"It all got a bit Marie Antoinette in the Morley household"
Our last care parcel arrived today. As with the others - since March - I maintained a vigil and yet again missed the van’s arrival. It’s been like a modern remake of the Elves and the Shoemaker..
The Distributors and the Food Suppliers.
We managed a thank you of sorts last Tuesday. I woke at 6.30am in order to stake out the path, before nodding off at the window and waking to see a delivery man retreating.
I gave chase, in hedgehog mask, gloves, and armed with a grab stick at the end of which was a pre-wiped bag contained a pre-wiped jar of Walkers mixed eclairs and a pre-wiped Covid-free (and unsealed) thank you card for the team at the local distribution centre.
So, this is my farewell and thank you to that team, whoever they may be, wherever they may come from - having spotted vans retreating with logos from far and wide.
You have not only made this day but at least one day every week for nigh on five months.
You have made shielding so much easier to bear for my 84-year-old mum, the key recipient of those care parcels.
I’m high risk because of severe asthma and other issues but Ma is defined as clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 as a result of multiple serious health conditions.
Indeed, just days before we were due to head to Jersey on a three night break - our first airborne travel together for years and costing only marginally less than the travel insurance for all those pre-existing conditions - her renal consultant, in a near deserted clinic on a Saturday morning, advised us to cancel it and head for the most extreme form of lockdown - shielding.
These were the early days. The Government, in spite of trying to edit the lockdown time scale since, had yet to Send In the Clowns... Hancock with his “some nurses have died” insensitivity, Raab with his “drive as far as you like to exercise”, Cummings with his eye test and arrogance, Patel being Priti rubbish at maths and Boris with our great nation’s enviable “success” and "on yer bike" advice - but I'd also lost my timing decidedly late in my own career too. Isn't it rich? Far from it.
In February I’d left my last freelance PR charity client for the 'security' of a part time staff job, on far more money, with an events company starting in May. You can probably guess how that’s worked out. (It certainly meant an end to regular articles posted on Entirely's various platforms.)
In March supermarket delivery slots for home deliveries were almost as hard to source as toilet rolls - or trolls as they are now known in our household. Even I wondered what the hell trolls were when I revisited my scrawled shopping lists.
Supermarkets had yet to receive a list from the Government of those who were shielding. And as Ma's carer as well as daughter I certainly didn't fancy running the risk of bringing the virus back home. Life had become one long 'what if'.
Having taken a £1000 hit for a self-cancelled holiday and with no income coming in from self employment money was tight yet I found myself having to turn to some higher end or niche food suppliers in order to stock up.
It all got a bit Marie Antoinette in the Morley household.
Yes, we may have been running low on bread, but we took delivery of a Cornish Cream Tea by post, stir-fried salted padron peppers from Spain - and a basket of it’s-not-just-fruit-but-overpriced-fruit from a certain high street retailer. The cream tea, free delivery, was the best buy by far. Life enhancing as we tucked in and thought of all those childhood Cornish holidays when my young widowed mum was in love with half the local Male Voice Choir and my little brothers and I learned the rude version of Goin' Up Camborne Hill.
Fortunately, we also have great neighbours, Chris and Ema, who came to our aid with more treats, random acts of kindness and, best of all, have bought and delivered my mum’s quality of life support system, TV Choice, every Tuesday without fail.
I've also learned the meaning of the term 'killed with kindness' as they have pushed me (with virtually no resistance, it has to be said) to the brink of obesity with jam roly, carrot cake, Bakewell tart and a savoury afternoon tea from Taylors Bakery of Cleveleys.
I'm turning a blind eye (and as a former PR for sight loss support charity N-Vision I know that could well happen...) to my annual diabetic review reminders from the GP.
Facebook friends have rallied too - not only a great source of emotional support when low but recommendations for the best traders when our toilet flush failed, our front door lock broke and our one year old 'cowboy' paved path became, in the relentless rain of the North We(s)t of England, a skid pan of green algae for visiting nurses, posties and delivery teams. Social media has also thrown open a window on the world and a renewed sense of perspective.
AND the care parcels began to arrive...
Cloudy with a hint of meatballs - they brightened the dullest day. That’s what we used to say every Friday - which then switched to Tuesday - with the delivery of our food parcels. Even though we hated the meatballs and were scared stiff of opening those big tinned pies. Pies - in a tin? Come on, Peter Kay, there's got to be material there.
The national emergency food box service - as it's formally known - is for those shielding and unable to leave houses to go food shopping, or with no other means of accessing food.
The service, entirely free, albeit not of guilt, has been the silver lining to the cloud of coronavirus.
I cried when we got the first. It was such a weight off my mind, a safety net to catch Ma if I fell. And Ma cried today, with the last. For her, it meant stepping out into the outside world again - and she's frightened.
I'll sleep easier though. You never imagine you'll come to need 'charity' yourself. Covid is a great leveller.
I've been to food banks and soup kitchens many times but as a journalist, reporting on demand and need. Never for myself or my mum. When three cans of Baxter’s' (a brand we usually can't afford) carrot and coriander soup arrived I flashed back to the Bridge Project soup kitchen at Blackpool's Salvation Army and a genial chap on his uppers assuring me he could "heartily recommend the carrot and coriander soup".
I'd written a review for the Good Food Guide the night before. Two worlds collided and played havoc with my conscience.
There was a deeper-seated reason for the tears, too. Many years ago, when my dad was two years past his three months 'dead'line for cancer, and running on empty, the food cupboards were virtually bare - restocked only when the then-National Society for Cancer Relief sent money as well as the services of a specialist nurse.
Me? I was about to become a trainee journalist, moving to a flat which took most of my money but enabled me to escape the horror of home. I still feel guilt at that. But just ahead of that - in the run up to a Christmas we all knew would probably be dad's last - representatives from the local Lions charity turned up at the door asking for donations for the "needy". Ma, who had quit work as a civil servant to nurse him, broke down. Her husband was dying, we had nothing in to eat, she was making our clothes from jumble sale cast offs - and Christmas was going to be just another day to get through. They returned days later laden with food, treats, even toys. We couldn't believe strangers could be so kind. Some of our relatives had donated food -the highlight of which was a small chicken in a tin, the lowlight weevils in cereal and several 'blown' cans which must have paved the way for 'use by' dates.
Today, we can't remember when our Covid emergency food box service started but I do know we couldn't get a supermarket home delivery or click 'n' collect for love or money. The prioritising of the clinically vulnerable came later.
Once again, we have appreciated the kindness of strangers, the compassion of suppliers, stock checkers, packers - and those frontline delivery men and women who mysteriously morphed on our doorstep and vanished without being spotted.
Each week brought a miracle. A cardboard box containing more than enough food to see Ma through the week. Long life bread and pasta from Italy, longer life milk from Ireland, tuna from Spain, peaches from Greece (let's hear it for the EU), Granny Smiths from South Africa, Hills custard creams and digestives, brands we usually couldn't afford to buy such as Heinz beans (my childhood favourite), Baxter’s soups, Fray Bentos those scary tins), Weetabix, Typhoo teabags, instant coffee, potatoes, carrots, onions, apples, oranges, shower gel, tiny bars of soap - and more. Including mushy peas. Mushy peas!!!
Best of all, however, was something that sustained our spirits. Art.
Now let me digress. Yes, again. Years ago, there was a furore over a hospice investing, just as recession hit, in art. A waste of money said far too many. It's not direct clinical care. Nor was the Baileys being sipped by one lady nearing the end of days when I dropped in but, my word, it cheered her up. Along with the gardens outside and the birdsong drifting in.
As for the "controversial" art - well, the critics who panned the purchase hadn't spoken to the dying man who painstakingly wheeled himself into the chapel every day to gaze up at those paintings. "The meds can only go so far, they help with the pain, but these paintings, they touch your soul." And as one little girl told me - as we stood together looking up at the dancers in the sequence - "that lady, at the end, she's the angel looking after granddad, and that little bird up there" (a painting of a dove donated by the artist) "is going to fly grandad to heaven."
Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, eh?
Thus, it was that the children's art - with special thanks to Bidfood and others - which accompanied so many of the food parcels meant so much to us both.
My mum in particular. She was delighted by the first painting we/she received (pictured above). Like so many she tends to hear from her own children and grandchildren on the 'duty' days - birthdays, Christmas, New Year, Mother's Day. Given how hard of hearing she is, she cuts those calls short, finds it hard to engage. Distance and a degree of emotional detachment doesn't help either. Busy lives, families to feed, commitments to honour. No binge watching of Home and Away there. So, those drawings by other people's children, grandchildren, have come to really matter. Including to me, a daughter first and foremost, a carer second, not a mum or a grandmother - but an auntie. And I love children.
So here's a quick roll call of just some of the names in today's food box ... Bidfood, Heinz, Kiril, GFL, Premier Foods, Baxter’s, Fray Bentos, East End, Cafe Corella, Frisa, Vitcom, Comex, Premier Fruits, Regroot, Hills, Euricom, Suram , Weetabix, Northwood and ...
That's all I can remember - the conveyor belt ends here. We have valued it, appreciated all involved and considered ourselves unworthy players in this very different version of the Generation Game. We may well be alive today, thanks to it - or at the very least, still well today, three covid tests on, because of it.
And a very special thank you to Olivia, age unknown, Maddox, seven, and all the other children who brightened such dark days with splashes of colour on a page.
You touched our hearts - and you raised our spirits.