reality can be a welcome respite from reality but it’s worth enjoying the things that you are ‘used’ to in order to not rely on distractions so much.

Obviously the situation we’re in requires a certain amount of stoicism and joyful feelings are in short supply and I am not saying that the bedroom is the place to be. I love being out and about; even stepping out into town can feel like an adventure if you approach it in the right way. But I am used to living a certain way and have learnt that I am reticent to take on new experiences for fear of them being crap. I lazily think that I know it won’t be fun so saying yes to things I’ve never done before is, in itself, exciting and enhances reality.

If joyful feelings have existed once, they can again and in order to deal with mundanity we can focus, slow down and access our sense of wonder to enjoy the things we once overlooked. Paying attention to detail is a wise use of time and time is a commodity most people have more of right now.  We can save up moments of joy or insight, cherish them and cash in those joy chips for when we need them most.

Corona Class, Lesson #5


Pandemic Patriarchy

In these funny old times of an unseen virus which, can be asymptomatic but be passed on to others we have to access our sense of collective responsibility in order to keep in control of its spread, but the one crucial piece of Coronavirus advice, to stay two metres away from anyone while outside, is easier said, than done especially when passing someone in the supermarket aisle or when sharing the pavement.

Pavement protocol has long been a preoccupation of mine long before the Coronavirus as I have been playing a game called ‘Patriarchy Chicken‘. Picture the scene: due to road works the pavement has been reduced to single file with a bit of room for manoeuvre on the road. I see a man walking towards me on the only available bit of pavement, it’s 50/50 who will move first but once eye contact has been made, it becomes apparent it won’t be me. I’m playing Patriarchy Chicken and I want to win. ‘So what?’ you say ‘It has got nothing to do with gender, that guy was probably in his own world.’ He probably was, most men are usually clueless not malicious. But women of the UK: try it. I promise, it’s a thing and the more you play it, the more you realise it is.

Ultimately we are all people and right now, all people have the capacity to be annoying, such as, couples who take up the whole path by holding hands and refuse to let go as though their relationship depends on it. But noticeably the demographic of people who think the two metre rule doesn’t apply to them seem to be young men. Out of the general population they’re one of the groups who are least likely to be adversely affected by Coronavirus and maybe that makes them feel immune, but again, being considerate is something we all have to do. In normal times the highest risk when playing Patriarchy Chicken was creating confusion, consternation and occasionally anger from men who are used to doing things their way.

The game now has higher stakes, it’s not just about making a point it’s about ‘staying safe’ a mantra we hear daily. Obviously staying safe comes first so I give way, walk into the road if necessary and grumpily tut. Patriarchy Chicken doesn’t seem worth playing because the point for me, was proven a long time ago, being aware and changing behaviour is the most important thing and it’s no longer about point scoring, it’s about staying safe, because if we’re all staying safe, we’re all winning.


Corona Class, Lesson # 4


I am isolating solo. My housemates are isolating with their boyfriends and I have the house to myself. Yes, I have shelter and enough food and my basic needs are being met but loneliness and sadness are still a natural consequence of my situation. Yes, I can remind myself  that others are worse off and yes I am lucky but it provides litle relief, it comforts me for a few moments but that’s all.

I use the app Presently it has been a useful app for me even in pre pandemic times . It helps maintain my awareness of the bigger picture and gets me out of my head. But the other day I found it hard to summon up one thing to be grateful for, it was a down day and on the down days food takes on more importance. My heart was set on a comforting meal of sausage and mash but I was lacking one vital ingredient: sausages. I went foraging in the freezer, found some old, icey veggie sausages and felt like I’d won a Zoom quiz.


Despite not being able to record any big declarations about who I’d met or what I’d done, being grateful for something, no matter how mundane, is better than being grateful for nothing at all.

In these times, it matters less about what you’re doing but more about how you’re doing it.  We can’t rush around doing eight things at once. We can’t go to the pub and moan about how we feel. We can’t go to town and lose ourselves in the crowd. So, I sigh, close my eyes and recall the old classic: ‘….grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference’.

Knowing that you are enough and the veggie sausages are enough will have to do. There is no poignant lesson to be learnt. No philosophical insight, just the comforting taste of sausage and mash.

Corona Class, Lesson #2

A Matter of Taste

food choices 2

Food, without it you’d die. That’s not in question. When Covid 19 showed its creepy consequence and it became apparent everyone in the UK was expected to self- isolate naturally peoples first thought turned to survival, in other words: food (then toilet roll).

The cues outside supermarkets were long and I took part in panic buying food in a distracted and hurried manner as though the supermarket would self- destruct in thirty seconds: tins of chickpeas, tomatoes and coconut milk along with the obligatory treats of wine and chocolate were bought. I got my products home and unpacked safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to leave my house for another week and pleased that I’d had the foresight to buy Chocolate Hob Nobs. Because let’s face it: self- isolation is more bearable with biscuits.

Sweet treats, while not necessarily nutritious are there to punctuate a drab day they always have been for me, with or without a pandemic. I know I’m a comfort eater, I have been for a while however, going out and keeping busy has maintained a healthy distance between me and the allure of buttery toast even if the habit still remains. With the option of leaving the house now gone, access to biscuits has become even more important. Despite being an emotional eater I am genuinely fascinated and interested by food too. I do see it as a genuine pleasure. Just like most people.

However, I am now in the new position of wondering how to fill the hole that the pleasure of food has left. This question has become a little more pertinent as I have contracted a mild symptom of Covid 19: Anosima which is the complete departure of my sense of taste and smell. When you live a life devoid of taste in the corona lock down a massive source of pleasure, taste, is keenly missed. The fulsome flavour of wine is not available and the secondary pleasure of being drunk seems no longer worth it without the piquancy of flavour that the first delicious sip of wine provides. Coffee while giving you a caffeinated kick is just an empty high without the rich aroma to accompany it. Yes, we need food for survival and that is its primary purpose. But for me, now especially, in these profoundly joyless times, I would relish the temporary excitement of flavour on my tongue.

Yes, it is probably an addiction and in normal times I know I use food to cope with my emotions. But having no sense of taste during self- isolation just feels very, unlucky. I know I eat when I’m bored, I know I eat when I’m sad and isolation creates those two feelings in abundance. As long as I don’t let my feelings win I think my sense of taste will have to wait and I will have to view food as fuel rather than fun so that my frustration dissipates.

But despite the frustration, having no sense of taste has forced me to accept my relationship with food. It has shown my weakness for junk food for what it really is: a short, sharp shock of sugar and salt that quickly dissipates and leaves me feeling unnourished and empty. Like most addictions, it’s fun at the time but ultimately does nothing for you. This from someone who doesn’t feel much guilt about having a packet of Frazzles or a Kit Kat holds particular insight. It’s so easy when you don’t feel great about yourself to reach for something that you know is crap. I miss taste, I do and hope that it will come back but I will have new found respect for its pleasures and depths when or if it does, that go beyond the fun of Frazzles.

This is an article that first appeared in Now Then:


And then Medium:


Corona Class ,Lesson #1

Attitude is all

The fact that my life hasn’t changed much since social distancing says a lot about my life before, I wasn’t working full-time so I was in the house a lot, relying on benefits so I could pay rent and more darkly, feeling trapped with a bullying housemate because I had nowhere else to go.

I moved thankfully, just before lockdown and despite a pandemic not being the ideal scenario upon which to move into a new house it made me realise how important a happy housing situation is for your mental health, along with a routine and a kinder and fairer attitude towards yourself and others, which avoids feelings of guilt and fear that are counterproductive to progress.

The fact that my lifestyle hasn’t changed much since Covid 19 has made me realise that my life was on pause. But just like pausing live TV, the action continues without you and you can’t pause life, it continues in the background whether you like it or not and before you know it, it’s over.