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Day 2

Well, Day 2 of “self-isolation”, and so far, so good. We’re not totally isolated as Big D is working from home, and is our physical link with the outside world. Yesterday he was mostly in his office upstairs, but he also went out to collect my antibiotics (I have a chest infection thanks to the immunosuppressant meds I take for Crohn’s Disease), and to do a bit of shopping. We have most things in. Like half the population, we have no anti-bacterial hand gel – apart from a tiny keyring-sized one we got from the Garden Centre for the princely sum of three pounds. It has “Isabel” written on it, which is bizarre, but isn’t everything at the moment?

I do keep wondering whether or not we have everything we’ll need if total lockdown comes. And like many kinship carers we don’t just have ourselves to think about.

I have elderly parents who live nearby, then there’s our (adopted) son Paddy, who’s 25, lives independently up in the wilds of Northumberland, and is doing OK at the moment, but who has complex neuro-psychiatric conditions, so needs more support than the average 25-year-old. And then there’s Littl’un’s Mammy, whom he sees every week. She has an autistic disorder, and lives independently ten miles away, which is pretty close in Northumberland terms. But her anxiety, which is always at very high levels, is off the scale with worry about the virus and its potential implications. There are a lot of plates to keep spinning in the air. So do I have enough loo rolls?​

On Mondays Littl’un usually has his animal-assisted play therapy session at a farm up in the Cheviot hills, but we’ve agreed with our lovely therapist Tracie to knock it on the head until further notice. So yesterday we did a bit of reading, a bit of learning about money, and some gardening as it was nice and sunny. In the afternoon we played football for a while. No allowances made by Littl’un either for my age or the chest infection.

This lockdown thing is going to result in me being a lot fitter if we keep this up. If it doesn’t kill me off first – and I’m not talking about the virus!

We also had a walk out to post a letter to my ninety-three-year-old aunt, who’s in a nursing home a few miles away and hasn’t been allowed visitors since Saturday. My younger brother went to visit her with his little dog – Hazel loves to pet the dog – only to find a notice on the locked door saying that the home was closed to all visitors and letters had been sent out to relatives to notify them. Hazel has dementia, so we’re not sure she’ll understand at all. I included lots of photos of all the family in my letter, hoping that it will make her smile. It’s very sad, as she’s in the last months of her life and family is her all.​

Last night Cathy Ashley of the Family Rights Group asked me if I’d write a diary-style blog during the current coronavirus crisis to highlight some of the issues facing kinship carers.

My first thought was that nobody would be interested at all in our lives and what we’re doing. Our world is very small – and has been for a long time, not just during the current crisis. But then I remembered that isolation is one of the issues common to many kinship carers, and many of the things we are going through, and will no doubt go through as this crisis progresses, will be shared experiences. So, in the end, I decided I’d give it a go, and see how we get on. If the blog raises awareness as a little window on the world of kinship care, then it’ll be worth doing. And, as it happens, I do have a little bit of time on my hands at the moment …​

Day 3

It’s Big D’s birthday today. What an odd birthday.

On Sunday, we had been going to meet up with family members for a nice celebratory pub lunch, but, then there was the virus. So we agreed to wait until after this is all over to celebrate together. Ironically, the most vulnerable members of the family, the oldies – Mam (84) and Dad (88) – still went to the pub for lunch without the rest of us, despite being advised not to – by all three of their children (I have two brothers). They find change very hard, and are used to going out for lunch on Sundays. So they did.

We’ve had the Happy Birthday banners up in the house since Littl’un and I bought them last week. He simply couldn’t wait, and we baked an un-birthday cake last Thursday, with lashings of icing, sprinkles, sparklers, the works, and did all the candles and singing for Big D. So Big D’s been eating his birthday cake all weekend. The upside of being on our own has been lots more cake. The downside of doing it all early was that by yesterday Littl’un had completely lost interest, and wouldn’t write out or make a card, no matter what tricks I tried. And I do have quite a repertoire!

This morning, despite asking them not to come around, Mam and Dad called in with a birthday present for Big D. It’s like role reversal. They are the rebellious ones – all moody and oppositional.

Littl’un said to them when they arrived “You can’t come in, you know – coz of the stupid virus.” Dad responded gruffly that it wasn’t the virus, but people who are all behaving stupidly. He was quite poked about not being allowed to come in. As it was sunny, I offered coffee in the garden, but they refused – they were on their way out for lunch at the nearby Amble Inn.​

“Er, didn’t you hear what the Prime Minister said yesterday about over 70s staying at home, and people not going to pubs and restaurants?” I asked.

Dad said that he wouldn’t be taking any notice of Boris, and kept muttering “Stupid, stupid.” Mam commented that it was a very clean pub and she was sure that they would be wiping all the tables. I’ve talked to Mam a few times about things they need to be doing, and they watch the news on TV and get a newspaper – but they still take no notice. After they left Big D, back at his desk, yelled down the stairs “Your Mam and Dad are nutters. Nice nutters – but still nutters.” “Are they nutters?” asked Littl’un. “Well, it’s hard for them to understand about the virus and to change the things they do” I said. Which started quite a conversation.​

Talking to friends, it seems that lots of families are finding that their elderly relatives are really struggling to accept that they will be largely confined to barracks over the summer.

This afternoon Big D nipped out to pick up my prescription and one or two essentials from Ashington. When he came home, putting his hoody into the washing basket and washing his hands, which are now already very dry from the extra washing, he was incredulous. Ashington had been choc-full of older people enjoying the sunshine – and the market exceptionally busy. He returned to his work upstairs shaking his head.

The phone rang. It was Mam to tell me that Paddy had called her to say that he wouldn’t be driving over from the Wild West tomorrow to meet them for lunch like he usually does on Wednesdays. I thought that was really thoughtful of him – thinking of the safety of his grandparents. He really looks forward to seeing them every week, and they usually buy him a couple of bags of groceries. Lunch on Wednesdays is usually pretty much immovable in all of their diaries.

“So we’re not sure where we’ll be going now that he’s not coming over”, said Mam. “I’ve been on the phone to the nursing home, but they still won’t let us in to see Hazel. So we might just go to Blyth for lunch instead.” Boris – we’re doing our best, but I think it’s gonna take the army.​

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