An unexpected break from the relentless 21st Century treadmill

There’s nothing quite like a vomiting bug to give you a break from the relentless pace and expectations of life. Last week I found myself quarantined indoors having caught something with symptoms similar to the Norovirus. We had been to a toddlers’ party and four of us from our group of friends came home with the crippling bug. So I was kept away from the world so noone else would breathe in the pestilence.

Of course, had it just been me, I could have made a bit of a break of it: I would have happily curled up on the sofa with a large duvet and a well-placed bucket. I would have watched Strictly Come Dancing on catch-up, attempting mouthfuls of sugar water and felt sorry for myself until the waves of retching after every sip had passed and I could resume my relationship with the world and Nandos.

With a 14-month old in the house, there is no languishing on any sofa at any time – whether you’re just feeling lazy or your stomach muscles are having the biggest workout they’ve had in years courtesy of Armitage Shanks. There is a continuous requirement to be the most entertaining person in the world, play horsey and give chase around the dining room table on all fours.

But being sequestered from the world did at least give me a break from the daily expectation that I would be all over social media, respond to emails within minutes and deliver work earlier than the deadline I had been given. My entire schedule and all my deadlines flew out of the window. And in this instance, you may as well accept it straight away, as torturing yourself over what’s not getting done doesn’t get you anywhere and there’s nothing you can do about it anyway. In our case, our nanny also left the house faster than you could say Dettol once there was some suggestion that the stomach bug in question might be catching. And she would not be back until said bug had been clear (and preferably fumigated) of our house for at least 48 hours. So I was left holding the baby as well as the bucket.

All plans for the next few days were cancelled, all social visits turned off. I took half an hour to cancel forthcoming language exams, presentations to high-ranking military officers, drafting of training protocols, and advised my mother not to come and stay unless she was equipped with a biological warfare suit and breathing apparatus (she paid no notice and came to stay to help out regardless – because that’s what mums do). We hunkered down until the virus has done its damage and moved on to its next victims.

Thankfully for our battered and lighter (hurrah!) bodies, that day is now upon us. We may air the rooms and emerge from our isolation to inspect the damage. Having been out of the picture for the best part of a week though, it has made me think we should do this more often – preferably without the virus. Much as we like to think it doesn’t, the world does continue turning if we step off it for a minute and a missed deadline may be inconvenient and on occasion costly, but in most cases any resulting upset can be remedied. So I will be switching off my phone and email more often in future – with some notice to clients and friends of course – and enjoying the odd moment of sequestration from the relentless treadmill of 21st century life.

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‘Driech’ in the Highlands

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I’m sitting in a coffee shop in a small town called Pitlochry in the Highlands of Scotland.  Storm Frank is in full swing outside.  The sky is a dark shade of grey, the rain is horizontal and relentless. The entire valley – or glen – has been turned into a series of great lakes with small fishing sheds and treetops poking incongruously out of the middle of them.  Both the Tay and the Tummel have burst their banks and there is flooding of biblical proportions.  We’ve been lucky – our cottage further down the valley is just high enough up the hill to be above the waterline but the cat has her wellies ready and her eye on her favourite Christmas bauble just in case.

I cycled the 6 miles over the hills to this the nearest coffee shop, from a hamlet called Logierait.  My wheels covered more water than road and my trousers are now dripping onto the polished wooden floor.  I’ve just picked another lump of mud (I think – although it could be cow dung) off my cheek and have been edging my sodden boots towards the big open fireplace near the end of the table.

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Believe it or not, this is when Scotland comes into its own.  On days like this when I have lost sensation in my toes, my ageing and injured hamstring is crying out for a hot bath and I am reminded as I glance at the sleeve of my fleece that half-way through one of the downhills I may have used it to blow my streaming nose.   When I am covered in mud from head to toe, am so wet that even my underwear needs wringing out and my cheeks are stinging from a combination of hail, rain, sleet and snow.  It is only then that I can truly appreciate the crackling log fire and the huge pot of tea served by the welcoming and chatty landlord who makes a passing comment about how ‘driech’ it is outside and doesn’t blink an eye when I position my wet feet so close to the fire grate steam rises off them.

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It is tempting then to sit back into the weathered leather armchair, read my book and nod off against one of the soft tartan cushions but the waters are rising and what is left of the afternoon light is fading fast.  I have squeezed the last drop out of my pot of tea, that was definitely a drying splatter of cow pat not mud, and I still have the cycle-wade-swim home to tackle.  I don my snotty fleece and damp waterproof, reluctantly remove my soggy boots from the fire place and head back out into Frank’s path.  I will be back at the cottage soon, and it is only 6 miles away.  But thanks to the Scottish hills and weather, my cycle will have been an adventure and the open fires, mugs of tea, wee dram of whisky and cosy evenings a delicious reward for venturing out.

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