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Making, moving, cleaning, reading, studying, growing … life while social distancing

Funny how quickly our vocabulary grows around novel situations. A few weeks ago I’m not sure I was familiar with the terms social distancing, self-isolation or elbow bump. Now – well, you know.

With so many projects and events cancelled in the last few days, and many more to come, I’m reminded how crucial it is to stay positive. But what does that mean? I’m fortunate at the moment to be thinking about ‘social distancing’ rather than ‘self-isolation’.  I’m also lucky to be a bit of an antisocial person anyway. Even so, box sets and jigsaw puzzles have a limited appeal. A couple of newsletters came into my inbox today which made me feel like putting together a list of Things We Could be Doing While Social Distancing. I hope something here strikes a chord!


You may not have any spare clay hanging about but what about paint? Or string or rope? The Collective Gen blog has put together 12 Projects To Do Using Supplies You (Probably) Already Have – macrame (I’ve recently rediscovered this myself and no ball of string is now safe). I recently found a rather tatty old jardiniere (plant pot stand!) for £10 in a junk shop and painted it with some leftover Farrow & Ball paint. The joy of middle-class upcycling!


“If there was ever a time to re-energize, re-connect with your willingness to sit with yourself, care for yourself – it could be now. If there was ever a time to acknowledge that your relationship to the above can have a direct impact on others – it could be now.” –  my yoga guru Adriene Mischler sends out a weekly newsletter to calm your spirit and remind you to take care of yourself and others. Plus there are all her fantastic (and free) yoga videos to do at home. I was a complete beginner when I started following her in 2018 and I love her energy and sense of fun.


Dusty house, dusty mind… or something like that? If you’re healthy and have got the energy how about joining me in a ritual Spring clean. No kidding. A Victorian flat seems to grow dust balls in the hall quicker than you can say ‘tumbleweed’.  Spring cleaning tips from Reader’s Digest here


It’s a bit obvious for a poet that now’s a great opportunity to read all those collections that have been piling up. However, I’d like to throw down the gauntlet. I’ve been reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, and am finding Paradiso heavy going. BUT I see there’s Digital Dante – all the text, context, commentary and much more. I’m definitely going to get help here to get me through Paradiso with a greater appreciation. If you’ve not read this work, why not set yourself the goal? Alternatively, my next classic tome to tackle is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Can I even call myself a poet and not have read this work? I did study the Prologue and some other bits of it at school, about 100 years ago. I’m ready to go for it now, in the interests of furthering my knowledge of The Canon. At the Poetry Foundation you can read the whole prologue.


How about taking an online course? Search for ‘poetry’ at Coursera and there are any number of free courses you can join. ‘Words Spun Out of Images: Visual and Literary Culture in Nineteenth Century Japan’, ‘Modern American Poetry’,  ‘The Ancient Greeks’ – actually that last one isn’t poetry, but I bet it’s interesting. Or if you’re willing to pay, the Poetry School runs a number of online courses, as do of course the wonderful Live Canon.


The satisfaction to be gained from sowing seeds and watching them grow is hard to overestimate. I’m very, very lucky to have a garden, but even if you only have a window sill you still may be able to grow something. I think the first bit of growing I ever did was to sprout some seeds. Urban Turnip has a post entitled Best urban gardening & container growing blogs – not a recent post, but it includes links to various indie gardening blogs (ie not the big ones where you’re encouraged to buy stuff). Now’s exactly the time of year to be sowing stuff, and if it’s something you can eat, even better. It really makes you feel that life goes on, and it’s a beautiful thing. Happy growing.

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  1. Thank you – fantastic. Just made a bookmark of ‘poetry for isolation’. I am definitely going to ‘do’ Dante – had him on a virtual shelf for a long time – maybe alongside making my own small books of each part and painting some relevant pictures?? Getting very excited now. Looking forward to Rilke next then catching up on my French as lessons now in limbo from mid-day when we can’t move in France without a piece of paper showing where we are going and what for. I have Rimbaud and Verlaine and modern poets and translations and Agenda’s latest French and English magazine. Don’t think 45 days is going to be long enogh. ALso tthinking a daily blog for family and friends will help to focus the mind. Cheerio X

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Brigid, thanks for your comment – sounds like you have plenty of things planned!

  2. Thank you, Robin, for your thoughtful and timely piece. I’ve just managed to get a flight out and am now in my caravan in the Netherlands. Here I have a garden, can walk round the whole site and go for a bike ride. I’m improving my Spanish via Duolingo online and I am going to learn poems by heart – something I’ve always wanted to do, never had time and energy for. Take care, keep safe.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      That sounds lovely, I hope you stay well and energised!

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Robin Houghton 2021