Diary of a Lockdown, day 20: fear washes at the shore of content

Easter baking: April 12th

The family niggles have calmed down. We are slipping into a routine I actually find quite enjoyable. The teens have taken to cooking with some enthusiasm and we’ve now got a dinner rota for the week; seedlings are germinating in the kitchen and will be transferred to the vegetable patch once the risk of frost has gone; P and I are enjoying our daily dog walks; and the fence between our garden and next door’s is low enough for us to chat over – sometimes with a glass of wine. So we even have a social life.

And yet washing around the shores of this island of suburban content, as the deadliness of Coronavirus sinks in, is fear. This disease, is not just, as we originally told ourselves, ‘a bit like the flu’. The infectiousness and the fatality rates are higher. There is no cure and no vaccine.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 16: getting a bit niggley

Sign of Spring: cherry blossom in the compost corner of the garden

I suppose we’ve done quite well getting to day 16 without a major argument, but I could do with a break from my family now!

We’re beginning to get niggley with each other. I can’t bear the way the children are living in their dressing gowns. They want me to stop reminding them there is such a thing as mornings or school work to do. “We’re teenagers,” they moan, “we’re not supposed to get up before noon – and it’s the holidays now.”

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 14: no chance to say Goodbye

Remember Mum, whose last birthday was April 6th 2015

It would have been my mum’s 88th birthday today. Five years ago she was in her last days of life and the memories I have of being with her at that time are precious: decorating her room with cards, reading to her, bringing the kids to wish her Happy Birthday and holding the phone to her ear so she could hear nieces and nephews send her their love.

Later, when life was nearly done, just holding her thin hand, moistening her dry mouth, being with her when she seemed scared. As grim as it was, I am so thankful we could be with her, that she wasn’t alone.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 12: inside other people’s living rooms

Celebrity Squares

One of the unexpected pleasures of lockdown has been seeing inside other people’s living rooms. With TV presenters broadcasting from their homes and local groups meeting on Zoom, we can indulge our nosey sides with impunity.

My cursory research suggests journalists and their interviewees most often choose to sit in front of bookshelves, but sometimes paintings. Politicians seem to go for either books or framed photographs – presumably illustrating their proudest moments.

One friend admits to freezing her TV screen and scrutinising choices of backdrops in search of clues to literary or cultural preferences.

On Have I Got News For You last night, a suitably intellectual-looking selection of books were Ian Hislop’s choice of scenery. “Why are you sitting in a reference library?” asked Paul Merton. Merton himself had chosen to show off his enormous DVD collection. Presenter Steph McGovern was in her rather nice-looking kitchen.

While comedy shows are undoubtedly struggling with the lack of atmosphere and banter that a live audience usually provides, the lockdown format does lend itself to some extra visual gags.

On last night’s Mash Report  Nish Kumar had toilet rolls artfully stacked on a shelf behind him – and stood up from his desk at the end of the show to reveal a lack of trousers.

Even on the radio presenters are seizing opportunities for comedy. “Usually on Grand National Day I’d be speaking to you from the finishing post at Aintree,” said Radio 4’s sports reporter this morning. “Instead I’m broadcasting to you from under the stairs.”

For those of us who have now moved parts of our work or social lives online with apps such as Skype and Zoom, we get glimpses of our colleagues’ and neighbours’ homes and families. Cats and children sometimes wander into my online yoga classes. At my local community Zoom choir the other night, we got to watch one of our group cook haggis while we sang!

The visual language of a grid of people peering out from their little screens is becoming an everyday part of our interactions. Former London Assembly Member Darren Johnson has pointed out that for people over a certain age, the image has nostalgic echoes of Celebrity Squares. As with so many aspects of lockdown, it’s less a case of back to the future than forwards to the past.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 10 – closer to home

Only a month ago, only 40 people in the UK had contracted the Coronavirus and no one had yet died. Less than a week ago I was writing here of a ‘calm before the storm‘ – as the mounting number of cases still seemed remote from our socially distanced little bubble. Now that’s all changed; it’s much closer to home.

The elderly parents of a good friend are very ill. My son’s friends are sharing pictures of paramedics in hazmet suits removing someone from the block of flats where they live just round the corner from us. And down the road in Brixton 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, a previously healthy lad with no underlying health problems, died on Monday.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 9: dawns and dusks

Breakfast spot in the garden, 1st April

It was a lovely bright morning today – and I was surprised how much it lifted my spirits. The first few days of lockdown had started with sunshine pouring into the bottom corner of our garden and I had enjoyed starting each day there in the birdsong with a cup of tea. But last few early mornings had been overcast and gloomy and I’d found myself more often crawling back under the duvet.

Have you noticed how the way you start the day sets the tone for how the rest goes? On those cold and overcast mornings, I never seemed to get going. A few hours each day were lost in front of the TV or plugged into the computer. Today, the bright start seemed to ignite a more energetic me.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 7: our teens have turned nocturnal


Trees coming into leaf in the bracing North wind on Mitcham Common 29 March

We are barely seeing our teenagers, not because they are wrecklessly flouting the lockdown, but because they appear to have become nocturnal.

When their school closed nearly two weeks ago, I had all sorts of good intentions about getting them up at a reasonable time and encouraging them to follow something along the lines of a normal school day.  I tried various means of waking them: opening curtains, greeting them with a breezy ‘good morning’, offering to cook them breakfast, playing loud dance music outside their rooms. The responses were grunts and slight shifts of shapes under the duvet.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 5: life in a 1970s sitcom

Spinach seedlings potted up

Toilet rolls are back in our local Sainsbury’s – but there are no baking goods. Husband went out hunting and gathering this morning with a list that included strong white flour, plain flour, sugar and baking powder, but he came back empty-handed. How foolish was I to think I was was the only one planning to bake my way through lockdown?

I’d stocked up on yeast back in the autumn when the only catastrophe we thought was heading our way was a no-deal Brexit. Now I realise I’d under-estimated flour and over-estimated the ‘cleverness’ of my own preparations.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 4: calm before the storm

Forget-me-knots in the garden 27 March

With news today that the Prime Minster, Health Secretary and Chief Medical Officer are all testing positive for Coronavirus, you might think we were already at the height of a full-blown health crisis. But in our house the feeling is more one of a calm before the storm.

We are all well; we have food in the fridge; the dog gets walked; and, with yesterday’s promise from the government of grants for self-employed people like me, dire financial straits are not imminent.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 3: making this up as we go along

Blossom on Mitcham Common 26 March

Today’s hot topic is the protocols of social distancing. How do we organise ourselves on the occasions we need to leave the house to get to the places we need to get to without breathing droplets of coronavirus all over our fellow man?

We’ve not done this before. We don’t know the rules. It’s not like queuing for a bus or driving on the left (or right depending on which country you’re in); there isn’t a set of tried and tested habits to conform to for the greater good.

But today I’ve noticed people attempting to create some protocols. The Tesco’s local in Streatham has a one-in-one-out policy and warning tape at 2-metre intervals along the pavement outside indicating where people should stand while queuing.

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