Memories of five years ago popped up on Facebook. I was on holiday in Tenerife at the time. On previous days I’ve also been reminded of times at the theatre seeing shows or eating a lovely meal in a restaurant. All of which seem a world away in lockdown, while staying at home.
The view has been dusted with snow in a winter wonderland. Part of me thankful actually – that I don’t have to attempt to walk or drive anywhere on the icy, slippery ground! Having an open fire makes everything all the more cosy during the cold weather too. Toasted marshmallows, a bonus.
It may feel like Groundhog Day but the reasons why everyone needs to stay at home are just as stark, arguably even more so, with new variants of the virus able to spread more than when the Covid-19 was novel.
In my circle of friends, I’m hearing of more of loved ones who have died after contracting the virus. There are those who do recover too but, taking people I know personally as a straw sample, the virus seems incredibly prevalent. The number of deaths in the UK is nearing 100,000. Each person is so much more than a statistic, leaving behind heartbroken family and friends. My thoughts are with everyone affected.
Watching the series of reports by Clive Myrie on BBC News this week gave an eye-opening insight of what it’s like for the NHS workers on the frontline of the pandemic. It’s an emotional watch but important to report on the reality of what’s happening. Exemplary journalism, showing the hard work of these key workers.
There’s a lot of information to process daily. During tough times, like these, there’s general consensus that it’s sometimes good to switch off the news and take a break. Of course, for journalists, this is impossible. It’s good to see a new platform has started recently called Newsbreak, set up by Tom Hourigan. It urges journalists and people involved in the media industry to take a break from the news:
Over the past 10 months, I’ve become much better at this sort of self care. After work, I try to do something completely different. Watch a film or TV show to get lost in, I find sitcoms particularly good for this. Play a computer game or read a book, anything really. I’m not that skilled at cooking or baking (I wish I was!) but can understand why that’s become a popular lockdown pastime, because it’s great to focus on something completely different.
While working from home, I usually don’t have weekend shifts. I keep an eye on major developments but use this time to disconnect. Push notifications that pop up on phones and tablets can be distracting, so I switch my phone off and don’t look at social media. It means I’m relatively hard to get hold of for a day or two, but it feels liberating. Another tip is to take annual leave when you can. It doesn’t matter that we can’t go on holiday, a break from the intensity of what we’re going through is important.
I’m hoping it won’t be too long before I can get the vaccine. As someone with underlying health conditions, it’ll give me a bit more of my life back. I expect restrictions will continue to be around for a while yet but it’d be a step back closer to normality at least.
At work (from home), I’ve continued on the shift of late producer of Mike Zeller at Breakfast for BBC Radio Cumbria. A great mix of all the latest news and fun features of what’s happening around the county. One of the guests I set up for the programme recently was Dr Mark Toshner, who was involved in the clinical trials for the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine. He gave an extended interview on the programme, which was an informative and insightful listen. You can hear a snippet of it here:
I’m glad to say that my website has been successfully updated and can now be accessed through www.katybooth.com If you missed my review of last year that’s available here. I’ll continue to update this blog throughout 2021, perhaps not as regularly as I did last year when experiences of the pandemic were new. It’s a way to document these strange times at least. Cathartic to write about and, I hope, interesting for you to read too.
Take care and stay safe x
Covid-19 has dominated the headlines this year and will continue in 2021. Mostly unrelated to the pandemic, it has been been a year where much-loved friends and family have passed. Like everyone, social contact has been limited, unless it’s taken place over a screen. There has been a lot of sadness, that’s for sure. It doesn’t need dwelling on, which is why I thought I’d make this review a look back at things to be grateful for.
JANUARY – MARCH
Life continued relatively normally up until March, although the virus was starting to spread more widely. At work I was out and about, reporting on stories. Then, the week before lockdown, I achieved a long-held dream which was to studio produce the breakfast programme.
A holiday of a lifetime had been planned for April to visit New York City to watch a Broadway show and see the sights. It wasn’t to be this year but I’m glad to have took the plunge to book something I had wanted to do for so long. The plans will hopefully not go to waste, when life gets a bit more normal and holidays can resume.
STAYING AT HOME
I started working from home on 19 March 2020, shortly before Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the nation to do the same, during the first lockdown. Underlying health conditions mean I’m classed as clinically vulnerable to coronavirus. As restrictive as staying at home for such an extensive period may seem there are advantages.
Not having to commute to work gave me extra time in each day. It’s been lovely to spend this with my fiancé, who has been shielding with me. When we both worked together in Blackburn we were able to take our lunch breaks together and it’s been nice to do this again, usually with our cat sitting on one of our knees!
In a busy life it’s all too easy to overlook some of the simple things that bring joy. I’d never paid too much attention to the changing of the seasons before. Noticing the plentiful flora and fauna around us and the way it transforms and continues – despite what nature throws at it – became a metaphor for the year. This enhanced awareness of the world around us is something I hope to take with me beyond 2020.
One of the best things I did at the start of the first lockdown was to set my parents up on an iPad. Something we won’t look back on because it’s been a great way to communicate. I normally visit my family in Manchester a lot and vice versa. To have this contact restricted has been difficult. Video calling on FaceTime has helped massively to feel a sense of connection, for which I’m grateful.
Using Zoom and Microsoft Teams has kept me connected to colleagues too. I was delighted to give a talk to journalism students at my former university, UCLan, remotely using this technology. Video conferencing also enabled me to be involved in BBC’s England’s Diversity Action Group. Connecting people and ideas across the north. I’m passionate about diversity, inclusion and equality and am glad I can be involved in this important area, alongside my job as a journalist.
This blog was updated more than I expected, as a way to document and diary my time, particularly as I was shielding. It’s been cathartic to do this and I hope one day I can look back on these posts when Covid-19 is a distant memory. This year has allowed me time to expand the pages on this website and very soon the content will all be able to be accessed by visiting www.katybooth.com.
A DREAM COME TRUE
In this challenging year, for so many reasons, a career ambition of mine was realised…
I’ve had such a varied career in broadcasting and journalism which has given me valuable experience. For the majority of time, this has either been as a freelancer or via fixed term contracts. I’m at a point in my life where I want to settle, which is something I can now do thanks to becoming a permanent member of BBC staff on a continuing contract. I’m delighted this can be in Cumbria – part of a talented team at a fantastic radio station.
The positive reactions to my posts on social media about this step in my career have been phenomenal. Thank you to everyone who has got in touch with kind comments It’s been nice to share such a joyous moment with so many people.
2020 has taught me not to take anything for granted – to take a day at a time. My thoughts are with everyone who has lost loved ones to Covid-19 or other causes. Just because the date changes doesn’t mean the problems of the pandemic will go away. We all need to be as vigilant as ever. However, a new year brings new hope. I wish you health and happiness in 2021. Stay safe.
We’re more than halfway through England’s second lockdown now… or are we? Time will tell whether it gets extended or not. Here’s an update on how it’s been for me so far. Earlier in the year, I was self-isolating for shielding purposes. In lockdown 2.0 this hasn’t been compulsory so, while I’ve been staying at home as much as possible, I haven’t been keeping a weekly diary. Instead this blog post will be a whistle-stop tour.
I’ve been working from home for eight months. I joined BBC Radio Cumbria in August 2019, so I’ve actually now been home office based for the station longer than I was based in Carlisle. I’m still producing content for the breakfast programme, making audio packages and able to broadcast live reports.
When I eventually go back to the newsroom in person, it will feel quite a different place because there have been colleagues who have retired or left the BBC recently by taking voluntary redundancy. All will be greatly missed and I wish them the very best of luck in the future.
Outside of work, I’m pleased to say that I’ve been organised this year to have completed all my Christmas shopping well in advance. Although it is a stash of gifts that is getting perpetually added to, depending on the different things I spot! Even though non-essential shops are shut, for the time being, many have an online presence that you can support and buy items from.
There’s also the rise of Virtual Christmas Fairs. One of the biggest I’ve seen on Facebook has been set up by a woman from Kendal who is raising money for the NHS Morecambe Bay Trust charity. It has more than 270 online ‘stalls’ selling handmade products, via pages like Etsy for about 8,000 members on the page – and that number is rising.
More restaurants seem to be set up to provide take aways now. Recently, for example, I enjoyed a boxed afternoon tea which was put together to raise funds to provide elderly people in our village with a festive meal. I’m glad to have been able to support local businesses in this way, in what are extremely challenging times.
That’s not to say the kitchen has been empty. There may have been the trend of baking banana bread in the first lockdown but I feel that my culinary skills have gone up a gear, having baked a Christmas cake. I’m yet to discover how successful it is, because this will be ‘fed’ with brandy and iced in the lead up to the big day. With so much alcohol and fruit in there though, it hopefully shouldn’t taste too bad!
“The show must go on”, as the old adage of theatre goes. Although, during the coronavirus pandemic, this has been incredibly difficult for the arts and entertainment industry. Any ticketed indoor venue has to weigh up the social distancing and sanitising costs against any potential profit they can make by putting on a show with a reduced audience. For a lot of theatre companies, it’s currently not a viable option.
Therefore, for many of us, we have to think back to pre-lockdown times to remember the last occasion when we were sat in an auditorium together, watching a live performance on stage. However, this past week offered a chance to see the latter streamed live into our own homes. On Tuesday, this was supporting theatres across the north of the UK, where the doors have been closed to the public for at least the last six months.
The performance was Romantics Anonymous, put on by the Wise Children theatre company. The story is based on the French-Belgium romantic comedy film Les Émotifs Anonymes, which has been adapted into a musical by Emma Rice. The plot is predominantly set in a chocolate factory. It follows the lead characters: Angélique – a shy chocolatier, and Jean-René – the factory manager, as they fall in love despite their social anxieties.
All the actors have been in a bubble together, which meant there was no social distancing necessary on stage – they could sing, dance and kiss each other, just like in old times. The performance was streamed live from Bristol Old Vic and each night this supported theatres in a specific region of the UK or the USA, with the funds generated in the price of a virtual ticket. Theatres close to my heart, as well as geographically, that were hosting the show that I saw were Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, The Lowry in Salford and Home, Manchester.
It was great escapism to watch this musical; for a couple of hours, life felt normal again. The story was sweet, just like chocolate, and I particularly liked the stylised elements of the staging – there were hardly any doors used on set, for example. The car chase scene was also performed innovatively without a physical car, as such. No spoilers – but there was mini remote controlled version!
Another adage of theatre is “the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd” – or is it the other way around? There was a socially distanced show performed to a seated audience at the end of the week. However, for the majority of the shows, there may not have been an audience in person to see the performance but it will have been enjoyed by many people, viewing over a screen as part of 2020’s ‘new normal’.
It’s a sign of the times now that some entertainment is offered drive-in style. Concerts, stand-up comedy gigs and movies, like Danny and Sandy go to in the film Grease. Well, this past weekend, as well as the one before, I went to a drive-in kite display at the Westmorland Showground in Cumbria. It’s been a good opportunity to build up confidence again, as I ease out of lockdown.
This display was organised by the company SmileFactor10, which is based nearby in Preston Patrick. The same people behind the St Anne’s kite festival, something I know about from my time with BBC Radio Lancashire.
With another radio connection, I came across the most recent event when setting up a piece for BBC Radio Cumbria about an alternative Westmorland Show that’s being held at Crooklands, near Milnthorpe, instead of the usual event that can attract crowds of about 30,000 people. While researching the piece I found out there was some drive-in kite displays coming up.
The event had to be booked in advance on the website and upon arrival at the showground gate you showed your QR code and it was scanned through the car window. Each parking spot on the field was five metres wide, which allowed for space beside the car for a picnic at a safe social distance from others.
The first weekend was so enjoyable it prompted a visit again the week after. One thing you can’t plan for though is the wind speed and this was stronger the first time around, which enabled bigger kites to take to the skies. Giant teddy bears, Chinese dragons and big manta ray fish, for example. The second weekend allowed a glimpse of some smaller and more delicate kites including Little Red Riding Hood and Superman.
Whatever normality is, being at the kite-display felt a bit closer to that. It was good to be out and about again, even though it’s a small and tentative step it feels like a step in the right direction. A way to support local businesses and feel the sunshine… I even have a sunburnt arm to prove it!
Guidance for people who have been shielding throughout lockdown changed at the beginning of August. In summary, this means that:
– You can go to work, but should carry on working from home wherever possible.
– You can go outside as much as you like but you should still try to keep your overall social interactions low.
– You should continue to wash your hands carefully and more frequently than usual and that you maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in your home and/or workspace.Source: UK Government.
If you’ve followed some of my posts this year, you’ll be aware that I have underlying health conditions and took the decision in March to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. I’m classed as “vulnerable”, rather than “high-risk”, but have been following shielding advice as a precaution.
For almost five months, I’ve tried to make the best of the situation. As a key worker, I’ve also been able to work throughout lockdown producing content – and sometimes broadcasting – from a home office set up for BBC Radio Cumbria. I never take a day that I work in this, an ever shrinking, radio industry for granted. I’m grateful to be able to make a contribution to the station’s output during lockdown.
I always do my utmost to make sure that my quality of life is on a par to that of everyone else around me. Feeling ‘different’ has never really been an issue for me, until the pandemic hit. I was reluctant to work from home initially, because I didn’t want to be treated separately to most of my colleagues. In hindsight, the decision to work from home, that was made at the beginning of lockdown, was absolutely the right one for me.
This Tweet by fellow journalist Lucy Webster sums my thoughts up well and, judging by the amount of engagement the thread has had on Twitter, many others feel the same way too: (Blog post continues below.)
After a chat with my manager, not much will change for me going forward and I won’t be returning to my main base in Carlisle yet. I’ve adapted to working from home very well and have everything I need at my fingertips. More and more meetings are being held virtually, I used Microsoft Teams for the first time last week too, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much.
Although I would like to build my confidence up again, I don’t intend to venture out much either. Of course, I want to get back to life as close to normality as possible but I will do so at a time and rate of change that feels right for me.
We’re in the middle of the school holidays at the moment, so there are a lot of people enjoying Cumbria’s beautiful landscape. Some will be having staycations after cancelling foreign holidays this summer. Therefore, I will probably wait until it’s a bit quieter around the Lake District before I reacquaint myself with the local area.
In terms of further afield, the majority of my family and friends are included in the tighter lockdown restrictions that have been brought in for all of Greater Manchester and parts of East Lancashire. This means that any potential visits are now, sadly, postponed for the time being too. (Blog post continues below.)
There are two perspectives to the approach of shielding being paused, which I was able to garner for the breakfast programme. We spoke to a lady who had been shielding her 89-year-old mum and didn’t feel comfortable changing anything. On the other hand, there was another lady who celebrated her birthday during lockdown and was going to see her daughter for the first time since February – she was looking forward to getting out and about again.
Neither of those perspectives are right or wrong; these are personal judgements that we all have to make on a daily basis. The government has issued guidance on shielding, rather than rules that are enforceable. Everyone’s personal circumstances are different and we all must assess the level of risk that each individual situation poses, while coronavirus is still being transmitted in society and may well be for sometime.
A nice side note to end the post on though: Since working from home, my office faces a window looking out to the back garden. Usually, in pre-coronavirus times, I wouldn’t be at home on weekday mornings let alone facing the back of the house. It’s usual to see wild rabbits and an array of birds here in south Cumbria. However, this past week, I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a deer that had jumped over the wall in the daytime – it’s one of the advantages of living next to a wood. I’d been keeping my camera close in anticipation of a moment like this and I was able to capture it, as you can see in the snaps below.
A gentle reminder that a greater appreciation of the nature that surrounds us is at least one of the good things to come out of time spent in lockdown, for me personally, and hopefully many others too.
“Holding to nothing whatever” was the theme of this year’s Buddhafield festival. It’s usually based in the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, near Taunton in Somerset, with roots in the Triratna Buddhist Community.
I attended the gathering in person in 2015, which was also my first experience of camping and when the photographs in this blog post were taken. I’ve been on annual leave from work this past week so when I heard the festival was being held virtually this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it felt like a great opportunity to get involved once again.
The festival was held over five days, utilising technology with the likes of Zoom and Facebook live broadcasts. I’ve particularly enjoyed the talks, meditation sessions and musical performances. Personal highlights were sets from the band Hands of the Heron as well as soloist Susie Ro.
Although viewing over a screen, the sense of connectivity with others was still very much felt. The opening and closing ceremonies being memorable for this, with people joining in for the mantra. What struck me was that a sense of community is so much bigger than just our locality. A reflection that’s particularly pertinent during lockdown.
Some attendees commented that lockdown has felt like an enforced retreat for them. Another called it ‘the long pause’ – a lovely analogy that describes what quarantine has done for many of us, by offering time to re-evaluate our lives. For me, one of the positives is that it’s allowed a deeper connection to nature.
My first experience at Buddhafield, five years ago, has stuck with me because of the powerful spirituality that I felt. This was not lost by transferring online and I shall remember this year’s festival for the inspiration, innovation and compassion shown from everyone involved.
(All photographs taken at Buddhafield 2015.)
After 11 weeks of self-isolation due to the coronavirus, restrictions have been eased by the UK government sufficiently so that we can at least start to think about what life after lockdown could be like.
I’m classed as ‘vulnerable’ because of having underlying health conditions. It’s something I would never ordinarily describe myself as, but these are not ordinary times. I was never officially part of the shielding group but that’s basically what I ended up doing as a precaution. Working from home, getting shopping delivered, that kind of thing. Then, at the end of last month, the advice changed and people shielding were allowed outdoors.
Well, I haven’t been outside the perimeter of the house just yet but the easing of restrictions mean that I’m able to take small steps towards a ‘new normal’. Yesterday, my parents were able to visit us in the back garden, while maintaining the mandatory two metre social distance. It was a joyous occasion, as I hadn’t seen them in person for about three months. During that time we missed celebrating together Mother’s Day, Dad’s birthday and their 37th wedding anniversary.
We’re a tactile family, so not being able to hug each other is strange. You also have to go against instinct at points: when something drops on the floor and someone else goes to pick it up. Or when our cat comes close, it’s very hard to resist the temptation to pet her! Luckily, after some weather forecasts predicted wind and rain, the day turned out nice. We had to get our umbrellas out at points, but it was an opportunity to see the back garden in bloom. Even the birds getting food from the flutter butter holder weren’t put off by our presence.
At the beginning of the year, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be updating this blog as frequently as weekly, but I think documenting my period of self-isolation has been a good thing to do. It’s been cathartic to write about, as a way to try to make sense of an uncertain situation and hopefully it’s made for interesting reading too.
As we emerge from lockdown, I don’t anticipate I’ll update this page quite as frequently. My diary style tweets on Twitter curtailed after about 70 day because all the days were starting to blend into one large mass of time! I’ve always aimed for quality rather than quantity of posts. Also, focusing on other things will give me a chance to write about various topics, most of which are a commentary on the media industry, which have been a feature of my site for the past nine years and something I want to continue.
This period in time that we have been experiencing is probably something future students will learn about in their history lessons and something our generation will tell their grandchildren. Key workers will be remembered for keeping the country going at a challenging time. The tragedy of loved ones lost will also stay in our thoughts. At the time of writing, the global death toll of COVID-19 stands at about 393,000, according to statistics from the World Health Association. More than 40,500 of those deaths have been registered in the United Kingdom. To put the UK figure into context, that’s about twice the capacity of London’s O2 arena.
Of course, the virus hasn’t gone away; the reproduction rate or ‘R number’ isn’t as high as it was in the middle of lockdown, when the peak was at its highest but it could potentially rise again. We must continue to be careful; coronavirus can still infect people indiscriminately and the consequence of that could be fatal. Be mindful, stay safe and, if you’ve followed my story of self-isolation over these past 11 weeks, thanks for reading.
I’d like to start this week’s reflection in tribute to our nephew George W. Dyson, who passed away in Canada at the age of 41. He was a lovely person, whose inspirational spirit transcended countries, was felt by all fortunate enough to know him and was taken too soon. I send my love to all his family and friends at this, the most difficult of times. The death wasn’t coronavirus related but the horrible reality of restrictions surrounding the virus is that we cannot attend a funeral at this time.
One of the things George loved, when he visited his family in England, was the garden at our home. We will plant a memorial tree in his honour. Since I’ve been staying at home more than usual I’ve been able to appreciate it too, becoming aware of the subtle changes over time. Normally, I wouldn’t be so attuned to when certain plants bloom but that’s one of the positives to come out of lockdown. Spring blossoms are now transforming, getting ready for the summer season.
You can see the changes to the flora in the front garden in comparison to an earlier photograph I took on the first day my precautionary self-isolation started. When asked to submit a photograph for one of BBC Radio Cumbria’s social media posts documenting life in lockdown I knew that snap was what I’d use. The reflection from the glass in the shot was a ‘happy accident’ but encapsulates my view of the world, carrying on outdoors, while I stay inside. You can see what it looks like in the video here… (Post continues below.)
At work I’m becoming a whizz with Zoom, an app I’d never used before. Seeing team members is a great way to stay connected with more than one person at a time. I’ve also taken part in BBC training over Zoom which allows me to now record interviews with contributors, while still working from home.
Meanwhile, the radio industry itself continues to change. It was announced earlier this week that stations which had been acquired by the Bauer group will be rebranded as Greatest Hits Radio, as reported by the industry news website Radio Today.
This includes many UKRD stations, a group where I worked on staff for nearly two years, as well as stations in the Wireless group like Wish, Wire and Tower FM that I freelanced at in Wigan. Going forward, there will be fewer job opportunities available for broadcasters and journalists. You can read my thoughts on the changing landscape of local radio in a blog post I wrote in March last year HERE.
It’s also the end of an era for travel news; today’s the last day BBC local radio is taking voiced bulletins from the traffic data company INRIX Media. From tomorrow, bulletins will instead be provided in-house, using scripts.
I had a great time in my four years as part of the weekend team at INRIX, working in the Altrincham office. My highlight was delivering travel bulletins for BBC Radio Manchester’s ‘80s programme because I got to chat to Clint Boon from the band Inspiral Carpets each week. Another was when I was going to a fancy dress party shortly after work, so spent the last bit of my shift dressed as a Blues Brother! BBC Radio Cumbria was also one of my regular stations, which is where I now work.
To broadcast travel news well takes skill which is quite niche – similar but essentially different to presenting or news reading. Travel broadcasters assimilate information from various sources to bring you what you hear on-air, without verbatim scripts and often with only a short amount of time between bulletins for various stations around the country. I know I’m a better broadcaster having worked at INRIX, alongside many talented colleagues. My thoughts are with those affected by the changes.
Back in December 2016, during a busy Christmas party season, I recorded myself delivering a travel bulletin on BBC Radio Manchester for a Facebook live video. If you want to see what it was like ‘behind the scenes’ in the travel news centre, here it is…