• Oxford Together Stories

We've Scrapped The Rule Book, We've Started Again

We're not all in the same boat; we’re in different boats on the same sea. The transition to a more sustainable way of life is less scary because we've lost everything anyway. So we've got a better position to build from. 


Very early on in this whole situation, my GP was phoning me up to keep me ahead of the curve. I'm on immunosuppressant medication and also I had pneumonia a few years ago so my lungs are pretty knackered. I have not been told to shield but what I have been told is I'm moderately at risk, moderately susceptible. I said, “Well, what's the advice for moderately vulnerable?” and they said, “Well, to follow the shielding advice as much as possible”.  I could go out into the street. I don't have to keep myself completely barricaded off. So from there I thought, Well, Ok, this is going to be chicken feed for me because I've got the personality, skills and the tools to be able to isolate long term because I had been naturally doing that more and more for the last three years. The rest of the world can begin to see the world through my eyes now, I thought. 


Towards the end of last year I became aware that I could disappear and very few people would know. So at the end of last year I put myself on the radar of various support organisations - I went to a discussion group every Tuesday, went to mental health charities Restore and Elder Stubbs every Thursday, I linked up with the Archway project - I’m not lonely but it's for lonely people, isolated people. I got involved with these organisations because I was isolating myself too much and now these organisations are aware that when this situation ends, it might end for some people, but for me it will probably go on for longer because of my susceptibility and tendency to over isolate. 


So when this all kicked in Elder Stubbs, Archway, the discussion group, various other organisations, they jumped straight on it and even now, nine weeks in, ten weeks in, I get calls. Today’s a busy day because I've just had Archway, I'm talking to you, I'm talking to somebody else a little bit later and then I’ve got a Zoom call after that.  I can't really remember the timeline but something called the ‘Oxford Hub’ appeared and then I became aware of ‘Oxford Together’ and I registered online for various things, and then the whole thing took off. 


When this situation happened, I became aware of who I was going to miss seeing. It very quickly transpired at the end of that first week I found three things that scared me: One, I was scared I wasn't going to see people again. Two, I was scared that I wasn't going to be able to tell them how I felt because I don't want to pop my clogs with any loose ends or anything not said or done. And the third thing was, if I tell people how I feel, then they won't -for whatever reason- they won't be able to cope with it, they’ll walk away, and I won't see them again.  You can take this place away where I'm living now, you can take all my possessions away, you can take my career, you can take my house away from me, that means nothing, if you can't hug or be near the people you care about, you have nothing. This Zoom stuff, like we're doing now, has become more mainstream. I have issues because of the way the epilepsy affects my eyes. I struggle to process information. So to use it to stay in touch with close people, I find that really problematic because it's almost like they're behind bulletproof glass and I can't get to them. It makes me feel worse, than not seeing them. Zoom to me is some middle ground that I find very uncomfortable. 


So now every afternoon at 4:20 I get a phone call from a Chinese Student. She checks I’m ok, and we just have these random conversations -– they can be about politics, Coronavirus, anything - the first ten seconds of that conversation denotes where the next half an hour goes. The girl who phones me, she's pretty much in isolation, she’s the only one in the College. So I think, it’s a creative use of time. If there's any problems I'll tell her and somehow, she gets the ball in motion – if I need food somebody knocks at the door and there's a box of food from the council, or someone else. My job is to eat it, not to know. I can only assume what's going on behind the scenes. 


I liked that at the very beginning, when there was a need to sort out food supplies and prescription pickups, the Council wasn’t - “Oh what budget is this coming out of? Whose job is this? Which department?”  It was sort of like, “Right, who's best set up to solve this problem? Ok, well, then it’s the Oxford Hub, it's the food bank, it’s whatever”. I get the feeling the Council were being called by more organisations, and the Council were calling on more organisations to solve the problem.

The services are just going straight to the people who need them and there's less steppingstones, like - “Well, this person is on annual leave. Oh you can't speak to them for two weeks” - that’s normal - but at the moment it's sort of like - “Ok, I'll get back to you,” and then within a day, something's happened. The most creative thing I've probably seen is the ability to not hide behind processes and procedures and just get things done.


There's a sport called Speedway racing -you should see the rulebook- its vast.  So every year they have a conference to say, “Well, Ok, last year somebody got through this loophole, so what we will do, we'll put something else in the way,” which provides two other loopholes. And since about 1965 they’ve talked about scrapping the rule book and starting again, because it's just too complicated. Now, in Oxford, it’s like we've done just that - we’ve started again. 


I think that what needs to come out of this is we need to support the people who don't necessarily know they need support, in less conventional ways, and not get bogged down in, “Well, I'm not doing that because that's not my job.” It's all our jobs. We are up shit-creek without a paddle, ok?  We're not all in the same boat; we’re in different boats on the same sea. The transition to a more sustainable way of life is less scary because we've lost everything anyway. So we've got a better position to build from.  And people say, “Oh, well, environmentalists, socialists or communists, they want rebellion and all the rest of it”.  No, this is about actually a better quality of life for everybody. It's about quality of life.


Edited by Renata Allen

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