I hope you and yours are keeping cough free and cool. I have been at home for 14 long days during which time Spring has sprung; the only clouds are of blossoms on the trees, the birds sing sweet and optimistic and we have stumbled into the sort of Sci-Fi film that most of us wouldn't go to the cinema to watch if we could. With the prospect of coming out of self-isolation this morning comes a feeling a bit like a being a Morlock in a version of The Time Machine by H G Wells, where the underground monsters from the future get hold of time travel and come back to the present. Except today's Eloy; hipsters would be too fast for me and have got no meat on them anyway.
When it was raining and dark all the time and we were all just washing our hands a bit more, I got a bit of a cough and temperature. I stopped my jobs, felt fine within two days and began the journey towards a smaller and smaller horizon. I was supposed to self-isolate for a week but that extended to the weirdest 14 days I have ever seen unfold.
I withdrew from a fully functioning society in a mixed economy. Two weeks later, I will be able to walk blinking into the sunshine with my uncut hair wafting in a cool spring breeze outside, if I need to shop for essentials and there will be no work for me, and many other people. Society has almost stopped and a Conservative Government makes proclamations and promises-promises that a command economy in the midst of war might find untenable.
The running joke of working from home, the mantra of how anti-social social media makes us, the ridiculousness of British Prime Ministers 'addressing the nation' and the invisibility of delivery drivers are just a few things that have been turned on their head in a matter of days. I cannot write that if I am exposed to the word unprecedented one more time I will scream because I screamed already, and I can’t keep screaming, there’s enough people doing that already. What will happen next? In a world where people openly discuss the possibility of martial law in a queue at Tescos, who knows.
I do know that I will not be following Boris Johnsons ‘instructions’ to the letter and go out for daily exercise. There’s no point overreacting. Besides, I’m staying indoors because it is a sensible thing to do, not because BoJo told me to.
I don’t want to be a Typhoid Mary, that asymptomatic cook who killed so many people about a hundred years ago, I am no Corona Kate. But now that I’ve finished the latest Hilary Mantel and given myself a cheeky ration of Walter Mosley I am down to reading the books on my shelf that I have never got round to but I think I really 'ought' to have read. How did I end up with so many Italo Calvinos? I can’t get on with him at all.
Naturally under these circumstances, the kitchen drawers where I have been chucking ‘That’ll-Come-in-Handy’s for nigh on 20 years is now organised into neat rows of handbag straps, corks, a previously ambitious and now downright delusional collection of no less than 8 European plug adapters, a mobile phone museum going back to the Blackberry and enough lighters to keep a 40 a day smoker going until 2040. I have also dusted, hoovered behind the sofa and put all food packets into the jars and tins I have been hoarding for decades.
All this has made me realise that I owe another debt of thanks to my parents, who were born into rationing and expected the Nuclear Holocaust at any moment. We had a map of canals that would take us to our house in a remote-ish part of Yorkshire where we kept a room full of dried and tinned food and fell-boots in sizes 0 to 11, ready for Armageddon. What was once a slightly laughable childhood anecdote can now be reinterpreted as useful training for adult life.
Thus, when I briefly considered panic buying I had a look round and found that, in the name of buying things when they are on special offer, I have actually been building reserves for years. Who waits till it’s fashionable to keep an extra 24 pack of loo roll, just in case? You want a face mask? Just use the old table cloths and elastic in the old table cloths and bits of elastic boxes. And things have moved on since my parent’s day; no Fray Bentos tinned pies or Vesta curries for us. If the most sophisticated food supply chain in Europe does break down we will be eating chickpea tagines till doomsday. Oh how my beloved used to laugh at me as he built all those cupboards, now he is antiseptic wiping packets of pasta and putting them in the yard at appointed times for our mates.
My beloved and I cannot work in the same room; every little thought that passes through his head must be expressed verbally to the nearest sentient being as soon as it occurs to him. Whereas I only noticed I was in isolation when I fancied some coriander about five days in. Never mind the discussion about increased divorce rates caused by actually being with your loved one, that man should keep an eye on the other sorts of ‘avoidable deaths’ caused by not spreading The Virus. But constant distraction is not why I have written less than I ‘ought’.
I have not written as much as I ‘ought’ because I have offered my teaching skills on Facebook and am using one of my less ancient mobiles to coordinate volunteers with my local Mutual Aid Group. The latter act of social responsibility means that I can legitimately go outside to deliver groceries to the self-isolating, as soon as I am out of self-isolation myself. Not to escape my darling family you understand, just to do my bit, honest. My local group has had to split into four as so many people have signed up to escape their flatmates support their fellow human beings. I expect a lot more acts of selflessness in the not so distant future.
Meanwhile, domestic life does go on and on and on. I am not suggesting immediately that you order my book when I’m sure that you too have lots of unread books on your shelves. Now’s the time people. Then when you realise that you can’t get on with half the stuff you thought you ‘ought to’ read, enjoyed the other half, developed a grudging respect for what teachers choose to do, sorted your kitchen drawer, hoovered behind the sofa, watched your sane friends go a little bit mental with fear and worry on Social Media and binged on every box set that ever raised a glimmer of interest, and quite possibly binged on pasta too, you will have developed a need for some welcome light relief and can click here with a clear conscience, and in the full knowledge that another book by the same author will be publish ready much sooner than anticipated.
And desperate times require desperate measures; I am going to run, or more likely walk briskly, in public through the streets of Hackney, or realistically on Skype up and down my stairs for 5 kilometres, which sounds much better converted to 3.1 miles on Saturday 16th of May.
This is not because I have been selected for a cut-price and comi-tragic version of a death-to-boomers dystopian type torture that might suit the present mood, that is just how it feels. And I know other people may run whole marathons, but they actually like physical exercise. I can assure you that the loathing and despair I feel simply at the prospect of wearing trainers and getting a bit pink is equal, if not greater, than ‘the burn’, whatever that may be. It is that I have put my own personal pride, sense of who I am and even the odd prejudice aside because WORLDwrite really needs to pay the rent.
I volunteer at WORLDwrite because it is a charity that operates an open-door policy providing free professional quality documentary training to young people, the ones who are going to live on beyond all this, to make brilliant short and long films about the issues that concern us all. My favourite is Every Cook Can Govern: The Life, Impact & Works of C.L.R. James about the man who wrote 'The Black Jacobins', the history of the only completely successful slave rebellion, 'Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live in', which is a brilliant homage and critique of Moby Dick amongst other things, as well as something about cricket being really good, which I haven't read because it's about sport.
WORLDwrite is unlikely to be able to open its doors to anyone for some time and while we work out how to make distance films and remote shows over the next few weeks and months, we need every penny and pound we can get. Please ease my disdain for public display, exertion for no apparent reason and begging, by giving all the money you would otherwise spend at the pub or booking flights: https://www.justgiving.com/KateAbley
In anticipated gratitude and constant dread,
Not Corona Kate