The Food Programme did a fascinating take on the virus and its impact on food delivery last Sunday. Scary but fascinating. There is so much to think about. And somehow heartwarming to know that a factory in Italy is making sure that their parmesan cheese production is still going ahead as they draft in ex-employees to fill the places of those off sick. It is heartwarming, even if it seems unimportant, it’s something to do with national pride and the place that certain foodstuffs hold in our lives. I started to panic on waking and late last night about the notion of shortage, what if I can’t get this or that. And then I am ashamed. We need so little, really, we have just got used to abundance and accessibility.
Meanwhile, we continue to watch Butterflies, one a night. ‘Why can’t you just be a housewife?’ Ben asks Ria. Good question. That is, why can’t you just be satisfied with you lot and make mine a more peaceful one, eh? ‘But I’m not a peaceful person,’ replied Ria. No, nor am I, Ria and yet how I long to be.
We watched another episode of Butterflies last night. I hadn’t realised as a teenager how clever the writing was, mind you why would I? I was a naive little thing back then. Still am to some extent. Ria typifies that cosseted boredom so well. And her trials in the kitchen are hilarious. I thought of her as I cleaned the flat this morning. Hoovering is so dull, is it not? There must be more gratifying ways of keeping one’s space clean. More restrictions are being imposed upon us, necessary of course, but alarming all the same. We are not used it. I am not used to it. The sun still shines, and the rooks on the roof still chirrup. They talk of them lasting three weeks, but maybe longer. He comes home for coffee now, no more coffee shop pourings over the paper. We move inward, imploding. Meanwhile I push away at my application, still not sure if it will go ahead. What else can I do? Keep safe all my loves and those I do not yet know. We are in this together, are we not?
We’ve finished the box set of As Time Goes By and last night we began Carla Lane’s Butterflies. The marvellous Geoffrey Palmer is the common denominator. It takes me back. 1978 or thereabouts. You were sixteen, he said, and I was thirty-one. I forget the age-difference. That massive gap of both experience and wisdom. He has it in legions, I wobble. He massages my back. He is good at it now. I love to watch Wendy Craig. And the eldest boy, what a crush I had on him. Andrew Hall I believe he was called. He’s dead now, he said. Yes. Time passes. The sun shines again. Tesco’s was better this morning, not as bad as we feared. And still I have to hold back my instinct to amass. Don’t. It is only fear. Yes, but I am riddled with it. We snap at each other between the aisles. Not in public, he says and looks so cross. I don’t know what to do. Do I go ahead with it or postpone? Call him, he says. I will try. Will anyone respond? Is there anyone out there?
It was just a rogue sentence, caught mid way. I heard it in my head as I woke. ‘At your Mum’s funeral,’ it said, ‘you clearly…..’ And that was it. And the use of the word Mum. Is that significant? Wouldn’t I usually say Mother? What it meant I cannot say.
The sun is out and I am way behind schedule. There are so many little bits to deal with and I want to stop, to sew, to switch off. So I will. I shall make a large pot of tea and begin. Mending first. Then sewing. And The Archers.
I hope you are all safe. I miss my loves. I wish they were near, each and every one of them.
The Prom was empty as I walked this morning. The Coops pub was still open, clearly making the most of their last night of opening before shut down. Everything else was closed. A few students could be heard noisily making their way home. I saw a light from a mobile phone by the sea’s edge on South Marine and the woman with the plastic bag who shops in the early hours at the 24 hr garage passed me, but other than that there was nothing. Until that is I heard a sound behind me. It was just as I was walking down the hill beyond the harbour towards home. It was a rolling sound, of wheels dragging on tarmac and voices. I turned round. A group of five or six men were pushing a small wooden rowing boat towards me. I walked a little faster. They were laughing as they pushed. I headed for the steps that would take me up to South Road and turned to look at them. They were far behind, the boat was clearly cumbersome to push. Where were they going with it? I thought that they would’ve launched it into the water, though on second thoughts the tide was out so water was scarce. Perhaps they intended to upend it like the other boats just behind the harbour. Who knows? I didn’t intend to hang around to find out. We are all edgy. People cross the road at one’s approach. Nothing feels safe. Nothing feels familiar. Keep steady. It will pass. Though when it does much will have changed. Meanwhile there is work to do. That is good. That keeps me steady. Are you OK?
Can an old dog learn them? His house was amazing, a warren of alcoves, cubby holes and with every space on the wall consumed with art. I loved it. And he, though reticent, felt like a good man. And I’m to do the editing. I hadn’t realised. It freaked me at first. No, he said, you’ll be doing that. Outside the rained poured while inside, with my belly warmed by tea, I smiled. It is going to be OK, it is going to be exciting. This is something new, I thought, daunting, scary, but new. And I will be working with sound. Finally.
I walked the whole length of the Prom this morning, the first time in ages. And I thought of him. It’s been 24 years. He has been in my life for 24 years. What a treasure. What a joy. What a gorgeous man. You see there is wonder, there are gifts. And there were two yesterday, one small one larger than I expected. It will be well. Work now before I call her. The sun is out. The sea was lapping. Enough. Tea. Then write, though how I can capture her god alone knows. She is quicksilver.
And if they starve us out I shall fast. You see. It’s OK. I promise.
I wake each morning asking for the courage to manage this madness, to remain steady, kind, calm and balanced. And every day I fail. I cried in the supermarket, leaving a blotchy stain on his coat when he hugged me. The shelves were empty, no vegetables, no fruit and people we never usually see coming in at 6 am like us but with gapingly huge trolleys. It is a madness. There is no shortage but one is being created. I don’t want to panic, to feel fear but the reaction of some creates a domino effect inside. Keep it at bay. It isn’t real. We won’t starve, will we? We can live with less. Surely.
Give me grace. Grant it. Please. Let me be good. Let me be kind. Work helps. And I have much, much to do. Amen to that.
I was climbing up the small hill into the Castle Park when I heard him calling through the darkness. Then I saw his torch light. I couldn’t make out what he was saying. Then he was behind me. I speeded up. Excuse me, he called. Excuse me, he said again. I stopped and turned to face him. He was young, tall, stringy and with a large brooch in the shape of white heart on his jacket lapel. Excuse me, he said again, have you seen a man? He’s about this high, he said gesticulating with his hand a height about a foot shorter than he was, and Irish. He’s this high, he reiterated, and Irish. I’m sorry, I said, I haven’t seen anyone, and started to walk off. He followed me, repeating his question. Are you sure? he said finally. He did say he was here. Sorry, I said. I heard him all the way down Great Darkgate Street, shouting for Gerry.
Two girls passed me on Northgate Terrace just before I was assailed by the gorgeous smell of the bread being baked in The Pelican Bakery. They can’t have been much older than twenty. Possibly they were younger. One of them was pushing a pram. I leant into the wall to let them pass. Inside the pram was a child of perhaps two or three. It’s eyes peered at me through the plastic rain covering. It was not yet three am.
Such bleakness when I first wake. And then I talk of it to him at breakfast and my self-pity sets in. He looks so concerned and I hate myself for doing that to him. And yet, articulating it does help a little. What is best? And then I snatch a glance at the first few tweets on Twitter and my self-concern dissipates giving way to those with stronger needs. And there are so many. I try to send comfort. To be of use. To feel better about myself, this grey thing that I carry around. The sun shines and the sky is a blue behind the clouds. We just have to keep going. There is nothing else for it. The big sleep awaits us regardless. I ask for grace, for strength for kindness. For the ability to be kind whatever the adversity. Will it be given?
The bread shelves were empty in the supermarket. Such fear. Such panic. I must have compassion for that even if I cannot condone the result. Let us be kind. Blood on their hands, she said over the radio. The stockpilers will have blood on their hands. Give us strength, we know not what we do.
Meanwhile, I have this life to live, these people to tend and nurture. It is enough. Forgive my complaining. My bleakness is mine. I shall know it, care for it. Tend it. Until it passes. Until it passes.
It’s a question of neatness, of dotting the is and crossing the ts.
The notes were there in my diary from before we went away, a reminder to write them out when I returned. One is from a quote by Jane Austen, from one of her letters, I think, captured in Lucy Worsley’s oh so excellent book. It reads: ‘I’ve read The Corsair, mended my petticoat and now have nothing else to do.’ The other is from an overheard conversation early on Saturday morning. Last Saturday that is, before we went. It was from two students. A girl and a boy. She was tiny, with long straggly blonde hair. He was tall and slender and also blonde. Despite the cold weather, she was wearing miniscule black leather shorts. It’s shocking, he was saying, over and over. Her voice was earnest as she leaned into him. You shouldn’t be ashamed of it, she said. I know, I know, he replied.
It’s hard to return home. All these bits to do. I feel in bits too. It will get better once I get a hold. It was lovely to go away. I wish it could have been longer. Much longer. But then it would have been harder to return. Lots of dreams last night. Now there is work. Much work to do. Two loads of washing have been done, with ironing to do later. Ah, me. Such is life. I am grateful for the times away, that glorious emptying.