It feels like the Coronavirus situation has been around for ten years, actually the advice to social distance has only been here for around for a few weeks in the Netherlands. It has infiltrated the news, social feeds and daily conversations, so much so that it feels difficult now to find something unrelated to the current pandemic, and unsurprisingly as it is entirely changing our way of living and socialising.
We, the people, have been told to socially distance. To keep at least 1.5 metres away from strangers, to work from home if it is possible and to stay inside as much as possible. And most of us have done just that. There is a continuum of uncertainty, all feeling like we are in a visceral vacuum waiting for a miraculous cure, a decrease in new cases, an insight in what’s to come. The days stretch out and become hazy into one long period of time.
I am not sure about you, but the first few days meant I was spending a lot more time on my phone, refreshing the Guardian news page trying to keep up to date with the world’s response to the Corona virus. I have seen every COVID-19 challenge, every meme, every joke and every heart-wrenching story. Every glimmer of hope as well as the draconian measures each country is taking. I am waiting for the Netflix documentary which I am sure is currently being filmed, to be released once we have beaten this pandemic. It will probably be written by Jenji Kohan or Charlie Brooker. I hope it will star Cillian Murphy.
I have been struggling to write this post, everyone’s circumstances are very different right now and there is a strange feeling of the usual points of interest feeling a bit meaningless. I initially wanted to share some tips on working from home, but I’m pivoting the focus of this post to just simply reflect on the positive stuff. I’m the sort of person who tears up when communities come together. When people help each other. It feels a bit like through this horrendous pandemic, kindness has never been more prevalent. Fashion brands are changing their entire business models to create protective clothing gear for healthcare workers, perfume companies are creating hand-sanitizer and ventilators are being created by car and household electronic manufacturers. Celebrities like Carol Vorderman are offering digital maths tutoring, Dan Snow is offering online history lessons. On a more personal level, nation-wide applause for those on the front-line are being held in most countries, food is being delivered to hospital workers, people are trying their best to support their local businesses and neighbors are watching out for each other. We currently have no choice but to live in the moment. It is starting to feel like everyone is stepping up in their own way, even if that means just staying at home. There is an overwhelming feeling of kindness. In my lifetime, there has never been a stronger feeling of “togetherness” and it is wonderful to see we’ve got each other’s backs.
I grew up with an older brother who was not really drawn to make-up, and a mother whose beauty regime went about as far as moisturising or using a stick of deodorant. There was a battered tin of “stage makeup” in our bathroom cupboard that had dried up and had started to crack, and she owned one mascara that used to make sporadic, nervous appearances when she was off to a party. My mum’s pure refusal to pick up a razor created its own ethnographic proof that the less you shave, the less you need to.
I want to be very clear that now in reflection, I am so grateful that I had a woman in my life who never made me feel like I needed to alter anything about my appearance. However, as a little girl and long before the age of YouTube tutorials – the world of feminine beauty was a mystery to me. Lipstick was a sophisticated object to marvelled at, I had no idea what foundation was, and nail varnish (most of which ended up over the carpet) was about as far as I ventured. Let’s just say I was a little late to the party in learning the do’s and do-not’s of the beauty world.
So, if you wanted a little chuckle I thought I would round up just some of the horrendous errors tried and tested by me and never to be repeated:
- Cutting off my own eyelashes. A girl in my class at school told me if you cut of your eyelashes they grow back twice as thick. That night I took the scissors to my eyelashes in the hope for fuller, longer lashes. Disclaimer: it’s not true, they do not grow back thicker, you just have a few months eyelashes-less until they do grow back with people searching your face to understand what has changed.
- Black eyebrows. One of my Dutch friends who looks a bit like Margot Robbie and has equally beautiful dark eyebrows that juxtapose with her blonde hair kindly offered to dye my eyebrows for me. Using a home kit. Let’s just say the look did not look the same on me as it did for her and I looked perpetually surprised but also cross at the same time.
- The fake tan. I have a mate called Anna who is a pro in the beauty arena. Everytime I go to hers she tells me to help myself to anything in her beauty cabinet, and I turn into a child, take this literally and put about 12 different things on at once. One summer, without reading the instructions I used her Isle of Paradise face tan. Had I read said instructions I would have realised that you need to only add a few drops to your moisturiser. I used the fake tan as if it was moisturiser. I turned a strange shade of patchy orange that developed throughout the day with people asking what was going on with my face. I have not lived it down.
- The Epilator bikini line. My mother kindly bought me an epilator for my birthday when I was around 16/17. I decided to use it on all areas including my bikini line. I remember screaming in agony for my mother to come upstairs. She had to help me to free certain parts that had got caught in said epilator whilst trying not to laugh. I have not epilated again since. Our bond strengthened that day.
- Cutting my own fringe: Or better yet, getting someone else to cut my fringe in the queue to Koko’s in Camden. Never cut your own fringe no matter how many tequilas you’ve downed.
- The natural suncream. Being a boho hippie I bought myself some natural hemp suncream off the internet and smugly smothered it over my arms and legs on a holiday with friends, studying their tubes of chemical-full creams and tutting. My hemp suncream did not work. I went the same colour as my luminous orange t-shirt and couldn’t sleep on my tummy for a week.
- Dyeing my own hair pink. Never dye your hair on the cheap. I wanted a light pink hint and ended up more lobster-meets-beetroot and pinkish pillow cases.
- Egg white hair mask. Just do not do this, no matter how many beauty bibles tell you to. The egg cooks in your hair in the shower and you turn into a human breakfast.
I find this stage just after the Christmas holidays very strange. I seem to get an overriding apathetic feeling, not really wanting to do anything except curl up and read or watch BBC Christmas TV, I mean did you see Mark Gatiss’ Dracula?
The holidays whirl past, a timeless period of glutton where our wine glasses are never empty, and our tummies are always full. Calorie-watching has no place in our household and we seem to have forgotten the meaning of cholesterol. It is the time of year when my mother finally let’s us get out more than one cheese at a time and the M&S party food keeps flowing.
Every year, before I finish work for Christmas I decide that this obscene amount of vacant time off must warrant a new skill learnt; I will learn Dutch I promise myself, or Russian. I will do yoga every day and start a novel. Whilst I am at it I might as well read War & Peace and take up a tapestry course. In reality, after the first twenty hours of doing nothing, taking baths until I am prune-like (I only have a shower at my flat in Amsterdam), and being offered lifts by my parents (I don’t have a car in the UK), I seem to actually manage to go back in time to being a teenager again, my parents doing my washing and cooking my food. What a magnificent time. I become the laziest I have ever been, I don’t achieve any of my ambitious personal goals and constantly wonder if this would be what my life would be like if I had an infinite supply of money. I meet up with old school friends and sleep in late. Yes, I definitely regress when I go home. I do worry that I would have been a blissfully happy aristocrat.
Getting back to the daily grind is really very difficult. My alarm feels like it is going off in the middle of the night (it doesn’t help that it is still dark outside), and being productive feels like something I am no longer capable of. There was a day when even leaving the house made me feel a bit wobbly. I have tiptoed back into the gym and have been feeling the effects of my first class on 2020 for three days. Walking is painful. I am thankful my manager is abroad at the moment to not see me in this sorry state. For those out there who are getting back into the “regular” week with some resistance, I hear you.
This year seems to be the year that we all have realised that we have enough stuff. Everyone on my Christmas present list, when asked what they would like, has suggested an “experience” gift or something really bloomin’ practical.
We have bathroom cupboards bursting at the seams with hand creams from our aunts, joke presents that are not really that funny ( I still have some racing willies somewhere in a drawer) and the numerous reports on the amount of our stuff heading to landfill is horrifying us all into sizing down on our presents, refusing to panic-buy and rethink our “filler” options. Hallelujah!
However, a quick search on Instagram for #giftguide and I am presented with thousands of pages of gifts, little trinkets to spend my hard-earned cash on this Christmas. If you’re in need of some inspiration I have a few Christmas gift ideas that might help you this Noël:
- An experience; dinner, workshop, a massage or beauty treatment. Something you hardly ever treat yourself to, but is such a treat when you do have it.
- Candles. Candles make everything so cosy, and you don’t need to always splash out on the Diptyque or Jo Malone variety. TKMax always have a load of fancy-looking candles that are pretty reasonable, or you could even make your own..
- Plants. This is something I usually get the people who have everything.
- Books; even secondhand books (if the person you are buying for is also an eco-warrior). Everyone loves a good cookery book.
- Grow-your-own herb kit or a herb garden. Kind of feeds into the above.
- Homemade hamper. Homemade chutney, jam, pickled items – get creative!
Psst! Don’t forget to wrap it in reusable wrapping paper/ cloth!
Is it me or does Christmas seem to have come around extra fast this year? Well folks, just because it is Christmas and every marketing campaign in history out there tells us we must buy stuff during Christmas to have a great time, don’t mean it’s true. I have a few tricks up my sleeve that might help you to loosen the purse strings.
- Buy second-hand decorations. The charity and thrift shops are usually FULL of them at this time of the year. We went down a couple of days ago and bought all our decorations for around 6 euros. You might even bag yourself a second-hand tree you lucky rascal.
- Which brings me to my next point, think about the Christmas tree. According to this Carbon Trust report , considering the transportation, biodegradability and process it is conclusively “better” to get a real tree as opposed to a plastic one, unless you know you will use the plastic one for at least 12 years. Check with your local waste services but some trees do get collected, shredded and turned into fertiliser or in the area of Amsterdam I live, they apparently get turned into Christmas tree bonfires.
- Re-usable wrapping paper. Wrapping paper is usually plastic coated so not recyclable. We all see the bin bag from ONE family Christmas, imagine that multiplied over each country. Terrifying. I have started using scraps of fabric I find in the textile bin at work, and hope that people will reuse them (yes I am also that person who checks with the gift receiver if they will indeed find a use for the scrap of fabric and takes it back for reuse if not). Other options can be old newspaper with string, or brown paper.
- Borrow your Christmas party dress. Every year, I used to buy something new for the annual Christmas party. It usually featured a lot of glitter and didn’t really work at other times of the year. Very wasteful indeed people. If you have nothing to wear, ask your friends first, chances are they probably have something and then scour your local secondhand shop. If all else fails I really recommend renting one.
- Christmas presents, get stuff people actually need or want. We all know it’s coming yet we all find ourselves panic-buying in the shops with hundreds of other people doing the same thing. The panic-bought present clutter our houses for a few months and end up in the charity shop. Think about what people really need, is there an experience you can get instead of a material item? Can you get children’s toys secondhand? Can you buy a bit less stuff?
- Have a veggie Christmas. I know it’s almost blasphemy for some people, but the Linda McCartney roast joints are pretty good, and let’s be honest we’re here for the trimmings!