Jane Wenham-Jones on another week of Lockdown…
First published in the Isle of Thanet News of Friday 1st May 2020
Today I should have been at Chiplitfest – the Chipping Norton Literary Festival – interviewing Kirsty Wark and Dan Jarvis MP. Instead, I hammer on my son’s door to remind him it is Housework Day. He emerges blearily, clamps on headphones and grasps the hoover as if going into battle. I am left to tackle the rest. It comes to something when the highlight of the weekend is unpacking one’s new steam mop. (Handy Household Tip: it beats the hell out of a squeegee and bucket.)
Concerned that I will emerge from Lockdown with multiple chins and an arse the size of Westgate, I set up some improvised “circuit training”. The inflatable ball is in the hall; the weights, yoga mat and resistance bands across the sitting room; the twister board and vibrating “horse” in our tiny sun-lounge, and the mini trampoline out in the garden. As my son observes (clearly imagining he is being amusing), I own a lot of gym equipment for someone who doesn’t exercise.
In retaliation, I arm myself with the kitchen timer and make him do it too.
“All Change!” I bellow, after five minutes doing arm-lifts on the bottom stair, before switching to the second-hand cross-trainer that required four beefy chaps to carry it into the house and which can never be shifted again. “If we do this three times a week,” I pant, when the final buzzer has gone off, “we will feel amazing.”
The next morning, my son is complaining he’s pulled a muscle in his shoulder and I can’t walk at all.
It’s not just Chipping Norton that’s festival-less. Here we’ve had to postpone our BroadstairsLit events too.
By way of a small substitution, I do an online interview with the mega-selling novelist Clare Mackintosh, to be shown when she was due to appear, on 25th June.
When the Zoom screen opens, Clare – consummate professional that she is – is beautifully lit to a backdrop arrangement of her books, with immaculate hair and make-up. In the window next to her, I am sporting a wonky fringe, have failed to remove my computer-glasses and notice too late that there is a clear view of the pile of junk from the stalled decluttering project, piled up on my writing-room sofa. It feels awkward to conduct the questioning without fixing my sights upon my subject but the camera is at the top of the screen. The end result shows Clare smiling calmly ahead, while my eyes dart shiftily from side to side. But our timing is good. We finish discussing her latest book – After the End – with minutes to spare. I immediately Google uplighters….
The day begins with an invigorating game of Hunt-the-Corpse. In the space under the stairs, three steps down to the coat cupboard – now known fondly as The Mouse Pit – there is a definite suggestion of entrails (glad I got the steam mop), but no body.
I half recall hearing the cat leaping about in the night, when I had my head under the duvet so he wouldn’t make me get up. We peer under furniture and into corners, and my son shakes the footwear left lying around the hall (again). Nobody has forgotten the day he found an exhausted rodent in the toe of a trainer. “Perhaps he took it outside again,” I say hopefully. But my friend Betty emails from France to advise that we are more likely to discover “la souris morte” dried out under a rug three months hence. Or we might smell it first. It’s having the little things to look forward to, that makes everything worthwhile.
At eleven, we hold a minute’s silence for all the key workers who have died from COVID-19 while helping others. It is unbearably moving to watch the coverage of NHS staff and others standing all across the country, in mute unity. While the rows and counter-accusations over PPE supplies rumble on and we all know it ain’t over yet. I cry.
My husband insists on eating a packet of bacon with a use-by date of 20th March, delivering the well-worn speech about salt-preserved meat on sea voyages in the 18th century, that he always trots out when he wants to cook something a bit whiffy from the back of the fridge. When this feast is over, I open windows and light the hideously-expensive essential-oil-infused, hand-poured candle I’ve been saving for happier days. The house is now bathed in the perfumes of lavender and patchouli with an undertone of rancid pork. In these times of duress, one turns to the philosophical questions that underpin our existence. Could this be preferable to the scent of rotting rodent? It may be a close-run thing…
Insight of the week
I’m getting a tad tired now, of all the “funny” videos…
The weirdness of sight-lines on a screen had puzzled me – until now. I realise you think you’re looking at someone when the camera is making you look as if your gaze is elsewhere. All I can say is – it’s oddly exhausting! Glad to know it’s not just me.
Let’s hope too that all the Thursday clapping and thoughtful silences actually translate into better funding, and sooner rather than later.
Great writing, as always!
Thanks Penny – lovely to hear from you xxx