I think this is the longest of my beloved’s posts so far. The rules were being relaxed but everyone was trying to work out exactly what was and wasn’t allowed. Our son stuck strictly by the letter of the law, refusing to see both of his parents at once, which did not go down well. And then, while most of the country struggled to do the right thing, came Dom Cumming’s infamous trip to Barnard Castle. The journal gives a fair idea of just how angry that made people.
Saturday 23 May 2020
Big event of the week: Mike came over. The plan was for the three of us to have a picnic in the park, I went to M&S for tubs and made a rice salad. Mike would bring a plate and cutlery and a salad of his own.
Then a phone call from Mike. He had just been given a presentation from his colonel that the Army really had to stick to the rules. Mike was responsible for disciplining any soldier who broke them. The rules say that you may only see one of your parents at a time. So he would come over, but see us sequentially, not together. Tom was cross: “I’ve spent enough time doing what this Government says. I’ve had it with rules.” If Mike felt like that, he could just see me.
So Mike took a long lunch hour from his working day and drove over. Which gave us an hour together, walking over to Orleans House Gardens, sitting on a bench and eating pastries. I took a flask of tea. We talked about his friends’ wedding plans, and the Army, and work, as conversation flowed easily. I tried not to point out the large family group having a picnic right in front of us. I was suddenly aware of how central family meals are to a sense of belonging. One parent at a time is a particularly stupid rule.
Mike and Tom then got the car started, with jump leads, and sort of forgave each other by doing manly stuff. And we drove over to Aldi to replenish our stockpile of tins, just in case our economic system lets us down.
Tom has now put a video of our tango waltz on you tube. It’s Flor de Lino (Linseed Flower) and was our attempt to be light and carefree – though, looking at it, there is a lot more tension than I’d hoped. It was good to dress up (with a beret because of lockdown hair). We went through the same dance, over and over again, and then painfully watched our faults, until we finally decide it would have to do. At least we had to concentrate and work on it.
I’ve now finished marking. The stragglers weren’t as good as the students who submitted on time, but they weren’t bad. I’ve decided that feedback has to be clearer, even blunter. “Do more reading”; “Write more clearly”, with examples. I’ve written more, as this seems to be the only thing the students are getting for their money.
The big question is whether I’m actually going to retire from the civil service at the end of June, or whether I will try to postpone it once again. Part-time work, and the contact work brings (if only virtual) has been essential to getting through the last few months.
Friday 29 May 2020:
“Are you noticing any difference?” J. asked on the phone yesterday, “For me it’s just the same. Work is OK, but I’m still not seeing anyone or doing anything”.
J summed up the experience of so-called lockdown easing. And explains why I’ve been bad-tempered and fractious all week. Going into lockdown, we phoned up loads of people and cackled uncontrollably at ridiculous skype meetings and no showers. But now jokes about loo paper and the work top/pyjama bottom combo aren’t funny anymore. Nor is the 60,000 death toll. Instead, there are a lot of non-conversations. “How are you? – fine. And you? – fine. What are you up to? – nothing much” etc etc.
Some stuff is coming back. I’m sitting in York House gardens with my first flat white since 14 March. Ahhh: the deep coffee bitterness and cream counterweight. I feel more positive already. And Johnson has announced that as from Monday, two households of up to 6 people can meet in a private garden, which means that we are going over to Mike’s for a BBQ on Tuesday. I’ll take my birthday champagne. A trip around the park shows that the groups of teenagers are now getting closer. I saw 3 lads put their arms around each other. Girls now gather in huddles.
Where to start on the week? Let’s go for the big story – Dominic Cummings – a lightening rod for all that frustration with arbitrary rules, uncaring Government decisions and a society which allows cleaners and estate agents into your house, but not lovers or parents. On Saturday, I woke to the news and remembered my resolution not to judge. By evening, though, I was cross. All those Government ministers gaslighting us about the rules, with not a hint of remorse. By Sunday, both Tom and I were furious: “I took a 60 mile trip to test my eyesight”? Are we meant to take this seriously?
On Bank Holiday Monday we cycled along a crowded tow path to the Ham Gate. Locked our bikes, took books, and found new places, including Sidmouth Wood. Hot, hot, hot, but plenty of shade under the oaks. It’s birthing season for deer. Didn’t see any fawns, but noticed hinds, by themselves, hiding in the long grass. Kept our distance and talked about Cummings.
I’m worried about A. who lives alone following a stroke. I phoned him last weekend. “How are you?” “Fine”. Then “No, actually, I’m not fine.” He is drinking too much, and his flat still has bed bugs, and he can’t use his front room, and he’s stuck in the kitchen, watching TV. “I just want to drink and die. I’d kill myself but I can’t bring myself to do it.”
I phoned again yesterday, suggesting we might meet in a park, but the mechanics didn’t work. He seemed more upbeat and talked about a programme he had enjoyed. But the underlying issues remain. Pre-lockdown, A kept going by occasional meals with friends, a bit of gossip, and interest in what other people are doing. Now that’s all stopped. How many other people are sitting at home, drinking and waiting to die?
PS. I’ve just phoned D. “I’m so angry” she started. “Bloody Cummings. Rewriting the rules for one unelected adviser”. “How was your writing group?” I asked. “OK, but I haven’t done any writing. I’m too cross”. D continued: “When we first went into lockdown, I felt really calm and surprisingly happy, but that’s all gone. And it’s making me even crosser”. I’m meeting D on Friday at the Albert Memorial, God willing. We will both cycle there.
Sunday 31 May 2020
It’s a glorious day, and I’m by Richmond riverside with a flat white. It is still early enough to sit in the sun, though midday threatens to be too hot. It’s busy – cyclists, a kayak, boat hire, and a queue for take aways. Richmond Council are still playing around with one-way signs [for pedestrians] on Richmond Bridge, not wholly successfully. They are building wider pavements on Richmond Road.
I swing wildly between zen calm, irritation and outright anger. The scene in front of me is beautiful – the stuff of a thousand tourist paintings – the ripples on the water, willows, geese, a heron. How hard can it be to just relax and enjoy it? Harder than you might think.
Yesterday, Tom vetoed my plans to rollerblade (irritation). Instead he cut branches off the buddleia, which I snipped into small pieces (satisfying). And we sat out in our front garden, reading, drinking coffee and admiring our roses (isn’t this lovely?). We chatted to neighbours, now that the British prohibition on using front gardens (surely only funny foreigners have always enjoyed life on the street?) has gone. We went to Syon Park to buy bedding plants, but it was shut. Cycled on to B&Q (queues too long), Waitrose (too little choice) and Twickenham Green (too late). Irritated.
Came back to catch up on news. Still over 350 deaths a day. A lot of SAGE scientists saying it is too early to ease lockdown. But keeping lockdown going was always going to be difficult with a bored and fractious public. And now, since Cummings, it has become impossible. Angry now. If I hear another politician say “following the science”, we may be in a broken radio situation.