The Power of Touch

I’m not a hugger. Generally I exist in a fairly wide expanse of ‘personal space’ and feel quite content. But this last year of years has brought some surprises – turns out, I miss hugs. Who’d have thought?

Of the five senses, touch is perhaps one of the most forgotten. As soon as we’re born we know that it’s required for our survival (newborns flourish with skin-to-skin contact) and it’s one of the last senses to leave during our last moments. Put simply, touch keeps us alive.

Neuroscience agrees: social touch releases oxytocin and lowers heart rate, reminding our bodies that we are here, reminding our minds that we are not alone.

When I got back from a year of travelling I was catching up with people in a noisy bar (remember that?) and hugged a close friend, one of those hugs that lasts longer than normal and transforms into an embrace. And among the noise and laughter we realised we had started to cry. Something happened in that moment that brought emotion to the surface, and allowed it to break – no words were needed. Cara had gone through a tough time and I had missed her. Simple really.

We make things complicated when they’re not. Reaching out is how we’re made – the unforced trust that children place in those around them when they run towards us with open arms. It’s devastating that the pandemic is taking something so important away: instead of reaching out, we recoil; instead of brushing an eyelash off someone’s cheek, we leave it there.

Lockdown for those who live alone is hard to bear and it’s no surprise that pets have been keeping us going on these dark days and nights. Dogs and cats all over the country have been cuddled like never before.

I wish I could end by saying it’ll all be okay soon, that we’ll be back to close contact and crowded rooms any day now. Maybe the best thing for now is that we are learning lessons, and as ever they are hard-won.

A hand to hold, a stroke of hair, a rest of head on shoulder, all combine to keep us alive and well. I for one can’t wait to wrap my arms around loved ones once more. I took too much for granted. Hugs are brilliant.

Home Sweet Home

Working from home once seemed like a distant dream. Imagine, I would think, I could go to meetings without getting stuck in traffic jams. I could write reports in pyjamas. Pyjamas!

Like most dreams, once it’s achieved – or more accurately once it’s foisted upon you – it falls rather flat. Zoom gatherings (pyjamas just on the bottom half naturally), driving nowhere at all (thus avoiding any traffic), and then a surprising arrival in the form of lack of purpose. Turns out maybe I did enjoy the external working life after all. There’s really nothing like getting back home after a long day. Traipsing down the stairs to sit on a different seat is somehow not quite the same.

“Home is the most important place in the world” says IKEA (who should know) and I tend to agree. It’s a place of safety, shelter, comfort and filled with people and things you love.

Or it should be. I’m haunted by reports during last year outlining the rise in domestic abuse incidents with adults and children at risk trapped in their house. These places are not a home. There are wonderful organisations and individuals working around the clock to do what they can in these dire circumstances and I’m glad they’re there. I feel helpless.

What I can do, apart from give donations when possible, is find gratitude in this little terraced house I now call home. Yes it’s damp (the hall wall is mostly dispersed plaster on the stair carpet), yes it can be noisy (that’s terraced living for you), yes it’s small (I can sit at the kitchen table and reach out to the cutlery drawer without getting up) but it’s home. It’s cosy with a fire and candles lit, it’s got dark Edwardian green walls, it’s got a huge picture of Paris (ah Paris), it contains things I love (millions of books mostly), pictures from travelling days (remember those?), and of course a warm relationship with a lovely husband. 

Being in lockdown with someone you love and respect, in a cute little house with an overgrown garden (and the all-important shed for writing and thinking) is a blessing. I am safe.

And if I find myself drifting from this gratitude I can simply click my red heels together (or my red DMs) and repeat with Dorothy: “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”