Cortisol hormone high

I’ve spent the last few weeks high on cortisol. Oh yesssss, my body’s main stress hormone has been a little elevated while I navigate myself through the New Zealand house buying process, which is quite different – and therefore strange and unfamiliar – to the UK. It’s like walking barefoot through a room full of mousetraps blindfolded, with someone occasionally shouting vague directions in words you don’t understand, hoping you won’t stand on something that will hurt you.

I’m nearly out the other side. WIthout explaining the whole process (you can read about it for yourself here if you really want to) – mainly because I still don’t really understand it – I’m a few days away from the point where it becomes legal and binding and no one can back out without losing a lot of money. This is the good point, because it when I know it’s definitely going to be my house, and I can legitimately start to dream about where I’ll put my yellow chair so I get a view of the mountains without fear of intense disappointment.

The process is normally pretty quick here (sometimes less than a month), which by itself is stressful to us Brits who are used to having months to get our heads around 1) committing to something/somewhere and 2) spending a shit ton of cash. You have mere days to sign stuff, send it back, pay things, make phone calls, move money, make decisions, all while trying to work and live at the same time. Especially hard when it’s just me who has do Everything. Single. Thing. <tired sigh>.

This purchase has been stretched out a bit (I first put the offer in at the beginning of May), because we’ve had to wait a few weeks for a valuer to be available because my mortgage company needed it. Then we had to extend the timeframes as the vendor is waiting for the council to sign off some building work. So as long as that’s done by Monday, it’s all systems go. If it’s not, the timeframes will have to be pushed out again.

I’ve broken the lease on my flat and need to move out on the 4th July, so I’m hoping they don’t get shifted back again, because then I’ll have to move all my stuff twice. But hey, can’t do much about what I can’t control, and I’ve got a Plan B so it’s all cruisy baby.

I’ve also gone and got myself a new job, not related to the move, just for shits and giggles, and the decision-making, negotiations and uncomfortable act of telling my boss I’m leaving has just kept that old friend cortisol hanging around when it’s outstayed its welcome. Joy.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll be having 4 months off from mid July and won’t start my new job until October, so I’ll get a well-deserved break – something I’ve desperately craved since burning out and melting down last year. I’ll get a few weeks of downtime to potter around my new house without having to work before flying to the UK and I can’t wait to just be for a little bit IN MY OWN HOUSE.

I’m wondering if having a base of my own that I don’t have to sign a lease for every year (and can put up picture hooks if I want to ), in a small community, will give me some grounding that I still don’t feel I quite have yet here in Aotearoa. My residency helped me to feel less temporary, and having a house of my own to make a home feels like the last part of a jigsaw that’ll allow me to start living my NZ life on my terms – where I want, and doing what I want.

Over the past few weeks I’ve realised I get a bit lonely here in Christchurch. I don’t feel part of a community, which is really important to me. I miss the intimacy of being in a relationship, and the connection of deep friendships with a lot of shared history. Whether it’s because it’s nearing the time I can go back to the UK and I’m thinking about what I had in the UK, or just I’m ready for a change, I don’t know, I just know I’m feeling it quite intensely right now.

I’m excited to start a new chapter, to live life a little differently, to enjoy the ride, and see where it takes me, but without going a million miles an hour. This one’s gonna be more chilled. At least, that’s the plan.

Watch this space.

Happy birthday houses

Oh hiiiiiiiii. It’s been ages.

So much has happened, yet as I go to write about what that was, my is blank. Oh, I changed my hair colour which is a nice change.

But I guess the main thing is probably that I turned 41 since my last post. Like most years, I feel no different. But like most people in their 40’s, I do still wonder how it happened. Little by little, day by day, until you realise all the little moments add up and you complain about being old. Only you’re not old really, 40 is nothing, but everyone of similar age joins in the joke because no one actually wants to talk about the fact it starts a realisation of aging and mortality that’s no one knows quite how to deal with.

I had a lovely birthday. Woke up in my van, by myself, in the middle of the mountains, surrounded by low-hanging mist giving the campsite an ethereal feel. No signal, no road noise, and few people. I stretched out, enjoying waking up slowly and lazily, tucked up all cosy in my duvet. No rush to be anywhere or do anything.

By the time I got some water boiling on my little camp stove for a [birthday] cup of tea, the sun was breaking through the mist. ‘Hi there! Good morning!’ shouts a voice. I look up, and there’s a middle-aged man looking down at me, looking concerned. ‘Are you OK?’

‘Good morning! Er, yes thanks, lovely morning isn’t it?’ I shout back.

‘Do you want a hot drink?’ He asks.

‘No, I’m OK thanks, I’ve got a cup of tea on the go,’ I reply, gesturing to the pan on the stove.

‘Oh.’ He looks confused, and there’s a pause. Then, ‘You’re in the shade.’

‘Yeah I know. I’ll be sitting in the sun soon though,’ pointing to my chair that’s in the sun, but wondering why it matters.

‘Righto. Jolly good.’ He waves and wanders off. I’ll see him later on the walking track near the campsite where he’ll tell me he was going to ask me, his campsite ‘neighbour’, to join him for a walk. I’ll politely laugh and continue on alone, enjoying the peace and quiet.

At lunchtime I met Charlie at Maruia Hot Springs where we had facials and lounged around in the hot pools. When I got there she was already outside on the deck, because I was about 15 minutes later than the rough time we’d plan to meet.

‘Oh my god where were you? I thought you might have got lost in the wilderness or broke an ankle or something and I was about to have to come looking for you!’

I laughed. ‘Of course not. I was just cruising,’ I replied. ‘I’m having a very leisurely day.’ She looks at me and I realise we have slightly different viewpoints on meeting times.

We lounged, talked and laughed before heading to Reefton where more friends came and joined us for bubbles, shots, dancing, food, walks and good times.

Then on the Monday I look at a cottage for sale on a whim and decide to buy it. In terms of birthday presents to myself, it’s the biggest one yet.

And so here I am, two weeks later, half way through the process of buying a cottage in Reefton in rural New Zealand, 3.5 hours drive away from Christchurch when I had no intention of even looking at house buying until at least towards the end of the year. Desperately hoping that it all goes through OK and there’s no last minute issues that could make it fall apart (still possible) because, my god, am I in love with this little character cottage.

The house buying process is very different here to the UK. It’s much, much quicker, which is just as stressful as how long it takes to buy a house in England. It was very much a ‘fuck it, do it’ decision and work out the actual details and logistics later, and later is still to happen.

But it’ll be fine. I’m sure I’ll figure it out and make it work. (Pray for me, ha)

Having your shit together

A couple of people have commented recently about how I’ve got my life / shit together. My instant thought was to say ‘oh hell no, no I haven’t, no one’s got their shit together’ but that reaction felt like a deflection of a compliment, and as soon as I thought about saying it, I could feel my body get uncomfortable, because it’s just not true.

Actually, I do have a lot of my life and shit together right now. Mainly because it’s taken a hell of a lot of work to get there. I mean, it does depend on what people mean, and it’s going to be subjective right, but I know myself pretty damn well, I know what I like, what I don’t like and I know how I want to live my life. I make (mostly) good choices and get out there and make things happen.

Obviously having your life and shit together doesn’t mean you’re infallible, that everything’s going well, or you have everything figured out, and I don’t say it to brag. It’s just this is where I’m at right now, the reward of doing a shit tonne of personal growth, pushing myself and making lots of mistakes over the last ten years.

It doesn’t mean you don’t have crap things happen, or tough times, and it doesn’t mean you always know how to deal with it. But it probably does mean you have some good coping strategies about how to get through it. I have a big trust and belief in myself to be able to deal with whatever comes my way, and that everything will be OK. Admittedly that got tested heavily last year, but I’m still standing.

I’ll always keep learning, I will make more mistakes, and because of that, no one ever FULLY has everything figured out. But they can have their life together in a way that works for them. Which, right now, I do.

Tales from lockdown revisited – author’s note

Well that’s it folks, the final Tales From Lockdown – Revisited has been published. What an absolute JOY it’s been to chat again to these people and tell more of their life stories. Nearly two years have passed yet the first conversations seem like only yesterday. So many different things to talk about, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.

It shows that life still happens, doesn’t it? Whether we want it to or not, even in a global pandemic with multiple lockdowns. People change jobs, lose family, have babies, fall in love, fall out of love, move house, make mistakes, do great things. It happens, we deal with it, we get through it.

A big thank you once more to everyone who’s given their time to chat to me again, and for opening up their life for my little part of the internet. These stories are my gift to you.

It’s hard to think that before I started this I hadn’t really interviewed people, I didn’t know what I was doing, and it was all new. Now it feels as familiar as an old comfort blanket I can hold in my hand, and I’ve found I LOVE it. I bloody LOVE it. Interviewing someone, learning about them, and writing it down. It’s a wonderful way to spend my time, and has helped me understand that feature journalism is the path I want to take for my writing just now. Although if anyone has any other ideas of how to monetise this stuff I’m all ears – I don’t want to earn a fortune, just enough to be able to spend more time writing.

There weren’t any real themes for these stories like there was in the first series, since it was less about Covid and the shared lockdown experience, and more about where individual lives had gone since then.

I didn’t stress myself out with deadlines, even though I took a couple of months to write some of them up. I was honest with myself, and the people I wrote about, with what was realistic. See, I’m learning and growing.

I doubt there’ll be a Tales from Lockdown Revisited, Revisited, but I don’t think this’ll be the end of me writing about people. I’m just not sure what form it’ll take.

What do you all want to read?

Babies and back to work

‘We last chatted in May 2020, so it’s been nearly 2 years since we last spoke,’ I say to the screen. ‘How’s it been for you?’

Natalie looks at me and laughs. ‘Well, this,’ she says, holding up the cutest little baby in a pink babygrow. ‘This happened! We’ve been pretty busy, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.’

Nat found out she was pregnant in November 2020. ‘Lockdown made us both realise that we just wanted to have children now, because life is precious and things can change. We’re not getting any younger and so decided to start a family.’

Little Olivia came along in August 2021 and Nat says she’s been an anxious mess ever since. ‘Having a baby has turned me into an anxious lunatic,’ she laughs. ‘It was interesting to be pregnant in Covid-times.’

Pete, Natalie’s husband, wasn’t allowed to many scans or appointments. She says: ‘The only scan partners were allowed to go to was the 20 week one, so that was the first time Pete got to see our baby. I think it’s really hard for any partner who’s not carrying the baby to go through pregnancy but not actually see the baby.’

Because the UK kept going in and out of lockdowns, Natalie didn’t see her Dad all through her pregnancy. ‘I kind of got used to it, but I was quite anxious the entire time and if I’d been able to see people, to talk in person, I think it would’ve really helped. My best friend was pregnant at the same time [they had their babies a day apart] and I never saw her. We had video calls but it’s not really the same. We’d have loved to go shopping for baby clothes and stuff together.’

In our first chat, Natalie found spending time with Pete in lockdown made her realise just how much she loved him. ‘Now I’ve spent too much time with him. Now I want to kill him,’ she jokes. ‘Don’t put that in, will you?’ I give her a wry smile.

Nat’s going back to work soon but will be mainly working from home rather than having the same amount of travel she used to, an unexpected positive of the pandemic. Pete has sold his share of his business and is going to become a stay-at-home-dad. ‘Our priorities have changed, things have changed, and we’re thinking about doing things differently,’ she says. ‘It feels like having a baby is a lot about trying to find a balance with everything. Pete will do some work, but we’ll have more flexibility. He’s really excited about it. I think it’s really important for men to have that time with their children, because sometimes it’s hard for men to get so involved when they’re quite small. Pete’s such a good Dad, he just loves it. It’s so cute to watch them together.’

Natalie loves her job, and is excited to go back to work. Her eyes light up as she looks at me through the screen. ‘You know what Tara, I love working. I love being a mum, but I need more than that. For me, that’s really important. I have to use my brain. I had a KIT day the other week and I struggled to write the letter N on a piece of paper. I’ve not written anything in so long.’

Natalie picks Olivia up with that ease that mothers just seem to have, and Olivia looks at me through the screen, transfixed. ‘Sorry there were no cocktails involved in this chat,’ laughs Natalie.

‘Is that chapter of your life over now?’ I ask her, ‘Or will they be making a comeback?’

‘No they’re definitely not over, the cocktails will be making a comeback. Pete’s going to make me a tiki bar for the garden, and that’s when I might relaunch them. I want to be Instagram famous,’ she laughs.

My 40th year – April (month #12)

Well it’s been quite the year. I started it terribly burnt out and am ending it feeling much better. Slightly battered and bruised, but much, much better.

I’d known I was burnt out, I’d already spent months trying all sorts of things to keep a handle on it. Float pods, reflexology, exercise, you name it, I probably tried it. All the things the articles tell you to do. It took me too long to remove the source of the burnout (my job) but that’s what I did a year ago, and I started my current job just before my 40th birthday last year.

Starting a new job with trauma from an old one was so hard. I was being triggered all the time yet felt I had to be on top of my game. I was finding it so hard but there wasn’t an option to fail because my life, my visa, was tied to the new job. I was so scared I’d fuck it up and lose the option to live in New Zealand, and I just wasn’t in a place to deal with that.

Hence the year of self-nurture; I knew I had to slowly try and help myself recover while still trying to get through life. The option of taking a few months off (what I really wanted to do) wasn’t an option. Well, it didn’t seem like an option. I actually spoke to my boss recently about how I actually felt last year, and he told me if I’d said something back then, he was sure we could have worked something out. He made me promise that if I ever felt like that again to talk to him about it.

Lesson learnt; honesty is always a good call (and people are kind).

This final month before I turn 41 next week has been about reflecting back over the year, seeing what’s resonated, and thinking about what I might want to carry on doing. It’s been good to remind myself of the things that are already meaningful to me, as well as remembering how important it is to me that I keeping trying new things, so I don’t stagnate.

Putting myself first has been necessary, and I’ve enjoyed leaning into slowing down. I feel a lot more grounded and chilled now than I did a year ago. I’m comfortable with where I’m at in myself and life.

But oh do I want some fun now. I want to laugh. I want to play. I want to leave the serious stuff behind for a bit, or it at least be in the background rather than taking centre stage.

May my 40’s be fun, carefree, a bit wild, meaningful, creative and on my own terms. Just not necessarily at a million miles an hour, like my 30’s. I’m wiser (and older) now.

My 40th year – March (month #11)

This is the penultimate post in this series, the second to last nurturing activity, and I’m trying to work out whether I think it’s gone quickly or not. And I don’t just mean trotting out the usual ‘ooh well I just don’t know where this year’s gone to’ phrase, I mean has it actually gone quickly? Because honestly, turning 40 seems fucking ages ago. It’s probably been one of the worst years of my life. Actually, there’s no probably about it. It was.

When I decided to try these things each month, it was more of a ‘I feel like I’ve neglected myself a little bit’, rather than ‘I need these’, but actually, that’s exactly what I’ve found as I navigated through a tough year. To even stand a chance at recovering from the awul burnout, I’ve had to put myself first and prioritise my wellbeing.

As I’ve got towards the end of the year I’ve been feeling a hell of a lot better. So, so, so much better. It’s not just these monthly things that have done it, but they’ve no doubt helped. This month’s activity – March – has been getting out running in the hills.

But wait! That’s nothing new! Don’t you do that already? I hear you cry.

Actually, I haven’t for some time. Last year my body went a bit on strike and for the first time ever I found myself physically unable to do much. The burnout and stress meant that everything seemed an incredible effort. I struggled to run or walk much uphill, and I could only run about 4 or 5km before I felt absolutely exhausted.

At one time I might have pushed through, kept forcing myself to do more, ignoring any signs. This time though, I listened to my body and dialled everything back. I did what I could, took it easy, ran gently around the park near home and didn’t beat myself up for not doing more.

This month, I’ve headed out to the hills to dip my toe in. I’ve done a few hikes recently, felt good, and now feel a pull to get back out on the trails. The motivation’s there, the want is there.

I’ve started gently, running trails I know and love, not committing to any distance or time, just running for fun and endorphins. I’ve ran with friends, making it social as well as on my own.

I’m loving it. It makes me feel so free, so alive, and a total badass. It’s different each time and puts a smile on my face 100% of the time.

I feel like I’m finally getting back to being me.

Covid Culture

‘I’ve got wine, is that OK?’ Katie asks me, holding a glass of red up to the screen.

I laugh. ‘Of course!’ She laughs too, and I think how different the start of this interview is to the previous one, where she started crying before she’d hardly said a word.

‘So I’m in a unique position because I haven’t been in the same place, nor country even, over the last 18 months,’ Katie says. ‘The pandemic for me has had three parts; that first lockdown in March 2020, the Covid experience in New Zealand with, well, zero Covid, and then coming back to North America right into Covidland.’

Katie moved back to Canada from New Zealand 7 months before, in April 2021. ‘I’ve had a very bizarre experience of arriving in Canada at the height of the third wave, the wave with the most cases across the country and before vaccinations. I remember getting here from New Zealand where it wasn’t a thing and thinking, ‘OK I have to sanitise everything, where’s the masks, where’s the backup masks, OK let’s switch masks every hour’, like, I was so, so, intense about it.’ She covers her face and laughs.

She said: ‘I had a friend visit a couple of weeks after I got back, and we were outside on the deck. He asked me what I was comfortable with, and I said ‘let’s wear masks, let’s stay at least ten feet apart’, things that were beyond the measures necessary, and he looked at me and said ‘OK, whatever makes you comfortable’, but was laughing about it. I thought, OK, maybe I need to learn more about the culture of Covid here.’

Katie asked her friends to explain how things worked, and was told there were the rules that had been imposed by the different provinces, and then there were (she makes air quotes with her fingers) “The Rules”. She said: ‘The cultural rules, if you will; what people actually did. From what I could gather, the official rules had been shifted around and changed so frequently that pretty much everybody was just doing their own thing and deciding what was best for them.’

She gasps. ‘Oh! I have a wild story about that. So the bubble rules around shared housing and flatmate situations weren’t ever really addressed. However, there were some suggestions for if people were single and wanted to connect, you know, sexually and romantically.’ she giggles and covers her face with her hands. ‘It’s embarrassing,’ emphasising the word, ‘that my provincial government talked about this, but they said to create <air quotes> “glory holes”.’ She paused and looked at me.

‘No!’ I exclaimed.

‘Yes,’ she nods.

‘They did not say that!’ I squeak in disbelief.

‘Oh they did. There were so many jokes on the internet about it. If that – that – is what’s being told to people, no wonder they’re making their own rules.’

Returning to Canada, Katie was looking forward to forging a stable life. ‘Here I have opportunities I didn’t have in New Zealand. I have a job that’s financially secure, and I can dream about things like having kids and buying a house. My goals here are very different, and so on arriving, I panicked. I thought what I really have to be prepared for is that I might never find a partner. At that point I didn’t even know whether people were allowed to meet or not. There was a lot of reconciling of having to give up my dreams; give up the partnership dreams, the kid dreams, the family dreams. I told myself to be grateful to have a job and just focus on that for however long this pandemic plays out for.’

I asked her how she felt about that.

‘Resigned. I felt resigned to a fate that I hadn’t chosen. But I had to accept it, because that’s what the world’s going through. Equally though, I think that was also a bit reflective of my personality rather than what was at play. I was really reminded of how removed I’d been in New Zealand from the struggles that everyone else went through. I was new to the mentality of ‘oh fuck, this can fuck up my life’ whereas everyone else had been dealing with that for a long time. The world was ending for me, but in reality, it wasn’t, I was just new to it.’

Katie says it was an awakening to people’s experiences in North America. ‘Hearing about it over the phone in New Zealand, and then seeing how people were living wasn’t something I knew how to expect. It’s very different. Like arriving in British Columbia and seeing how my friends socialised very differently. They were so nervous to merge friend groups. So nervous to socialise with more than one other person, like going on a hike together, even though we were outside. Although, maybe not nervous as such, they were just very aware of what that risk entailed. Some people had spent the best part of the last 12 months with either just their flatmates or themselves.’

Katie went out for dinner with a friend when restaurants opened back up not long after she’d got back. She said: ‘It was the first time my friend had been out since the pandemic began, and I thought to myself ‘holy fuck’, that’s insane. Over a year without going out to dinner. There was a nervousness to her taking off her mask when we sat down, and it made me think ‘oh my god, I get it’. I got what a massive concern it was for her, to be in a restaurant with multiple people that she doesn’t know. So for me it was a double pronged thing to learn how to be in Covid culture, as well as learning what my friends have gone through, so I can be with them as they then release that nervousness.’

One big positive for Katie to come out of Covid is that she’s been able to return to the government job she had before she moved to New Zealand, and was able to choose where she lives, as the team are now working remotely. She said: ‘I get to live in a city I love, with all of my friends and be on the [Vancouver] island which is a great match for me.’

I ask her what it’s been like returning home, Covid aside. She pauses. ‘Really, really, fucking hard.’

She pauses again, and I stay silent. For a moment I think she might cry, but she doesn’t. ‘Really, really hard. I felt so much belonging in Christchurch. But I chose to come back. I didn’t want the job and visa fight, I wanted stability so I could think about bigger things. I’ve battled with the stability of a paycheck for pretty much the last fifteen years, and I’m done with it. I’m over it.’

The transition’s been hard for her. ‘There’s been a fucktonne of grief. God, thinking back to the last interview, grief is the theme and I’m like, oh god it continues’, she laughs, putting her head in her hands. ‘Now I’ve spent eight months grieving my life in New Zealand, like anything that you love and are super grateful for. I don’t regret the move though, I’m full of hope, as I now see so much opportunity here in Canada because of my time in New Zealand. The two are intertwined forever.’

She apologises for not being specific, and I tell her no, it’s perfect. I remark that I’m just impressed she’s managed to talk about it without crying. ‘I KNOW!’ she cries, ‘me too! I’m like, ‘oh my god why haven’t I cried yet’. It’ll come T, it’ll come,’ she laughs.

I ask her how she feels now, compared to the last interview. ‘Back then, I remember feeling that this was going to shift the world. That there’d be this turning point where we all came out of Covid and it would all be different. Now, I don’t see it being such a sudden dramatic shift. I also don’t have the optimism around that anymore. Like, I do think we’re shifting, I just don’t think we’re all going to sit down and reconsider our values. I’m also a million times less scared. Not less scared of getting it – that, and the thought of how sick it can make a population, still scares me, but I was scared about things like what it might do to the world economy. Mainly though, I feel really fucking fortunate. And very, very grateful. I mean, I am still looking for that dude to bang, but, you know, on the upside we’re not in lockdown so it’s no sweat. ‘

Katie laughs and looks to her right, and notices the wine glass that’s sat untouched for the last 45 minutes. ‘I haven’t even had a sip of my wine!’ She holds it up to the screen, ‘this is still full, can you believe it. Oh god!’

She puts it back. Without taking a sip.

I laugh. ‘And you didn’t cry. Well done.’

She laughs. ‘HA! I didn’t!’

Project Ruth

‘Is this when you want a really horrible camera angle?’ Ruth laughs, looking down into the camera that shows her face and a beamed ceiling. She’s in the same kitchen as she was for our first interview, and yet again I picture her little country cottage nestled in a picture perfect Cotswold village, surrounded by rolling hills and endless green English countryside.

‘Are you wearing your pyjamas?’ she asked.

‘Yes! It’s late!’ I laugh, asking her how the last 18 months have been.

‘Do you know what? It’s been alright.There are some definite silver linings. When that first lockdown in March 2020 was called I was absolutely burnt out. Driving all over, working 80 odd hours a week, laundry mounting up and I remember thinking ‘I can’t keep going at this speed, I just can’t’ and then suddenly everyone was at home.’

Ruth decided to launch ‘Project Me’. She said: ‘When I turned 40 in 2019 there was a photograph taken of me and OK it was at a funny angle, but I looked six foot wide, it was horrible. I saw it and thought, you need to do fucking do something about that. I started running a bit during the first lockdown, and started weightlifting and boxing at the gym. I’m going to start with a food nutrition coach in January to get me into a habit.’

Working from home has taken some of the pressure off too. She said: ‘I’m quite good at closing my laptop at six o’clock now. I’m just trying to not get burnt out again and enjoying my little slice of heaven in the village.’

Although things are starting to get a bit more normal for her as a Project Manager for a software company. ‘I went to my first team meeting in nearly two years last week. Only three of us were part of the original lot before the pandemic started, everyone else was new.’

‘I’m incredibly lucky to have lots of friends throughout all this, whether I speak to them or not, I know they’re there, and I’m a big user of social media. I’ve also been dating a local chap which does help.’

A smile starts to form, and I can tell she’s dying to tell me about it. Is this the chap you’d started seeing at the end of the last interview, I ask? She giggles. ‘Oh no, there’s been about eight in the middle I’ve not told you about.’

I laugh. ‘Go on, tell me about it.’

‘So I met the new chap online just over a year ago in November 2020, and I had him round for dinner within two weeks. We laugh about it now, as he jokes about me being in such a rush, and I was like, yeah, because you meet dickheads. You have to screen fast. Chatting to someone for six weeks and really liking them only to meet and finding out they’re a bellend is disappointing.’

He lives a couple of villages away from Ruth, breaking her ‘no local’ rule. ‘If you said make a recipe for a man, that’s my recipe,’ she says smiling. ‘Six foot four, dark, bearded, 20-stone rugby player, very very direct. He makes me look like I should have a career in the peace corps. He’s what I’d say is an absolute diamond.’

Ruth says they’re very casual, and it takes him ages to make his mind up about anything. ‘We had dinner in November, and I never heard from him again until the January. I joked about him ghosting me but he just said he was busy. So we had a couple more dates but he was never particularly flirty and in the end I thought ‘this guy just wants a friend’. It was February and I’d just about given up, when he stayed round one time. I’d put him in the spare room but in the morning he came and got into bed with me, and as they say, the rest is history.’

She mocks him about it now, and still doesn’t really know whether she’s his girlfriend or not. ‘He knows I have no intention of ever marrying, or moving in with anyone ever again. As I told him the other day, I’m not going to buy the pig for a bit of sausage, no offence.’

‘He’s just a nice bloke. Everyone at work is laughing at me, saying ‘you’ve normally got two or three in back up’, and I tell them’ you know what, I like this one’. I’m not interested in looking at anyone else. We get on, it’s nice. I have noticed now that any lockdowns are coming to an end and it’s become,’ she uses air quotes, “cuffing season”, lots of exes are suddenly randomly dropping into my DMs. I’m like nope, off you pop.’

She met some of his friends last month. ‘I thought, this is my test. He’s ready to let his two best mates meet me. I think I passed,’ she laughs.

‘I’m under no illusions, it’s not like any sort of romantic love, it’s not thunderbolts, it’s not perfect, there will be problems but it’s nice having someone local who I can cook for and share a bottle of red with. He’s part of my life. If my life is a pie chart, he’s a chunk of it. We both agree that our lives are better with each other in them.’