Not been out for seven weeks. Eek!
We last ventured out to do our last public pandemic shop a week before lockdown. As G and I were at odds as to what we needed I said you take a trolley and get what you need, and I will do the same. Will meet you at the tills.
First of all the most important thing toilet rolls, none to be had. People were apparently stocking up on serviettes to use instead. Gave up on that one. Headed next for Marmite, nobody wanted that yet. No chance of G adding any to his trolley. He always says he’s been around the factory where it’s made and taps the side of his nose three times. I assume this means something. I still like Marmite though.
Then of course rich tea biscuits. Then I headed off for the meat aisle where everything seemed to be in short supply too and everybody was grabbing. I wanted to study what was what but was getting pushed around.
A horrible woman dressed like an extra from Game of Thrones was shoving everybody. She had got a trolley full of crisps, about 20 Pringles, chocolate and toilet rolls, about 8 packets of 9, followed by her daughter who was busy on her phone who had even more.
As quick as a flash I lifted a packet of 9 toilet rolls off her trolley when she turned around to shout ‘shurrup’ at her daughter.
Think they might still have had well over 200, but with all the garbage going down their gullets might have needed them.
Got the rest of tins we needed, thinking we would need enough for a few weeks, at the most. Beans loomed large. I haven’t eaten tinned beans and sausage forever, not since we spent six months in a tent in 1969.
Anyway now we have 10 tins. No tinned tomatoes on the shelves. WHY? Got some Italian tomato stuff in a jar, that will do. I seem to want to buy stuff we used to eat whilst camping like Smash. Managed to get 4. Need to get a grip.
Think the fact people are running about and grabbing is making me stressed. Can see G with a trolley full. Meet up. His pandemic shop consists of wine gums, ginger biscuits, huge packets of Twix, Shiphams paste and tinned steak. His family used to love tinned steak and he considers it a treat. Oh yes 6 packets of liquorice. Good job I got the toilet rolls.
When we got to the till it said only 3 packets of toilet rolls per order. Tee hee I thought.
Now let me tell you something, I am well practised at lockdown. Spent most of my childhood being sent to my room sometimes for most of the day. Depending on the crime it could be an hour or sometimes a whole morning or afternoon.
I can remember aged about 9 setting off with the family to a caravan park in April. We were in an A35, hand painted green by the whole family. We were going for a week and only the minimum of clothes could be taken, as we had to take all the bedding.
It rained all the way there and every day for a week. The only time we went out was to go to the toilet block and as they didn’t provide anything there, we had to take our own toilet paper. The question was ‘are you going for number 1 or 2?’ I got one sheet of toilet paper for number 1 and four sheets for number 2. I did notice that when adults went they took the whole roll.
Early ‘life isn’t fair’ lesson.
We lived on toast with jam. As the cooking facilities were minimal and the cooker gave off fumes, not much cooking was done. I can remember soup featured regularly, particularly tomato, again served with toast.
We never saw the sea as it was a car ride away, and the smell of damp clothing travelled with you. Showers were not taken all week as the season hadn’t started, so we had to have a strip wash. Loved that. We played games, drank lots of tea and can remember loving the fact we were on a holiday in a different place. Think it was Cromer.
This is so much better. A roll of toilet paper, comfort and so far even the weather has been brill. We can’t go out because G is the World’s most at risk man, yes he really is, but we’re still ticking over nicely.
Food delivery hasn’t been easy to arrange and as we can’t go to the shops we’re not exactly blessed with a great variety of food. Just as well G eats anything.
The local butcher and veg man deliver, bless ‘em. We have got a glut of potatoes as the veg man gets everything wrong. I asked for a pepper. He said they hadn’t got any but he was sending a cucumber instead. We asked for a small bag of new potatoes and this is the 3rd time he has sent a huge bag of giant spuds instead. We also asked for some onions and he sent beetroot. We won’t say anything in case he gets the hump.
G says he is glad the veg man doesn’t work in the dispensing area at Boots.
‘Thou art a boil, a plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle…’
Not very nice is it? King Lear letting rip at his daughter, Goneril.
In fairness King Lear is not renowned as one of Shakespeare’s rib ticklers, but no wonder as he wrote it during lockdown. In the Tudor era in an attempt to ‘flatten the curve’, ‘the 1603 plague outbreak brought a directive from the privy council that all theatres and playhouses had to close when ‘more than thirty disease-related deaths were recorded in a week.’
Thirty? In a week? Call that a plague?
Be that as it may, it forced Shakespeare to close his theatre, The Globe. As an actor without access to YouTube, Shakespeare couldn’t work from home but as a playwright and a poet he could get on with some serious writing.
During the 1606 outbreak Shakespeare wrote three of his most famous tragedies, King Lear, Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra. Not many laughs in those three and no wonder. Lockdown isn’t the ideal backdrop to comedy.
‘All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone’ - Blaise Pascal.
In the era of COV-19, many would argue that the last thing any of us need is more time for self-reflection but Pascal may have been onto something in his praise of solitude as a means of unlocking creativity.
In the autumn of 1830, Russia’s most famous poet, Alexander Pushkin found himself stuck at Boldino, his family’s estate due to a cholera outbreak. Russians now use the phrase ‘Boldino Autumn’ to signify a period of great productivity during isolation as those three months, Pushkin stayed in Boldino proved to be the most productive period in his writing career.
I don’t claim an encyclopaedic familiarity with the works of Pushkin, far from it, but glancing at a biography recently struck a chord with our present situation.
He’s a writer, he can work anywhere, so surely the same should apply to me.
Ah, but Pushkin was a young idealist in confinement, eager to get his thoughts down on paper.
As for me, I aren’t even Russian!
I did find this in a letter from Pushkin to his fiancé, a thousand miles away in Moscow and discovered a certain kinship between myself and the great man of letters – ‘I wake up at seven o’clock, drink coffee and lie till three o’clock. I have been writing a lot recently and have already written a heap of things. At three o’clock I go riding, at five I take a bath and then dine on potatoes and buckwheat porridge. Then I read till nine o'clock.’
As for me, I miss out on the horse riding, but everything else…
Writing requires elements of detachment. Writers live inside the confines of their heads, peopled by random characters who don’t exist in reality. I doubt I will ever have a greater opportunity to write another novel. And yet… Several full length novels to my name and what I remember most vividly from the process is the sheer amount of time each one takes. Time is too precious to waste on just writing another book.
In ‘normal’ times Marigold can more easily put up with my periods of navel gazing introspection while I ponder the plausibility of plot twists, but not now there’s just the two of us, most of the time in one room.
No man is an island, as John Donne said. I wish I could remember the rest of this, I used to know it, but it’s being elusive. (Yes of course I could look it up but I’m far too busy. Only so many hours in the day, you know?) I remember the last line, ‘never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.’ If all poetry was restricted to just first and last lines, No Man is an Island would take some beating.
I was thinking the other day that people who smile, pull faces and talk aloud when they are alone used to be taken away to a padded room before smartphones and iPads made this behaviour acceptable.
Just now, for example, far more important matters are afoot as we sit here trying to divide a Twix bar into 14 sections, one piece each for a week. Rationing days are back.
We may even eat the apple core I was saving for Sunday lunch at this rate.
The only post we’re getting delivered consists of letters from the NHS telling me I am Britain’s most vulnerable man. I had the original ‘vulnerable person’ letter back in March and got another one this week telling me I am likely to die if I even peak through the curtains at the world outside.
I must immediately exfiltrate from the world and stay indoors until it’s deemed safe for me to go out.
Allowing for a reasonable period as ruler in the prescribed succession from Elizabeth to Charles, and then William I suspect I will be given the all clear in the reign of King George 4th.
Meanwhile, I linger indoors in semi solitary confinement, constantly washing hands that have had no contact with the outside world and treating every possible fomite with accute suspicion.
A cardboard box from amazon left on the doorstep? Don three pairs of gloves and a balaclava, poke the box well away from the house with a yard brush, leave it there for three weeks. Meanwhile burn yard brush, gloves and balaclava before rushing back to bathe in neat bleach.
Can’t be too careful.
I always follow orders and the furthest I have travelled in the past two months has been the end of the path, very private, that leads from our front door to the entrance road.
I’ve been quite energetic today after a leisurely start. 15 mins on exercise bike, then 15 mins on the path doing brisk walking. Glad nobody watches me as I have my phone open in one hand checking my heart rate stays under 90. Would hate to be mistaken for a teenager as I toddle to and fro adding to my daily ‘steps.’
Marigold’s ‘steps’ are very different from mine. Yes, I’m a foot taller with longer legs as a consequence, but even so…
What I’ve decided to call my ‘caged tiger’ walk, along the path leading from entrance road to our front door is a mere 25 ‘steps,’ faithfully counted on a far too clever for my liking ‘smart’ watch and relayed as if by magic to my even smarter cell phone.
Tendons that refuse to reattach from whence they were torn away have left me with a left foot that is no longer fit for purpose. But, a heart takes precedence over a foot and I need to persuade an underperforming heart to carry on pumping so I walk.
Backwards and forwards, 25 steps, turn and repeat. The painful foot grumbles away, but I am a true stoic and I press on.
Four ‘lengths’ make up 100 steps and I’m aiming for at least 5,000, every one performed at a level roughly equivalent to an equine canter. A fast walk but way short of a gallop.
Marigold maintains, nay insists, that two lengths equate to 100 steps for her minuscule legs.
I press on. It’s only painful at every other step and pain is an aberration that affect only the weak. There’s nobody making me do this after all. Footsore and fancy free, as opposed to footloose.
When we began our travels the world was a very different place. It certainly seemed larger than it does now. No mobile phones to keep in touch with friends or relatives, no tablets or laptops with the ability to email just about everyone on the planet and of course no access to Internet search engines.
Primitive times indeed, yet somehow far more liberating. When we left, we vanished, free to explore where fancy took us. One huge advantage we had over travellers of today was the element of surprise.
‘The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.’ G. K. Chesterton said that and it’s even more appropriate today with the option to research just about every aspect of a place you intend to visit.
Such a change from our early meanderings where we turned up somewhere different and it was a step into the unknown.
Even a prolonged journey such as a gap year – what’s that we would have said at the relevant time of our youth, sounds like something spoiled rich kids do to avoid looking for a job - isn’t likely to reveal much that is unexpected and new.
Every ‘new’ place has been researched, attention paid to Trip Advisor ratings, it’s not ‘new’ at all.
I understand the gap year idea. What could be better than an extended holiday, a last taste of freedom, postponing entering the job market and becoming a wage slave beset with responsibilities? Nothing prepares you for this. If they knew what awaited them, these young people would just stay on the beach for ever.
Marigold is clearing out her wardrobe, I heard her say ‘I bought this over 20 years ago and it still fits perfectly.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it’s a very nice scarf.’
On that note…