28 Mar In Captivity: Week 2
More zealous cleanliness. 5 litres of chlorine arrived last Saturday. It’s the stuff people use in swimming pools and 5 litres was the smallest quantity I could find. Someone ‘in the know’ mentioned it and I googled to find that a 1:100 dilution with water makes hydrochlorous acid and is the best health-grade, anti-viral disinfectant. Whaddya know? So, the lavender-hued plant spray bottle has been hauled out of the garden shed and put into service on the front line of the domestic self-defence corps. A full bottle of water with ¼ teaspoon of chlorine does the trick, it seems. The things one learns. The 5 litres will last till eternity… Whatever that is.
I wondered if I was over-reacting. It began to feel a little OTT, I must admit, between ordering the stuff and its arrival. My sense of utter urgency subsided a bit as my contact with the outside world dwindled to almost nothing and the new domestic regimes became embedded in daily life; following them helped quell the moments of anxiety even before the chlorine landed on the doorstep. That’s the thing, though, the difficulty in trusting one’s judgement. I’m caught sometimes by a surge of self-doubt. Have I done enough? Have I done it properly? Takes me back to the uncertainties of childhood: the not being quite sure about what’s right and what’s wrong, the should and the shouldn’t, what you’re allowed to do and what not. The virus feels a little like being back in that time when the world of adults was beyond understanding, its hidden power could catch you out, harm you or, if you’re lucky and careful and do as you’re told, leave you alone. Perhaps I’m revealing too much about myself here. But if not now…?
Till Tuesday I was walking most days, alone or with a friend at 2 metres distance. The sun has shone all week, something both welcome and ironic. The blue skies make you feel that everything is right with the world. The irony? – need I say?
This picture was Monday in Home Park where Henry VIII used to ride and hunt. He’d been doing a bit of that in my mind’s eye over the last few mornings of last weekend as I reached the end of Wolf Hall and picked up its darker sequel readying myself for Bring up the Bodies. The title, of course, is desperately unfortunate. I’m half way through now and I can report that there have been no deaths from plague or the annual sickness, at least not in and around court. However, Anne B has just been whisked off to the Tower to start her self-isolation along with some of her supposed lovers and brutal deaths will follow. It’s not a happy ever after story.
Back to the walks. Gradually, you could see that people were adjusting, taking care to keep their distance. At the same time, they were making more effort to greet one another, to engage with a word or a friendly look and a smile. This doesn’t normally happen down here in the crowded southeast. People usually ignore one another, occupy their own space perhaps plugged into earphones, walk past either wordlessly or while chattering into their phones. It’s a sad fact but one that we have all got used to and come to accept. Until now. Another irony, this time a welcome one: social distancing is making people more aware, more attentive to each other. Kinder.
On Monday night the calculus changed in my head as everyone was urged to take the next step in withdrawing from the world. Captivity has intensified. House and garden. Exercise regimes reinvented. Running up the stairs several times a day – in theory at least. Weights at hand in the kitchen to lift and lower while the kettle boils. Often hilarious classes transferred to a screen. Windows into the front rooms or kitchens of people one knows only on a Wednesday lunchtime in a church hall down the road. The intimacy quotient suddenly increased.
It’s been busy. Strangely, unexpectedly, time flies. I arrange to meet a friend online for a coffee. Our conversation is different. Where often we have dwelt on arrangements or events, since all our diaries are empty we find new things to discuss. The conversations deepen, exploring territory we have tended to avoid in the past, not necessarily on purpose, just through the habits of our time to be preoccupied with some of the superficial things that feel more important than they really are. Now we reach into fears and anxieties, challenges and regrets, hopes and dreams. We try to balance for one another the negative and the positive. We take heart from the recognition that some benefits come from stepping away from ‘life as normal’ for a while. We give each other the time we now have plentifully to give, we listen more, get to know one another better. That will not be undone. That’s a gift.
Meanwhile, in the garden, nature is in recovery mode. I can hear more birdsong. I know it’s partly because this is the season for busy nesting. But it is more than that. The other sounds that crowd out the birds – the traffic, the trains on the London loop line that we can just hear in the middle distance, the planes coming into Heathrow that, depending on the weather and the wind I suppose, sometimes cross the skies near us – those have fallen quieter. There is more silence. We are promised more butterflies this year. Maybe more bees. There are joys to anticipate.
And on Thursday night there was the applause. Neighbours emerging onto their doorsteps to take part. Clapping for the NHS, for the carers. In a time when we can’t touch one another, it was touching in that intangible way.