Day 27: Me Time: ‘Take some time for yourself, through exercise, meditation or pampering. We all need to find our own ways of coping’

Contributor: Chris:

The new self indulgence?: The bath time clay face mask

As week 4 of shielding draws to a close I wanted to reflect on the time I now dedicate every week for looking after and pampering myself. Prior to the Covid cloud overshadowing the world, life always appeared to be quite frenetic for myself… alarm goes off, go to work, come home, do housework, cook dinner, watch a little TV with the family and then off to bed. This became the standard routine barring the days off whereby I might stay in bed an extra hour and also sneak some time in down at the West End Brewery.

One of the few positives to come out of shielding however, is the time I now get to dedicate to myself for pampering and relaxation. Long soaks in the bath have now become the norm for me at least 3 or 4 times a week and one of these will include a clay face mask (try not to laugh too much at the piccy).  I also take the time to carefully trim and polish my nails on a weekly basis which may appear trivial on the surface but deep down provides a feeling of pride in my appearance even when it matters least. I also try to dress smartly on occasion even when stuck at home… A smart crisp shirt for a beer in the garden with family makes me happy.

My wife and I have started doing yoga sessions this week and this is something that will definitely continue throughout and beyond isolation. Due to the joint issues that I suffer from due to my Crohn’s disease, the first couple of sessions have been really tough but the positive psychological impact far outweighs the physical constraints and I’m sure over time they will improve also. 

The main evolution of my self indulgence has come around my beard, the days of a vigorous scrub of my face with shower gel are now a thing of the past due to some research.

I would like to share a couple of pointers if I may for anyone looking for support with facial hair but with limited access to resources:

  • Your beard should ideally be brushed or combed at least twice daily and especially after being washed.
  • NEVER use shower gel or soap on your beard, these chemically laden products are not good for your follicles. Ideally a specialist beard shampoo should be used but I have found using a good quality hair conditioner works well.
  • Don’t use very hot water to wash your beard in the bath or shower – if the water is too hot it will strip the ‘Sebum’ oil of your face that occurs naturally and prevents dry skin. It can also cause deep skin irritation due to the blood vessels in your face becoming damaged Luke warm water only.
  • Having finished washing and rinsing, don’t scrub your beard with a towel to dry it, only pat it with the towel to remove any excess water. Again this will prevent any of the sebum oil from being removed from under your beard where it is needed most.
  • Following the removal of excess water, use a hairdryer on a cool setting to completely dry your beard  to retain all natural oil and protect your beard for the day ahead. 
  • After your beard is completely dry, a beard oil or balm should be applied (again if you don’t have access to either then a good moisturiser will do) and your beard brushed and shaped.

If you stick to this regime, you will be proud of your beard and also be brimming with self confidence when you look in the mirror.

I can’t recommend enough that you all take some time every week for yourself, whether it be through exercise, meditation or pampering. The Covid storm won’t be moving away soon and we all need to find our own ways of coping with the isolation.


Day 11: ‘My neighbours have become more like extended family – a comfort blanket to share our highs and lows’

Contributor: Chris:

“The wall between our gardens can only be described as the Korean demilitarized zone that splits the two countries. My two cats spend hours on the wall acting as sentries to maintain the status quo”

As my second week of shielding draws towards completion, I wanted to take stock of any major positives that have materialised as a result of our current situation. After mulling this over from many different aspects, I have decided to focus on an area that we all take for granted on a daily basis… Our Neighbours.

At first glance, my family’s relationship with our neighbours Richard and Jo may appear unchanged, but on deeper reflection it is at this point that I realise how much I have become dependent on the hour or so a day that I spend in my back garden chatting with them over the back wall (government distancing rules followed at all times).

The wall between our gardens can only be described as the Korean demilitarized zone that splits the two countries. My two cats spend hours on the wall acting as sentries to maintain the status quo. Prisoner exchanges take place every couple of days in the form of food items being left on the wall from either side ranging from something so simple as some cans of chopped tomatoes or tinned fruit, up to some Black Bomber and Colston Bassett cheeses coming my way yesterday. These small gifts give me the confidence that as a society we will get through this due to the spirit of sharing that is clear to see.

The conversation that flows comes in many forms, the usual check-ins that family both close and afar, are all healthy and safe. This topic often takes on a sensitive side as we mull over if and when we will see certain loved ones in the future, which is a difficult contemplation, but when shared with others in the same situation gives hope around this. Another topic is the disdain for the elements of capitalist greed that rears its head globally on a daily basis and always serves as an opportunity to vent some aggression verbally when required. 

The conversation always takes a comical downturn also on a daily basis. As I’m married to a Muslim, our neighbours find it hard to hide the fact that they do eat a lot of pork in their diet on a weekly basis, but this has now become a common source of humour and always leads on to discussions around what will be served for ‘our tea’ that evening. The opportunity to vilify ourselves and our partners always takes centre stage and proves that we have all reached a point where physical appearance, queens’ english and social correctness have all gone out the window.

With sport always filling a large area of my life through cricket, football and rugby, a large void has now also been left to fill. Richard and I have succeeded in this area so far through comparisons on post 1980 World vs England 11s in both football and cricket (although there have been some questionable entries so far) and I’m sure that more sports will follow. My wife and Jo share tips around garden plants regularly and on various days some plants have defected over the wall in the hope a better life. We also take note of the ever changing environment around us – the bees that have started to pollinate, the Great Tits that sit in the Buddleia teasing my cats and the roses that can be seen flowering down on Westcotes Drive allow us to look forward to the warmer months heading our way and hopefully the opportunity to spend them freely. These shared interests provide great solace when needed and provide much great relief from the large Covid-19 cloud that hangs over us.

So where would I be without my ‘neighbours over the wall’??

I think the above sentence needs to be reworded as I don’t view Richard and Jo as neighbours now rather they have become more like extended family – a comfort blanket to share our highs and lows, a communist grocery store where goods and information are shared freely, a source of freedom to express ourselves and share laughter during this period of great uncertainty.

…But also the chance to drink a shitload of coffee, tea, beer, wine and whiskey!!!

Day Four: Passing the time in the backyard

Contributors: Chris-next-door and Richard:

“The beauty of our road is the ability to chat over the back wall. I said hello to the Polish family in the house behind ours for the first-time last week, when their youngster was blowing bubbles. We keep an eye out for the pensioner who lives next door to them, although she has family popping in. Thankfully, we also have the ability to chat to our neighbours, and they have grown to become treasured acquaintances.

Since we began socially distancing and then moved into some kind of lockdown, we have tried to maintain coffee in the back garden at 5pm. In the last few days, Chris-next-door and I have been discussing the greatest England and Wales Test Cricket XIs that we have seen, either live or on the TV, in our lifetime. We then moved on to discussing our World XIs. We were only interested in test matches.

The point of this, in part, is to act as a distraction from the grind of the news, from which I have largely switched off to be honest. Instead, I am finding more redemption in self-reflection, and in particular, considering my present life against what I hoped for and what I have experienced. This is also pushing me to take a historical focus – what must it have been like for those here and elsewhere on the planet trying to make sense of plague, pestilence, famine and flood? What must it have been like psychologically, emotionally, cognitively and physically? And how might we work through this differently?

Anyway, I was apprenticed and learned my craft as a historian. The idea that we may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us, is very important to me. In particular, the past that I have witnessed, and about which I can make more sense, as long as I can reflect upon how and why I feel as I do as I make my judgements. Sport is very important in this – with whom do we connect and why? Who has remained with us? Who would we want in our corner in a struggle?

So here we go.

Chris’s World XI

Sunil Gavaskar, India, 125 Tests, 10,122 runs at 51.12. Anyone that can maintain that average against the West Indies in the 80s must be bloody good.

Graeme Smith, South Africa, 117 Tests, 9,265 runs at 48.25. Crept under the superstar radar for many years, also a left-hander, so good to open with.

Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka, 134 Tests, 12,400 runs at 57.40. Short gritty aggressive batsmen, great on the leg-side.

Jacque Kallis, South Africa, 166 Tests, 13,289 runs at 55.37, 292 wkts at 32.65. Mr all-rounder, huge batting average and could bowl at 90mph if needed.

Steve Waugh, Australia, 168 Tests, 10,927 runs at 51.06, 92 wkts at 37.44 (captain). Could grind out an innings against the best attacks in the world. 50 to 100 conversion rate up there with the best.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, West Indies, 164 Tests, 11,867 runs at 51.37. Number 6 possibly hardest position in the team but managed to average 50+ batting with the tail.

Adam Gilchrist, Australia, 96 Tests, 5,570 runs at 47.60, 379 catches, 37 stumpings. Could take an innings away from you in a session and also second highest test dismissals.

Curtly Ambrose, West Indies, 98 Tests, 1,439 runs at 12.40, 405 wkts at 20.99. 6ft 5”.A Aggression, don’t try and get under his skin as it only made matters worse.

Malcolm Marshall West Indies, 81 Tests, 1,810 runs at 18.85, 376 wkts at 20.84. 90+ mph skiddy swingers… almost impossible to play sometimes.

Glenn McGrath, Australia, 124 Tests, 641 runs at 7.36, 563 wkts at 21.64. Pigeon… draw a 12 inch square on the track and he would hit it 6 out of 6, always aimed for top of off stump.

Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka, 133 Tests, 1,256 runs at 11.67, 800 wkts at 22.72. 800 test wickets says it all, great average for a spinner also.

Richard’s World XI (this is from my heart, and not my head, and therefore there can be no Australians. Ever.)

Virender Sehwag, India, 104 Tests, 8,586 runs at 49.34. I love an opener who effectively says “screw you” to any bowler. His refusal to move his feet mirrored my own batting style. That is where any mirroring ended.

Gordon Greenidge, West Indies, 104 Tests, 7,558 runs at 44.72. I always remember his 214 at Lord’s in 1984 after England, hilariously, chose to declare. Idiots.

Younis Khan, Pakistan, 118 Tests, 10,099 runs at 52.05. Intensely focused, like me. Relies on the bottom hand in his batting, like me. Not particularly stylish, like me. One of the greats…

Sachin Tendulkar, India, 200 Tests, 15,921 runs at 53.78. I was never a big Sachin Tendulkar fan, to be honest. Although I did see his first test century in Madras (as it was) in 1993. It was baking hot, but you can’t argue with a ticket for all five days for 10 quid, and all the curry you can eat. Anyway, you don’t play that number of tests and have that number of innings and have the weight of a nation on your shoulders and end with that average if you aren’t half-decent.

Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka, 149 Tests, 11,814 runs at 49.84 (team captain, because he wears it intensely but lightly, if that makes any sense). He is batting at five, because there are too many amazing number 4s. The power of Sri Lanka in the noughties shone through him.

Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan, 120 Tests, 8,830 runs at 49.60. Like me, he felt that fielding was beneath him. Like me, he felt that running and exercise were overrated. Unlike me, he was a gifted strokeplayer.

AB de Villiers, South Africa, 114 Tests, 8,765 runs at 50.66, 222 catches, 5 stumpings. It bothers me a little that I’m including someone that Boycott gushes over, given my disdain for the Yorkshireman. However, I love a maverick who isn’t obsessively selfish.

Richard Hadlee, New Zealand, 86 Tests, 3,124 runs at 27.16, 431 wkts at 22.29. Always have the Australians in trouble, and carried his team. What’s not to like?

Dale Steyn, 93 Tests, 1,251 runs at 13.59, 439 wkts at 22.95. Scary and skilled. The worst combination, unless you like facing raging bulls.

Curtly Ambrose, West Indies, 98 Tests, 1,439 runs at 12.40, 405 wkts at 20.99. 6ft 5”. 1993, 7-1 off 32 deliveries in Perth. Awesome.

Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka, 133 Tests, 1,256 runs at 11.67, 800 wkts at 22.72. I saw him devastate England at Trent Bridge in 2006, in spite of being swept for six by Monty Panesar. I love the fact that his bowling action got under Boycott’s skin. Lovely stuff.

Chris’s England XI

Graham Gooch, 118 Tests, 8,900 runs at 42.58, 23 wkts at 46.47. Stood out against possibly two best teams ever in W.I 1980s and Australia 1990s.

Alistair Cook, 161 Tests, 12,472 runs at 45.35. Dream of a cover drive and again great conversion rate from 50 to 100.

Joe Root, 133 Tests, 1,256 runs at 11.67, 800 wkts at 22.72 – cheeky Yorkshire man with a phenomenal technique and strong in all facets of the game

Kevin Pietersen, 104 Tests, 8,181 runs at 47.28. Devastating when in the groove and take any attack apart, pleasure to watch in 2005 against Brett Lee.

Graham Thorpe, 100 Tests, 6,744 runs at 44.66. Great on the leg side and also a fantastic square cut.

Ian Botham, 102 Tests, 5,200 runs at 33.54, 383 wkts at 28.40. Up there with Sobers and Kallis for all-rounders, talisman of the team and could win a game on his own.

Matt Prior, 79 Tests, 3,920 runs at 40.83, 217 catches, 13 stumpings. Averaged 40 with the bat and also a strong keeper, good morale booster behind the stumps.

Graeme Swann, 60 Tests, 1,370 runs at 22.09, 255 wkts at 29.96. Troubled batsmen by pushing the ball through quicker than most spinners, great stats for a finger spinner

Matthew Hoggard, 67 Tests, 473 runs at 7.27, 248 wkts at 30.50. Skiddy, great outswinger, deceptive pace.

Bob Willis, 90 Tests, 840 runs at 11.50, 325 wkts at 25.20. Tall and quick, had a great short ball.

James Anderson, 151 Tests, 1,185 runs at 9.63, 584 wkts at 26.83. Can reverse swing a pebble when he wants to, still troubling the best batsmen in the world in his mid-30s.

Richard’s England XI (heart trumps head, but it is my list.)

Graham Gooch, 118 Tests, 8,900 runs at 42.58, 23 wkts at 46.47. Really great moustache. There is something very reassuring about a cricketer with a moustache. Plus, that 154 against the West Indies in 1991. It was the first series I watched with my other half. That summer will forever be young love and Gooch’s moustache.

*My friend Chris (a different one) reminded me that Gooch toured South Africa under apartheid. So, as an apologist for racial violenceand injustice, he’s out. So instead…

Michael Vaughan, 82 Tests, 5,719 runs at 41.44. I can’t believe that I had forgotten Vaughan started his test career as an opener (averaging 45.49), before he became captain, and scored his highest test innings of 197 against India at Trent Bridge at the top of the order. I loved watching that innings from the Fox Road stand, in the sun. When will we see those days again?

Marcus Trescothick, 76 Tests, 5,825 runs at 43.79. Open about his mental health. Loves sausages. He set the tone for that great summer of 2005 on the first morning at Edgbaston. Like living in a dream.

David Gower, 117 Tests, 8,231 runs at 44.25. He wasn’t a number three, but I want him in my team. Mainly for the aerobatics and that 123 at Sydney in 1991. You have to have someone who played for Leicestershire, right?

Kevin Pietersen, 104 Tests, 8,181 runs at 47.28. I love the fact that he irritated the clique that thought it owned the England dressing room. We would never have won in 2005 without him. He is the main reason I can never have Prior or Swann in my team.

Ian Bell, 118 Tests, 7727 runs at 42.69. It is the Ian Bell of 2013 who gets in. I always had a soft spot for him. Gifted yet fragile, and in five Ashes winning teams. Lovely stuff.

Ian Botham, 102 Tests, 5,200 runs at 33.54, 383 wkts at 28.40. He almost made it into Don Bradman’s best England and Wales Ashes’ team. If he was good enough for the Don, he is good enough for me. Plus, 1981, innit?!

Jack Russell, 54 Tests, 1,897 runs at 27.10, 153 catches, 12 stumpings. I love a man who takes baked beans on tour with him. Another standout moustache, and a glimmer of hope in a dreadful decade for English cricket.

Andrew Flintoff, 79 Tests, 3,845 runs at 31.77, 219 wkts at 33.34. Wasted in the early part of his career, because we thought he was the new Botham, rather than the new Andrew Flintoff. We will always have that over versus Ricky Ponting at Edgbaston in 2005, and running him out at The Oval in 2009.

Monty Panesar, 50 Tests, 220 runs at 4.88, 167 wkts at 34.71. I loved Monty. I loved what he represented. I loved that sweep for six against Murali in 2006. I love that he kept trying to find a way, in spite of the ridicule. And I could never have Swann in this team. And we need a spinner. It was almost Tuffers. But my heart belongs to Monty.

Bob Willis, 90 Tests, 840 runs at 11.50, 325 wkts at 25.20 (team captain, because otherwise it will be Vaughan and his batting will drop off a cliff). He won the test at Headingley in 1981. I love the fact that he blanked the media at the end; I love a human who wears their heart on their sleeve.

James Anderson, 151 Tests, 1,185 runs at 9.63, 584 wkts at 26.83. We wasted his talent for so long. There is something very reassuring about sitting in the Eric Hollie’s stand at Edgbaston watching him run in.

NB 1: clearly, we could make decisions based upon longevity, career statistics, purple patches that individuals had, and the nature of the pitch. Who knows why and how personal events, world events, life circumstances and so on impact individuals when they are at work? And sport is work, whatever we think about it. It is tedious, and boring, and brings us together, and gives us some purpose, and it is alienating. But that is another matter. So, maybe we would take Ian Bell at number five for England in his 2013 incarnation, over Graham Thorpe’s performance across his career. Maybe we would take Shane Warne over Muttiah Muralitharan in Australia, but not on the subcontinent. At this moment, I am not sure any of that matters. It’s what and who lie in your soul.

NB 2: in any case, England get beaten by a World XI nine times out of 10. In fact, they probably get beaten by a World Second XI nine times out of 10. So my heart will always trump my head, because that one time we win matters more than we think.”

Day Two: 'I won’t see my daughter for 12 weeks, a feeling that I am failing her hits me hard'

Contributor: Chris:

“Let’s rewind back to mid-november, I’m having a quiet beer with friends on a friday night, but inside my body is giving me all the warning signs of what i had already feared was inevitable to come. Two days later and a visit to A&E with my wife confirmed my fears and another week in Leicester Royal was required. A week of being prodded, poked and scanned, an ensemble of injections, tests and medication all alongside daily investigations by doctors telling me that my body had once again ground to a halt.

Back in May 2015 I was diagnosed with aggressive fistulating Crohn’s Disease. Everything about that day changed my life which was no longer my own. An active life full of adventure and discovery became an existence of pain, exhaustion and social distancing. My family has been amazing from Day 1, especially my beautiful wife – she is my rock in every way and takes every difficult decision in her stride with a warm smile and a comforting embrace. My three children support me through laughter, comedy and chocolate and always know how to make me smile in the darkest of times. My youngest daughter finds it hard however to hide the worry that she feels almost daily around my condition, but saves her tears for when she is alone. My friends try to support from afar due to the rarity of social events and the distance between us now.

Since November I have been unable to work and thus long days home alone are often difficult, Netflix has become a frustration rather than a treat, long conversations with my cats are often one-sided and social media and news outlets provide little to stimulate the imagination. But I get through each day with a mixture of chores, sometimes adventurous cooking and small trips out into town or to the shops. Although the days are difficult, I still have some freedom to how I live my life and the choices that I make day to day.

Then in December a news story breaks of a viral outbreak in China that proves to be interesting reading. At first glance it carries no immediate worry and being 5,000 miles away, western society deems it an incident for the Chinese to handle and we return our focus back to drip-fed biased news that we have become so used to.

However as Christmas comes and goes and then Donald Trump flexes his sociopathic muscles with Iran, the story begins to dominate news outlets. All of a sudden the number of new cases is growing alarmingly and the mortality rate is creeping up. The virus spreads to China’s neighbours and then to Europe and by the end of January it reaches our own shores. Does our government look to take any action immediately to protect the people that live here… No they make capitalist based decisions to protect our economy and the elite that fund them in the background. Rather than planning for the inevitable onslaught on our already frail NHS, decisions are made instead to look to protect the listings on the FTSE 100 and alongside this, the companies that our government officials have links with are assured of their safety in the future.

Alongside the government doing nothing, our society chooses also to take a line of ignorance. We instead bury our head in the sand and use Seasonal Flu rates as evidence to argue that it will all blow over. The ‘Not In My Back Yard’ principal is visible across the nation and we go about our daily lives with no change whatsoever. The government chooses to ignore WHO guidelines to test as much as possible and isolate where we can and they use the media to convince us that it will only affect the elderly and infirm – we will be ok if we wash our hands and don’t sneeze around each other. Alongside this, the media are constantly updating us on the situation in Italy and yet we still don’t take things seriously enough to warrant significant changes in our day to day lives. 

Then on the 5th March (which is also my birthday ironically) the Shit hits the fan – the news comes of the first UK death of Covid-19. As a nation we are suddenly like a deer in the highlights at night. The ensuing panic manifests itself in the aisles of supermarkets, we have no regard for others and have regressed into a pack of hungry wolves. Society finally realises that the NHS has already cracked, its staff are overworked and at risk of contracting the virus every time they leave for work. How does the government react… again by not doing enough!

Mr Prime Minister advises us to avoid pubs and restaurants but makes no decision on schools, universities or public transport which are all hives for spreading contagion.

Finally as of Friday 20th March, Boris decides to grow a pair, his hand forced by society not having the decency to follow guidelines of distancing and isolation where possible. This is again followed up by the lockdown last night which will allow some draconian powers to be enabled to attempt to stem the spread of Covid.

I took the decision to self isolate at the beginning of last week due to my health and the effect the medications i take have had on my immune system. A couple of walks with my wife and a brief visit to the GP to ensure all is ok were my only trips out last week. The realisation set in over the weekend that I won’t see my youngest daughter for 12 weeks as she lives with her mum in Grantham – a feeling in some way that I am deserting her and failing as a parent hits me hard. Last night at 7.03pm I received my government text message explaining that I am in the highest risk category and that I must shield for 12 weeks minimum. Clarity overtakes hope upon reading this message and a little voice in my ear lets me know that I just might not get through this. So now my choices have been taken away…. No more trips into town or to the shops, no pint in the local with friends, no walk in the fields with my wife. But I know this isolation will give me the best chance of seeing the new world months down the line and I can’t wait for the day to arrive where I see my daughter face to face and hold her tighter than ever before.”