Note to readers: this piece was written on April 3rd and 19th, with later additions and edits on December 5th.
April 3rd 2020. Day 11 of lockdown in Rickmansworth. It’s very quiet where I live. I’m close to Heathrow airport which is great when I’m driving Liam there for him to go on one of his frequent business trips. But not so great when all those planes are stacking over my garden for what seems like hours.
Now, there are no planes and it seems as if the sky has been reclaimed by the birds. I live in a cul de sac off a slightly busy road. Usually I can hear the buzz of traffic. Not now. Even the hum of the two miles distant M25 is absent.
I love the peace. As I write I can hear birds and the occasional high-pitched bark of my whippet, Stanley, as he patrols the canal towpath which runs past my back garden. He regards the towpath as part of his territory so is quick to bark at any creature which dares to walk past. Even that traffic has declined in recent days as walkers have been asked to social distance from the towpath. It’s impossible to maintain two metres from moored canal boats.
The sun is streaming in through my window and I feel very fortunate and grateful for all that I have during this utterly weird time. A safe and secure house, adequately stocked with food, drink and loo paper for Liam and me; the only current occupants. A garden in which I’m working every day – digging, raking, planting and sowing seeds. Walks galore, straight from my front door, along the canal or to the local nature reserve.
I have time. Time in which I can do whatever I want …or nothing at all. Time for which I am so grateful. I don’t have a job and I’m not furloughed. Nothing much has changed for me. I have no routine and nothing that I have to do each day. I think that this is a luxury, but it can also be detrimental to my wellbeing. I’m well used to having no routine and so I try to create one for myself.
Out of bed by 6am, with the alarm or before, I take my favourite morning coffee mug from the dishwasher. I’ve drunk my strong first coffee of the day from the same Marks and Spencer red and white striped mug for years. The whippets sleep on in their smelly beds while the coffee machine grinds the beans and dispenses the strong, black liquid which my early morning brain has come to depend on. Coffee made, I retrieve my journal from its hiding place under tea towels and trays in the drawer under the hob. Coffee, journal and favourite pen… this is my time, sitting on the tall kitchen stool alone and quiet, writing down whatever comes into my head. Writing only for me. No one else will read these words, at least not while I’m alive.
Clean from the shower, I feed myself and my sourdough starter. Breakfast is the same as yesterday and the day before. Granola, blueberries and natural yoghurt. A nutritionist told me that the length of time it takes to eat breakfast, correlates to how long the stomach will remain full. Utter nonsense I think, but still I eat granola more for the time it takes to chew rather than its deliciousness.
The whippets are still snuggled in their beds, curled into tight balls, their noses tucked under their back legs. Sleep is their main activity these days. It seems to me that dogs are the key to freedom during these days of containment. Walking is free and encouraged. Daily exercise outdoors an escape from the mundanity and drabness of the balance of the day. I walk out into the greenness and breathe. I know these paths and fields so well. Walking through the seasons has long given rhythm to my years, but now the Spring seems brighter, sharper and cleaner than any Spring before. I let the whippets off their leads, and they sense it too. Instead of ambling beside me, noses to the ground, sniffing for the scents that they’ve been used to, they spring away from me. Ears back, flat against their heads, and curly tails carried high in the air, the pair run fast in ever increasing circles as if chasing imaginary squirrels. Winded at last, they collapse to the ground, their flanks heaving as they gasp for air, panting with tongues lolling from their mouths. The rest of our walk is a leisurely stroll as the day heats up and the sun continues to accentuate the primary colours of sky and grass.
I wrote that sixteen days ago, when lockdown was new, and I was optimistic – a state of mind that I’m not too familiar with. And guess what … it didn’t last. In those early days of isolation, I was determined to create something new or develop new skills or learn something important. Safe to say that that hasn’t happened. And I think I’m OK with that now. Or at least I’m OK with that right now at the moment that I’m writing this sentence.
I’ve experienced so many emotions since April 3rd when I was in the rosy glow of all that extra time with nothing that I had to do. Today I feel angry and sad. On Sunday I felt happy and I can’t remember what I felt yesterday. I’ve felt impotent, frustrated, flat, elated, lonely, yearning, bored, stressed, anxious, pressured, overwhelmed, tired, motivated, inspired, lost. These are emotions and feelings that I experience often but now seem so much more intense. I’m not planning any new ventures or projects. I’ve chosen to work on what I think is my most important project – myself.
Now it’s over 200 days later – December 5th. Living through this lockdown reminds me of what it was like to go through cancer treatment. The loneliness and the unknown. The feeling of vulnerability and being scared of dying. I can’t concentrate long enough to read books and don’t want to listen to or watch the news. I take comfort in watching trashy US dramas and listening to podcasts. These are balm for my over assaulted ears. I have a virtual meeting with my oncologist, therapy on Facetime and physical training on Zoom… all remnants of normality.
Throughout it all I keep coming back to one question; am I mad? I have so many thoughts running through my head whilst the world is so quiet. It’s as if I’m examining the past 59 years and producing no answers. Where are my memories? If I can’t remember an event that I know happened, did it really happen? I’ve had a suit of armour around my memories. Protecting myself from what they may be. I can’t remember so much, and I really, really want to remember everything. But I can’t. I’ve pushed it all deep down inside my unconsciousness.
I torment myself knowing that good and bad memories are there but as much as I try, I can’t retrieve them. I hate being unable to remember my school friends or my teachers or holidays or my au pairs. Trying to remember is like climbing up a rope in an old school gym, getting almost to the top and then falling all the way to the bottom, burning the skin on my hands as I fall. I feel as if I’ve lost my life inside my brain. Too much time means too much thinking and tomorrow will be the same as today.
Nature is my saviour. I’ll sow seeds and their growth will nurture my broiling mind. If I can’t access my memories, I’ll make new ones and record them in my journal each day. No chance then of them slipping into the crevices of my unconscious brain.