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What does home mean to you?

To me home has a complex meaning. My university peers, when they would go home for the holidays, would disappear to brick-and-mortar buildings most had grown up in. Places with childhood memories stored on the walls; places their families had lived in their whole lives. That was their home and it was where they returned regularly.

This wasn’t the case for me. We moved a lot when I was younger. I don’t say this in a woe-is-me tone. I say it because I learned from an early age that home is a piece of time whose memory you pick up and take with you wherever you go next. Home for me isn’t a singular house, or even one area. Home for me is a collection of houses, a series of areas, of routines and people.

Some homes bring back memories of stairs that creaked regardless of how quiet you tread them. Other homes bring back memories of long journeys to school and cans of orange paint. Yet others bring back memories of coming home late on a school night and the excitement of a first romance. Then some bring back hazy memories of sharing a room, with cats and kittens and coal fires. These are the homes of my childhood and for a long time, the inability to get back to them made me sad.

Perhaps regardless of whether the house is still there, I’m not sure adults can return home. Not really. Even if we return to the same house, the time that constructed a home within the house has passed; those homes are not physical spaces but memories of a space. So, in adulthood we seek to build anew what has passed, using memories of home as cornerstones on our new plot.

My first experience of this was a tiny room with red carpets, a door that was always open and friends that lived there as much as I did. Then a series of apartments, small but all ours, built by a tribe of women I’m lucky enough to still hold dear. Each of these were shaped by our notions of home. We each brought memories of A Home with us. Together, we spent years weaving these together to make Our House. Although we haven’t shared a house in many years, the home we created during those years still offers safety, love and comfort. Albeit electronically in these socially-distanced days.

Of course, there are the homes that bring me pain to recall. Those bring back memories of loss, depression, periods of joblessness or listlessness. Those homes come with me too and they fill in the spaces of each new home that aren’t quite right, yet. The more I ruminate on the concept of home, the more I come to realise that the negative spaces have had less of a permanent impact on my own concept of home than I had feared. The homes that bring back pain don’t come into my new, safe spaces. They serve as a reminder of the homes I don’t want to recreate.

These sharp fragments of home have however, do obscure my memories of home altogether. Pain has become entangled with the joy and safety of home. So for a long time, I have looked away from both; avoiding the good memories to ignore the bad. Like an old house overtaken by ivy. There is a home to find underneath the mass of tangled vines. This has created a strange rootlessness that I am only now starting to realise threatens the foundations of any new home.

And now, here I am. I had to choose between my new home – all mine and under my control – and the home I share with so many, overgrown and tangled but omnipotently safe in uncertain times. The latter won out. The prospect of being severed from the land that holds my dearest people for who-knows how long, was inconceivable.

I feel like I’ve closed the front door behind me and realised only when the lock clicked that the keys are still inside. That ‘oh shit’ feeling is strong this morning. I left my apartment in Prague yesterday to return to Scotland.

Ironically, before the world stopped, I had been feeling out of place in Prague, questioning why I was there at all. I had longed for home, to return to Scotland in the hopes of feeling that sense of belonging, that all those cumulative homes have given me. But as soon as my apartment door swung shut, tears flowed fast. They haven’t really stopped since.

So here I am, wondering why. If home has never been one place for me and moving is as much a part of home as staying, why do I feel so lost having left? If my notion of home has always been centred around the people in it, why do I feel scared to have left my empty apartment? If my homeland is Scotland, why do I feel so alien here?

I don’t know when I’ll get back to CZ. I hope it will be soon. My heart has been breaking slowly for two days, made worse by the uncertainty of this whole situation. There was solace in the airports though. It felt exhilarating to be part of a mass movement of people. Airports often lack unity because everyone is moving in different directions, at different times. This time felt different. There wasn’t the usual urgency hanging thick in the air. So many different people, with various amounts of luggage; all going home. There is something comforting in knowing that this struggle to find home is physically manifesting itself as people transit home.

On the plane, I met a girl travelling from Spain. Her experience was similar to mine in almost every way. We talked about growing up in Scotland. She too had moved around as a child. She had moved to Spain to teach English, as I had done in Prague. She spoke of the same quarantine conditions, the fear and uncertainty of the last few weeks. We both related to the feeling of being torn; our families are in Scotland, our homes are not.

To counteract the rising sense of panic, I’ve decided to view this trip to Scotland as an extended holiday. A spiritual retreat, of sorts. Leaving CZ has brought into sharp focus, the beauty of my life there. Being in Scotland will now be an adventure into rediscovering the beauty of my first home. I intend to use this time to dig past the weeds; the pain and bad memories that have consumed many happy memories. Like ivy on an old house, now is the time to cut back the vines. Underneath, I’m not sure what I’ll find.

Day Nine: She's Gone Off The Deep End

Oh, the city’s cold and empty
No one’s around to judge me

11:26am

I think I understand what cabin fever is now.

Yesterday I walked all the way from my apartment to the river in 15 minutes. I felt claustrophobic and couldn’t shake it. That feeling must have propelled me at light speed because that walk should take way longer.

I love this city. You can walk everywhere. Contemplating leaving, even just for 30 days, has reminded me how at-home I feel here. I feel safe here, I know how to navigate here. I can even (kind of) communicate.

The city’s quiet. It’s quite pleasant really. I bought a beer, dodged a couple of Walking Dead-esque tourists still trying to enjoy their holiday and narrowly avoided being kissed by a drunk old man. It was almost nice to have to navigate sexual harassment, made everything feel so normal. Plus, now in the COVID-19 Era, I have the added (morbid) pleasure of knowing drunk old men who try to kiss me, stand more chance of catching something than I do. Funny how perspective changes.

Today, I am once again mentally happy. It really seems that a life sans jumping through other people’s hoops, has a good effect on me. I know this isn’t the case for everyone though. To anyone out there struggling with everything going on: stay strong and read my talented friend’s blog about coping with mental health. She deals with it far more eloquently than I ever could.

6:30pm

I’ve decided to go home. I’ll catch a flight on Sunday and if all goes to plan (touch wood), be quarantined at my friends’ house for a week before heading to my mom’s. I’ve thought a lot about this decision and I’m still not sure it’s the right one but it’s the one I’ve made, so we’re going with it.

Most people would say that my trip is non-essential. I would probably say that, to be honest. I live in Czech Republic, I have a flat here, I have friends and a job here. Realistically, if we are thinking strictly logically, there is no need for me to go to the UK right now.

But humans aren’t purely logical. I certainly amn’t. I’ve learnt over the last few days that it’s often our emotional brain that takes over in these moments. Whilst I have been good at quelling that emotional response lately, this is one alarm bell which won’t stop ringing. If the UK is as under-prepared as everyone is saying, things are going to get hellish there, pretty quickly. Logically, this adds another check for the ‘stay in Prague’ option. Emotionally though, there is no way I could sit here, safe and sound, while my family goes through something as awful as what might come. Even a tiny chance of that is not an option.

So it’s off to the airport on Sunday.

9.34pm

Spent the evening painting and thinking about the empty shelves in UK supermarkets right now. It reminds me of the emotional response I wrote about earlier. Most people allow their emotional response to take over at a time of crisis. So they panic and buy 5,000 rolls of toilet roll or all of the frozen broccolli. It’s sad and alarming but I understand it. At times of uncertainty, we’re all looking for something to be in control of. For me, it’s deciding to go home. For some people, it’s how much they choose to buy at once. Neither is morally right or wrong but both impact other people and that’s what I’m trying to be mindful of right now.

I saw a great picture (I hate the word meme. I feel like it devalues things that you absorb on the internet to some cheap Photoshop job when really, we’re so far past that now). Anyway, the picture said not to judge people for bulk buying supplies, instead get angry that there’s a system in place which has people feeling that vulnerable, that they are willing to resort to violence. I saw that picture and then Snapchat ran an article on Jeff Bezoz’ $80 million mansion. You better believe it got me mad.

Day Eight: Desperately Seeking Reality

It’s officially one week.

One week in a State of Emergency. One week of quarantine, masks, border closures and flight cancellation. It’s been one week since anything felt real or normal.

And yet… normality creeps in, so does reality. It’s there during phone conversations, before they end in ‘be safe’ or ‘good luck’. It’s with me while I drink my morning coffee and pretend the world is just sleeping in today. Normality feels like a rubber band that’s been held tight for too long and now released, hangs loose. A useless tool really, without the daily mechanisms of reality to hold it in place. Jobs, commutes, social engagements; all gone and without them, normality seems like just another label we came up with to pass the time.

I’ve seen loads of social media posts about using this time to become a new and improved person. Fuck that. A butterfly doesn’t come out its cocoon because someone stood on it. Average humans aren’t going to come out of this blossoming with newfound possibility. Frankly, to ask that they do speaks to a level of privilege the average human doesn’t have. Most of us are going to come out of this financially unstable (to say the least), a little overweight from being confined and probably very socially anxious. And that’s okay. We’ll figure out a new normal with whatever comes next and you can bet it won’t be the enlightenment Instagram socialites are preaching right now.

What I don’t think is unrealistic to assume, is that we will all learn from this. You don’t have to transform into a whole new person, you’re becoming one because of this anyway. So perhaps, instead of forcing some huge aesthetic and superficial awakening, we can all just reflect on this last week and see what’s new here.

For me, I’ve discovered I handle social isolation a lot better than I thought. In fact, my mental health has not been this consistently positive in a very long time. I wake up easier in the morning, I don’t spend two hours panicking about leaving the house, I feel more present wherever I am and focused on getting to the next marker in the day. Perhaps, just perhaps, the system that is now on hold, hasn’t been bringing the sense of fulfilment and joy it promised. Funny that.

I’ve learned that in a stressful situation, I’m quite good at thinking logically rather than emotionally. I didn’t flee to the airport in the initial rush. I amn’t panic buying. I’m thinking logically about spending money and reasonably about where. Support local, y’all.

I’ve realised I’m a naturally messy person and when I’m not constantly in a rush, it doesn’t bother me. In fact, having the pressure of being late removed from my day-to-day life has made me a more organised person. Definitely messy but organised. Without the pressure to be on-time inflaming my panic attacks every single second of the day, I can actually be quite a focused little bee. Who would have thought?

I’ve come to understand that I am not very motivated about most things. My motivation comes from external sources and without them, I’m the rubber band I mentioned earlier. That’s not necessarily true though. I’m just not motivated about things like work, working out, posting on social media. Instead, I’m motivated to drink my coffee every morning, to see how early I can get up every day, to see what I can cook using whatever I have. The little things are my motivation and I’ve never given them the space to be valid before.

These are all good things to realise. Maybe when this is over, these are the lessons that I will take away with me. It certainly won’t be the wholesome b*llsh*it I see sprouting from every celebrities instagram, trapped in their mansions with no financial concerns to bother them. That stuff just seems fake now. Spoken by people who don’t know sh*t.

Day Seven: Almost One Week

Somebody get me a goddamn drink

1:59pm

Tomorrow marks one week since this craziness began. Yesterday was not so fun. I felt lonely and no amount of Skype/FaceTimes could improve that. I just want a hug really. Nevertheless, a St Patrick’s Day Party (Quarantine Edition) with my best people did pick up my spirits.

Electronic communication, technology in general, has been a lifeline in this situation. I’ve managed to claw back some money using online lessons. This blog gives me a place to babble to someone other than myself. Being able to see the faces of my beautiful friends and hear their voices, even though I’m here alone, has staved off the worst of social isolation. Not to mention the quick and easy access to flight details, health information, news; all things that even 20-years ago were unheard of. Technology really has come into it’s own right now.

However… there had to be a however.

Now more than ever, I can feel electronic communication crowding my brain. I feel technologically overloaded; at once glued to my screen(s) yet desperate to put them away. When the whole world slows down, it’s amazing how many texts, emails, phone calls and apps light up. It’s overwhelming and reassuring, exhausting and engaging. I’m making sure to be conscious in my communication.

6:44pm

Technology is at once a miracle in this situation, and a burden. I detached this afternoon and went for a walk. My mom told me to do that every day; that was good advice.

The park has become a safe haven for many expats and Czechs. People are walking their dogs, playing with their kids, drinking beers and watching the sunset. Just like any other day. Except that masks are now compulsory outdoors so everyone looks like characters from dystopian fiction. It’s amazing how normality re-establishes itself so quickly in a new form.

7:25pm

It’s curious to be outside the UK looking in right now. I’m watching as people back home undergo the very same process we did last week; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The stages of grief, as the Economist pointed out today. This is a unique situation, one that changes daily. One thing is for sure; once a country starts to shake off denial, the next steps come hard and fast and in 72 hours, everything has changed. It’s what happened here in Prague and in every other European city over the last week. Now it’s starting in the UK.

Last Thursday, most people I spoke to back home were treating COVID-19 with detached alarm. Everyone was somewhat alarmed by the restrictions I relayed to them. Most dismissed the disruption, implying hyperbolism and dramaticism. For me at the time, watching the society around me shut down, it was frightening and isolating to have the people back home react so nonchalantly. Now that closures, quarantines and rapidly rising case numbers are starting to roll out across the UK, people are responding with shock and anger. I’m seeing it everywhere; online, in the media, even in personal conversations. Whilst I’m sad it’s happening to people I care about, it’s also frustrating. People phone to tell me what’s going on at home and my immediate response is – And? Welcome to our world, you’re late to the party!

That’s a harsh response I know. If this pandemic teaches me anything, it’s that I should never judge another person’s response because they won’t be able to understand until they find themselves here too. And this is a scary situation. I went through the exact same stages I see now replicated in my friends and family back home. 10 days ago I was annoyed at my flatmate for constantly talking about COVID-19. 6 days ago my livelihood was shut down. 4 days ago the country shut down. In 10 days, my world has shrunk exponentially and at first, that was terrifying, angering and bewildering. Now it feels normal.

I worry for the UK in particular though. I think the sense of national pride and exceptionalism, inherent in British identity (whether we want to believe it or not), will exacerbate the sense of trapped isolation that comes with this pandemic. It’s a feeling every person in a quarantined city understands very well. I worry that the UK will choose to believe it is the only country in this situation though and that that will make all the stages of this craziness more harsh, more alarming, more saddening and maddening and terrifying for everyone there.

For anyone in the UK starting to experience what we in Europe have been dealing with: we see you, we were you. It passed here and it will pass there too. A week from now, school closures, office and work disruption will seem reasonable. Seeing everyone in masks won’t look scary anymore. Humanity will feel more vulnerable. But you will be okay. We are, and we are you a week in advance.

Day Six: We Got This

I want you by my side
So that I never feel alone again

The real tragedy in this household is that I am out of coffee.
What a privileged tragedy to have.

1:58pm

I put some kidney beans, black eyed beans and pepper seeds in wet clothe on the radiator. In a few days they’ll sprout and I can plant them. They’re of no use to me as a food source but it feels nice to have a project.

The UK finally seems to be realising it’s own ignorance. Over the last few days I’ve been watching people begin to respond seriously to the challenge of social isolation. On the one hand, I’m glad that it’s finally being taken seriously. On the other, frustrated that it’s taken this long.

Some people are saying this is a hoax. It has crossed my mind that this is a massive global experiment in control. Governments across the world are flexing their powers of social control and it’s working. And for once, I don’t feel the urge to fight against that.

However, my mind moves to what happens after this. My friends in hospitality are facing economic disaster, no hyperbole necessary. Small businesses are going to go out of business, whilst big corporations will absorb that hit and continue.

Are we looking at the consolidation of independence into global corporate control?

I hope not. But it won’t be avoidable if we don’t fight for it.

That’s all well and good, but how do we do that?

Support your local stores – Don’t buy your supplies at supermarkets. Need coffee? (me!) Find the local coffee stores who sell it and get it there. Need bread? Go to the corner store. This is the moment to send a clear message with your money; to your community businesses that you support them; to the giant conglomerates that you do not support them monopolising on this.

Start treating zero-hour contracts and minimum wage like the social problem it is – ZHC and minimum wages have been an issue for a long time and there are plenty of movements trying to fight them. Now more than ever they need you to back their efforts. I’m so lucky to be in a comfortable position but for many of my friends, this will be a massive period of low/no income. Buy vouchers for independent restaurants and bars. Support petitions to force your government to send bailouts, not to the stock markets, not to airlines, but to people who will really truly suffer from this; zero-hour contract and minimum wage workers.

Use this time to reflect on the economy we live in – We live in a deeply unfair economy. Billionaires and millionaires control massive amounts of wealth. The rest of us are fighting over the scraps. Use this time to really dig into what kind of world you want to emerge into when this is over. Is it one where governments support their billionaire buddies or one where governments are responsible for protecting the people who put them in power – us?

Day 5: Let The Home Office Begin

Babe, there’s something wretched about this
Something so precious about this

10:13am

I am amp-ed up on adrenaline right now. I stayed up till 4:30am. I made soup, buffalo cauliflower (4 jars!) and oatmeal (no raisins in sight) cookies, not to mention binge watched Grace and Frankie, re-potted the house plants, dusted (yes, dusted) the books, cleaned under the couch, washed the dirty dishes, then washed the clean dishes, just in case, and did four more loads of laundry (that didn’t actually need to be done but the couch cushions smell great now).

Is this insanity? Or is this what productivity feels like? That elusive spectre. Have I finally been graced with productivity?! Oh boy, what timing…

It’s probably the adrenaline though. Official semi-restricted quarantine starts today and being in the house alone, even for a week sounds stressful.

1:19pm

There is something really beautiful about this quarantine. As I was leaning out my window just now (trying to avoid getting pooped on this time), an elderly man walking up the deserted street called Dobry Den to me. A woman yesterday on my way back from the park smiled and wished me Hezky Viekend. This is unusual for Prajans. The city is known for being reserved towards foreigners and all strangers in general. Yet, now that everything is shut and everyone is isolated, there’s a sense of camaraderie appearing. Nothing grand or spectacular like Italy’s balcony parties, but a quiet, respectful recognition that we’re all here together. It’s a very Czech way to respond to things.

Someone sent me a video of Warsaw today. Seeing a vibrant city so empty at once reaffirmed my fear of the changes in motion and also brought peace. Everything in the world is pausing, just for a moment. How many times have you wished for the world to stop spinning, just for a second, so you can catch up? Well, now you can because it is and it’s a pretty amazing moment to be around for.

Amazing and still shit scary but hey, I’m starting to believe one begets the other…

3:30pm

Tips for living under quarantine:

  1. Self care – Just because you’re not going outside or having any visitors doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look after yourself. Take the extra time to do all the things you normally don’t have time to do to get ready for the day. Do an hour of yoga, not just 10 minutes. Take a shower and use your left over coffee grounds to give yourself a home made body scrub. Leave them on your skin and let the oil hydrate you. Take time to appreciate self care. You’ll feel better for it. I do.
  2. Communicate – Make sure to reach out to your friends. Even just a quick video message or an ‘all good?’ text. Everyone is feeling a little disorientated right now. Let’s make sure we stay grounded using the support networks inherent in our daily lives.
  3. Open all the windows – At least for a little while everyday. It’s good to get fresh air circulating and it’ll let the sounds of the city drift in. It’s a hygenic way to stay connected to the world outside.

I’m optimistic this isn’t going to last the full 30 days. The quarantine here has only been declared for one week. I’m hopeful that will be the case.

4:00pm

4. Stay focused – I’m making activity packs for the kids I can’t teach right now. If any teacher friends out there would like a copy, drop me a message or comment and I’ll send them over. Even not for money, it’s a good way to keep those relationships thriving.

5. Consciously consume – Normally I just graze on whatever I can put my hand on in the fridge. Or I don’t eat at all. Now I’m making sure to eat meals, not snacks. Don’t forget to treat yourself ; cook yourself something nice, set the table and have a glass of wine. Heck, might as well enjoy not having to navigate the outside world. That goes for social media too. I’m really trying to limit my consumption of endless scrolling. It’s hard. When I feel lonely, I find it’s so easy to switch off and scroll. That’s not necessarily the best way to stave off loneliness though. Instead, I’m replacing scrolling with looking out the window, sending a WhatsApp message to someone I love or making myself a cup of NoGrip (cold and flu drink).

6. Clean as you go – Now more than ever it’s important to keep our local environments clean. Not just because of the virus but also to foster positive mental health. Wash the dishes after you cook. Wipe the floors when you’ve finished showering. Wipe down the surfaces whenever you’re finished with them. Don’t forget your keyboard. Now’s the time for that instagram clean you’ve always strived for and never had the time to achieve.

7:09pm

Some tunes to keep the morale up

Kendrick Lamar Alright

Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals at NPR’s Tiny Desk

The Dead South In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company

Mike Posner & Naughty Boy Live Before I Die

Day 4: Risky Behaviour

Frightened by my feelings
I only wanna be a relief

01:57am

Loneliness sucks. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for someone who faces isolation every day. My flatmate left on Saturday and I’m starting to regret not rushing to the airport for the last flight out. At the same time, the lady I spoke to at Jet2 begged me not to reschedule unless my trip to the UK was urgent. It isn’t, really.

She reminded me that they are currently trying to repatriate a tremendous amount of people, most of whom are paying extortionate hotel/AirBnB prices to be housed extra nights. I get it. I’m so lucky to be in a cosy house, that’s mine, with food and friends nearby.

And yet, I can’t help but feel like something significant is going on. This is something that is going to change everything. At least I hope it does. If I’m honest though, at 25 years old, I’d rather be on home ground to face it.

That being said, I have wine and Netflix. My thoughts are wandering to all those not privileged enough to have any of these things. Those working tirelessly in our hospitals. Those in refugee camps across the world. Those sleeping on the park benches of Hlavni Nadrazi tonight. I am so lucky by comparison.

It’s okay to be scared though, and lonely. It’s okay to be anything at the moment because as I have heard more than once recently: there’s no playbook right now.

11:28am

A bird pooped on me. I am not kidding. I was leaning out my window having a spy at the world and A bird Pooped On Me.

I’m so filled with questions. Namely, how the fuck? How did it aim under the window sill? At the exact moment I was leaning out? How did you know, bird? Did I really need to get pooped on?

I’m going to wash my hands (again) and then make pancakes. I am so confused.

Is the animal kingdom turning against us? The dog upstairs has been barking incessantly for some time now…

4:27pm

Well. I participated in some risky behaviour today. I went to the park. Again. Who doesn’t love a rebel? Turns out, the entirety of Prague was doing the same thing. I think it may actually have been busier than an average Sunday. Kind of makes this whole self-isolation thing seem highly futile, that’s for sure.

Pubs, coffee shops and restaurants were mandated to shut yesterday. One thing I’ve learnt about Czech culture is that they love to circumnavigate the law and oh boy, they have outdone themselves. There are tables in every doorway selling beer, coffee, food, cocktails. All to-go. It’s really ingenious, although it does lead to many people congregating outside on the pavement and that made me nervous.

It made me kind of angry at first and then I realised I was also breaking the restrictions by being there and promptly wound my neck in. Can’t say I blame anyone either. Whilst social isolation is haute du jour, humans are social creatures and placing everyone under house arrest was never going to be realistic. You can’t change human behaviour in a week.

That, plus, at a time when everything feels very weird, being in the park felt normal. A nice kind of normal. Like a normal that makes you think tomorrow everyone will go back to school and work and everything will be back to normal. And for someone who struggles with their mental health normally (me), normal felt nice for a while.

It all seems very normal. Until an ambulance tears past with its siren on and everyone goes a weird kind of quiet for a second. The underlying stress of this situation is exposed just for a moment. Then everyone returns to their pleasant day in the park. Normal.

There’s a big cottage culture here; everyone owns or part-owns a cottage in the mountains that’s used for holidays and weekends. Most weekends in Prague are quiet because of this; this one was no different. Prajans en masse left the city on Thursday when everything went nuclear. Sadly but not surprisingly, the rural areas of the Czech Republic have seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, whilst Prague itself has remained fairly steady. It appears, everyone took the virus with them.