Pandemic Survival Kit
The Pandemic Survival Kit is a repository of stories about what’s got University members through this last year, and why.
We want to hear about your favourite walks, the music you turn to, the poem you remember, the favourite mug, the person you call, the colours in your craft box, and the joggers that go in the wash twice a week.
Your story can be anonymous, pseudonymous, or use your first name; you might like to sign off with whether you are staff or student; and it can be any length (most stories are 40-400 words long). You may like to include a photo or a doodle, or leave it to us to provide the artwork…
Email your story to email@example.com, or write it on a postcard and post to:
Pandemic Survival Kit c/o Why Don’t You Write Me PO Box 28335 EDINBURGH EH9 8BQ
Introduction: One Year On, A Pandemic Survival Kit
For me, it’s the red joggers. I bought a pair in August, when I returned to Edinburgh after five months in Oxford for lockdown 1.0. They were Marks and Spencers, brushed cotton inside, extra long. After a week, I bought a second pair. Soon I was wearing them all the time: one in the wash, one out. Working from home, there was no situation they did not suit. At the computer, there was none of that waistband difficulty that you get after hours in jeans, and for wandering around the flat they were just a bit warmer than the usual leggings. As the autumnal days turned wintery, I put baselayers under them for my walks, and for the shivering hours at my desk under droughty windows. It feels cheerful to wear red every day, even if no one sees it. Over the last several months, I’ve bought new jeans; I’ve even, in a fit of optimism, bought new work trousers – but they sit in my wardrobe, unworn, awaiting a smarter time. It’s the red joggers for now.
When the Chaplaincy team got together for an anniversary lockdown tea over Teams, our receptionist Judith suggested that we bring our pandemic survival kit: what’s helped us get through this year, and why. I ‘fessed up to the red joggers – it’s why my jumpers, the only thing visible on Zoom, are always neutral colours – and a colleague emailed me afterwards to say that hers, too, are Marks. (Grey marl, in her case.) We brought hiking boots and trainers, pens and journals, knitting and Taylor Swift. These things have kept us moving when life became very still, taken us outside into green places when days felt grey, occupied our hands, kept us warm, allowed ideas to flow, brought sparkle, colour, and texture back into the present moment, and comforted us when we, too, felt like an old cardigan under someone’s bed.
Once I started thinking about it, I could bring to mind a host of things that have kept me going over the past year. Not just the joggers and the invisible strings, but also the beautiful cup I bought from Marchmont Gallery, that I drink tea from every day; the view from the castle terrace, a brisk walk away after work; the woollen blanket to tuck round cold or tired knees; the cups of tea on Pam’s couch, a bubble blessing; the children’s books – E. Nesbit and Laura Ingalls Wilder, William Nicholson and Lian Hearn – that I’ve shared afresh with schoolfriends; the monthly postcards from my aunt and cousin; the weekly call with my best friend; a mindfulness practice, that quietly pins everything together; and, of course, Ben the silky-faced collie.
After a year of tough times, we know now what helps to pick us up, keep us buoyant, and make life bearable. It’s good to take time to remember these, alongside the harder memories that make their way to the surface unbidden; and to have something to look to and remind us, when we forget.
Here’s what’s in our University’s pandemic survival kit.
Feeling Free with a Fitbit
‘The time right up to the first lockdown was the hardest time I’ve ever experienced in my life. In my head there was a lot of noise from this downwards spiral that had been going on for weeks and months and then suddenly the world was put on pause – silence. I soon found myself in a small cottage by a stream in Cornwall, owned by my brother’s girlfriend’s mum (as you might assume, I felt really out of place at first, my anxiety playing a big part in this feeling, having tagged along with nowhere else to go with such short notice). It was here I was handed a token from my brother, a gift for my birthday that had been weeks before: a Fitbit. I took such little notice of it at first. It sat lightly placed on my wrist, tracking my day, day by day. However, slowly but surely, it began to trickle down into my life…’
Click the PDF below to read more.
Spring, the Onomatopoeic Season
Hope Springs…Spring Hopes
This onomatopoeic season
gives a lesson
We must bounce back from winter snow,
And focus on the future now.
Spring flowers bloom in sequence through nature’s orchestration.
Starlings celebrate the change with song and murmuration.
- Gaye Manwaring, Former Student
Biking to a Bumper Cooked Breakfast
‘I have loved my bikes in the pandemic: road and gravel. I am not one who ‘cycles to suffer’, as are some of the cyclists I know! I cycle to feel free, which is a powerful antidote lockdown. I have to say, I love my bike a little bit more when lockdown is released enough for the cycling cafés to open: I cycle also to eat bumper cooked breakfasts and cake.’
- Harriet Harris, Staff
I Love You. I’m Glad I Exist
The Orange, by Wendy Cope
At lunchtime I bought a huge orange –
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave –
They got quarters and I had a half.
And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.
The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.
‘I came across this poem early in lockdown one, wrote it out on a piece of paper and stuck it on my fridge. One year later and I must have read it a few hundred times during my (very frequent) trips into the kitchen. The message still stands. A useful reminder to appreciate the little things, especially when the big things are a bit scary. I wrote frequent gratitude lists with great dedication through most of 2020, but have since fallen out of the habit. So here are some small things I am grateful for this week: the beautiful marbled wrapping paper I used to enclose a friend’s birthday present yesterday; the shared playlist curated by myself and my sister that means we can listen to the same music, even though she is in New Zealand; a long walk around Holyrood Park attempting to identify birds from their song. Poems and gratitude are an essential part of my pandemic survival kit. I can’t wait to share an orange with a loved one someday soon, but these things will do in the meantime. I love you. I’m glad I exist.’
- Daisy, Staff
- Iona Beange
Knitting, in Front of a Noir
‘I have returned to knitting; a craft I was taught by my mum as a little girl. My mum had herself been taught to knit at school, and she was taught to knit and read at the same time: to knit a row and read a page. Genius. The hands being occupied helps the mind to concentrate. There is research about this now. My mum would knit while marking exam scripts and academic papers. I only partially learned to knit and read. I need something flat, like a book on a Kindle, or a newspaper, and the knitting pattern needs to be straightforward, so not the dress in the picture below!
I do most of my knitting while watching television. This can be tricky for following subtitles in the Scandinavian Noirs. I had to unravel the skirt of this dress a few times!
The main boon of knitting for me during the pandemic has been the sense of creating something, and of having a project. I also like giving my fingers something to do; it is a good outlet for agitation.
There is more knitting in me than I can make use of for myself, so I’ve also enjoyed knitting gifts. The dress was for a friend’s baby. The blanket was my sister’s Christmas present, which has arrived with her today, 5 months late. I was late to start it, but it has arrived in good time for the Australian winter!’
- Harriet Harris, Staff
Photography, a Little Ritual
‘Sometimes it’s been hard to see the wood through the trees over the last year. Moving to a new location would normally be filled with excitement and wonder, a desire to go out and explore, take in everything and more than the eyes could see; that’s been postponed to a certain extent with staying local and moving during a pandemic.
With technology, a love-hate relationship as time moves on, at my fingertips how could I not take advantage of maps and images to keep the cravings at bay, a glimpse of what is to come when I’m able to embrace the great outdoors. Understandably, I took to looking out my windows a lot. Each day not knowing if the sky would be lit up over the bay, snow had fallen over the Pentlands or it was raining. My little ritual of photographing what I saw, telling myself today would be the last time I use my phone to do it and each day saying I will set up my DSLR.
A few weeks ago I was taken on a surprise trip to a local quarry. It was a warm day, people were out walking and saying hello. The clouds were intoxicating, the stone cliff breath-taking, the water was a comforting shade of green. It’s a simple 10 minute walk for most, but those few hours pushed my limits beyond breaking point, to enable as many memories and photographs to be taken as I could. A decision I have no regrets about doing but has led to me finally dusting my DSLR off as I recover and in readiness for the time I return.’
- Staff, Disabled
Teddy, the Gentle Bear
‘My pandemic survival kit would include watching and listening to birds in the garden and on my daily walks, buying a bike and being able to cycle myself to the sea, knitting, wrapping myself in cosy hand knits and my bear. Photo of Teddy attached with us wearing our matching hand knitted jumpers! I’ve had Ted since the day I was born and on difficult days this year Ted would always be nearby with her gentle presence.’
- Victoria, Staff
The Power of Jigsaws
‘Who knew I’d become a bit obsessed with jigsaws over the past year? I certainly didn’t expect it, but with nothing else to do I dug an old one out of the attic and there it all started. Dusty old ones, bright new ones, well-loved second hand ones, how I love the thrill of opening a new box and the sense of anticipation watching the pieces spill out of the box randomly, all over the place, much like my cluttered mind. The easy bit to start, gathering the corners and edges. With the frame set the hard work starts. Piece by piece the picture starts to form and I think about little else, other than where is the edge of that purple flower??
It’s sometimes frustrating, endlessly seeking that elusive piece, but what satisfaction you get when it slots perfectly into place, creating another block of colour. As the image forms gradually so my mind decompresses, bit by bit, until the jigsaw is the only thing I’m focussed on. Long gone are the stressful thoughts of difficult work meetings or challenging childcare during those precious moments when I’m absorbed in the puzzle. I hope I remember this feeling and call again on the power of jigsaws when life gets tough, but until then I think my family will be glad to get their dining room table back!’
Outdoors, with Colin the Border Collie
‘Hi everyone. I’m Amy and over the past year I’ve had period of times working from home and some time when I’ve been able to access the research lab. Something that has really kept me going is a good connection with the outdoors. Certainly near the start of the pandemic that was based on lots of time spent in the garden. Then we got more adventurous and started to explore the numerous green spaces available in the South of Edinburgh – Liberton Park, Seven Acre Park, Braids Hill, and Burdiehouse Burn. The arrival of Colin the Border Collie to the family in May meant that we’ve been out in green spaces even more frequently and now I’ll be out for a walk at least twice a day. Sometimes to play Frisbee at Cramond or Portobello. Having that time to get outside really helps me to relax and shut off from work after a day at the computer.
Fingers crossed for a Spring and Summer of great weather.’
- Amy, Staff
The Garmin, an Unjudging Friend
‘My Garmin Heart Rate Monitor is my unjudging friend. It tells me my Intensity Minutes. You are supposed to do at least 150 Intensity Minutes each week to maintain basic fitness.
Before the pandemic I was a software engineer working for the Head of Pathology at Edinburgh University. I was based out at the Vet School, co-located with the Veterinary Pathologists there, and I was regularly walking around the Bush Estate during my lunchtimes. It was nice to get out of the office, into the fresh air and get my heart beating a little faster. I was hitting the target most weeks, and then the pandemic hit.
I’m still a software engineer working for the Head of Pathology, but now I’m based in my spare room. My spare room was my “music” room before the pandemic, but is now also my “office” too, having supplemented the guitars with a desk, chair and computer. Work and Pleasure literally in the same room.
I started taking my breaks walking around Bonaly Country Park where I live. I’ll remember the colours of Spring 2020 most of all; the walks started in the dull colours of winter, and by the time lockdown lifted, we were in summer and everything had come back to life again, with the accompanying palette of vibrant colours…’
Click the PDF below to read more.
- Mike Wicks, Staff
Paths Taken on the ‘Health’ App
‘The distance tracking app is the thing that keeps reminding me of the gradual transition of life.
I have had the habit of tracking my activities since long before the lock-down. My old iPhone was enabled to count how many steps I walked each day. Even with this mere information, it helped me to remember those big days wherever there is a sharp spike on the bar-chart. That’s when I had a day-long walk, mountain climbing, or trekking with friends. I started to use a new phone not long before the lock-down and the inbuilt ‘Health’ app was yet to be employed.
The first lock-down run was with my two flatmates on 8th Mar 2020. We went to Portobello beach which is just within the 5-miles distance limit. There is a playground en route where we swung and jumped with unbridled joy. The restaurants were still open, so we had lunch together and spent around 2 hours there. Sure thing that no one could run with a full stomach, so we kind of jogged and walked slowly back home. It was a fantastic run with sunshine, beach, playful friends. All of the aforementioned activities can be easily recollected with the help of the ‘Health’ app. It does not only provide the number of steps like my old phone did, but it also mapped out the paths we take, the speed of the whole journey, the time we spend at each location, and the average pace for each kilometre.
During the whole ‘runnable season’, I managed to hit a total distance of 1000km and the best average pace decreased from 6min54s to 5min. Those numbers gave me both a sense of achievement and awareness of living life itself. Luckily, that I didn’t have a goal in the beginning, and I doubt whether I’d accomplish this much if I did have one. Pretty much like life, isn’t it?
The new running season has come. Hope I’ll regain the muscle which has been starved by the long static winter in Scotland. Things are getting better anyway.’
Be Still in Haste
‘I keep this poem by Wendell Berry by my monitor.’
How quietly I
from this moment
looking at the
clock, I start over
so much time has
passed, and is equaled
split-second is present
moment this moment
is the first
The People Like Sunshine
‘My pandemic survival kit offering is a phrase that helped a friend of mine going through a difficult time which she shared with me and I immediately loved.’
“Stand near people who feel like sunshine.”
‘For me it has been the garden birds. Watching the power dynamics and personalities at play in our small garden through the patio doors has been a welcome distraction from the stresses of pandemic life.
From refilling the bird feeder it begins: the chatter of the sparrows and blue tits as they start to flurry around. Word spreads throughout the neighbourhood. More birds hop along the back fence and appear in the trees. The smaller birds can fly in, hover or rest on the feeder and take a nut or seed. Soon enough the bigger birds get wind of the new supply, the pigeons, the crows. Too heavy to hover they sink to the ground, hoping to gather any dropped morsels. The solitary robin, the bravest of them all, sweeps in ahead of the waiting blue tits, who watch in shock, looking at each other in disbelief. The crow, poised and watching, has an idea and wants some of the action. Edging along the washing line it uses its legs to pull the feeder up it so it doesn’t need to hover.
When the chatter has calmed down and the birds have had their feed the squirrel arrives for a nosy. How to get to the bird feeder? Can I balance, slink across the washing line and swing down like an ape from a jungle tree, yes I can! But then the dog notices the squirrel in her territory, how dare it, barks, the squirrel scurries off…and the show is over.
In between emails, Teams meetings and spreadsheets I watch the drama unfold from behind the patio doors. Who knew such theatre took place in our gardens?’
Feeling Connected, Through ASMR
‘Have you ever felt a tingly sensation going down your spine when someone plays with your hair? Or when you were a child and your friend would trace letters on your back? Have you ever felt a wave of deep relaxation while watching someone focus intently on something else, like painting or cutting paper with scissors? What about while listening to nature sounds like a thunderstorm or wind blowing through trees?
These things are some common examples of ASMR triggers. ASMR (which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) is characterised by a pleasant tingly sensation that often starts in the scalp and flows down the neck and spine. It has been described as a euphoric, static-like feeling on the skin, similar to frission (when you get goosebumps from listening to a piece of music or watching a performance). On YouTube there are thousands of content creators who make ASMR videos with the sole purpose of eliciting this response. There is still limited evidence on how ASMR works, and why some people experience it and others don’t. However, despite the lack of scientific evidence, there is a massive amount of anecdotal evidence. The millions of people watch ASMR videos every day say that it helps them to relax, to fall asleep, to deal with anxiety, and more…’
Click the PDF below to read more.
Journals, and the Power of Words
‘My go to inanimate object during these lockdowns has been my journal. Or should I say journals as there are now five of them! At the beginning of first lockdown I was writing in them every day; then over time this fluctuated, sometimes it was a flurry of ten days then a space of two weeks. It most definitely helped me to get through it and looking back has also been therapeutic. There are little verses or poems I wrote (like 100 Days and Counting); articles from magazines or the odd recipe. All in all a positive thing from this challenging experience.’
100 DAYS AND COUNTING
the sky turns from navy blue
to grey, or sometimes bright blue.
And another day starts.
It might be a good one
with moments of joy,
lightness and laughter.
Or, dull with dark thoughts
filling each and every moment.
We just dont know.
There is no pattern to this,
and sometimes it feels,
like no control.
Food can be fuel or fun,
pleasure taken with each bite.
An afternoon can be lost, reading
Time flies by or drags and sags.
The companionship of overheard conversations,
or the din of frayed tempers.
An enlightening podcast; a laugh out loud moment
of comedy on YouTube.
People’s acts of kindness and
thoughtfulness or thoughtlessness.
Connecting with friends and family
so vital and life affirming.
To keep that sense of normality.
Is it just around the corner,
or in the park or the shop?
Soul searching as the day ends.
Hope to sleep and arise;
renewed and ready to start another day.
Blue Skies at Wardie Bay Beach
‘One thing that really helped me during this time was my daily walk to Wardie Bay Beach. For the first five months of lockdown, I was working from home. The evenings were bright and I made the most of this opportunity by walking to Wardie Bay Beach every day after work. I had been there once or twice before COVID, but this was the first time I really had the chance to explore this little beach and the area itself.
Although it might seem monotonous to take the same route every day, it certainly wasn’t boring. Every time I went there, the weather and sea conditions were different, not to mention the light and the tide. I loved it. I found the sea both calming and therapeutic and at other times, energetic and powerful. These daily walks cleared my head, gave me a break from the screen and helped me refocus.
I also listened to a lot of music. Music that was uplifting and happy. I have a few favourite bands on my playlist, but the ones that lifted my mood the most, were The Lighthouse Family and Irish music groups like Solas, Lúnasa and Four Men and A Dog, to name but a few. I love the upbeat perspective The Lighthouse Family have in their songs, and life in general, it seems. Paul Tucker says “if you have that “Blue Sky In Your Head” approach about something, you'll look at it positively and see the good in it. So if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.”
Visits to the Botanical Gardens with my best friend Amanda and family Zoom calls have been a lifeline for me too. These, along with my 19-year-old furbaby called Xena, have brought me such comfort and laughter this last year. Xena, our cat, went missing in 2019 but we found her six weeks later thankfully. She also underwent major surgery late last year and survived. I’m very lucky to have her and I spoil her rotten.
It’s been a challenging year for everyone, but it’s great to be able to share the fun and the laughter, the highs and the lows with everyone here, to help lighten the load.’
- Martina McAuley, Staff
The Games of Black Lambs
‘This flock of black sheep give me huge joy because each member is a black sheep of the family!
They live a short walk from my home, so I’ve been able to visit them throughout lockdown. This year in particular, the lambs have seemed delightful. They play like toddlers, chasing each other, jumping up and down for no obvious reason, and gathering in circles as though their mums weren’t there. They bring me out of myself when my mind has become compressed.
Last week, the lambs played a new game with a bale of hay, taking it in terms to stand on top of it. When I returned home from my walk to a family member who was in a blue funk about his day, I told him about the lambs and their game. He was enchanted too, and no longer blue.’