In Captivity: The Mirror and the Light at the End of the Tunnel.

In Captivity: The Mirror and the Light at the End of the Tunnel.

My alternative title for the last volume of the story that’s filled my days and nights these past few weeks. I’m regretting deciding to go back to the start with Hilary Mantel and Thomas Cromwell. I got to like Thomas at the beginning, which is undoubtedly what she intended. Mind you, there’s not much competition. The members of the aristocracy were a right shower, duplicitous, scheming, self-serving, rude and misogynist and that’s just the good ones. The senior clergy were a mixed bag to say the least: grasping, dishonest, incelibate, indelicate and often overly pious.  It stirs up feelings that echo the brief time in my life many years ago when I flirted with watching East Enders until I realised they were all really horrid to one another and it was, by turns, troubling and annoying. Apologies to all devotees of East Enders, I’m sure there’s more to it.  

The only likeable characters are in Thomas’s household. But I’m going off him a bit now. He was quite a piece of work, after all.  But maybe I’m just jaded by the pages and pages of intrigue and unpleasantness interspersed with lengthy descriptions of incidental objects – like the long paragraph on plums I read the other night. Utterly gorgeous prose but it’s all just sooooo long! 80 pages to go and it does feel as if there’s light at the end of the tunnel and I am trudging towards it now with tired eyes and repetitive strain of the wrists. Maybe tomorrow, if I don’t let myself get too distracted.

Getting distracted has been a fact of lockdown life. It seems to sit against a background of unsettled-ness. In a conversation yesterday, I described it as an ‘in-between’ feeling, between feeling good/content and feeling bad/sad. Neither one nor the other but with a sense of both. Describing this to myself as being distracted, implies that if I could focus on something, be purposeful, I would chase away the in-between feelings. Probably they would subside for a while as I busied myself with something else. But the in-betweens wouldn’t really be gone; deep down they’d still be there. That’s the thing. The being unsure creeps into so many places.

And all the while, I’m trying hard not to be too angry. Doing this by mostly avoiding the news; a bare minimum so my head isn’t buried in the sand but not so much that I’m completely submerged. I might have to spend some time focusing on the anger just so it doesn’t go away, knowing that that sometimes happens when strange becomes the new normal.

It rained last Thursday afternoon and most of Friday. It was almost a shock, as if something was terribly wrong. Which, of course, it is. These days filled with sunshine have been like a reprieve from the trials of the world, a sort of consolation. Magical thinking. I had it in my head that the sunshine would see me through this time of confinement. Not that I mind the rain. The garden needs it and it was encouragement to be inside and to reorganise my study. Displacement activity in a very literal sense. But it did me good to set to a physical task, to make a change in my small world, see how I could have an impact. 

The light at the end of the garden

Speaking of weather, I seem to check out my internal meteorological chart every day and, on some days, several times. Part of that is physical but mostly I’m asking a question: How am I bearing up? It’s as if I need to take a reading of my personal barometric pressure, cast an inner eye around my body to check for anything unusual or sinister. I’m not sure what I think would happen if I didn’t do this.

Life is changing for a while. Maybe a long while. Maybe the biggest change will be not being able to do things as spontaneously as before. Plan, risk assess, accept some limits. The prospect is hard to contemplate – how to safeguard and nurture friendships, for example, when we can’t spend time together in the same space, feel each other’s breath on our necks as we embrace.  

Meanwhile, a major choice is shortly, happily upon me: What to read next?

  • Chris Kelly
    Posted at 12:09h, 22 April Reply

    If you want to escape la Mantell and get into a few “lower brow” books I heartily recommend James Lee Burke and Phillip Kerr as authors for you to explore. I am now in week 4 of house arrest and managing to stay reasonably sane (always based on my baseline, which is not necessarily text book sanity!). We miss having the choice to see friends and family. Living down here it always requires prior planning but it is the absence of planning which disturbs – the next holiday, the next visit to Teddington or Esher, even the next roof down excursion in the Mazda. I had not thought of it like this previously but planning ahead is an expression of hope and of intent. I hope to be here to enjoy these future events and I intend to be here to do so.
    Love to you both from deepest Devon. PS, lovely photo!

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