C-19 Internal Monologues Part 9: The Wobbling Bridge

Since I last wrote, life has started to feel a little more normal.

We are still in “lockdown”, but many of the restrictions have been eased.  Crucially, we are able to see our friends and families again, albeit at a distance, outdoors, and certainly not in large groups.  But still, that alone is a very valuable something.

The death toll has continued to grow, but is slowing.  For the most part, society seems to have accepted both the challenge – and the need – to be socially distanced, and this is helping.  Businesses and hospitality outlets are there for us once more and we each draw comfort from the familiarity of this.

The smell of pizza by Faversham Creek and the ability to take it home with you.

The technician booked in to come and do the repair.

It still remains tough for everybody, especially health workers; and leading on from my last post, I do not see fit to draw any kind of comparisons, or surmise that there is anyone out there who is not still battling against the pandemic in some way.  But here are my own personal thoughts and reflections, which may resonate with others.

It’s perhaps only now, when the lockdown – in its strictest form – is a thing of the past, that I realise how huge and how difficult those few weeks in March and April were.  Weeks without seeing anybody I love in the flesh at all.  Weeks when telling a random stranger in passing that he had a cute dog was the limit to the social interaction I had away from a screen.  When 8pm on a Thursday was a rare opportunity to see evidence of life outside the window.  When I felt naughty just for looking through my parents’ living room window whilst dropping off some items.  Weeks when I knew that no matter how hard I was finding it all; millions had it worse.  Weeks of feeling like I didn’t have the right to feel sad about any of it because of that.

In June, we might be able to see people again; but the problem hasn’t gone and neither has the emotional friction.  We still can’t go in to or stay in anybody’s homes that aren’t our own, so if your family and friends live hours away, which is the case for most people I know, this doesn’t really make a lot of difference. And unless your loved ones live either with you or within walking distance, that purifying cry, hug and bottle of wine (actually, sod it, make mine a Buckfast) which we want – and deserve  – to share with them will also have to wait.

And it’s because of things like this that the current time feels somewhat purgatorial: neither a beginning nor an end, but a wobbly drawbridge between the two, where we’re still very much afraid of falling off, and so are treading with caution.  Yes the end does now seem in sight, but by now we are all much the more weary from carrying our individual little suitcases of trauma to the point where our hands are really starting to hurt.  Many are bereaved.  Many are without jobs.  Many have seen their relationships fall apart under the pressure of lockdown.  Many are lonely.  And many others have just had way too much time to think.

And at a time when we are so much in need of coming together; we are learning – through incidents unrelated to the pandemic – how fractured we still are as communities and societies.

And that just makes this sad situation feel even sadder.

I still very much believe that there will be massive positives – globally- to come from the various struggles of 2020, which wouldn’t have been possible without them, but it feels far too early and uncomfortable to be looking at it that way just yet.  Nonetheless, it’s good to keep that in the back of our minds.

There has to be some good to come from this.

There will be some good to come from this.

Until then, I’ll be keeping myself occupied with good books, good music, online quizzes (becoming a pro – as are you – and her – and him – and them), YouTube videos about the twenty flavours of Pringles that I won’t believe exist…

…and dozens of air-hugs.

Song of the Day:  Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – Pure Cinema

Everything about this – the song, the lyrics, the video – is simply breathtaking.

 

C-19 Internal Monologues Part 8: Not Quite The Same Boat

There’s a quote going round on social media at the moment which is quite zealously dividing opinion.

David on Twitter: "If you don't come out of this quarantine with ...

 

It essentially implies that if you’re not using the lock-down period to pick up and perfect a new hobby or skill, you’re not making the best of the time.

I completely understand why some people love the quote.

And I completely understand why others hate it.

So to me, all that quote successfully achieves is to highlight that though we are all experiencing the same pandemic, how we are able to cope and react to it differs massively from person to person, and isn’t the sort of thing that can be compared or judged.  Universal standards really cannot be set on how to live your best “lockdown life”, no matter what any quote, meme or inspirational speaker has to say.

Remember back in science class, when we were taught the concept of a “fair test”?  Examining two elements to identify their differences only had value when all of the wider conditions were exactly the same, otherwise there was no point in carrying out the experiment.  The same logic applies here.

If you have been made redundant from your work, or you live alone, or perhaps you are just generally feeling a massive sense of anxiety from the pandemic, then learning a new skill or developing a hobby is a really effective coping mechanism.  It distracts your mind from the fear and the worry, and gives you a timely confidence boost.  Seeing – albeit on screen – your fellow classmates from your online language course can help you feel less alone, and composing music on an instrument might make you think that little bit more positively about the current time.

On the other hand, if you are struggling under the pressures of full time work, in services where demand is at an all-time high due to the pandemic; or you are having to juggle a job with homeschooling your children; or your living circumstances generally don’t dictate any time to focus on a new hobby, then I can also understand why instructions like this might seem like a bit of a sucker punch.  Life is much busier and manic than normal, not the opposite!

Either party may feel that the other one is better off.

Jobless people who live alone might give anything to experience the lock-down with company, or to have a job that is clearly necessary and valued when their own has been rendered just the opposite – and taken away their financial security in the process.

They’d probably trade their new skill for a salary without hesitation.

Likewise, those struggling with working overtime or having to educate their children might love to be able to have the time and facilities to be doing something good for themselves.  They probably see photos of people relaxing in the garden, or making “lasting family memories” that contrast heavily to the lack of harmony in their own homes, and start resenting their career choices or the fact they might not have as a great a relationship with their family as the people in the photos do.

They’d probably trade their career for time without hesitation.

I could go on with examples such as these; the reality is that this situation has confronted each of us with a myriad of different effects, issues and concerns.

Nobody should be made to feel that their approach is “wrong”.  This is an unprecedented situation.  There is no set of instructions to follow on how to cope with it, and there is no exam at the end from which you’ll be graded on what you did or didn’t do or learn.  The illness itself, and the social distancing, affect us all in very different ways.  Not only that, but the catastrophic, zig-zagged nature of it all make it even harder to deal with it in a consistent way.

One day you might be feeling really focused and complete a bunch of life admin and enjoy quality catch-ups with friends.  Other days you may just want to sit and sob and – as much you miss your family and friends – you simply may not have the energy to speak, even to them.

Both of those things are fine and natural.  This is not the time to have high levels of expectation.

The only approach which is universally “right” is the one which acknowledges the gravity of the situation and how it’s impacting within.  To accept that there will be up days and down days and to follow your feelings accordingly, gaining comfort from whatever you might feel at the time, whether that’s something with a clear purpose or focus, or just staring out the window counting leaves.

And to always keep in mind that it’s not the same for everybody, so perhaps think twice before believing that that meme, quote or inspirational speaker’s video will work for everybody else too.  Perhaps think twice for judging the ways in which other people are coping, and what they are choosing to do with the time, or assuming that they must have things better than you do.

We may all be experiencing the same pandemic, but the specific challenges dribbling down from it vary for us all and we are not always privy to what those are.  This is not a fair test.  To some this may seem a holiday; for others, most particularly those who have lost somebody to this horrendous virus, it’s a living hell.

Now is not the time to judge or to hold expectations; only a time to keep yourself safe, and keep an eye on those around you, as they all fight individual battles.

 

C-19 Internal Monologues Part 7: F-unfair

Recently, I haven’t felt the inclination to write as often as I did when the crisis first broke out, which I suppose is indicative that the situation has seemed to reach some kind of plateau.  We are still in lockdown and the numbers are still staggeringly high, but perhaps we are getting used to this now.  The adaptations we needed to make to our lives are becoming the “new routine”.

“Emotional roller-coaster” is a metaphor frequently used to describe the past few weeks for each of us.  There have been some very low points, but also plenty of encouraging examples of humankind and communities coming together.

Promptly followed-up by more low points.

Then more hope.

But the problem with roller-coasters, though, is that if you stay on them indefinitely, you will get dizzy, and sick.

Over thirty days into the official lock-down and myself – like many – are prone to feeling a little bit fed up.

That’s not to say we disagree with what we are doing and why we are doing it.  I would far rather remain in lock-down and get this sorted for good, than race out under a false start and experience thousands more needless deaths.

But, I am still getting a bit tired and a bit weary of being on the roller-coaster at all.  Especially when it’s one none of us needed to still be on; kept here by a mechanical fault that wasn’t inspected thoroughly enough before they opened up the fair to swathes of thrill-seekers. A failure to adhere to basic hygiene on the other side of the world, or a leaked experiment in a lab (or whatever theory you choose to believe.  My jury is out, to be honest.  All I know is that I’m extremely annoyed by whatever the source is).

Whatever you believe, this pandemic could – and should – have been avoided, and I think that is the most infuriating part about all of this.  Millions of people all over the world have sacrificed their lives, their jobs, their homes, their relationships and their mental health, for something that didn’t actually need to happen.

And I’m not sure any kind of penalty will ever be enough to atone for that.

And so yes, whilst on the whole we may be “coping”, whilst we may be keeping “strong” as we get used to our new normal, I think it’s critically important that every now and then, when we feel a little queasy from the many twists and turns, that we remind ourselves that we are experiencing a global trauma that will impact on each of us in very different ways, for years to come. And we didn’t need to be.  And so it’s perfectly okay to feel piffed off about it every now and then.  Even to cry about it.

I’m looking forward to whatever day we can finally get off this roller-coaster, and head towards something else at the fair which has much less motion.

The candyfloss stand would be perfect.

 

C-19 INTERNAL MONOLOGUES PART 6: I CAN’T WAIT

The news gets gloomier by the day.

Everything is still extremely shit and scary at the moment.  We saw a shocking figure which we thought might be our highest ever death toll per day.  And just as we were coming to terms with it, we had another few of them.  Some are saying that there’ll be more of them to come, too.  Triple figures are what we’re used to now.

Over the past few days we have also had to contend with the idea that the Prime Minister – the person upon whom we pin our hopes to navigate us through this – may not come out of intensive care (although now, since I started writing this, it’s looking more likely that he will).

Added to all of the other – ever multiplying – impacts of the pandemic, we really don’t have the brightest of backdrops at the moment, despite the sunny Easter weekend.  Unless we try and deploy some coping mechanisms, we will all cripple ourselves with fear and sadness.  I have a few coping mechanisms.  The “I can’t wait for-“ game is one, along with the “Lockdown made me crazily excited about-“ game.

They’re pretty self-explanatory titles, because lockdown is also pretty good at hanging the creative juices out to dry (ha, at least they can get out the flat for an afternoon I suppose).

I’ll probably share details of the “Lockdown made me crazily excited about-“ game when this thing has eventually passed and the items seem more ridiculous (for example, the first entry was about how excited I was to cook a swede for the first time.  It was the first time I used my new masher, too, and was the highlight of that particular Sunday) but for now, these are some of the things I can’t wait for:  

Obviously – and it’ll be the same for everyone – but I can’t wait to see my family, friends and the cat.  And to hug them as tight as I can without squeezing them to death… as that would be pretty ironic, and not the happiest reunion.

I also can’t wait until I can stroll around the town centre at leisure again, for absolutely no reason other than to swoon over the Georgian architecture and purchase a treat from a delicatessen.  A big fat caramelised onion sausage roll that tastes sweet, smoky and one hundred per cent non-essential should do it.

I can’t wait until I can go into a supermarket and eye up all the food with the freedom of time and space, and make conscientious decisions over whether to swipe left or right on particular items without having to worry about blockading the aisle.  A telltale sign of lockdown being over will be when we’re once again able to study the different flavours of KP dry roasted nut, and consider which to include among the Saturday night buffet we’re hosting for friends.  What a moment that will be.

I can’t wait until I can sit with friends in a corner of a cosy Faversham pub, laughing rapturously at something which maybe isn’t that funny, but which feels like it is in the frivolity of a “normal” day.  And somebody will return to the table with a round of drinks and packet of Scampi Fries for us all to snack on, before comparing tips on how best to fold up the empty wrapper afterwards.

I can’t wait until I’m popping open the lid of some neon treasure trove of Tupperware, whilst engaging in a colourful picnic on some freshly cut grass, on a fine Summer’s day.

I can’t wait until I’m able to drive myself into the heart of Kent and take myself on a stroll up and down some remote hills.  And immerse myself in the thrill and stinging nettles of getting lost whilst listening to some happy tunes.  And then be able sit down and sip some coffee from the thermos whilst taking in a panoramic view. For as long as I want.

I can’t wait until I’m sat on a train, whizzing somewhere beyond East Kent, sipping a large white Americano bought from the chirpy lady in the kiosk at the station, whilst watching distant fields roll by through the window.

I can’t wait until my intercom buzzes with the arrival of an actual guest (as opposed to a delivery driver).  A guest.  Who wants to come in to my flat.  And sit on the sofa.  And drink a coffee from one of my mugs.  And use the loo.
Please!  Just do as much as you want here in Chateau du ShittinghellI’veonlyhadmyselfforcompanyforthreemonthsandshe’sprettyannoying.  I might just stand in the corner maintaining 2 metres distance and stare at you in awe for the first hour, but please don’t let it make you feel uncomfortable.

I can’t wait to be able to go back to the beach and take a paddle on a Summer evening.  I think by then, I won’t even care about the uncomfortable pebbles or seaweed.  Will happily decorate myself with the latter if it means being able to swim.

I can’t wait to be able to have a polite conversation with a passing stranger in the street without it feeling entirely awkward for both of us.  To be able to look somebody in the eye whilst speaking to them, and not having to fret or worry about how far breath travels.

…Isn’t it telling that most of these are things easily taken for granted in the past?  Maybe many of us are learning that actually, we already had everything we needed.

I can’t wait to appreciate all of these things – and everything else I’m missing – again.  More than ever before.

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View of Faversham as seen during a recent one-daily-exercise.  Visible towards the right of the centre is the unmistakable lattice spire of St Mary’s parish church.  

C-19 INTERNAL MONOLOGUES PART 5: HEROES AND VILLAINS

The second week of lockdown:

There are times when you see the lighter and brighter side of it all – like the opportunity to pause and reflect, and catch up with friends and family – and then times when the gravity of it all concusses you with anxiety, fear, and that general gobsmacked, sicky feeling which makes you feel guilty for even entertaining the positive side when so many others can’t.

In the past week I’ve looked at the news more often than I think is healthy.  Each time I’ve read the headlines – which seem to have got scarier with each passing day – I’ve experienced that exact feeling, and felt a sense of helplessness.  We are all beginning to accept that the road to recovery from all of this is going to be very long indeed.  Longer than we may have originally anticipated.

Whenever I’ve checked the news I’ve semi-wished I hadn’t, but I do believe it’s important to know what this situation really looks like beyond the comfort of the sunlight-drenched kitchen and coffee tables which I look at every day.  It’s easy to become lost within a bubble whilst in quarantine, and in many ways that’s a good coping mechanism, but to lose sight of the bigger picture of what’s happening right now surely feels disrespectful to all those who can’t – the thousands of front line key-workers, and the victims, and all of their families, who have to face up to the brutal reality of this situation every single day, and just carry on.

There were a couple of photos that struck me in particular this week.  The first was of a dozen or so body bags in the back of a refrigerated truck in the U.S, and the second was of the funeral of a thirteen year-old victim.  I thought about the people in the truck and how only a couple of weeks ago they were probably planning for the future and dreaming about what they wanted to do when we finally awake from this really bad dream.  And how suddenly they vanished.  I thought about how they would have had to have died alone; no option to hold the hand of a loved one as they set off to sleep.  I thought about how degrading it is for the final image of somebody to be of them in an anonymous bright orange bag on a truck.  And then I felt angry at the press for taking a picture of this.  But then I thought, “Actually, maybe we do need to see this…”

I tried to think about how it must feel to lose somebody to the coronavirus.  To not be able to say goodbye.  To not even be able to go to their funeral – or, to be able to go, but not be able to hug your fellow mourner. To know your loved one died alone.  To feel like they were ripped apart from you by an illness that should never have grown to this scale.  A really unnecessary illness, originating from filthy practice.

We think this situation is tough because we can’t see our loved ones and we worry about money and not being able to buy eggs and losing things – yes, all be some of them big – but for thousands of others this situation is so much tougher – a game of life or death with each passing day.

When – eventually – things do return to some degree of normality, I hope that we don’t forget just who the heroes were during this time.  The ones out there fighting to save as many lives as they can whilst endangering their own – and those of their family – by doing so.  I love that we all clap our hands at 8pm on a Thursday to thank them, but I hope this gratitude lives long beyond the lifespan of the virus.

And I also hope we don’t forget who the villains were.  Billionaire business owners who are treating their staff appallingly whilst they self-isolate in the comfort of their private yachts and islands.  Citizens who are (still) laughing in the face of the social distancing rules  by hanging around in groups because they don’t care about anybody else.  Celebrities who are desperately finding ways to make the situation about them because they’re finally realising how pointless they are.  People on social media (usually found within local resident groups) who are using all this additional time at the computer to have petty arguments with people online about who really owns a particular footpath.

We won’t forget you beyond the lifespan of the virus, either.

 

COVID 19 Internal Monologues Part 4: Live TV

Any moment now, the end credits will surely begin to roll and we will have that moment of realisation where we simultaneously understand not only the script but the subliminal meaning behind it.

An advert proclaiming the powers of Veet EasyWax will appear and bring you crashing back to a sense of normality after an hour transfixed to your screen, and your partner or friend or whomsoever is with you at the time will alight from the sofa, picking up the bowl of Dorito crumbs for washing, and say:

“That was pretty realistic wasn’t it?  I’m going to have bad dreams tonight.  It’s crazy what technology and special effects can do these days”

You’ll have been watching a programme – of the Black Mirror ilk – in which an invisible virus that takes days to manifest, originates from a seafood market in a distant land and then – within a matter of days – brings an entire planet to its knees.  Thousands of lives will be lost.  Business will stop.  Economies across the world will crash.  Everybody, everywhere will be barely able to leave their homes.    Even world leaders will not be spared, our Prime Minister tested positive today.

All the things we normally take for granted will suddenly be the things we dream of once again.  Automated, annual social media memories will fill us with an envy for the past, and the times we could meet a friend for a drink, or ramble among the countryside for hours on end only to finish up with a pint and Sunday roast.

I even find myself missing being sat stuck in rush-hour traffic on the A249, thinking about the leftover stir-fry I plan to re-heat for dinner when I eventually get home.  It did have a nice sauce, afterall.

There will be a great number of lessons from all of this, surely, and we are only starting to learn them.  I would hesitate to think whether we have graduated beyond the Beginner stage yet.  I hope so, but looking at the news, I’m not so sure.

Either way this is still just feeling very, very strange.

Hey – you – can you do me a favour, and try pressing the “TV Guide” button on your remote, so that we can see what else is on?

I fancy something a bit more upbeat.  Those endless repeats of Only Fools & Horses I normally avoid or something.  Paris Hilton’s maudlin search for a new best friend. Or anything whatsoever on the Smithsonian Channel.

COVID 19 Internal Monologues Part 3: Escaping the Supermarket, and the Stroll

21st and 22nd March 2020 (two days before Lockdown)

I’ve changed my mind about supermarkets.

The other day I was quite excited about them, because they are still a surefire way to see people after spending the rest of the day alone.

Now they just terrify me.  Not everybody appears to be adhering to this concept of social distancing, and you’re more likely to see those uncooperative people in supermarkets, because those are essentially the only place people can congregate still.

I needed to buy some bits for my parents in Tesco.  I had to spend an hour or so psyching myself up to do so before marching into the store in my disposable latex gloves, snood (who would’ve known the Action Challenge branded freebie from the 50km walking challenge in the Cotswolds 2018 would have come in so useful!) and sunglasses.  A trio of people standing near the entrance looked at me in disgust as I wiped down my trolley with a Dettol wipe, “The world’s gone maaaaaaad” said one lady, in a Marge Simpson-meets-rusty-washboard voice that sounded like she smokes fifty fags a day.

I did feel slightly embarrassed by her shaming, but didn’t let her words get to me too much.  I had only to witness other shoppers coughing and sneezing, and kids running around touching stuff, to know that I was doing the right thing by erring on the side of caution, even though in many ways it might’ve seemed a bit overkill.  I don’t like to automatically distrust people, because most people are good and taking care right now; but when this virus stands to harm so many, my view is that you just have to treat yourself as a carrier, and treat strangers as though they are all carriers too, and keep your distance accordingly.

Coming out of the supermarket, I felt something similar to when you’ve overestimated your ability to hold your breath whilst diving down into a swimming pool, and face a long, desperate rise to the surface.  I knew when by the bread that I was at the furthest point of the store to be able to retreat back out from.  The question was – how to avoid the various perils I may encounter en-route – the coughers, the touchers, the sneezers and the wheezers.  Those who should be isolating, and the invisibles with the bug awaiting.  Gaming metaphors seem to be the trend here, and this particular moment felt like Frogger.  Or that curly copper wire thing you used to pay to try at school bazaars, usually manned by a grumpy looking girl, where you had to run the loop on a stick across it without touching the wire.  If you did, it would emit a sound that would simultaneously perforate your eardrums whilst making you leap back in terror.  In this instance, that sound is the coronavirus.

Later on, I took myself on a long, solitary walk around the town, but keeping away from the centre to help ensure I was sufficiently distanced.   As a result of this I experienced parts of Faversham I’ve never felt before, and walked down streets I’ve never before been down, like the residential roads over towards Bysing Wood, and out towards the church at Ospringe, returning home via the nearby paddocks that take you back on to the London Road.   The town glowed in the hazy springtime sun, evoking memories of Saturday afternoons as a child; celebrating the return of longer days and better weather by spending longer in the garden.  There was something incredibly peaceful about acknowledging this; a welcome juxtaposition to the chaos of everything else.  It felt relaxing; almost a way of making peace with the situation.  I relished the opportunity to see somewhere new too; even though it wasn’t far from home.  “Could this be one of the only gifts Covid 19 brings us?” I thought to myself, “a new way of looking things and appreciating what’s closest to home”.

I enjoyed the stroll and subsequent thoughts so much, that the following day – Sunday – I took myself on another walk in the opposite direction.  The craze with which this situation develops each day makes me wonder whether the opportunity to do even a walk may soon come to an end, so I was determined to get a big long nature fix whilst I still could.  I stuck to the desolate footpaths near the polytunnel farms (sorry dad, I still don’t know what’s growing inside them, in spite of this unexpected close-up inspection) and over towards Graveney before coming back along the railway line.  For a couple of hours, all seemed good with the world.  The rapeseed was out and glowing its bright yellow magic into the world.  Trees swayed smoothly in a light breeze.  Most incredible of all, were the number of bunny rabbits hopping about in front of me.  I can’t remember the last time I saw so many.

A Southeastern train passed by and I gave the driver a wave.  He waved back.  And that was pretty much the extent of my physical contact with anybody else today.

And it felt so important.  It felt so needed.

I took a look into the train and – unsurprisingly – saw carriages full of empty seats.  It won’t surprise me if they suspend the rail services soon.  An empty train splicing it’s way through the Kent countryside does nothing for our environment and for our fight as a nation to get through this battle.

But a simple wave back does make a girl feel less alone.

It really is the little things.

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COVID 19 Internal Monologues Part 2: The Town Centre and The Supermarket

**Basically a live stream of an internal monologue which is not designed to make a great deal of sense, because nothing about the current situation does**

After another bizarre day of not seeing anybody in the flesh until post-5pm – but having plenty of work-related phone-calls at a kitchen table ordinarily associated only with meals and personal gatherings – I begin to get extremely excited about the fact I have a letter to post. Excited, yet also somewhat dubious.

On one hand, I get to go outside! And there’ll be people there. And I rarely see those now.

On the other hand, I have to go outside. And there’ll be people there. And I have to avoid those now.

I walk and post the letter – envying the envelope’s travel plans – and carry on into the town centre. The charming Guildhall building on the square is lit up – as it usually is – but the cobbled pavements which surround it are completely empty. Nobody is stumbling out of the pubs after a few Shepherd Neame specials like they usually are, and I almost miss the cursing and burping usually overheard at this point. Benches are vacant. Restaurants remain lit up, but the view inside is just of a set of plain brown squares which represent empty tables.

The only people I see are dog-walkers, joggers or those who – like myself – are out alone running an errand. I pass them – but keep well away. It feels very rude.

In this town, we usually say hello to strangers when we pass.

But today we don’t, because we’re keeping too wide a berth, veering out into the road to avoid passing too close on the pavement.

It’s heartbreaking. But we just have to do it. Fight now, and celebrate later.

In the midst of the feelings of despair and fear that have dominated the last few days, I walk down Abbey Street.

Abbey Street. A place I usually just associate with my jogging route and tipsy walks to (and especially from) The Anchor pub. Abbey Street – the most iconic street in Faversham. Houses that have been there for more than century. Houses whose timber frames represent so much more than an historic method of construction. As I pass I imagine all the occupants of the past, generations who experienced times much worse than this – like the first and second world wars – but who fought through it. Who survived. Who morphed their challenges into the creation of stronger communities. Much like we will, once all of this is done.

And then I get closer to Tesco and suddenly I feel a sense of excitement akin to the one when you arrive at a friend’s house and know that in a moment’s time, you’ll be greeting somebody you care about. Or when you’ve been walking across remote countryside for hours and then stumble upon a pub full of people. Right now, the supermarket is the extent of your mingling with the outside world. The neon signs may as well be flashing in the manner of a ritzy club, denoting the lure of socialising.

The pubs might be empty of people, but the supermarkets aren’t. The one place at the moment where you’re guaranteed to see people and not feel alone. Comforting, but also mildly terrifying. A Dodgem experience where you literally do want to dodge them, and shudder at the thought of coming too close, but which you also feel a strange sense of excitement by.

A man seems to follow a similar route around the shop to me, distracted by a video call to a woman who is unknowingly announcing to all else within the Easter egg vicinity of the shop that, “Tonahht we’re playin a gaaaaaaame!!!!!”. The man chuckles.

The laws of social distancing mean that his presence unnerves me. I fear the distraction of his call means he’s not really thinking about where he’s walking. I skip away from him – past the juices – and whilst en-route bank the observation that Prosecco is on offer for £6 a bottle.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of times I consider that information over the next twelve weeks. Good to know. Useful to put into practise.

I’d seen on social media that the supermarkets were lacking in supplies. I couldn’t believe it to be real as all had seemed okay as recently as last Friday, when I’d last been in one, but it was. No bread. No pasta. No eggs. No beer. A multitude of empty green crates where the fresh produce usually lives. You know you’re living in apocalyptical times when you have to embrace the fact that there was a severe yearning for every single cucumber that was recently in that box. Usually when I buy a cucumber, it’s pretty much a game of Jenga – trying to ensure that the one I remove doesn’t offset the rest into rolling around in chaos. Now it’s just a game of Blind Man’s Buff with no ending.

There will be many things we take away from this period of time, but the importance of supermarket staff will be right up there with the rest. They don’t have the blessing to be able to work from the safety of home right now but they carry on and smile regardless. Regardless of the fact there’ll be no respite for them anytime soon. Regardless of the fact that their public-facing roles put them in more danger of catching the virus than those of us who just get to stare at our kitchen tables all day. They just carry on smiling, doing what current escalating need dictates.

And when supermarkets are pretty much the extent of your social life, that is so, so important.

COVID 19 Internal Monologues Part 1: The Encounter

**Basically a live stream of an internal monologue which is not designed to make a great deal of sense, because nothing about the current situation does**

Last Sunday, I was planning to spend Wednesday evening at my elderly parents’ house for dinner and an overnight stay.  I had some reservations over whether or not it was totally safe to do so, but wondered if I was just being too paranoid.  I believed that by taking all relevant precautions, it would be okay.  After all, I have been washing my hands increasingly frequently, have avoided crowds, hugs and touching my face, and have no symptoms.  It’s fiiiiine.  They need the company and so do I.

On Monday, I decided against it.  My parents asked me not to go.  Not worth the risk.  What if I sat on their sofa whilst wearing clothes that somebody in passing might have coughed towards in recent days, their droplets caught in the fibers?  What if my parents then sat down on the same sofa, and then touched their face some time later?  Just not worth it.  Instead I’ll just pop round, drop off their milk (as they are advised to avoid supermarkets and don’t have the confidence in online shopping to take that route), pick up my parcel and come back home.  That’ll still be useful.  That’s still contact.

On Tuesday I wasn’t sure if I could even do that.  Leave them a bottle of milk? That I bought in the supermarket, that I touched?  That other people possibly touched too?  What if the person stacking the shelves had COVID 19? What if the person behind the till had COVID 19?  What if a customer who had COVID 19 touched the bottle whilst picking up their own. What if I have COVID 19?  I may not know for another fourteen days, none of the people listed above would. But my parents still need milk.  And they can’t go out and buy it for themselves because they fall under one of the groups identified as high risk by the government – both over seventy and my dad with high blood pressure – though you wouldn’t know it.

On Wednesday, after my third (of possibly thirty, or three hundred, who knows) days alone in the flat working from home, I’m driving to my parents’ house wearing a pair of pink washing up gloves I’ve owned since moving in here, but have never had reason to use.  Today they’re finally presenting their real value, because the door handle to my block of flats might be smeared with COVID 19 unknowingly placed there by another resident.  Then I’d touch the bags containing the milk.  Then they’d touch those bags, and then touch the bottle of milk when opening it.  So perhaps, for the best, I’ll wear the gloves and we’ll just leave the items in the garage for a day so the germs have time to die out.  But that’s maybe not even enough time.  And then… what do you do about the items that need refrigerating?  Maybe you just have to spray the packaging with Dettol.  And handle it with gloves until you do.

That’s as granular as my brain’s understanding of this shit game of Tetris can make the process right now, but after another few government press conferences and horrendous headlines, perhaps we’ll find ways to break it down even more.  We are still in the early days.  I know that.   It’ll get much harder before it gets even slightly easier.

I pull up outside the front door of what was my home for many years and knock, then spring away.  My parents answer the door.  There they are, in real life.  It may have only been a few days, but in the gravity of the situation I feel like a teenage girl who is finally seeing her favourite popstars on stage having previously only ever seen them on Top of the Pops or in magazines.  I want to give them both a hug and a kiss more than anything in the world, but I can’t.  It could maybe kill them.  It seemed far fetched last week.  Today much less so.

We exchange bags whilst maintaining a two metre distance from one another at all times, circling back and forth like two magnets repelling one another.

I look through the window into the living room to see my beloved cat, Scampi, fast asleep, oblivious to what’s going on in the world.  The fact that all they ever do is go on walks, eat, sleep and don’t have to worry about money or pandemics has meant that I’ve often wished I was a cat.

Today even more so.

“Coronavirus?  Meow. What’s that.  I’m having tuna tonight, and I’m overjoyed about that.” (Scampi’s internal monologue)

I drive away from the house as quickly as I arrived because the sight of my mum’s tears and the parents I love and worry about but whom I can’t hug is crippling me.  The former home I can’t even step into.

But, crippling me even more is the guilt for feeling the way I do, because I am one of the very lucky ones.  I can see my parents.  They live nearby.  They are still alive.  They have one another.  What gives me the right, at all, to be upset, when so many others have it far worse:  those with no remaining family, those who live far away from their families, those currently experiencing domestic abuse and for whom 14 days of quarantine is a terrifying prospect, those frantically working out how to pay their next bills in the wake of an economic crash, those with huge underlying health concerns already.   I could be here a while.

I am so cross with myself for crying, but the inner child within me needs me to do it and get it out my system.  To recognise that despite the blessings, the situation which we all face at the moment is still incredibly shit.

This is a mad time and it’s still only the early stages.