STILL TIMEThinking about Lock Down
In years to come we’ll be telling stories of what it was like living through the 2020 global pandemic of the Coronavirus. How the streets emptied, the birds reclaimed the skies and how we were forbidden to fulfill our basic human need to touch one another. Remembered words and phrases that littered our obsessional conversations during that time will be recalled. ‘Lockdown’, ‘social distancing’, ‘sing happy birthday twice’, ‘stay home, save the NHS, save lives’, ‘test, track, trace.’ We’ll be slightly shamefaced about our morbid addiction to the nightly death toll figures and the invidious comparison with other countries.
And, if we were unlucky, tales of tragic loss.
But that is way in the future. Today the slogans have changed and we are now urged to ‘stay alert, control the virus, save lives.’ Which is fine, if only we could understand what they meant. We scour the airwaves and newspapers for clarity, hoping to find permission in the small print that allows us to be with our families again.
Frustratingly, for up to nine million of us who are over seventy, such freedoms are yet to be returned.
Admittedly, if we have no underlying health condition, there is the meagre concession that now allows us to go out, exercise as much as we want and meet one other person outside of the home, so long as it’s in an open space and we adhere to social distancing. But it’s hardly the reunion with our children and grandchildren that we all so long for and who desperately need our help.
How long will it be before our resolve crumbles and we surreptitiously begin to break the rules, justifying such antisocial behaviour on account of being ‘fitter than many forty-year olds’?
I realise now that during all the time I have been in lockdown, I have been pretending to behave as if nothing much has changed. My husband John and I have established a routine; we’ve worked out how to keep the fridge stocked; we can walk out of our gate onto an un-made up track which leads to open spaces. Our local doctors’ practice is obligingly accessible by phone and ‘you’ve got to see this!’ quirky videos seem to occupy much of our time in the day, as Netflix diverts us in the evenings. We review each day and set out our modest goals for the next.
We seem to be managing but, if I’m honest, we’re both slightly concerned that we are in danger of becoming institutionalised.
That was until last Monday when I cracked and the missing became too much.
I can manage without London’s on tap culture and, just about, not being able to see my hairdresser. Even a long lunch under the pretext of work is a sacrifice worth making if it helps hasten the obliteration of this virus. But I am angry and upset by what I see as blanket discrimination based on age rather than health.
I go outside, soggy tissues in hand.
A furry striped rugby shirt bumble bee lands on an alyssum plant on the table in front of me, its wings shimmering in the sunshine. It hovers above the flowers before plunging its tongue into their tiny throats. Oblivious of me, it sucks greedily and I imagine how good the nectar must be making it feel. I resist the temptation to touch it.
I look towards the garden gate sculpted by John to give the impression of waving grasses and I see two squirrels chasing each other along the umbrella arches of the ancient sycamore tree. It is now in full leaf and showering me with greenish-yellow flowerheads, each one comprising a myriad of circular flowers to be blown I know not where by the wind. Come autumn, seeds will have formed. ‘Like tiny helicopters’ I used to tell my grandchildren when sometimes we were lucky enough to spot one spiralling to the ground.
My approach to gardening is not dissimilar to my cooking. I don’t have green fingers nor a gourmet chef’s talent. But I understand the basics of both skills which allows me a certain boldness. Why not mix wild flowers with cultivated ones? A favourite in our garden goes by the unattractive name of Green Alkanet. To me its bright blue flowers and soft green leaves take me into the realms of fairy land, made even more plausible by its ‘touch me not’ prickly stems.
I have my father to thank for my love of tall wild daisies. In the flinty soil of a Hertfordshire garden, he let them flourish in the uncultivated strip at the bottom of the garden, providing a hidden space for me to sit amongst them.
John brings me a cup of coffee. He knows me too well to ask how I am.
Is it my imagination, or is this one of the most beautiful springs for years? Hundreds of shades of green, even in our small garden. A bluetit perches on a fragile branch of the weeping silver birch, his song bright and clear.
It’s been a long time since I’ve allowed myself to be this still. Not to feel guilty for doing nothing is a novel experience, and how grateful I am to have discovered it. Just sitting, looking and listening is taking me to a more accepting place. The quote is anonymous, but its counsel wise. ‘Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.’
A sinewy black cat squeezes through John’s gate and rubs its back along the warm brick wall. No lock down for him.