16 May The bathroom floor and other stories
The bathroom floor is giving me dirty looks. Is it a couple of weeks since I was down there? Could be longer I realise, with a little flushing of my cheeks and an echo of my mother’s voice in my ear. How long I can’t remember. Keeping tabs on the passage of time is proving strangely difficult. Days follow one another but not in quite the same way as they used to. Fewer punctuation marks in the sentences of weeks and the paragraphs of months. I’m not complaining. But the bathroom floor is suffering. Any grubbiness merges almost invisibly with the pale greyish of the long porcelain tiles manufactured to look exactly like planks of limed wood. Clever, those Italians. But when the afternoon sunlight comes through the window this time of year, you can definitely see there’s a patina of days and feet grafted onto the porcelain.
The urge to clean that came upon me in the early days of confinement was short-lived. Don’t misunderstand me here, standards remain generally high and there’s obviously still a lot of extravagant washing of anything that comes into the house. Anti-viral hygiene is getting all the attention it should. But that spirit of devotional cleaning that marked out the first week or two and was accompanied by whispered resolutions to self about following a proper weekly cleaning regime has evaporated. Clean gone, you might say! The novelty has worn off. It brings to mind learning to play the piano; the novelty was swiftly eased by the bitter disappointment that doing my scales would be a ritual, relentless feature of piano practice. Daily. Weekly. Forever.
Speaking of piano, our new keyboard is due to arrive at any moment. It’s more than 20 years since I played regularly and my husband dimly recalls a few unenthusiastic lessons when he was a child sufficient to remember that there’s something called ‘Middle C’ but a degree of uncertainty about the purpose of the black keys! I came across some of the sheet music I used to play while pursuing one of my other early urges of lockdown, sorting out the boxes in the loft. The music was in amongst the old school photos, the hockey scrapbook, history essays, all the clobber of a life, the autobiography of objects that it takes you a while to be able to part with. I don’t know if that loft-clearing urge came from the same place as the urge to clean (time-filling combined with a misplaced optimism that this would all be over soon) or was an unconscious response to the sound of the virus knocking on the door of my mortality (eek, I’d better check there’s nothing incriminating I might leave behind!). In any case, I’d completely forgotten that I’d kept some sheet music and felt a tingle of nostalgia creep into my fingertips and a yen to have the smooth keys under them again. Though I have it in mind to extend my repertoire beyond the odd familiar sonata and an occasional fantasia to take in some, I don’t know, jazz perhaps? My husband has always wanted to play an instrument or learn another language. Now he’s made his choice – though I fear he’ll discover that learning the piano is actually a bit like learning another language – strange alphabet, some awkward pronunciation. The keyboard initiative may just be a fad, a reaching for some new distraction to pep up the days to come. Fulfilling a lifelong ambition that’s never quite been burning fiercely enough to be pursued before. Ah, well. So long as he doesn’t sing…
Around 3 a.m. seems to be the best time to get a grocery delivery slot. During an uncharacteristic sleepless night this week I spent an hour online ordering groceries, bread flour and new frying pans. Flour for bread making is in short supply because every other household has taken up the sourdough challenge. Uff – parvenus! But in the middle of the night I managed to sneak into the online mill-shop and order 5kg of light rye. The frying pans could have waited until daylight as I doubt John Lewis is on the verge of running out but I was in the groove; sleep was a remote possibility given the excitement of the other two unexpected successes and I suddenly felt that replacing the aged pans that bloom with the aroma of cumin every time I put them on the stove had become very urgent indeed.
Speaking of aromas, the garden continues to burst its way towards summer and out there I manage to maintain some of the devotional zeal that has fallen away so dramatically in the cleaning department. I worried that the birch was in the grip of some arboreal version of COVID-19 as some of its leaves have been turning yellow and falling to the ground. It’s struggling, poor thing, with the heat and the long dry period through April. I discover that it has this magical way of coping with that pressure by letting go some of its leaves so it can support what’s left. Clever stuff. I’ve taken to watering it every other night, muttering to it out loud with words of encouragement and hoping for rain. The ginkgo, on the other hand, looks like it’s a lost cause. I moved it to the front of the house last November and all seemed well. It put out early shoots several weeks ago but has stalled since before Easter and those promising shoots have shrivelled into dry brown bumps. No amount of watering seems to be making any difference. More difficult to talk to it and cajole it back to life. People passing by the house might justifiably think I’d lost the plot. It feels cruelly symbolic to lose this little beauty right now.
I get a weekly photo-bunch of flowers from my daughter, fresh from the walled garden in Brockwell Park where she is observing spring unfold into summer. Here’s this week’s bouquet filled with irises – my favourite flower. A flower of the moment, named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow, it speaks to the pictures of rainbows in living-room windows paying tribute to the NHS.
By the way, I’m still in captivity and still counting the weeks but, given how this situation is stretching into the future, I decided to break with those recurring titles for my posts. They were starting to bore me. Back to picking whatever comes into my head. Fragments of daily life hopefully rich in detail and easily relatable!
Off to clean the bathroom floor now before the sun moves across the sky.