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stories from the sofa - sue bucklow

Experiences of life in Frome, during lockdown


Tell us about what your life looked like before lockdown


Pre lockdown I spent a lot of time travelling by train to and from Warrington – to help out at my parents’. My mum is the sole carer for my dad, who has advanced Alzheimer’s, and she’s been struggling for the last couple of years. I’d stay for a few days and do what I could to give her a bit of a break. I was also busy making preparations to move them to Frome and had started to look at properties. I was continuing with my research into Amy Singer (as mentioned inCasting the World: The Story of J.W.Singer & Sons, Frome) and as chair of Home in Frome, organising our AGM (due to take place in April) which was also going to be the long-awaited launch of our Working Memories website.

What were your initial feelings when lockdown started?

I found the early weeks of lockdown bittersweet. Glorious weather, family safely under one roof, beautiful walks and gardening, BUT at the back of my mind was always the terror of the virus. I visualised it as a ticking time bomb – of the Loony Tuneskind: fuse lit, bomb written in big white letters! The virus was out there and it was impossible not to worry about loved ones. I think this was not helped by suddenly being unable just to hop on the train to see my parents, and having to do my utmost to help them from 200 miles away.

What is your home set-up/situation?

As a freelance curator, more often than not I’m researching projects funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, so if I’m not travelling to archives, I can be found at home writing. The dining table is my office. My husband Chris Bucklow is an artist/writer so similarly if he’s not at his studio painting he’s also at home writing. Our daughter Bee is currently at home. She’s doing a Japanese language course in Bristol, in preparation for going to Japan to do a year-long residential course. Our son Ed is in his first year at Frome College. Our house is usually a busy one, with Bee’s boyfriend around most of the time and my niece and her partner coming over from Bath most weekends. We are used to big bustling meal times, lots of music and chat.

How has lockdown affected the way you live, day to day?


I think the early days of lockdown are different from how we’re feeling now. At first it was a novel experience and we were all relatively cheery. We were figuring out how we could best manage lockdown as a family. We found that sitting down together to lunch in the garden helped, long walks – we had a favourite one where we always saw hares and deer - plus all taking it in turns to choose a film each night. Escapism! As time has gone on, life has been more distracting. Ed has struggled with focusing on school work – he really misses his teachers, and Bee is really missing her boyfriend. We now structure our days differently, to be around to support Ed with his online work. Whether it’s to test him when he needs it, help him talk through what he wants to write…or just listen to a rant about how unfair Coronavirus is! He’s been using my Mac for his school work, so anything I want to do online has to be done before or after those hours. In some ways this has been a blessing! I would have been distracted by online news and grim statistics otherwise.


How has it affected your working life/business?

I have found it really difficult to get on with my research. The focus isn’t there. The business of family life in lockdown has been all-consuming. Much of my time throughout has been spent making sure my parents have been OK. Getting them flagged up with the local council and setting up deliveries and, as they’re not online, calling, writing letters and thinking of nice things to put in the post (as well as face masks and hand gel!). I’m sure I am not alone in doing this…anyone with elderly parents who live at a distance will have been in the same boat.

What have you been doing since lockdown started?

As well as helping the parents and helping with schoolwork - whenever I can -gardening! I escape to the greenhouse and plant seeds, bring on seedlings, pot on, plant out, tend and water. Last year my arm was in plaster for 4 months, and I only gained the full function of it at the beginning of this year. It’s been great physically and mentally to get back to it. I am never happier than when I’m in the greenhouse or in the garden. I spent a lot of time in the first few weeks of lockdown delivering plants I’d grown to friends. This gave me a focus and often the chance to have a few words at a social distance, which was really lovely.

Have you had any epiphanies or light-bulb moments about your life/work since lockdown began?

Mainly never taking anything for granted ever again. I thought my freedoms were curtailed with a broken wrist last year, but it was nothing compared to this!

How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected you personally – your wellbeing, mental health, anxiety levels?

I did find myself having severe anxiety during the first couple of months, at least one night every ten days or so, when I couldn’t sleep at all. I imagined the worse for loved ones and myself, my heart raced and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I found making myself a cuppa and staying up all night either reading or writing letters.

What positive experiences have you had over the last 6/7 weeks?


I have had many conversations with individuals working at Warrington Council in regards to helping my parents. They were super helpful in putting my mind at rest from 200 miles away. Our Jackdaws Songbirds online fundraising gig for Active and Touch…was a hoot. I sang my socks off, just when I needed it! Friends have been wonderful, making masks, dropping off veg plants, homemade bread and even sorbet. Our wonderful independent shops have kept us sane. It’s been heartening to chat with Robin at the Old Bakehouse when I get the bread once a week, Lucia and Elmer in Frome Wholefoods, as well as Richard and Tom from Raves from the Grave when they hand deliver CDs and DVDs on their way home from work. Also Denude, SK Fruits and our small M&S. Ordering a takeaway from Eight Stony Street, Thai Kitchen, Bistro Lotte, Keren’s Comfort Kitchen and Barnacle Bill’s Fish & Chips has all been a positive experience that brightened our Friday nights…so thank you to all of them!

Have you had any negative experiences?

I can honestly say no. The only negative is the anxiety, but I’ve learnt how to control it so as to not stay awake at night.

Have you found any new hobbies/habits/interests?


Not so much new, as I’ve always been a correspondent, but it’s been nice to get down to some letter and card writing again - thanks to lack of access to my laptop - especially to my parents. And having always kept a diary - I could dig out some gems for My Teenage Diary on Radio 4 - I’ve recently been more lax, but now it’s full again with the minutiae of this weird time. This lockdown time has also seen my first ever successful sunflowers grown from seed, the joy of learning to play table tennis coupled with the hilarity of our family tournaments and perhaps last – but not least - learning to meal plan and do a big family shop for the week (a skill and a half I’ve never had before). No sourdough has been baked!


Do you have any coping mechanisms you’d like to share with readers?

Without a doubt, my main coping strategy throughout has been walking. Nature, I think, has helped all of us. As a family we’ve discovered some wonderful places on our doorstep or a stone’s throw away from Frome. Sitting with a flask of coffee and watching deer, hares and red kites has been a joy. We’ve also started to watch a young female kestrel we’ve called Kizzy on our evening walk close to Frome. We now know her patch and go most nights. Watching her is so therapeutic, all worries fall away.

Tell us your lockdown recommends for:

Book

My main two that are full of interest and distraction and from which I’ve learnt so much are Mudlarkingby Lara Maiklem and The Stone Mason: A History of Building Britainby Andrew Ziminski.

TV

Normal People,Grayson Perry’s Art Club, Later, and the superb A House Through Time.

Film

Very happy to have found and fallen in love with Taika Waititi. What We Do in the Shadows and JoJo Rabbitare genius!

Music

The soundtrack of lockdown for me has undoubtedly been the Christine & the Queens EP, La Vita Nuova.

Food

Has to be the lunchtime Greek salad with the family we have on the hottest days – complete with taverna music – we imagine we’re actually there!

Activity

Long walks observing wildlife.


When lockdown is over, what are you most looking forward to?

Hugging people, sitting in my favourite spot in the window of the Riverhouse, getting my hair cut, browsing in a shop for something that isn’t food, getting on a train and without a doubt seeing family.

What are your hopes for the future?

Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson going to jail, a Green revolution and a vaccine for Covid-19.