I regularly talk to an old friend on the landline, a really old friend. He’s 91 and lives alone. He doesn’t have access to the internet. He says things now are worse than they were during the War. And he says it with feeling. Gloom pours down the phone line. I replace the receiver with a heavy heart.

It’s so unfair. I haven’t suffered badly this year. My house is warm and light. There are plenty of lovely walks round here. I’m in good health. I live on a pension (no need to worry about my job). I’m half of a couple, so there’s always someone else in the house to talk to, or moan about Boris.

Still, there are huge absences. Children. Grandchildren. Friends. And listening to BBC News is like adding weights to the lid of a cosy coffin. Best not to put the radio on. Best not to watch TV. Best to stay safe. Stay well. Hide until it all goes away.

But the public anxiety’s like fog trying to get in the windows. What can we do to counteract the gloom?

I’ve got into the habit of counting my lockdown blessings, some of which are a bit weird (spoiler alert). 

Often I’ve found myself guiltily happy, since I’ve done better than many of my friends, some of whom are not just isolated, but also ill or depressed. One has died. I miss her.

Anyway here’s my list. If you have positives of your own, please add them in the comments box. Help to offset the dark.

Good things from the year of C

I’ve learned to make butter by shaking double cream in a large jam jar. Now I do this regularly. And I went back to making cakes. GREAT cakes.

I found some mung beans at the back of the cupboard. They must have been (no pun intended) there for years and years. The good news is that if you soak them in water and leave them in the dark overnight, and then bring them into the light and wash them gently three times a day, they still SPROUT. So we’ve had quite a few Chinese stir-fries with home-grown bean-sprouts. Strangely satisfying.

After a bout of sciatica, I began to do breathing and stretching exercises every morning. Lovely. So good for me. And walking every single day, sometimes as many as three walks. I limited desk work to three hours. So now I’m fitter than I was. More energy too (though alas not for desk work). (Yes, the sciatica gradually went away. It was a message.)

I started listening to science podcasts while doing the stretching exercises. Marvellously educational.

Sat and read. Sat and read. Sat and read. Sometimes sat in the sun and read.

Decided to stop drinking my two glasses of wine a night, not least because it was starting to become three. Discovered Marks & Spencer’s alcohol-free G&T, an oxymoron in a can. After this, all sorts of mocktails and juices. Discovered I’m much calmer without my alcohol fix, and apparently fewer migraines. Definitely better sleep.

With the help of the sewing scissors, I removed the wires from my bras. What have I been putting up with all these decades?

I have learned to jog, though only for short stretches. I have finally experienced that endorphin kick other people talk about. Yay! 

Masks are a pain, but they help prevent chapped lips. Most useful. Also going through the freezing cold vegetable aisle in Aldi is much warmer when wearing a mask.

Cleaned the whole house for the first time in years. Poor spiders. I have even cleaned the windows! We can see the trees properly. And I’ve finally cleared all the weeds off the concrete block paving in the back garden. It almost looks respectable.

I’ve begun to talk regularly to my cousin Wendy on the phone. We’ve never really known each other, though we were born only a year apart. But now we do.

I have walked through the trees every single day. I started in spring, then summer. Then the amazing autumn golds, swishing through the leaves. Now the bare winter woods. Already fresh green spikes of grass finding their way through. I didn’t know I liked walking in the rain.

New breakfast: oatmeal porridge every morning (so much better than the kind made with oats).Learned to love maple syrup. Good on the oatmeal porridge with a little cream (though my other half will only eat salt).

Good grief — I haven’t had a head cold in a whole year!

I have practised the ukulele in the conservatory with rain beating on the roof. My time keeping isn’t very good. I bought a metronome. I practised the ukulele with two metronomes: the rain and the actual metronome.

In all our twenty-three years (or nearly) together, my other half and I have never spent so much continuous time together. By some miracle, we still get on well. We were sorely tested in November when some pipes burst, and the repairs dragged on for weeks and weeks (still not finished). Adversity can drive people apart; it can also bring them closer.

I used to see my two grandchildren every week. I took it for granted. Since March, I’ve seen them only four times in all. But each time has been the quintessence of joy.

Have only filled the car up with petrol three times since March. More money to spend on coffee, poetry, and presents to post to the grandchildren.

The sky has been more beautiful this year than I ever remember: crisp, and clean, and clear. No vapour trails. Just amazing cloud formations. A free show every single morning. Never the same twice.

We have lovely neighbours. 


  1. Lovely to read. I always do a gratitude list at the year end
    I’ve started to learn Swedish on Duolingo – the little green owl is so encouraging! Stimulating the grey cells, maybe even read Thomas Transtroemer in the original.
    Very best wishes for the New Year!

  2. Dear Nell,

    What a cheering post. I’d been feeling a little down post-Xmas (Zoom chat not quite the same as actually meeting with our son and his partner) and your list of positive tings has been a great pick-me-up. I especially appreciated the ‘ordinary’ things you’ve enjoyed. Snow yesterday and today is a plus for me, as it’s not so ordinary nowadays in Edinburgh with climate change. A change from the usual dreich weather. Take care, Stephx

  3. As Fokkina said above, lovely to read.
    Was never lucky-or alert- enough to have my own family so the isolation had been an experience and i understand why some people will not be here for tomorrows bells, but this post emphasises the unexpected positives of this year, so here goes in no particular order.
    A gratitude list at the end of the year? that’s a really good idea. I haven’t done that before but i began very early in the year pre Covid saying aloud, thank you, for things-for favourite mugs, pieces of music etc, and to things-to the towel and the shower gel and the shower head etc, and to myself too-thanks for doing the dishes last night its so nice not to wake up to them. I still often forget but it matters when i remember, it really feels better doing it.
    I started to learn coding & web design, and it’s been slow going at times, but without furlough I might never have started it at all, and it might become a way of making a living who knows at least I have a chance to find out.
    I have loved the quiet streets in Edinburgh especially during first lockdown and during the festival.
    A year without tourist rage (only one niggle in February when trying to get the bus home).
    The air quality is noticeably better.
    The city being obviously quieter is more relaxed to travel around, on those odd times you can/need to.
    I’m appreciating being able to go somewhere, even just for a coffee, or to a bookshop, some simple things i’m not taking so much for granted.
    PS. Nell the double cream shaking butter making intrigues me, how long for and are there any secret ingredients?

  4. I have been swimming in the Tay with the most wonderful people. Certainly, I’ve always liked swimming outside, but the folk who come to the beach, and hang their towels on the fence are just so special.
    I’ve been making bread again. Mostly sourdough, which is so different from my former ways of kneading. But it’s all good.
    On foot, and on my bike I’ve found all sorts of great places not far away.
    Though we have had long family separations, we have had amazing times together, and after that first, someone in my son’s community said it looked as if Keir’s face had been ironed! All his worries had been lifted. That makes everything possible.
    And reading your uplifting lines gives another joy. Thank you, Nell.
    May 2021be very kind to you, Beth xxx

  5. I learned free motion embroidery on my new sewing machine and hand embroidered a tablecloth for a friend. I’ve joined online singing and poetry groups and a book club. I’ve baked cakes and bread but my biggest achievement has been changing our gardens, planting new perennials and lots of bulbs. Took me ages because of my arthritis but I’ve loved it.
    Not seen my family (in Switzerland) for a year — the longest it’s ever been — but thank goodness for Facetime and Zoom.
    Happy New Year to you and yours xxxx

  6. I love this post, Nell! I read it last night and I’ve just read it again to Andrew, my husband, and we’ve laughed aloud. So many points to agree with. “I like walking in the rain, too,” says Andrew – but I need to buy waterproof trousers and a better coat so that I can enjoy it too. For him, a very good thing about this year has been the lack of national and international travel with his job – his clients have been very happy to chat to him through screens and phones, in fact he is more available because he’s not stuck up in the air in a plane. So they are happy and he is less worn out. Sending all good wishes and better things for 2021. J x

  7. Many thanks to all of you who added good-side comments. I loved reading them. Whether or not drinking spirit on Hogmanay, this really helps to keep the spirits up.

    Jim, making double cream into butter — easy but you need strong arm muscles. I shake mine in an old (large) mayonnaise jar until it turns to a sold butter lump and separates from the whey. It takes about ten minutes of shaking. Then you have to wash the butter in ice cold water, and I pat it into shape with two flat wooden spatulas. But you can (and most people would) do all this in a machine. If you google ‘making butter from cream’ on YouTube, I think you’ll probably find all the ways, including ways easier than mine. But I liked mine because it is painstaking and slow. This year a lot of things have slowed down around me, and I like the old, slower ways of doing things. I’m planning not to speed up again. Nell x

  8. I remember shaking a quarter pint glass bottle of milk at school – in the days before Thatcher the Milk Snatcher. There was a tiny bit of cream at the top and the aim was to get this to turn into a slither of butter. I think I managed it once, but it did take a very long time – at least all afternoon – and your arm and hands would ache. Also there was the danger of the nuns finding out, so it had to be done in the playground with backs turned to the playground duty nun, then secreted inside your coat to get inside and hold it under your desk. Happy New Year everyone. May all your resolutions be fulfilled!

  9. Really enjoyed reading your positives, Nell. I’ve found so many things to retrieve from this year. Philip not having to commute to Cambridge is one of the best of all! He has so much more energy, we can eat dinner at a reasonable time, and I don’t worry about him stuck on the train or on the roads in foggy/icy weather etc. PLUS the petrol not burned, the miles not added to the car…
    Happy healthy 2021 to you and yours, Clare xxx

  10. I really enjoyed that thank you and now I will start to write my own gratitude list which has been brewing all day.

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