Pen To Print

Monday Memoirs: Upskilling

Introduced by Holly King

With far more time at home and, for some of us, more time on our hands, people across the world are learning new skills or developing existing ones. I’ll admit I’m one of the other group of people, who feel as though they haven’t achieved anything more than getting out of bed and being both awed and frustrated at the lengths that squirrels will go to in order to steal bird food (answer: great, semi-perilous lengths). Is watching TV a skill? Pressing yes to Are you still watching? more than three times in a day? Drinking copious amounts of Pepsi Max? Buying an indoor plant every time I venture to Tesco? Well, yes actually that is a skill. No, not the amount of Pepsi Max I drink (I checked to see if it was a world record and I’m way off); but taking care of plants. Learning where to put them, how often to water them and where they need watering (tip: big leaves need to be misted).

So once I’d got through my sarcastic list of things I’ve learnt, I decided to actually think and I also came up with: learning resistance band exercise routines (Bulgarian split squats sounds more impressive than it is), learning how to edit content for the Monday Memoirs page and how to make a cappuccino-style coffee by using a cafetière (tip: don’t spill most of it all over the kitchen).

Lastly, I have spent long hours researching to ensure that when my friends and I gather on WhatsApp every week, we get top marks on Disney quizzes.

But enough about my crowning achievements. Below, I’ve gathered some great examples of people skill-building during lockdown; showing that even in a time of uncertainty, stress and confinement, people are working hard on self-improvement, creativity and keeping connected.

Amy Deakin

The first day I did yoga, I was exhausted from being cooped up in a room all day. I’d recovered from a cold and couldn’t do ‘proper’ exercise. Yoga felt like a stopgap.

One half-hour video changed the way my body felt in an immediately noticeable way. I felt ‘limber’. I was still tired, but I held the tiredness more lightly. That video has turned into a daily yoga practice.

Pre-lockdown, yoga wasn’t for me. It was too slow, too difficult, too ‘airy-fairy’. I’ve since discovered that yoga stretches more than your limbs. You become conscious of how you move, rather than how many reps you’ve done. You become more aware of your breathing and your body. Afterwards, you just feel better.

Each time I hit the yoga mat, I learn a little more about my body and about myself. I hope to keep that up.

Connect with Amy on Instagram: @amydpoetry

Janki Parmar

Working from home and being around loved ones during lockdown comes with many perks and challenges. To help myself and others around me, I have been developing my communication skills, focusing on one key area: my tone of voice.  Maintaining a positive mindset invites me to be mindful and provides me with breathing room to focus on the words I am emphasising. I have found something new to learn about and am continuing to research the different ways people use tone of voice via YouTube videos; more specifically, how people use tone of voice during speeches. Overall, this topic continues to interest me and I am certain that my communication skills have improved vastly, not only in the world of business but, more importantly, with the people closest to me.

Oliver Lincoln

Ollie has been building this skill since he was five, and he knows that regular practice ensures he keeps his skill ‘in tune’. If I were his neighbour, I’d be beating the wall with a broom and shouting requests.

Connect with Ollie on:Instagram and see more of his videos on: YouTube by searching for ollielincolnmusic

Eithne Cullen

My story of upskilling isn’t about me.

My mission was teaching my husband to bake from (almost) scratch, covering lots of different recipes but, more importantly, techniques.

For mincemeat streusel, flour and fat needed to be rubbed in. If you don’t bake, this instruction can be a mystery. It was executed really well by my trainee. The only problem was the mis-measuring of the butter (4 oz instead of 8 from a mathematically-minded man). We retrieved it and it was delicious.

We selected a flapjack recipe carefully, as my pupil wanted to add ingredients like nuts and seeds. This was a success and will be added to our growing repertoire.

The lemon drizzle (creaming, beating and folding) was a tasty delight. I had selected a recipe for a two-pound loaf tin, intending to freeze half for another time. It never made it to the freezer.

Cheese scones were tasty and savoury treats. And ginger parkin meant using a recipe I hadn’t tried for a long time but will certainly use again; even spicier next time!

I’m looking forward to whatever he comes up with when he’s ready to bake solo.

Connect with Eithne on Twitter: @eithne_cullen

Lynda Shepherd

Lockdown has meant changes in routine for all of us. During the week I began working from home for my day job, I was inspired to write only the second poem I’d written since my school days. A poem about starting the day and communication. Over toast and Marmite, I had been listening to the birds and watching remaining commuters stroll past. It turned out pretty well and we published it as part of Write On! Extra’s ‘Thoughtful Tuesday’ page the following week.

My confidence boosted, within a fortnight, cheered by Spring’s reliable highlights and memories of earlier days, I wrote another poem titled ‘I Spy Spring.’ Developing this forgotten skill a little more, I’m now looking at various types of poetry, wondering how far I can experiment inspired by a world I now see differently.

See Lynda’s poem: https://pentoprint.org/thoughtful-tuesdays-telling-the-grandchildren/

Connect with Lynda on Twitter: @loneshepherdess and Instagram: @lyndaswrites

Claire Buss

With lockdown came the closure of the schools and the need for parents to step up and become teachers. Now, some might say we automatically teach our children life skills, but trying to teach your autistic six-year-old the mostly generic, often random and definitely sporadic worksheets from school without any real clue if you’re doing the right thing or not, is tough. I am now PE, Maths, English and Topic teacher which includes a bit of Geography, History, Science, RE and Art but I can’t be Mum at the same time. I can’t get cross and I can’t shout, I can’t give up and I can’t give in. I need to give him a stable environment, I need to keep him in the school mindset and I need to maintain his routine, otherwise he will spiral and he will struggle to slot back into the school environment. I am learning how his mind works, how to be a SEN teacher (Special Education Needs) and then at the end of the school day how to be a mum again.

Connect with Claire on Twitter: @grasshopper2407 and on Instagram: @grasshopper2407

As we’ve seen, no matter your situation during lockdown, you can build a skillset. It’s important, though, not to expect to become a master in a few short weeks. I’ll admit I expected being able to jump straight into writing every day and finally put an end to that long, dry, five-year stint since I’d actually written anything to completion as soon as I was furloughed.

So I was mildly horrified when I sat down at my laptop for a few days and found it exhausting and difficult to write for more than five minutes. Firstly, I blamed the birds I could see out of my window, and the deer that started grazing on the treelines – How can I do any work with such a majestic scene?! – but eventually I thought of any excuse not to write, including reading books on writing.

What changed my mindset was hearing people mention their ‘Couch to 5K’ routine and likening it to writing a complete novel during lockdown. If you’ve never run for longer than to catch a bus, you wouldn’t expect to run 5k on the first try, would you? You can’t speak fluent French after one lesson, even if you’ve heard Lady Marmalade; or make a perfect Baked Alaska on your first attempt, even though you may have made ice creams, meringues and sponge cakes before.

Think of that analogy if you’re tempted to learn a new skill, or re-start an existing one but are putting too much pressure on yourself. No one needs to know about it but you, and you only need to take it day by day. Progress isn’t linear, and achieving 5% is still 100% better than doing nothing at all (unless it’s speed-drinking Pepsi Max, then doing nothing is 100% better). And make sure to take pride in small achievements: as of today, all my plants are still alive.

Now for Wallis’ poignant and tender comic strip, titled Pieces of 8:

Visit Wallis’s online shop – www.etsy.com/uk/shop/WallisEates

She is also involved with several initiatives:

Like An Orange – a graphic novel about brain injury and creativity funded by the Arts Council National Lottery and crowdfunding with publishers Unbound Books. To support, please visit here: www.unbound.com/books/like-an-orange

Wings – a visual storybook from prison. Coming soon. Please get in touch for more information. In the meantime, you can visit here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/littlemule/wings-a-make100-visual-storybook-from-prison

Wallis is also the London co-ordinator  of Laydeez Do Comics  – https://laydeezdocomics.wordpress.com/  Connect with them on Twitter: @laydeezdocomics

Read Issue 4 of Write On! magazine online now

With far more time at home and, for some of us, more time on our hands, people across the world are learning new skills or developing existing ones.