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With apologies to Samuel Pepys...

Penny Heal is in the self-isolating age category and, like all of us, is having difficulty adapting to a way of life with none of her usual activities which include PAT visiting, Agility and Obedience training and competing in both, garden visiting and other hobby social groups. She works at home as a proof reader and is very grateful to be able to walk Orla, her 14-year-old retired Patterdale X and Zorro, her 4-year-old collie. But she's finding it harder than she thought it would be.

  DAY 1

Dear Diary...

The virus has been official for a week and I have been a bit half-hearted, popping into Sainsbury's for a paper and groceries but otherwise being responsible. If I could afford the Telegraph and the extortionate delivery charge, I would order it from my local shop.

Today I had a few things on my 'to do' list so first thing I submitted the proof which was due. I added a note about having time on my hands and happy to receive more work, before realising after I had sent it that the recipient is on annual leave for another week. What on earth would I do!

So hoovered the stairs and bedroom as Zorro appears to be moulting. Then I put on some washing and, when it was done, I hung it out on the washing line. Bet you're glad you started reading now!

So then obviously it was time for coffee and I watched the Mary Ray Crufts Riverdance video and cried a little. After that the lure of the outdoors was too strong to resist. As my tent and other show requirements are now no longer needed in the car, I replaced them with my one jump, collapsible barrel and six weave poles with metal bases.

Went down to the local playing fields which, joy oh joy, have dried up enough to use and set up. Zorro snatched the special tuggy out of the barrel and pranced around in delight, warming himself up as soon as I put the pole on the wings by doing a few solo jumps while I put out the barrel.

We started with a few wraps and then got on to practising the German manoeuvre, which he has picked up very well but which my mind still finds awkward, but we were having a lot of fun when suddenly in front of me appeared a chocolate lab puppy, seven months old, as it turned out. I heard, 'Are you an agility trainer?' as a woman approached closer than I would have liked. I backed away until I had to put my hand up to halt her. I said, ‘Well, I train my own dog,' while fending off the puppy which was doing its best to knock me over. It tried to engage with Zorro but I could read his expression and body language very accurately as he tried to avoid the puppy. It definitely said, 'What the **** ? I'm trying to enjoy myself here! Serious business, people!'

She eventually retrieved the puppy and we had some more fun. Then I put the equipment back in the car, retrieved Orla from the boot and we all went round the field. I thought I might do some obedience work with Zorro but his mind was still on agility. Made a mental note to train the disciplines on alternate days.

Back home and it was time for lunch and the one o'clock doom bulletin. I remembered I had bought a chicken with the intention of making stock for soup in the event of illness so I put that on the hob and measured up for a quilted mat to make to match the sewing machine cover I have just finished.

And it was still only two o'clock! Having browsed the net as usual I decided to write a record of the whole business so I got the washing in and sat down at my computer.  On my list is still the dreaded ‘exercises' and ‘collect prescription'. With regard to the latter I have to ring first as they are snowed under and would I mind leaving it until I have only a couple of days' supply left? Well yes, I would mind, actually. So I'll leave that for tomorrow.

Later on Day One

This afternoon the publisher I worked for told me that there would be no freelance work until the crisis was over, so that was a bit of a blow, as it is 22% of my income (which I just worked out using an online converter). On the plus side that money funds my dog training, show entries and petrol so officially I don't need it right now!

I feel extremely fortunate that I am on a fixed income and am secure unless the country goes bankrupt, but I do have every sympathy with all the entrepreneurs in our agility community.

Well, it has happened, the dreaded lockdown was announced by the PM at 8.30.  I felt reasonably calm, as since my divorce six years ago I have done a lot of ‘work' on staying in the moment and letting go and this came in very handy. Plus, the image of my parents sitting around the radio in 1939 listening to the declaration of war reminded me of our resourcefulness and grit. Grit is not a modern word but if it is strange to anyone, I refer them to the John Wayne film.

So, I put all that to one side and watched Masterchef, although I can't say I managed to get engrossed in it. For relaxation I am working my way through all the episodes of Downton Abbey and am on Series Five just now. This is all so that I am up to date when I eventually catch up with the film.

 DAY 2

Dear Diary...

I slept surprisingly well and perhaps because it was so QUIET outside!  I can hear the goldfinches twittering and the noise of the binmen and now all very hushed, like the 'sound' of freshly fallen snow.

I feel very unsettled this morning as reality sinks in and am tempted briefly to do nothing, but habit and discipline kick in (all those years of my mother nagging me as a child – what are you going to do this afternoon?) and I am up and ready to face the world.

I look forward to walking the dogs, which I suspect will be the highlight of the day, so I won't do it yet, but then I see a notice on my FB Newsfeed from the Council.

'In line with government advice, all of Dacorum's play areas and playgrounds are closed with immediate effect – please do not visit them or use any of the equipment. This is necessary to limit the spread of #Coronavirus and protect the health and safety of communities.

Parks and open spaces remain open for exercise, but we remind people to keep to the government advice on staying at least 2m apart from anyone who is not in your household.'

As I sometimes walk on playing fields and it's where I put up my equipment, I have a moment's panic but then I realise that open spaces are still available. Thank goodness! I wonder if I will see more people than the usual dog walkers? Yesterday I saw a man with 2 small children in the open space setting up a tiny net and they were all having a great kick-about.

Well I've checked the normal FB pages and had a coffee and it's only 10.15. But I do have loads of options and I think they will be the new normal. I can get my one exercise outing with my dogs. I can do some trick training, static obedience training, grooming and other enrichment activities which will pay huge dividends. I can squeeze my one jump onto my tiny lawn and work on the start line wait.

I can start my memoirs. Actually I am not joking. We are all so glad my father wrote down his wartime experiences, as he went on to develop dementia. I can do any number of hours of quilting which includes the mathematics of design, choosing the fabrics online and all the rest. I can chill! I can meditate! I can have a virtual coffee with a friend via Zoom – she invited me this morning.

As it turned out I had a forty-eight-hour break from the diary as I had a sore throat, slight temperature and aches and pains. Who knows what that was! But during that time I regretfully left Agilitynet FB. The political messages, thought police and self-righteousness increased my anxiety levels significantly so I decided to call it a day. With the cancelling of GT April my diary is now officially empty until the end of June.

On a more serious note, my favourite coffee pods have disappeared from the shelves! Disaster – not. I remember the times growing up when Mars bars came onto the scene. We were all so impressed by how delicious they were - that's the original, they have been changed for the worse since then - that my father would bring one home, and during the evening, when we were playing Mah jong, he would put it on a plate and slice it into eight pieces. We all had two slices. It was a real treat. Happy days!

 Day 3

Dear Diary...

At the moment, my daughter is living with me and has been poorly. Of course, we don't know if she has Covid 19 or not although we both complete the App every day. So she is off work and we are strictly isolating for 14 days. Yesterday a family member from a different household very kindly did a shop for us and dropped it off outside. The dogs don't understand why they can't say hello!

But as shopping now involves queuing outside and is a long process, I didn't like to make too long a list and I am running low now on my decaf teabags.  I have had to accept that I shall have to live without them for the rest of the quarantine. We have become so used to freedom of choice that having restrictions is taking some getting used to. But we actually have plenty of food. I made another batch of chicken broth yesterday afternoon so some of that is in the freezer for our daily cup. As a result, we have loads of chicken meat so I will have to get creative with that.

We both look forward to antibody testing, so that we can find out if we have had it, but apparently general testing is some way off. But lots of good things seem to be happening as a result of the restrictions. My gardening group is sharing photographs of their gardens so we can go virtual visiting. Obedience and Agility groups are sharing training videos and holding virtual competitions in aid of charity. I may finally get a tripod on which to put my mobile phone to film my training. I know the experts have been banging on about videoing (that's how long they've been advising it, who videos nowadays 😊) training sessions and how useful a process it is. And it is great that, although online food deliveries aren't available for a few weeks, pretty much everything else is - apart from a thermometer, which would have been useful. I have one but it is so ancient I don't think the battery is up to it.

My daughter tells me, as I was bemoaning the fact that I'm almost at Series 6 of re-watching Downton Abbey, that there are loads of period drama on BritBox. Certainly, one needs a break from the blanket news coverage of the virus. Today on my walk I spotted cowslips and primroses even though the wind was strong with a touch of the Arctic. In fact, there were three husky-type dogs running around, and they looked very comfortable in the low temperatures!

My daughter has just retrieved a bag from outside the back door and handed me – 120 decaf teabags! She had mentioned it to someone shopping and they very kindly got some for me. It is still sinking in what isolation really means. I am so grateful for technology – and I am officially a technophobe! Video calling used to be for those separated geographically but now it is helping everybody, from government to next door neighbours. I suspect and hope that good practices will come out of this emergency, such as much more remote working and communicating, saving millions of air miles and pollution. But them I am an optimist. Who knows, but I don't think life will be the same after we have come through this.

 Day 4

Dear Diary...

Opened up my Facebook newsfeed today to be reminded that four years ago today I brought Zorro home. So I spent a happy hour finding and sharing photos and reliving very happy memories and the reality of the joy of living with him every day.

Then another hour had gone, thanks to the clocks going forward! I then had my six-monthly drama of changing the clock on the oven. As usual, I tried to do it without the instructions and managed to set the oven to come on and go off remotely! Retrieved the instructions and sorted that clock, my watch, the living room clock and the microwave. I think everything else resets automatically as I have a super EasyControl wireless hub since I had my boiler replaced. See what I mean about being a technophobe?

It's like the toilet seat. It is no longer secure since one of the mountings broke and, in other times my dear practical ex-husband, would have sorted it. Now I have absolutely no idea how to go about getting a new one, so I have put it off indefinitely. It is scary living on your own after 35-five years in a family. I have fallen victim to scammers; online I managed to get onto a dodgy website when I was trying to install a new printer and paid out £200 for fake software. I also let a double-glazing salesman into my house and actually paid the deposit, despite my ex having been in sales and being aware of all the tricks they use. I got the deposit back, and the bank are chasing the online fraudsters.

Having tried walking from home yesterday and been nearly knocked over by a youth on a bike  and squeezing off the footpath to let numerous families go by, today I have reverted to driving a very short distance to the nature reserve where I was able to spot people as specks in the distance for my daily exercise. I combined this with a trip to the supermarket. Thankfully I hope not to have to visit again as Sainsbury's have emailed me to let me know there are slots reserved for ‘vulnerable' customers. That Nectar Card data finally was of use to me. And I managed to book a delivery, sensibly restricted to one per week, for Thursday. I don't know how much of it will be delivered but we have loads of food. Keeping fingers crossed for the wine, though.

When I got into the car, to my horror, I discovered the one clock which had not been put forward! Managed to change it easily as the default is to go forward. It is only in the autumn that I have to go through 23 hours to get to the new time. Heard a weather forecaster refer to the extra hour of daylight we had today. What? It is the same amount we had yesterday, but I think I know what she means. Lighter evenings are usually a cue to 'ramp up' (yuk) training but there's no urgency at the moment, is there!

Today I feel as though, after a week of adjustment, my 'new normal' has begun. My sense of purpose has returned, thank goodness.

 DAY 5

Dear Diary...

I am so grateful for my tiny garden which I have improved with tidying up and planting a new border since I have been able to sit outdoors. I’m still managing a soul-restoring 45 minute walk in the wilds of Bunkers Park with the dogs every day, even though it is a short drive. It is open common land with some woods.

I’m teaching Zorro to sit and beg. I never managed to do it before but it's coming along.

At the last minute, my son decided to get on the emergency repatriation flight from Cayman on Tuesday and is now safely in his flat in Stanmore.  I am very relieved. I feel very lucky to be isolated with my daughter for company.


I’m sorry I've lost heart to continue with my diary for Agilitynet as the reality sank in and I couldn't think of anything to write.

 Thank goodness for technology to keep in touch with family and I hope you are seeing yours via the wonderful internet. 

 And what people without dogs do I don't know. They are such a comfort.


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