I wrote a front page story for The Independent about dreams, how the militarised language surrounding the pandemic is creeping into our unconscious, and what we can take from it. Click Here.
The Last Locked-down And Out In London
Little girls chase the pigeons while they ride their bikes on the concrete in the park.
“Try not to kill them,” one girl says.
Life feels uncertain.
Learn to ride it like a mustang.
Yesterday, I went for a socially distanced walk with two friends and their respective son and dog. It was strange and it wasn’t. Previously, it’s been quite common for me not to see friends for weeks at a time, but the difference now is I haven’t seen anyone for months. As one friend points out, “It’s all been two dimensional.” The other friend says, how driving through London she almost burst into tears. The city’s been in this great slumber for so long “and how will it ever wake up again?”
I’m quiet in the company of friends. And I know I’m quiet. Which makes me quieter. I’m wearing Doctor Death leather jacket and a baseball cap and look and feel decidedly dodgy.
I’m given a loaf of bread and lose my footing. I fall into the 12th century.
There was a break in the overcast sky for an hour earlier in the week. It was then I heard my first cricket of the summer hiding in the reeds. Noticed thistles have been left to grow in wide patches. The crickets have been quiet ever since.
I watch a fly on a railing for longer than is strictly normal.
The back pain is back in a big way. Question this time is: what am I not anxious about?
There are more protests this weekend. Unless you’re going to cause aggro, I encourage anyone and everyone to go (wear facemasks). But there’s something from the last week’s protest that has been bugging me. As we stood in Parliament Square I watched two young white women, they had cardboard signs they were holding but seemed uncomfortable with them. They held their ‘BLM’ tightly to their sides. Then one whispered to the other and gave her her phone. She stood in front of the crowd and held up her sign high above her head. She proceeded to do several poses, including one from behind. She then asked her friend quietly if she’d “got it”, which she nodded she had. Then they swapped positions and the other friend did exactly the same thing. They stood around looking uncomfortable for a few minutes, with their signs down by their sides again. And then they walked off.
There was too much happening last week for it to be at the front of my mind but it bugged me. And it’s been bugging me ever since. I don’t doubt that those girls had good intentions, but somehow they let themselves get in the way of those intentions.
Me, I don’t have the answers to anything.
Four Dead In Ohio runs round my head. Crosby, Stills and Nash. I used to sing it thinking it was sad, but not knowing what it was about.
People are still dying of the virus, in this country and all over the world (except New Zealand). It’s still very real despite the growing feeling its happening behind closed doors. A conservative estimate is well over 400,000 people have now died. The rise in deaths from domestic violence since lockdown makes it hard to swallow. And I mean makes it physically hard to swallow.
The tomatoes that drooped green like a willow are ripe enough to eat.
Tens of thousands of turtles drift to nest on an island in the Great Barrier Reef. It’s so calm. So peaceful. The turtles so sure of their destination. There is no doubt. Their purpose and reason for being is absolute.
We long to return to the water. I live in the bath.
I went to the Great Barrier Reef about fifteen years ago. I’ve never liked instructions so I ate melon and didn’t listen to the boat’s captain explain where to go and where not to. I swam away from the group and over a sort of reef precipice. It was blue. God it was blue. Blue like swimming pool blue. And covered in beautiful tropical fish and I couldn’t understand why no one else was over there. Just to the right of the reef was a deep deep dark crevasse. And when I looked down, meters below me were four reef sharks, circling.
Some words from the captain had made their way into my brain. “They won’t kill ya, but they’ll rip yer arm off.”
The elderflower champagne is adding an unexpected element of danger to our lives. My godfather has made it in Ireland before and gets advice sent from over there. He calls me with it. It’s not good news. Firstly, to prevent explosions, we’re supposed to be storing it in demijohns (expensive, enormous glass containers with diffusers to let pressure not air out) not wine bottles, and also, you’re supposed to wait a year before drinking, because there is a magic to it. This time next year, when the elderflower blooms again, that blossoming is also in the champagne’s DNA, and this is when you get the “petelance”, the fizz.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of things.
I need get back into the world, if only in the limited capacity of staring out the window, and get off the internet. There are some issues where there shouldn’t even be a side to take, there are some issues we should all be in agreement on. But that’s never going to happen and there comes a point when the internet stops being educational and it’s just people shouting at each other from either side of the valley. The internet makes all things binary, and what do we expect? It’s the nature of its code. In there, in here, it is a binary reality.
It’s warm this week and there’s a big wind. A big gentle wind blowing through deep layers of our psyche. It feels like an encouraging friend nudging us forward when it’s our turn to speak. History repeating itself is not necessarily a bad thing: there’s some unfinished business and it’s back to get finished. That’s the thing with the past, it’s always catching up with us.
Maybe tomorrow it will be sunny.
When all this started I read something Hunter S Thompson wrote: “When the going gets Weird, the Weird turn pro.”
It’s stayed with me throughout this. It’s our time, weird ones. Let’s go!
Locked-down And Out In London
Flies buzz around the flat, their wings the sound of determined futility; welcome to the sound of the summer. The year we realised we meant nothing.
There are people on the streets but it still feels quiet, quieter than London at Christmas despite the people on the pavement. There’s something missing. But what’s strange is: what’s missing is something, like anti-matter that “something missing” is in the makeup of reality, and you can feel it looming heavy over each and every one of us. It follows all of us out on the streets and in the parks and in the shops. It is a dark and vague uncertainty.
Is it safe? we say as we catch one another’s eyes.
Is it safe?
But then we blink. Fuck it, I guess is what most people think. Because there’s the smell of barbecues and hot coals and roasting meat. Midday is thick with it. There’s music coming from boom boxes out on the heath.
All the summers ever fill my head. I wonder what London Fields is like right now?
The same as it ever was, I guess.
Thank god I’m not (the same as I ever was).
It is the season of the rose, as you may have deduced from their use as a backdrop. I stop and breathe them in at every opportunity; yellow roses hit the spot every time. Big daisies called moon pennies are blooming. And for the first time in a couple of years I see foxgloves in someone’s garden. I’ll take my omens where I can find them.
Foxgloves in the Victorian Language of Flowers symbolised “riddles, conundrums, and secrets”.
Someone hacks into my old email, which now functions as a repository for junk, but also serves as a safe, a time capsule, for correspondences with people I love who are now dead. I pretend it hasn’t happened for almost 24hrs.
If you are not deeply concerned by what is happening both sides of the sea, not only have you not been paying attention, you’ve been brainwashed.
Go out and feel the wind, it will remind you what’s important.
I’ve written a note at the top of this dairy entry — “sense of humour failure” — and I have deleted most of what I had written angrily. People have said it already and put it better. But I haven’t found this week amusing. What I will say is, I’m in full support of whatever changes this shit immediately. The peaceful protests have been done already. And if you’re British, and you look at America and think it’s a disgrace, know that we are tumbling towards that.
Wood cracks in the heat.
My friend sends me a recipe for elderflower cordial and to my surprise, I find myself out one hot evening picking elderflowers, enough left for the bees and enough for me to make cordial and champagne – I am literally making booze in a bucket, that’s where we’re at now. It’s currently festering in the broom cupboard because I can’t be bothered to sterilise bottles, so it should have some decent fizz to it when it does comes out.
We sit on a wooden fence that circles the men’s pond on Hampstead Heath. It’s empty of men but surrounded by cow parsley and yellow irises, the water looks clean for the first time ever. I wonder if the ponds were ever empty before?
“Before all this shit started,” drifts up through our bedroom window one morning.
Before and…It doesn’t seem like there’s an after yet, only a before.
But if you go outside you would be forgiven for thinking nothing ever happened; even the two meter distance signs painted on park entrances have faded. But it’s there. All that’s ever happened is just behind us on the wind, and the trees are creaking with the weight.
Locked-down And Out In London
I sit outside and hear the world shutting up and closing windows after a hot day. It sounds like nightfall in a small Italian town. We had the first hot day this week, no chill in the air or in the shadows. As I sit listening to the world going to bed I think of all the talk about how we never had time for all this thought, focus, presence before. Having previously agreed, in this moment I realise I don’t think that’s true. We’ve always had the time; we just chose not to use it.
The reality is, if you’re not going out there’s only so much TV you can watch, only so much scrolling you can do before you put your phone down, turn off the TV and start to pay attention. I understand why we might want to distract ourselves from life, but distract ourselves from the planet, that I don’t get. Why are we not in a constant state of wonder? I suppose bodily functions have a tendency to bring you back to earth.
On the road where children have been drawing NHS rainbows in chalk, I notice someone has taken a discarded nub and drawn a penis.
I look through a photo album I made last summer, and as I flick through the images I start to cry. What I find upsetting is the innocence of our faces. Smiling, we have no idea what is coming.
Acid lime Brimstone butterflies flash across the deep green vista I run through, like a splash of vinegar.
My mum, in Devon, goes to pick up eggs and veg from the honesty box at one of the farms up near the coast. She gets stuck in hours of tailbacks from day-trippers. Then I see a picture circulating Twitter of the blocked roads all around Woolacombe (just around the bay) and it’s even worse than I imagined. This kind of tourism isn’t contributing to the economy, it’s just making the lives of those who live at these “beauty spots” (typically relatively poor areas) impossible. While potentially putting them at risk.
Mum also questioned where these people were going to the toilet – seems as there are no pubs public toilets open at the moment, it’s a good question.
Earlier, I’d seen pictures of Hampstead Heath the morning after a hot day, covered in bottles, shopping bags, crisp packets and dog shit bags. And, though the hope had been that the virus would result in an evolution of collective consciousness, I can’t help but think we have learned nothing. Parks were elevated to near-sacred spaces during this and yet we still treat them like a tip. Which makes you wonder, what will it take for us—I mean a vast majority of us— to learn to respect the land we live on?
More than a pandemic directly linked to the destruction of the environment, it seems.
We sit in a park, our local beauty spot, after work under a big cedar tree and drink beer. I take off my shoes and feel the sun warm my bare soles. Watch pollen and insects swirling up on a thermal towards the sun.
Up, up, up. Until you can no longer make out the particles from the light.
Watching old documentaries about astronauts I start to question what I’m doing. I’d be there writing about the beauty of the moon rather than going to it. Like that Buddhist aphorism: looking at the finger pointing to the moon, rather than the moon itself.
Surely it’s better to be out doing something, rather than writing about doing something. Is writing even a worthy pursuit anymore? I think it might have been once. It may be again. But I do wonder if it is now. And if it’s not, how can you make so?
But I suppose it’s in our nature to question everything. In Tom Wolfe’s essay, Post Orbital Remorse, the astronauts came to loathe their celebrity – they weren’t individuals, apart from a couple, no one even knew their names, they were just “astronauts”, and then forgotten.
It is regretful that we even managed to politicise outer space. Will no nook of the universe be free from our small-mindedness?
I must be in a funk. I need to get outside more. I look into fruit picking jobs. There’s been a lot of talk about it, most of it I’ve missed, but the general vibe being that it should be the Brexiteers doing the fruit picking now … to me, that just seems like the other side of the same coin: the problem is hardly any UK nationals want to pick fruit. I do, but there’s no farms even remotely near travelling distance to London. And suddenly I remember I looked into this last year as well.
What’s that thing that guy said about doing the same thing and expecting different results?
One day I will work with my hands again. If we all did a bit, it wouldn’t be loaded in unmanageable amounts on other people.
It reminds me of when I had a realisation that for society to function we all have to play our bit in different roles, on different strata of society. If we were all only to stay at the bottom it wouldn’t work, same if we were all only to stay at the top. What works is the flux between the two.
That’s why you shouldn’t ever let the fuckers keep you down.
Locked-Down And Out In London
“Like ghosts, adders are something I have always wanted to but never seen,” I note down while intoxicated. White wine is a new addition to my diet, and it’s going down well. Later that evening I dream a ghost for the first time.
The woman next door not only does an excellent impression of a whale trapped in the bath, but in recent weeks she also does battle with the flush mechanism of her toilet. It is pumped as if the flush were billows and she is desperately trying to start a fire. Or possibly she is hoping to take off, and who can blame her under the circumstances. But something is deeply, darkly wrong in there and has been for some time. It, or she, may be possessed. Soon I will have to say something, it’s just a bit… What do you say?
“Excuse me, burly neighbour who could certainly do me some damage, what in God’s name are you doing to your toilet? Do either of you need an exorcist?”
Having done a week in bed like an unproductive Edith Sitwell, a fresh start is in order. I get up one morning and pull up the daisies planted with the wildflowers last summer; that lasted all autumn, all winter, all spring. They had taken on a sickly colour and smell, like rotting honey.
George Elliot’s The Lifted Veil proves a perfect companion to the melancholy and hard-done by mood I experienced this last week. I am a misunderstood clairvoyant. A fragile poet muddling my way through life in Italy and a bucolic rural estate on my father’s money, waiting to be poisoned in quite a passive aggressive manner.
The first part’s accurate and anyway, it doesn’t matter now, the mood’s passed.
Over the last couple of weeks a large number of people have become fixated with lockdown ending, aggressively so. It’s a bit like saying: well we burnt all the bottom half of the rice but since we put a lid on it we can’t smell the smoke so might as well turn the heat back up.
The problem with stupid is not that stupid gets angry, but that stupid acts on it.
Meanwhile in South Africa, people queue for over two and a half miles for food parcels.
The vista has flashed parakeet green, with the occasional blood blister of red and pink. It seems likely all, or at least the pioneers of Impressionism had myopia. The rest just copied, like when your friend breaks their arm at school and you’re jealous of their signed cast. So maybe you pretend to have an accident too.
My bi-weekly runs are filled with beauty and poetry, albeit fantasised sometimes. Having admired two paired swans in the lake, I am on my way home again. I pass two teenage boys on bikes dressed in Adidas tracksuits and hoodies, who are loitering dodgily outside the park. I must have misheard their conversation because in parting one calls to the other, “Seventh in line to reign, my love!”
This week I have learned that chess is not a game of instinct; it requires a lot of thought. And having played it as a game of instinct three times, I have lost three times.
In a thrilling twist of fate, I sell a (clean) top for £5 on eBay to a charmless woman called Ann. This may prove to be divisive, but I’m afraid I firmly believe you should never fraternise with an Ann without an ‘e’ at the end of her name, it suggests a lack of levity and this woman is confirmation of this. I regret the extra, unnecessary 6p spent on the postage of the top. What’s it called? Nominal determinism, where the name dictates the fate of the person. But Fate also has a twisted sense of irony, so watch what you call your offspring.
It’s gone from Animals of Farthing Wood to Animal Farm here. The pigeons and squirrels I welcomed St Francis-like last year, have gone from friends to pest to nemeses, and no longer respect me just because I am human. They’ve heard on the winds of change a rumour. The bastards.
There is a long queue of people outside Tesco that I join. We wait in line and step forward our allocated two meters, then stop, forward two meters, then stop, timed as if in procession down the aisle of a church rather than the supermarket.
There’s a rainbow and then it’s blown away, leaving half the sky blue and half the sky dark with a shroud of black cloud. Seagulls appear from nowhere and drift and wheel on the wind, it’s like I’m back in Barnstaple again, by the estuary, the wrecked ships and the wading birds.
I miss home not in the sense of a house, that went a long time ago, but the landscape of home.
Locked-down And Out In London
When the wind catches the Cyprus tree its leaves turn silver.
I walk past a woman whose perfume takes me back to an untraceable image from my childhood. Maybe it’s not even from a childhood this time around. It’s a rich person’s perfume. A person from another age, another time and place, who has somehow washed up in the strange experience two thousand and twenty is proving to be.
On Monday night I find I have been wearing my trousers back to front for the whole evening, this sums up the whole day, the whole week, the whole decade. I have had the worst week of my professional writing life this week. And previously, I have had some bad weeks.
I played the game and found the game to be rigged. The world is falling apart and all I asked for was some organisation from an editorial department that was set to be a quite big break for me. But that’s too much to ask. And I’m sick of putting my life in the hands of people who are not worthy of it.
So, I am done doing what I am supposed to do. I’m done working hard every day god gives me. I’m done. I’m on strike. I have been in bed for most of the week.
It feels as if I have been physically injured.
A broken wing.
Grief has brought out latent eccentricities in my character. A heartbreak is all it takes to turn someone from a (just about) functioning member of society to a batshit mad woman. And I have felt that break. This morning I find myself eating breakfast in the sun, wearing a baby’s sun hat, sunglasses, cycling shorts and a Chinese dressing gown.
The baby hat and Chinese dressing gown are only the start of this. I’ve never fitted in and I realise that it’s time I stopped trying. I hate the lot, so why did I convince myself I needed to be a part of it in order to succeed?
The magnolia tree blooms, like a thousand cupped hands waiting for something good to fall into them.
A side effect of going running that I had not anticipated is that I seem to be getting fitter. My lazy jog twice a week to rid myself of some anxiety seems to be having a noticeable effect on my stamina. Just outside our flat we have a near vertical hill. Running up it was a madness reserved solely for psychopaths, and possibly criminals evading the law. Now I am among their ranks. I pant like a dog when I get to the top, but still, I feel good in a very primal way (could be being at the top of a very high hill). And yet, I am wary. This is how you start getting ideas like, “A marathon might be interesting…”
I am slow to do an online shop for mother. She threatens to “mask-up” and go to the shops herself. I completely lose it, go apoplectic even at the suggestion. It is thus that I come to understand all the frazzled parents I have seen over the years, screaming at their bastard children as they attempt to launch their little bodies gleefully into on-coming traffic.
The Thursday night clapping and banging of pans for the NHS scares the pigeons and the spirits from the trees. It’s become the closest thing to a ritual we’ve had in this country for a long time.
My friend recommends putting banana skins in water for the plants. I do this on a particularly warm day, and add a bit of bruised banana flesh for good measure. Turns out it’s not just plants who like rotting banana water, within minutes we are invaded by plague-like clouds of fruit flies. Then the taps start dripping blood. Or was it frogs? I forget.
On this hot day, a man in his late 60s runs up the hill I am running down wearing a black face mask, he’s obviously struggling to breathe and is sweating heavily. I fear that at this moment the facial accoutrement is a greater risk to his life than the virus.
Seconds before witnessing this man’s potentially mortal miscalculation, I have an important realisation that has probably been evident to everyone but me for a very long time: although I often write because I need money, I don’t write for money, I write for people to read it. That’s partly why this week has been heartbreaking.
Given the context of the time we are living in, I feel we can agree that heartbreak has various degrees. This degree, a nasty, sharp forty-five degree break, is not the full three sixty. And so, though unable to fly, I can still crawl in a rather jaunty manner, and I am still aware I have so much to be thankful for.
From afar, I am witnessing an old friend right their course. Like they went off track a long time ago and this is giving them the time and space to rediscover who they really are. It’s a heart-warming thing to witness in the midst of all of this sadness.
Locked-down And Out In London
It’s black outside. As black as it gets in London. Orange-black. When the clouds pass through the sky like factory smoke. Nightly, there is the noise of torture below. It’s mating season. The foxes are at it, and we are party to this abysmal orgy. This means I am reminded on a nightly basis that foxes have barbed penises. Like there weren’t enough fucking horrors in this world.
Day and night, there is the background noise of sirens; Verdi’s Requiem plays and feels wholly befitting.
We did an unpleasant shop for a neighbour last week (rammed supermarkets, queues round the block, dirtiness, people sidling up next to me in the aisles – stinking, drunk men, they seem particularly liable to forget social distancing is a thing). This week, in return for that shop, we were given some rhubarb from our neighbour’s allotment. I’ve never bought or cooked rhubarb. But that night I stewed it and have been eating it on porridge all week.
This is the thing: only give what we can. You cannot be all things to all people all of the time. Sometimes you won’t be there for someone. Of course, we are each the centre of our own universe, so it seems unjust that someone should choose to look at the moon instead of tending to the sun. But I’ve been looking at the moon all week.
I don’t know many people who haven’t lost work because of the pandemic, but I envy the people who complain of boredom, who have no one to shop for, no one to look after but themselves. Too much navel gazing is never a good thing, so if you are that bored, maybe you could be doing more to help? This is that much discussed hour of need. It was not before and it is not after, it is now.
What are you safely (physically and mentally) able to contribute? It does not need to be the world, which is what key workers are currently giving us all. It might be your skills. It might be understanding. It might just be a bunch of rhubarb. That’s enough for now.
I am afraid to say, the translation of my copy of Beowulf is infuriating. The dude cannot stop hyphenating. And, although I enjoyed the overall story, reading it was mostly boring. It largely consists of very long speeches in mead halls about fifty glorious people whose names all begin with ‘H’. However, there were a total of three (!) monsters, to my delight. There was also this quote, which stuck out:
“Both bad and good, and much of both, must be borne in a lifetime spent on this earth in these anxious days.”
Now, all this talk of barbed penises reminds me that, many years ago, I read a piece about how early humans had barbed penises, or I thought I did. I happened to mention it in a blog post – these were the early days of my writing career, when I posted with whimsy and without stringent (or any) regulation of the facts. About a year or so later, I attended I gathering of hip, young intellectuals. How it came up I do not know, but a discussion about barbed penises in animals ensued. I thought, this is my moment. And, having been unsure of my intellect among such esteemed (loud) people, I decided to break my silence.
“Ancient humans had barbed penises,” I announce.
Suddenly, the whole party’s attention is on me. Everyone is laughing.
“No, really. I read about it, in the paper…”
There is much dispute over my anatomical knowledge of our early ancestors.
“Ok, I’ll look it up!”
I search frantically on my phone for proof. The internet, in its infinite curve of fact and bullshit, only pulled up one reference to this.
“Oh, that’s weird. It seems the only reference to it is on my blog…”
I dare not Google it again.
On Friday morning I got up at 5am. It was before the sun had risen and there was only light coming from an invisible source in the left-hand corner of the sky. To my right, the luminous yellowish moon loomed over the buildings in a light blue sky, slowly sinking behind the trees that have blossomed white. As I stood in the middle of these two orbs, exhausted, it felt like something fundamental was coming into balance. If not in the world at large, then at least something in my world. And I am pestered by a near-constant desire for champagne.
Locked-down And Out In London
There’s the familiar, mechanical Predator cackle of a magpie in a tree. It is another beautiful day. A distant hum of traffic, or is it just my ears buzzing from the silence?
I wake early, every day. Today, my back hurts so I watch the birds on the feeder from bed. Little brings me such uncomplicated joy as this.
One blue tit is on the feeder and two are hopping about on this gigantic yellow flowering thing that has grown in one of our pots over the last few months. I let it grow out of curiosity. At first I thought it might be kale from seeds in the compost, then as it grew, I became sure it was tender stem broccoli and we were going to eat it when it got back from Devon. But in that time it started flowering bright yellow flowers. Now I’m pretty sure it’s poisonous.
(If anyone knows what it is…?)
The daisies I planted last summer along with the all the other now-dead wild flowers kept flowering all winter, and are still going strong, bobbing obediently in the breeze. Some of the seeds planted last month finally have tiny shoots coming up from the dark earth.
Nature is slow. That’s how it keeps its magic.
I’m reading Wide Sargasso Sea. It’s brilliant but it’s sinister. A lot of heavy overtones to deal with. A lot heavy undertones to deal with also.
I swing from feeling everything far too much to not feeling anything at all. Not sure which is more healthy at this point in time. The combination certainly isn’t. Last night we watched Aussie Gold Hunters and I cried at anything even remotely emotional—happy or sad, which meant I cried through most of the programme.
Someone got shot in The Wire and we had to turn it off.
Apparently you carry anxiety in your lower back. It would explain why mine’s been playing up again the last couple of weeks. I thought I was pretty calm compared to some people, but then denial is a river and it flows to my heart.
I painted my nails red and it made me feel better. I listen exclusively to reggae and soul. And ok, I admit, some madrigals and cantatas. I’ve lost all my paid work in the last couple of weeks. Instead, I work hard on my own writing. Yesterday I worked hard, got up too early, and was asleep by 8.30pm. I now consider that a very good day.
This virus has brought some enlightening things with it, especially via Twitter and Facebook. Lesley, who you were sure had a life-long career as an estate agent, is actually an immunologist, it turns out. She has been reading The Guardian’s Coronavirus Live Feed for two weeks now, so she knows exactly what she’s talking about. Terrence— who you’ve never been entirely sure what he does— announces he is not only a qualified immunologist, having read the many NYT pieces Belinda sent him, but he’s also been on a Preppers4Life forum and now he’s a professional chef – he can make a sourdough starter out of the skin of an onion and a sprinkle potash. When you next log on: everyone has become an expert on everything. You however, are a failure. You have not become an expert on anything in the last two weeks. Or, so you think. In fact, you have become an expert at watching other people miraculously become experts on things they previously knew nothing about. Congratulations!
Why not make something just for you, Terrence?
But, you know, whatever gets you through the day, Terrence. You too, Lesley. Keep on keeping on. I’m with you.
Last night we leant over the balcony railings and listened as the whole city clapped in darkness for the NHS workers. It meant something. What would mean more is if those who voted Conservative hereby make the decision never to do anything so destructive again.
It hits when you least expect it. Walking back one night from doing a shop for someone, it was dark and the streets were silent, except for a group of boys on bikes circling the area. “This is what it’s like to be in a pandemic then,” I thought.
But there are things to be grateful for: I have – after phone calls, emails and innumerable failed attempts – finally got my mum’s food delivery sorted and, without a shadow of a doubt, I have certainly become an expert on that.
(And thank you, Sainsbury’s, for prioritising the elderly and vulnerable!)
Motherisms feat. Corona Virus
I have been paranoid since late January about COVID-19, a virus that sounds like one of the many tediously named planets at the arse-end of the solar system. I remember lying awake at night and saying “this is going to go everywhere.” I was told I was being paranoid. I hoped I was, but I knew I wasn’t. I’d say there’s no consolation in being right all the time, but that just wouldn’t be true.
Time to head down to Devon to see someone else who’s right all the time…
It’s a few weeks ago now, and I’m in London on the phone to mum. This is just as the hand-sanitiser mania peaked, a time that we now look back on wistfully.
Me: We’re going to go to Keats’s house today, can’t imagine it will be very busy so a pretty contamination-free zone.
Mum: Let’s hope his bed’s not still infectious!
There was a time when there were other diseases, apparently…
I’ve just arrived down in Devon after another glorious 6hr National Distress bus trip, this time trying especially hard not to touch anything. Mum has come to meet me off the bus. She’s wearing a cute little outfit that involves a woolly cropped jumper.
Me: I like your little jumper.
Mum: This is my big, cosy jumper! I put it on 60° by accident.
Mum wants some of the chocolate cake I’ve saved from the bus journey.
Me: No! We mustn’t co-handle things.
Mum: Co-handle—don’t be so ridiculous.
Me: I’m going to see if it takes off.
We’re doing some work that requires us to drink wine; it seems to have gone directly to mum’s voice box …
Mum (theatrically): I was taught to project.
Me: You don’t need to project, I’m right here.
Mum: I am a trained actress!
I have just tidied mum’s entire flat, including hoovering. I am packing the vacuum cleaner away, like any saint might…
Me: Well, I’d decontaminate the hoover but I don’t think there’s much chance of you touching it.
Mum: Oh, a joke, at last!
I’m on my phone, probably looking thick. The opening bars of some classical music come on.
Mum: What’s this, Jade?
Me (without looking up): Vaughn Williams.
Me (to clarify): ‘Lark Ascending.’
Mum looks both annoyed and impressed.
Me: You can’t mess with me!
Mum: No, you can’t. I’d jump on you if you weren’t potentially infections.
We’re talking about local people.
Me: Is this Dave The Wave?
Mum: No, this is Itinerant Dave.
Mum is hip to the groove of technology and is scrolling through the news on her iPad for some goss.
Mum: Madonna’s had to cancel her tour.
Me: Well she is over 70, isn’t she.
Mum: Oh she’d love you! No, she’s 65.
I burst out laughing.
Me: No she’s not! She’s like 50, mum.
Mum: No she’s not.
Me: Yes she is!
We’re in the car having marched mother to Currys to get a little freezer, because regardless of what the government is saying at this point, I’m telling her she needs to stay in as much as possible. And I am bossy.
Radio: The prime minister has advised the public against taking a cruise if they have flu-like symptoms.
Mum: Did I just hear that right?
Me: I think it basically just said that you shouldn’t take a cruise if you’ve got corona virus.
Mum: Are they joking? That must be a joke. Surely?
Me: No. I think that was Boris Johnson’s advice to the British public, based on science.
Mum: We’re doomed.
Mum’s phone rings.
Me: Your phone’s ringing.
Mum: Oh, it’s probably a racist trying to sell me something. Ignore it.
I look over at mum typing away with her little wand on her iPad. I notice the keyboard has split in two and is now on either side of the screen.
Me: What’s happened to that?
Mum (proudly): I have been operating it like this for some time.
She continues trying to type something while having to move diagonally across the screen to get from one letter to the next.
Mum: It’s just a slight inconvenience.
I watch her in silence and say nothing.
Mum: Oh bugger, I spelled it wrong.
Someone else has gone skiing and caught the virus.
Me: Skiing, again! Always with the skiing, these guys.
Mum: It will be the rich that get this!
Me: Yes, but then the poor get it. The poor always get it.
We’re having supper. I’ve been busy worrying quietly in my head about my contamination levels and only tune in to the last part of mum’s sentence.
Mum: Andrew, the dirty pervert.
Me: Who’s Andrew?
Mum: Prince Andrew!
We’re in the greengrocers. Mum is talking loudly to everyone, as usual. This time about cruise ships.
Mum: Absolutely disgusting things. Destroying the planet almost single handedly.
Greengrocer: They use fifty gallons a mile.
Mum: Oh it’s appalling. I think if you go on one of those you deserve the virus.
I am concerned for mother’s safety voicing such views in what is most likely cruise ship territory, but a little old lady with raspberries walks out of the shop giggling.
Mum goes to pick up a fork from the table.
Me: Oh no, don’t, I touched that!
Mum drops the fork and puts her hands to her face in horror.
Mum: Oh no, I touched my face.
Screaming and waving her hands.
Mum: Oh god we’re all going mad.
The news continues its Covid orgy…
Presenter: Britain is the experiencing the worst health crisis in a generation.
Mum: Yeup, and the government are doing fuck nothing.
Mother is looking into the dark chasm (the light’s gone) of the fridge.
Mum: I’ve bought some feta, because feta’s the best thing you can eat.
Me (imagining it contains some magical antibody or mineral): Why is that?
Mum: I just wanted to eat it.
Typically with this visit, conversation has turned towards pandemics and pandemic-related things.
Mum: Ask your father if he’s seen ‘Survivor’. Fantastic television series from the seventies about a pandemic.
Me: Yes, I know, you got it out from the library and watched it with me when I was about thirteen.
Mum: Did I?
Mum (reminiscing): ‘Survivor’, yes… I’ve been preparing ever since.
Me: So have I.
I’m back in London now, or in “the firing line” as mum is calling it. I’m on the phone to her and mum reads me something she has seen…
Mum: Oh, look at this: “Woman discovers she’s been washing hands with block of cheese.”
I spit water everywhere.
Me: Oh shit, I’ve got water all over my computer.
Mum (ignoring me, still deeply involved in the story): In her defence it seems she does keep a bar of yellow unscented soap by the sink.
I am complaining that in North London we are suffering from the side-effects of Boujis stockpilers – can’t get any organic porridge or apple cider vinegar for love nor money, and we’ve run out. What, you’re saying I’m supposed to have toast for breakfast? THERE’S NO BREAD. Meanwhile in Devon, mum can’t get even one lowly packet of paracetamol, forget loo roll…
“No paracetamol anywhere. No peas, nada. Shelves stripped. Where are they putting all this shit? This lot wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes in “the war” they keep on about.”
Later on in the conversation I’m back to worrying about my parents. I mention my father. Mum reassures me…
“His grandmother was a peasant. So was mine, that’s why we’re so tough. Little strips of leather but we’re well put together.”
Stay safe out there, compadres. And if you’re not worried about yourself, be concerned for others safety and act accordingly. We really are in this together, whether we like it or not. This virus is many things, including a(n unpleasant) reminder that we are each a small part of a whole. What we do and, possibly more importantly, do not do, during this time can save someone’s life.