Christine Webber

The other day, I found a very old newspaper. It was fascinating, especially the adverts.

One was promoting an outdoor event and included the words: “In village hall if wet”. 

I laughed. This used to be such a common phrase, but I hadn’t seen it for years. Is it redundant, I wonder, because we can all get instant messages on our phones notifying a change of venue? Or are we more inclined to cancel these days rather than have contingency plans?  

Certainly, during the various lockdowns, we became used to everything being called off. And the legacy of those uncertain times has been that most of us feel it’s OK to cancel activities and events we almost certainly wouldn’t have done prior to the pandemic. Covid has changed us.  

Recently, a friend confided she was feeling tired, and might cancel her trip to the theatre later that week. This kind of reluctance to stick with arrangements is a nightmare for restaurants and arts organisations. But I think it’s also harmful to us.   

Two of the vital planks in good mental health are social contact and stimulus. And if we don’t have enough of them, our lives become unbalanced.    

For that reason, I believe it’s time we worked at getting back to how we used to be. If we don’t, creeping lethargy plus a more boring – and less sociable – existence will become the norm. This may harm us. 

It's bad enough if we stay home a lot in the winter months, but with the longer, lighter days and better weather, we should now be getting out and enjoying ourselves. If we don’t, then when we hit autumn again, we’ll find we’re even less inclined to mix with others and build high spots into our routines.

Don’t let’s get into that sort of rut.      

I suggest therefore, that we all look at our current routine and see where we might build more pleasure and contact into it. This can involve inviting friends or family to our homes as well as getting out more. 

I know a woman whose husband is ill and bedbound. Clearly, this limits what she can do each day, and though she loves her partner devotedly, she feels her life is on hold. Many of us know that feeling and it’s horrible. 

She told me she’d almost given up inviting people over, and that even when she did, she usually became so anxious she would call it off.  

We talked about this and looked at ways to adjust her thinking.

Firstly, she decided that cooking lunch was too much, and admitted she often cancelled because she was worried she couldn’t cope. Instead, she decided it would be easier to provide afternoon tea, when her husband would almost certainly be asleep.

It also became clear that she’d be less anxious if she invited two or three friends rather than just one.

She’d been fearful that she might be interrupted by her husband’s demands while she had company. But choosing to have more than one guest at a time would, she realised, mean they could amuse each other if she had to temporarily withdraw. 

This was a tiny detail but made a huge difference because it reduced her panic, made her more cheerful and enabled her to enjoy a healthier social life.  

To come back to the friend thinking of cancelling her theatre trip, I suggested we look at what her real reasons were for wanting to pull out. They turned out to be less about tiredness and rather more about the logistical worries many of us have as we age. 

She said she was anxious it would rain and she would look a mess. And that she was also worried about parking.  

The parking issue was not that hard once we looked at the options which were to go by bus, or to drive to the venue early when there would be plenty of spaces and treat herself to a cup of coffee and sandwich before the show. 

As for the weather, well, we all want to look nice but really who is looking at us? We’re not the ones on stage! 

Last year, I attended a chamber music festival in Ireland. On opening night, when the inaugural concert was due to take place in a gorgeous, remote, historic country house, an Atlantic storm blew in bringing diabolical weather.

There was nothing for it, but to abandon the idea of wearing an elegant frock, and go dressed in walking shoes, a waxed jacket and a waterproof hat that was bound to flatten my hair. But guess what?

Everyone else did the same. It was hilarious, and delightful. 

I told this story to my friend. Then I asked what she would do with her evening if she didn’t go to the show. She looked shamefaced and replied she’d probably watch an old episode of Bake Off. 

“Will that be more fun than going out?” I asked.

She shook her head, smiled and said she’d decided to go to the theatre after all.  

I was really pleased she opted for fun. So should we all. It’s great for our mental health.

Let’s ensure we’re getting our share.