First published 31 March, 2021**

Amid the heartache of Covid, how I try my best to count my blessings**

The Covid pandemic has brought numerous things: fear, anger and isolation. It’s even brought tragedy. Yet, while we can never be flippant about the destruction it has caused, we must also seek out silver linings. This crisis has led to a huge amount of emotional hardship, and in order to escape from the darkness, we mustn’t allow one another to be overwhelmed by our suffering.

As I reflect on my own difficulties, it’s important to consider some of the positive things that wouldn’t have come my way had Covid never existed. There is one thing in particular that I am especially thankful for, because while lockdown has proven testing and isolating, there’s someone to whom I’m now closer than ever before.

When the UK settled into its first national lockdown, everything was put on hold. For me this included training - it is somewhat difficult for a swimmer to train without a pool! So, as schedules were restructured and new habits emerged, I found myself with a great deal of time on my hands - gym sessions were an hour on zoom, rather than two hours in the pool and a 20-minute journey away. I could no longer take AS Level Italian, as I was an external candidate. Camps and competitions in preparation for Tokyo 2020 were put on hold. As we humans have a love of order, I needed to find a new daily routine – and it’s safe to say I found it very quickly.

Ellie wins gold at Rio 2016

One day, after a morning gym session, I scoured the television for something to watch. That something ended up being the second episode of a history series on the Yesterday channel. I’d had a love of modern political history since secondary school; with time on my hands and the opportunity staring me in the face, I was able to re-explore this interest. I watched the entire series, then another and another. I began to make notes, buy books and even begin creative writing. I started a diary, which I still write now. While swimming was on hold, I found a way to feel as though I was still advancing, still bettering myself and still making a worthwhile impact on my future.

Then came the second and third lockdowns and what I believe was truly the most challenging time for us all. While I was fortunate enough to be able to train at the pool in Northampton, the aftermath of the previous ten months was beginning to show – not just for myself, but for us all. It was around this time, however, when I discovered my true silver lining. He goes by the name of William Gretton – or as I like to call him – Grandad.

I have a real admiration for my Grandad. To me, he’s always been this calm, compassionate, retired chemistry lecturer. Someone with a fascinating amount of knowledge, from history to science, to astronomy. In lockdown, not only did I discover that this also includes politics, philosophy, creative writing, theology and music, but I also realised how much we had in common.

Ellie and her Grandad William

Having discovered my desire to learn, I discovered his desire to teach ; to mentor me and to guide me, as I awakened to new levels of understanding. It’s not hard to see why his students were so fond of him, nor why he also took on a part time tutoring role with the Open University.

We started with an impromptu videocall on a Thursday afternoon. We talked a lot about history and everything I’d studied in lockdown. We put the world to rights for about an hour and soon decided that, from then on, we’d set aside an hour and a half each week to talk about whichever topic we liked.

Since that Thursday afternoon we’ve shared countless articles, videos and podcasts. For his birthday I even gave him a book, written by one of the thinkers we talk about most: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B Peterson.

The ways in which these lockdowns have transformed my way of thinking are endless. I have a greater understanding of myself, a greater understanding of the world (and a much greater understanding of how the world works). I’ve begun an Open University course in History and Politics and, since starting weekly video calls with Grandad, my assignment grades have transformed.

So, I hope that this can serve as a lesson. An encouragement to people that when we are plunged into the abyss, despite its power to break us, we are equally capable of bettering ourselves – and there is always someone who is willing to help you rebuild.

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