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Some weeks are now blank

Tony S's contribution to our Stay Home collecting project

I live in a two bed, ground floor owner-occupied retirement flat.

I live alone, having been widowed and this is my only home.

Take part in our Stay Home collecting project

Green leaves on a tree against a blue sky
Trees across the fence as seen from the patio, only about 5 metres away; a valuable element of greenery and wildlife

In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic changed the way you use your home?

Being 77, 'vulnerable' and 'shielded' I am confined to home and do not go out at all. This has made the flat my only environment.

I exercise indoors using an exercise bike instead of walking. I no longer receive visitors except occasionally outside my back door.

I stock up with food etc via deliveries and with the help of my daughter.

In warm weather I sometimes sit on the patio to read, enjoy the sun and fresh air as a substitute for being outside in the town or elsewhere. So my whole life currently takes place in the home.

I spend more time communicating with family and friends and trying to continue with voluntary work online and via text etc.

How do you feel about your home? How have these feelings changed?

When I first moved here, a few months after my wife died after 50 years of sharing a home, it was just a place to live, not a home that I felt comfortable in. A a place to return to after being out.

It is now more of a refuge – against a more hazardous 'outside'. As such, I am willing to accept my 'solitary confinement' for its greater safety.

I think the place has lost a bit of its neutrality, its original impersonal character. It feels more mine now, reflecting all my activities.

How does staying at home affect your relationships?

I see far fewer people in the flesh – only about six in the past six weeks for brief chats. Meetings, lunches, pub visits, coffees with friends and family as well as travel to see people are all on hold. I now rarely see other residents in the block.

Most contact is via email, text, WhatsApp, letters and, in one or two cases, video calls. Though this means constant contact with people, if only to check that they are ok, it is not the same as talking face-to-face. Relationships are maintained but many are somewhat superficial now.

This only increases a sense of isolation.

What do you appreciate most about your home? What do you find frustrating?

Its simplicity and lack of character, its ease of maintenance (though I am not diligent in housework). It does for me.

Most of all I appreciate the pictures on the walls of every room – prints, drawings and paintings which on their own create a very personal touch. Many were bought over the years by my wife and me at exhibitions, in art shops and at art fairs. One or two are by our son and an ex-partner and some are our own – from when we dabbled in art in our best retirement years and attended art courses. Each has a story behind it, each contributes to making the flat personal and, to me, interesting.

The same goes for books and cds in several bookcases.

A particular boon is the outside patio door which makes the place less claustrophobic and lets in sunshine; this gives a view of a nearby group of trees and bushes alongside the railway track and is valuable for birdwatching or for watching cricket and other activities in the adjacent cricket field.

Frustrating elements include the small kitchen with its lack of worktop space; the tiny storage cupboard which means the spare room has to be used for storage; the careless and impractical location of emergency pull cords (often behind heaters and appliances); the awkward position of electrical sockets and phone points; the inefficiency of the storage heaters.

A kitchen
The undersized kitchen with the bare necessities

How has lockdown changed your habits or routines at home?

I now have a strict routine which has evolved to help cope with isolation – built around meals, drinks, reading the paper, writing and exercise and then TV.

Without any appointments in the diary I have much more time (too much) for solitary activity (including sometimes, getting up late) – some weeks are now blank when, before, the days were full with meetings (as a charity trustee and volunteer) and shopping trips and driving to see people.

I clearly have less time for seeing people.

Indoor exercise is probably the only new element.

How is your sense of home affected by your neighbours or those living nearby?

Lack of contact with all but a few neighbours, many of whom I don't know, has always increased the sense of isolation and now that sense is heightened. All those I have met are pleasant and friendly though I have always struggled with remembering many of their names.

Now days can go by without seeing anyone; all social events are on hold. I used to have a regular tea and a chat with one neighbour but the only contact with her is now by email.

Now sometimes the flat can feel more like a cell than a home.

A sunset
The big skies, including sunsets, often provide visual pleasure and surprise. In normal times, planes fly across into Manchester airport, but not during the crisis.

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