*Photo of the Book launch via Zoom on May 7th 2020 ~ with, from the left:
Top row: Janie Millman, Jane Wenham-Jones, Katie Fforde
Middle row: Jo Thomas, Judy Astley, Bernardine Kennedy
Bottom row: AJ Pearce, Jill Mansell, Catherine Jones
Week six of Jane’s Lockdown
First published in the Isle of Thanet News of Friday 8th May 2020
My son has the day off work and there has been much talk of a lie-in. I cannot wait.
Friends may describe me as gregarious (aka gobby, with a tendency to overshare) but the truth is, I also need my solitude. In the circumstances, my family and I are getting on well. Our spats are relatively few and I haven’t hurled a single blunt instrument across the kitchen (something I have previous for, even when not in lockdown) or threatened slow asphyxiation (ditto). In fact, we are being uncharacteristically accommodating and considerate, with minimal bickering and large dollops of black humour (funerals have been planned in detail) but at the end of the day, they are still here ALL THE TIME.
I have set my alarm for dawn, the better to fully appreciate the extended-sleeping household experience, hoping that if I creep, my husband won’t stir either. I am downstairs at first light, relishing the silence, wondering how I might best spend these precious hours alone. Uninterrupted reading, tranquil plant-watering, yoga, meditation? There is the thump of large feet on stairs and the door bangs open. “The one morning I can stay in bed, I wake up really early,” my son announces cheerily. “Isn’t that funny?”
“Funny?” I echo, teeth suitably gritted. “Love, it’s downright hilarious…”
My sisters and I have organised our mother’s 85th birthday present early, replacing her ancient Nokia with a shiny new iPhone, so we can video-call her during these difficult times. I appoint myself Head-of-Training. My sisters have their reservations but I have a teaching qualification, run regular workshops and am the author of three how-to books that have received wide acclaim. My mother can use a computer; how hard can it be? I sit on the end of a landline, my own phone in hand, mirroring her home screen. “Can you see all the little icons?” I ask nicely.
“No,” she replies. “It says: Do Not Disturb – I’m driving…”
The start of another working week brings fresh evidence that I have fallen victim to Parkinson’s law, whereby work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. In other words, I look back on the past seven days and appear to have accomplished bugger-all. “I expect you’ve written two books by now,” trill the well-meaning, daily. No, I haven’t. I haven’t even written what I should have completed of one. It’s having to do all this other stuff for myself!
Until lockdown, I hadn’t realised how much of my personal maintenance I usually outsource. When you have to wax your own legs, paint your own toenails, wash the car, do the cleaning (oh my god, the endless cleaning) and turn your hair blue unaided, before failing to cure the sticking door and having to add it to the list of dripping taps and flaking plaster for when tradesman are allowed across the threshold, as well as keeping the family sugared-out on cake, the days whiz by.
When the window cleaner arrives and shouts across the garden to offer a socially distant hose-down of the panes, he doesn’t even get to the end of the question. Yes, yes, I do still want you! If only you could do the oven too.
iPhone tutorials continue. My sister Judith sends me flowers. I have spent some considerable time shrieking: “NO, NO, the BLUE arrow!” and while my son comments that I am being extraordinarily patient “for you”, my mother says crossly that she cannot think straight when I shout.
“But are you enjoying it now?” I enquire, after we have mastered adding contacts and taken our first photo.
“No,” she says.
In the interests of fairness, and to prevent familial fall-out, I will hereby quote Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid: “No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher”, and would like to put on record that I am extremely proud of my mother’s ability to now send a WhatsApp message. Even if it took us an hour to get there and threw my plans for an alcohol-free night right out of the window.
It is book launch day for my friend Jo Thomas and we – a group of author friends – are holding a Zoom party. I am going to film part of it for social media, so I spend half an hour layering on the slap, straightening my bird nest hair, selecting jewellery and shoving away the piles of de-clutter that have still only progressed from writing-room sofa to writing-room floor. When we have all filled the screen, drinks in hand, and I have cleverly set up her book jacket as my virtual background, I take a big swallow of fizz and hit record. (If you’ve not got enough to do – ha! – you can find this on YouTube.) I am pretty pleased with myself, indulging in a small fantasy of going viral as a virtual book-launch host to the great and famous, until I play the clip back and find that in all the excitement, I got the title wrong.
Sorry Jo! ESCAPE to the French Farmhouse is out now…
Anxiety of the week
Lockdown could soon be over? “Stay at Home” will be our mantra no more?
I listen to this news with a faint frisson of alarm. How, pray, am I going to find the time, to go out?