• Alan Smith ACA

Thinking in the shed.

Updated: May 28

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What does that mean, what has COVID-19 brought and what is lock down? Sleeping more, drinking more, travelling less, the experience will differ for all of us. Those payed more, those with no financial reserves, those with underlying health problems and those who enjoy a rude level of health, wealth and a capability to continue to earn while obediently staying home – I struggle to imagine two individuals experiencing the same COVID.

Megan, our daughter came home from university in Manchester when lock-down began, a strange time for her after experiencing fresher partying and independence and now faced with the uncertainty of how the following years at university will be in the apparent ‘new normal’.

How has it been for me? Living in Allenheads I am blessed with an expansive lock down location. Rural living provides me with the luxury of a home with a lot of space, beautiful views over Killhope Law, in the grouse shooting highlands of Northumberland and a dog that takes me on daily walks in all weather. And it must be said that so far we have been blessed with stunning blue skies weather for most of the lock down.


At a guess I have spent around 98% of my awake time outdoors and when not walking Helen and I have been creating a vegetable corral from the former schoolhouse windows. We now look forward to grow in a bag potatoes, beetroot, leeks, onions and carrots. The greenhouse salads, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, chillies and peppers. Yes this is the first time we have tried to grow food and with some commitment.


From what must seem an idyllic confinement come other issues and a growing sense of loss; loss of freedom, travel and choice. Before this time of coronavirus I had no idea how much mobility had fed my life experiences – had become part of me. It’s strange how captivity has coincided with environmental issues and while Eco campaigners push for less human travel, COVID has made me crave to journey. I dream about it, remember and claw back visions of roads I have driven on all round the world, sailing journeys, remote desert travel in Mexico and flights circumnavigating our planet. And now taking my car and motorcycle off the road (SORN) just helps exaggerate my feelings of claustrophobia.

Contributing to my tensely tethered mental state was a physical impact on my breathing and heartbeat - I have discovered panic attacks - a result of money issues and being unable to fill the income gap. I am considered high risk because of asthma and a monthly biological/genetic treatment which lowers my immune system. This means that as well as losing all self-employed income I am also unable to go out and find alternative employment. Leading my imagination to take me to extreme science fiction scenarios of sitting at home with no supplies or ability to travel, to shop and purchase, which can result in a vision of a post-apocalyptic Mad Max world, set within a limited area of land such as in the 1967 TV series The Prisoner.

I am spending a lot more time in my head which seems to bring about a raised level of imagining and an increased need to visualise stuff. I am drawing again, I’m recording acres of sound, video and collecting stills and with little care for relevance to subject or context. But then again – I’m in the context of COVID - I am the context – I struggle to separate those apparent acts of creativity from building the veg garden, washing dishes or any other such seemingly essential behaviour. I appear to have lost any division between acts of employment, studio and life - there is a new order.


This has brought memories of my father when he first retired, his suddenly earned free time resulted in some difficulties for him regarding a lack of routine, he had worked and lived for most of his life with a system of rotating shifts. 6am till 2pm, 2pm till 10pm and 10pm till 6am, the rest of his time was his to manage between sleep, family, pub, fishing and rugby. Perhaps an extreme example, but one I wouldn’t have thought of were it not for this imposed self-management of space, time and purpose.

Space and time: How do I fit into it - or does it fit into me?


Purpose: What shall I do next? Gardening, continue writing, walk the dog, make a drawing? I’ve done nothing... another cup of tea.



© 2018 Allenheads Contemporary Arts, Allenheads, Hexham, Northumberland NE47 9HR

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