As the weeks roll by, I don’t find lockdown any less odd. It’s like being on holiday in an open prison. Lots of activities, but no visitors, and an hour for exercise. I have gone for lots of walks, probably more walks than I have been on for the past twenty years, because up till now I have always thought the notion of just going for a walk faintly quaint, maybe very slightly sad, unlike the idea of going for a run, which is just alarming.
The press is full of discussions about how the way we live is going to be permanently transformed. We are going to be kinder, more thoughtful, more socially aware. We will love the NHS even more than we did before (to quote Conway Twitty) and we will not allow the homeless to lie on the streets again once they emerge from their empty hotels. Well, I hope all this proves to be the case, but, Lord, please let things get back to normal soon. I need restaurants and cinemas and art galleries and bookshops and to be able to get on a bus into town without worrying about dying, at least worrying even more than I do anyway, which, as you will shortly read, is quite enough.
It is extraordinary how much time I can faff away. No matter how early I rise, I manage to fritter and dicker and dilly away until say, 11am. It takes a morning to buy a baguette, an afternoon to make a phone call. I am meant to be writing a book. I have achieved about as much of that as I was doing back in Normal Times, when I had four things in my diary per day. But the garden is lovely, and the house is clean and the ukulele…my goodness, the ukulele. I have nearly mastered ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’, which was, I thought, quite beyond me. I look forward to the evenings to come when a few intimate friends will come round and I will perform, say, 17 or 18 of my favourite numbers, the selection limited by the difficulty of moving quickly from ‘F’ to ‘G’, a sequence, which, sadly, rules out a great many songs. There will, I imagine, be no better way of ensuring social distancing….
I have also, for the first time in my life, baked a cake. In fact I have baked two cakes and a set of cookies (white chocolate, rhubarb and ginger, gooey through and through). All of these have been good, and I feel I have found a new role in life. Prior to my being told I had elevated blood sugar, my vocation was to eat cake, a job which I took about as seriously as helping to run a major school. Doughnuts matter to me, as I observed once at school assembly. But I have not had a doughnut in eight months, or a slice of Victoria sponge. Fortuitously, the last Victoria sponge I ate was made by Addie Mort, and it was the best Victoria sponge of my life. I nearly cried. So I know that nothing would be the same anyway, and I certainly will not be trying out my novice baking skills on that hallowed ground. But this week I shall make a ginger cake, and choc chip cookies, and allow myself only a crumb or two. The week after, I will attempt raisin bar, something which my mother, who was a good baker, made often, and which I adored back then.
And I have gone back to playing SongPop, an addictive app game which comes in two forms. In one, you play in a league against four people at a time, in timed competitions. I have now won the league twice on 1960’s music, with 128 people playing internationally in the last one. When I was 12 in 1967 (I know, I know, how well I am wearing…) pop music was my raison d’etre – as opposed to my mother’s cake which was my raisin d’etre. Tee hee. And now it all floods back as I distinguish, in two seconds, between the Marvellettes and the Velvelettes, which for many people would be like finding a needle in a haystack….
In the other game, you play against one other person, and often I play against Frances in Great Yarmouth. I like Great Yarmouth, not too far from my brother’s country pile. Mr F and I, on one happy occasion accompanied by my nephew Andrew, go there to play crazy golf and the antiquated ‘horsey’ game where your horse progresses only if you roll balls into the proper holes. We also used to eat proper fried doughnuts…sigh. This all makes me like Frances, whose tiny picture appears when I play her. I guess she is much my age, grey and smiling. She plays very accurately, but slowly, and comes back time and time again to be beaten, and is, thus, in my book a good sport. She plays SongPop, I imagine, between Skype calls to her grandchildren, who she will be missing. If I could, I would send her a cake.
All this is fine, but my goodness, my hypochondria is raging. As of today I imagine I have any number of illnesses, none of them anything to do with Covid. I see myself as one of these people who isn’t contacting the NHS, to avoid burdening them, and who will succumb accordingly, and then I remember people are actually dying, some of them people I knew. All while the sun is shining, and the birds are singing, and it’s time to bake or see if Frances has answered my challenge. If not, I will pick up my ukulele and get started on ‘Me and Bobby McGee’.