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    Dealing with Furlough by Dave Strydom

    My initial concerns after being furloughed were dealing with the fears (what if this becomes permanent? How will I pay my bills on an extended basis?), the guilt (I should be with the team facing this) and finally how to not torment my partner (who was still working) and not behave like a bored 14-year-old:

    “Mum, I’m bored; Mum, there is nothing to eat; Mum, I’m bored!”

    I needed to keep busy so that my head didn’t have time to turn a headache into a brain tumour, and stay out from under my wife’s feet.

    Photo of bridge over river in sunshine

    Phase One – Baking

    I started with chocolate chip cookies and progressed through to brownies, bread (of all shapes and flavours), carrot cake and even tried my hand at profiteroles and meringue (I didn’t fall into the banana bread trap though). I was becoming quite the pastry chef, however our home also became a cream, sugar and carb death trap. We both caught COVID-15 – the 15 lbs you pack on in isolation.

    Phase Two – Recovery from COVID-15

    Joris Bohnson said we could exercise outdoors once a day and missing the gym like mad, I made full use of this chance to get out of the flat.

    I walked and rode my bike at every opportunity - I am ashamed to say that having lived in Richmond for four years, I had used the sad excuse that life was too busy to explore.

    I live right on the river and was pleasantly surprised at the beauty that is within an hour’s walk from my front door.

    Photo of bluebell flowers Kew Gardens

    Starting from Hammersmith Bridge all the way to Kingston Waterfront, there is just one beauty spot after another. Secluded spots to meditate and escape from life’s stresses, great bankside picnic spots, glimpses of wildlife that appeared as soon as we stopped polluting (or maybe I was just too busy to stop and notice before furlough).

    Photo of boats and Hammersmith bridge in sunshine

    It seems that as industry slowed down, the Thames cleaned itself up, the water became clearer, birdsong seemed louder, and even the famous Richmond seal wandered further afield and was spotted as far as Hammersmith!

    We had an extraordinary spring, so perhaps that’s why everything seemed to be brighter and crisper but whatever the reason, it fed my soul.

    Fields of bluebells at the back of Kew Gardens, blue cranes in the wetlands of Old Deer Park, and great little coffee shops practising social distancing with a view… I found them all and think I regained perspective and balance in the process, and hope I can keep this balance as we move into the ‘new normal’.

    Phase 3 – Support Local

    Photo of Crane bird resting in the sunshine

    I took over more of the home responsibilities (I bought a new man-grade vacuum cleaner) and having more time on my hands, the shopping fell to me… now bearing in mind that I don’t know how to follow a shopping list, our food spend went through the roof. Coupled with an Amazon fixation, we burnt money during isolation.

    More importantly, whilst I am so grateful to the large supermarket chains for their service at the beginning of the crisis, in all seriousness they were going to come out of this just fine; it was the high street that needed support, so I started frequenting the local butcher and fishmonger, the market trader who chooses his fruit and vegetables daily from the market, and even the local general dealer who always seemed to have flour and went to extraordinary lengths to serve the community.

    They were the people I supported and will continue to support (their use of single use plastic is also much lower than supermarkets – just take your own bag) - Steve, the market trader who always slips an extra punnet of raspberries into our bag; and Ben, the New Zealander butcher who cuts my steaks just the way I like them and doesn’t mind French trimming a rack of lamb for me. With the banter and socialising that was a by-product of those trips, shopping took a bit longer and meant several trips out but worth every minute and the effort.

    I hope that in some small way, I’ve helped support them and their families and when life returns to normal, they will still be a part of our community.

    Selfie by Dave Strydom outside

    I missed you all (well, most of you) and Thomas’s (Golaszewki, GPS’ Head of Operations) booming voice more than anything else. Strangely, I have in moments of madness missed the hustle and bustle of the tube, but I think furlough by and large was an enriching experience for me. I have a renewed energy for my job, I have almost achieved the balance I always preach about to others but never really achieved myself, and I have proven to myself just how resilient I really am… but now I am ready to get back to work.

    By Dave Strydom, Learning and Development Manager, GPS