Friday, March 05, 2021

Lockdown

Things I like about lockdown*

Peace and quiet

Little to no FOMO (aka Fear Of Missing Out)

Reduced cost of living

My pal's weekly Zoom quiz. An absolute Godsend and something to look forward to every week.

No pressure to dress up

No pressure to go out

Feel ok about being alone - it's now completely normal to be on one's own.

Not having to see people you don't like any more

A more level playing field for disabled people who can't get out of the house regularly because of their disabilities.

Regular Government sanctioned walks in nature.

Less pollution. I can breathe easier. I have had no asthma symptoms and barely any allergies for a year now.

The simplicity of life. Being able to pay attention to the small things.

Zoom yoga and meditation classes

The 'we're all in this together' feeling (even though we aren't really - see image above)

WhatsApp groups

The internet

Social media


Things I don't like about lockdown

Having no place to go

Fear of other people infecting you

Having to keep your distance

The relentlessness of it all

Not knowing what's going on in the world as all the conversations are virtual. There's no bumping into someone at a networking event or conference.

The ableism of those who can and do take risks. So many people can't take those risks with their health and will be stuck inside when others are frolicking recklessly. That's hard to stomach.

Having no-one to hug or to touch

That flat feeling you get when a Zoom call finishes

Poor quality zoom calls - just get yourself a little webcam like this one that I have and a good light!

The divisiveness and politics of lockdown

People being careless or selfish about what risk they're creating for others

People losing their jobs and homes

Rishi Sunak, Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson

So. Much. Death. 


*For some context, dear reader, I'm in lockdown 3 in the UK and riding it out on my own


What is money?

 

 We've just had the budget so there's lots of talk about bolstering the economy, about supporting those who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, about tax rises and what money is or isn't available when you shake the magic money tree. Lots of people talk about needing to pay back this deficit like you have to pay the bank back if you're overdrawn or have taken out a loan. Except governments don't quite run that way where money is concerned. If you're at all interested in how government economics work and how governments create and distribute money, then I highly recommend you read the above thread by Richard Murphy. You can read it on Twitter or via Thread Reader where it reads more like an article. It is fascinating!

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Choice

I'm at one of those pivotal moments in life where the status quo has gone and I have to create whatever comes next. I've never had, or at least never felt I had, these kinds of choices before. I was restricted when I was younger by money (or lack thereof), time (too much time spent on work in retrospect), negative self-talk (I'm only human) and when it came to going to drama school, complete and utter parental disapproval.

Now that I am an adult orphan and am due to inherit a modest sum of money, I have active choices to make about my life and how I live it. I don't have to stay put. I am not trapped. I can do whatever I like. Well, you know, except for the pesky pandemic, but you get my drift. 

Obviously the world has changed dramatically since whilst I was caring for my mother. We're living through a pandemic and that has changed us all in some shape or form. The world of work I knew a few years ago has changed, possibly forever. The commute has gone. The in-person events have gone. The after-work drinks are no more. Travelling abroad to speak at a conference or visit an exhibition to network with colleagues and peers - all gone. And I have little sense yet of when or how that will come back. And if it should come back, do I still want to be part of that picture? Can I slot back in having been absent for the last couple of years? These are questions I'm asking myself daily and perhaps they're the wrong questions. After all, that world has gone - at least for another 6 months, possibly longer. 

I need to adapt to that change too and be open to new things. And I've changed too. I'm older, wiser and have been through life experiences that would change anyone's outlook on life. But I'm seeing that as a positive and that I have even more experience and knowledge to share than I did before. So maybe the questions can be more around what am I open to? Who do I want to work with? What talents can I bring to the party? What companies or sectors would be a good fit? What are my transferable skills? What am I hoping to get out of the next step(s)? Where do I want to be?

But choice can be paralysing. Too many choices on a menu and you end up going for the same thing you always go for when you visit that same restaurant. What a privilege to have choices available but what a responsibility too.

I'm sure I'm overthinking it here, as is my wont. It's time for me to do something, to take action, to get involved. It's time for me to start engaging again with the outside world and to start contributing to it again. I can't sit at home waiting for something to happen because I'll be waiting a long time. I have to make it happen. So I'm tapping into my creative spirit. I'm writing more - both published posts and lots of journaling. I'm meditating to get some clarity and vision. I'm dreaming too to see which dreams fit best. I'm starting some of those more work-related conversations with work-friends and friend-friends. I'm researching the market to see what's happening and what people seem to be looking for. I'm reminding myself of what I've done in my career and what my strengths are and thinking about CVs and marketing materials and websites and all that stuff. And I'm opening myself to new opportunities and also looking at what courses I might do to refresh my skills or stimulate some different thinking. I want to have those deep, insightful conversations again. I miss that.

So if you have any bright ideas on what or where my next step might be, get in touch!

(As an aside, if it weren't for the slight issues of Brexit and a Pandemic, I would probably be doing all of this from Barcelona for a month or two whilst supping on Cava, eating tapas and hanging out on a roof terrace. But that's out of the question for a good few months yet.)



Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Are you a carer, accidental or otherwise?

It seems like a simple question, but it often isn't a simple one to answer. To some, it will be blindingly obvious that they're a carer, but for people like me, and maybe you, it will come as a surprise that you're in this role.

I was in denial for a long time that I was Mum's carer. Mum was in denial even longer. She didn't want to lose her independence and she thought that if she accepted that I'd become her carer, or that she needed a carer, then that was her independence lost. This meant a lot to her as she felt her own mother lost her independence too young as a result of moving in with one of her daughters. I was too young at the time to have any opinion on that and don't have much memory of that time. But I do know it weighed heavily on Mum and she didn't want that for herself.

This caring thing really crept up on me and I couldn't say there was a definitive moment when I became a carer. The journey started when my father died eight years ago. It was traumatic and unexpected and not handled terribly well by the medical teams looking after my father. And my mother was in a state of shock becoming a widow at 86. She'd been wholly reliant on my father to look after the money in the household, and although Mum was no pushover, she had let him make most of their financial decisions. So this was all new territory for Mum. Plus she was grieving the man who she'd been connected to since she was 15. That's a very long time. They grew up together and had adventures together and brought up a family and travelled the world in the 70 odd years they were together. That's a big hole to have in your life.

And so it happened that I started spending more time with Mum, visiting more often and spending a bit longer with her each time I visited. And that just increased gradually over time. She wanted the company and she needed help with things as her eyesight deteriorated. And when she became ill, typically in the winter, she needed someone with her to nurse her through it, and that fell to me as I was the child who had no dependents and could, in theory, work from anywhere.

There were times when Mum and I argued about my role as a carer. In retrospect, she was concerned about me as much as she was concerned about herself. She didn't want my work to suffer but the upshot was that Mum needed me, or at least someone, with her more and more. And even though Mum had paid carers coming in, it wasn't enough. And at the same time, I was happy to take on that role and was in a position to do it. 

If you find yourself in a similar position and you're spending more time with a parent and are doing more for them - shopping, cleaning, cooking, accompanying to medical appointments etc, then you are a carer. If your parent or elderly friend or relative is becoming more vulnerable due to failing eyesight, hearing, mobility or other ailment and they need more help day to day, and that is falling to you, then you are a carer. If you're doing this willingly as a friend or relative, you are still a carer. if you are doing this from a distance and spending your time up and down the motorway or railway line to provide this care, you are still a carer. You don't have to be living nearby to be a carer. Find out more about whether or not you're a carer here by taking a quick quiz.

When you become a carer, you can get support and I recommend you accept what support is available to you. You may not think you need any, but this caring lark can get very difficult at times and it's helpful to know you're not alone and that there are people who can support you. The first step is to sign up to your local carer's association. You can find out more here on the Carer's UK website.

I registered with the Worcestershire Association of Carers back in 2017. And not long after, also joined the Merton Association of Carers too. That meant I could get local support or advice whether I was in London or in Worcester with Mum. And I did take advantage of that support in many ways. Exercise classes, a day trip to Hastings, training workshops and the advice line. The advisors there can also tell you whether or not you qualify for Carer's Allowance and how to claim it and also what benefits and support the person you care for is eligible for. And they can talk you through power of attorney and other matters that will, no doubt, come up.

In lockdown, the carer's associations really came into their own by providing yoga classes and training sessions on Zoom. The yoga classes became my anchor for the week and were wonderful. What's on offer at any one time depends on what funding is available at the time so it does change.

My next recommendation is to keep a diary of symptoms. I did this in a simple A6 notebook. I looked for mobile apps but nothing really fitted the bill. Sometimes simple is good. I wished I'd started this sooner for Mum but I only started it once we were in lockdown and no longer able to have in-person visits from the cancer nurse at her recommendation. Every day, as part of our morning routine, I would take Mum's SATs - temperature with a contactless thermometer, and her oxygen levels and her pulse using an oximeter (this is the one I have). I used a no-touch thermometer (like this one) and rather than taking the temperature from her forehead, you get a more accurate reading from the inner wrist. And when getting oxygen levels and pulse, you need to keep the oximeter on for longer than you think to get an accurate reading. The numbers need to settle so give it a few minutes. And also, each hand can give a different reading so you may need to take a reading from both hands. Also, the oximeter doesn't tend to like gel nails, so if nail varnish is your thing, you may need to keep a couple of nails varnish-free!

I also took notes every day of Mum's mood and how she was feeling physically, how she was eating, if she'd needed extra oxygen or other meds, and what we'd done during the day. And if Mum felt poorly or wasn't her usual self, I'd take her SATs more frequently. This helped build up a picture of symptoms and what treatment worked or didn't work. And because it was all in a diary, on the occasion we had a call with Mum's GP or nurse, I could confidently tell them exactly what was going on and when. It also meant the medical personnel I dealt with took me more seriously as I became more intimate with Mum's illness and treatments and ultimately, I believe that led to Mum getting better care than she might have otherwise.

My final recommendation is to not try to do too much, if that's possible, and to look after yourself. I was lucky. I could give up work to focus on Mum. I know I could not have looked after Mum if I had had to work as well. It would have been too much to take on. Mum was terribly concerned that I wasn't working, but it was the right decision at the time for both of us. I have no regrets about it at all. 

Caring for Mum did get harder over time. I didn't realise how tired I was until it all stopped when she died. It's taken several months for me to not feel tired all the time. The sleepless nights and busy days take their toll and they're not sustainable long term. You will need to take time out - even if it's only an hour. If carers or other support is available to you, take it. You'll probably have to fight for it. I did. The care is rationed and even if you qualify, it probably still won't be enough. Trust me on that one. I had Mum's GP onside, but even then, it wasn't easy to get the help needed so start the process sooner rather than later as it can take time. And you need to find carers to suit you and the person you're looking after. We were lucky, we already had a relationship with a local agency and a few of their carers. It made life a bit easier. But trying to get night carers sorted was a whole other ball game and extremely difficult.

There is no shame in being a carer whatsoever. It might not be what you envisioned for yourself, but that doesn't diminish the importance and responsibility of being a carer. Carers are generally underrated, overworked, underpaid and left to get on with things. Many carers are in difficulty financially and aren't getting nearly enough support financially or emotionally. It isn't an easy thing to do, but it can be the most rewarding thing you'll ever do. 


Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Why is theatre important?

 

I just spotted this tweet from The Old Vic and it resonates so much with me. If I had a daughter, Mrs Worthington, I'd be putting her on the stage for sure - maybe not for a lifelong career but to learn all the skills critical for a career in business that you probably won't learn at school or university.

Publicity shot in black and white for the Swan Youth Theatre Worcester production of Grease.
Grease by the Swan Youth Theatre, Worcester. Publicity shot.

I joined my local youth theatre in Worcester when I was 14 and stayed for 7 years. A friend of mine was joining and she suggested I come along too. I ended up loving it even more than she did and became totally committed to the group. We had a meeting every week where we either did improvisation and role-playing or we were rehearsing for our next show. We typically did one major show a year in the main theatre as part of the summer festival and a few other smaller studio productions during the rest of the year. We also had the opportunity to audition for roles in the main theatre productions too as and when they came up. I was lucky enough to be in a few of those including The Wizard of Oz and Once a Catholic, both directed by Tony Award winner, John Doyle. I also worked with Rufus Norris and Lawrence Boswell, amongst others, who went on to do great things in the theatre. But that's beside the point. I wouldn't be who I am today without those years spent in youth theatre working with professionals and learning by doing and by example.

Thinking back to our weekly SYT meetings, the thing I remember most is all the role-playing we did. We called it improvisation but it wasn't comic improvisation as we've come to know from shows like Whose Line is it Anyway. We were put into groups and given a theme or a scenario to imagine and to create our own scene from it. We got to play other people. We got to walk a little in someone else's shoes and imagine lives and experiences very different from our own. And a major part of this was being able to think on your feet and respond quickly to whatever was thrown at you in the scene, or being able to improvise your way out of a mistake. I don't remember there being any fear about doing these scenes. It all seemed completely normal to me and it was about collaborative effort and not about one person's ego. We were free to experiment.

That collaborative effort, and learning to tune into one another, is an essential part of teamwork to this day. I think that's one of the things I miss the most about my time in youth theatre. That sense of all being in it together and having one goal of getting the show off the ground is exhilarating and brings a team together like nothing else I know. Of course, we fought and argued at times. Who doesn't? But the camaraderie and support we had back then were amazing. And it's not that dissimilar to the great vibes you can get in a start-up business. The energy is catching if you get the team and the goals right. 

I learned all my entrepreneurial skills in youth theatre. I see being an entrepreneur as someone who makes something of nothing - creates a business from the seed of an idea. And that describes what we did. Our youth theatre director would have an idea of a show and we'd pull together to make it happen. We had a head start in that we had professional directors and crew to work with. And we had access to a space in which to put on our shows but we never had much of a budget so you quickly learn to muck in and to make things happen - costumes, backstage, on stage, lighting, front of house, dressing - we did all of it. We had to market and sell the tickets too so getting PR coverage in the local press was important. after all, when you have a 300 seat theatre to fill for 5 nights, that's a lot of tickets to sell. I remember for one show, a bunch of us dressed up in costumes from Godspell and joined the carnival handing out flyers. We really shouldn't have been there, but we got away with it with sheer chutzpah. And you need a bit of chutzpah when you're starting out in business.

In doing all of this, I also absorbed (it was more osmosis than learning I think) how to put on a show so it's not a great surprise that I've ended up hosting and running events as a large part of what I do. It's a great way to connect people, to bring them together. And it's an opportunity for learning. I also learned stage techniques too - to speak well, to not be afraid of speaking in front of an audience, to think about lighting and staging, to listen for cues, to improvise, teamwork, to take direction, to think on my feet and lots more besides.

So yes, I think experience in theatre, especially as a teenager, is terrifically important whether or not you end up having a career in theatre. As someone quite famous once said, "All the world's a stage and the men and women merely players". I think he may have had a point.

Monday, March 01, 2021

My Mum

 

An image of an elderly lady holding a cup of tea in a white china cup. She is seated by a window with a blurry view of an English garden. The lady is wearing shades of blue and is looking warmly at the photographer

Mum - Marie Keegan - 1926-2020

As some of you know already, my Mum died last October after a long battle with advanced cancer. This is a transcript of the eulogy I gave at her funeral in November of last year.


I've been putting off publishing it, in fact, I've put off doing writing of any sort, but now's the time. And you never know, it may help someone else deal with what they're going through with someone they know who has died. After all, we all go through bereavement at some time or other.


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How lovely to see so many of you here in person and online this afternoon and I thank you all for being here. I'm touched that my Mum meant so much to you.

Hello, my name is Helen and I’m Marie Keegan’s youngest daughter. It’s not an easy job to write a eulogy for one’s own mother, but here goes.

I’ll be honest with you, it’s hard for me to believe Mum’s gone which sounds a bit odd, after all, she was 94 years old and suffering from advanced cancer. Yet she seemed so strong and ever-present. 

When speaking to Mum’s friends and relatives, many lovely things were said about her - ‘such a livewire’ ‘so thoughtful’ ‘bright and sparkly’ ‘never any different’ ‘beautifully turned out’ ‘great sense of humour’ ‘strong and determined’ ‘an amazing woman’ ‘formidable’ ‘the best looking girl to come out of Tyldesley’ ‘witty and charming’ ‘easy and interesting to talk to’ ‘elegant’ ‘a great hostess’ ‘a smile to light up a room’ ‘approachable’ ‘interested in others’. Mum was all these things and more. She may have been small in size but she certainly wasn’t small in personality or impact.

Mum came from humble beginnings in Tyldesley in what is now Greater Manchester. She met my father at the age of 15 - my father a coal miner and my Mum working in the coal board office. 10 years later, and after a long engagement, they married and set sail for India where my father had been appointed as manager for a coal mine in the North East India coal fields. 

That was an adventure and a half! Their new life in India was a million miles away from post-war life in a Lancashire mining village. Mum loved it, not least having two children, Martin and Jane, but also the friends she made, the trips to Calcutta and their active social life! But after 15 years, it was time to return and start a new life in England.

But all did not go according to plan. Mum was surprised to find that she was expecting me, and speaking to her sister, Betty, confided in her that she really didn’t know what on earth she was going to do with a new baby at her age. My Auntie Betty said, well, it’ll be wonderful. She can look after you when you’re old. Quite the prophecy, Aunty Betty. Mum only shared this memory with me a few months ago. And to be honest, it was a surprise to us both that I should end up being Mum’s full-time carer. Neither of us knew that I had it in me to do it. But what I never told Mum, but now wish I had, was that it was a privilege to be able to do it.

Mum was very well travelled and enjoyed holidays near and far - whether that was a day trip somewhere or a short break with me in Cheltenham or Hereford, long summers spent in the Isle of Man and Ireland, winter months spent in mainland Spain, Majorca and Portugal or trips further afield to South Africa and Florida. Most of these trips involved a lot of walking - coastal paths, hill climbs, tramping through fields and half overgrown footpaths. Mum and I spent a lot of time together on our feet and as we'd walk, we'd chat and admire the views and Mum would tell me what all the different flowers and plants were that we passed along the way. Mum's knowledge of plants was really impressive.

Mum was always very smartly dressed, well turned out with perfect make-up, pink lipstick and a spritz of lovely perfume. She always had great taste and great interest in clothes and shoes and she enjoyed shopping. When I was a little girl, Mum would drag me around the shops, and I'd end up sitting on the floor in the dressing room at Russell and Dorrell in Worcester whilst she tried on what seemed like an endless array of clothes asking me what I thought of them. And then afterwards treating me to a toasted teacake in the cafe there. This trend continued well into Mum's old age with regular trips to House of Fraser and the local TK Maxx. Mum always loved a good sweater! I hope some of her excellent taste and style has rubbed off on me.

One thing that did rub off on me was Mum's penchant for bargain hunting. I seem to have Mum's knack for spotting a yellow sticker in the food aisle in Marks & Spencer or a sale rail in the fashion department at 50 paces.

And where do you wear all your nice clothes? Why, at a party. And there were lots of those in Mum’s life. Mum loved to dance the night away starting in her younger years in Lancashire, to glamorous parties at The Grand Hotel in Calcutta in her thirties, to corporate dos at The Dorchester in London or a Riverboat Shuffle in Worcester in later years. And when there weren’t dinners or dances to go to, there were dinners and parties at home and Mum was a great hostess. I remember there were many late nights when the grown-ups would be listening to the likes of Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra, and Barbra Streisand. And sometimes I'd have to come downstairs to ask them to turn it down as I couldn't sleep!

But it wasn’t all socialising and glamour. Mum was also very down to earth, practical and gave her time to others. She volunteered in charity shops in Worcester and in the Isle of Man and also helped out at school and parish fundraising events. She did the flowers at Church with her friend Noreen. She looked after her neighbour Herta when she became terminally ill and became her carer. She befriended one of the Mums at my primary school who was having a lot of trouble with her husband and took her under her wing to help her sort herself out.  Even in her 90s, Mum would pick up a bit of shopping for her friend who was younger than her but clearly didn’t have her stamina. Not forgetting how much she loved to spend time with all her family too.

Mum also liked to keep up to date with current affairs - be that the news kind or the kind that happens on TV in Coronation Street or Last Tango in Halifax. Until Mum’s sight failed her, she would read the Telegraph most days and always did the crosswords - both the quick and the cryptic. I can still only manage a few cryptic clues before giving up. But not Mum. She even completed the Telegraph cryptic Crossword a few days before she died. If I tell you nothing else about Mum, she would want you to know that she was still doing the cryptic crossword right up until the very end.

Spending all this time with Mum over these last few years has taught me much about life and love, just by being with her, listening to her and observing how she lived. The easy way which Mum could talk to anyone and how she treated everyone the same, whether you’re a corporate bigwig or a part-time waitress in a cafe, is an example to all of us. The way Mum could make and keep friends anywhere and everywhere and have a genuine interest in their lives. Mum could find out someone’s life story within a short time of meeting them - that's a skill I don’t have but I’m working on it.  Mum’s gratitude at the smallest thing and the way she was touched by small kindnesses is something we could all learn from. And Mum’s memory! She could remember small details about people - their lives, conversations they’d had, time spent together, birthdays and anniversaries. Even right up to the end. Incredible. 

Mum’s faith was also important to her and we spent time praying together every day. And I can’t help but admire Mum’s strength and fortitude. She used to say that old age isn’t for the fainthearted. She’s not wrong. 

But what I learned most of all from Mum, especially in these last few months, is about love. After my father died, I remember telling a close friend that although it was very sad that he’d died, and I missed him terribly, it had allowed me to get to know and to fall in love with my Mum all over again. And I’ve enjoyed seven and a half years of that and I wouldn’t swap that for the world. 

My goodness, she was one of a kind, that Marie Keegan. I know everyone says that about their Mum, but I really mean it. Her love of life and love of living was extraordinary. She was so sad when she realised she wasn’t going to make it to 100 and there would be no telegram from the Queen. She really wanted to just keep going. But by her own admission, what a life she had led. Full of joy and laughter and filled with love given and received. 

Daughter, sister, wife, mum, Grandmother, Great grandmother, auntie, cousin, neighbour and friend. Mum loved us - her friends and family - and will continue to be loved and remembered with great affection by all of us.

Marie is joining those who have gone before her including my father, Terry, her sister Betty, and her brother in law Tommy. I imagine they are having a great party up there - Sinatra on the record player, my Dad pouring the drinks, Uncle Tommy telling the jokes and Mum and Aunty Betty dancing the night away, but this time no-one is telling them to turn the music down.

Oh, I have an awful lot to live up to, Mum. You’re a hard act to follow, all right, but I’m going to do my very best. 

As you used to say to me every night before you went to bed, and as I say to you now, Mum, ‘thank you, thank you, goodnight and God Bless’.