With exhaustion painted on his face the Italian nurse looks into the camera and shrugs.
It has taught me to remember again.
The little things I took for granted… to live, to breathe, to go for a walk, to hug someone.
Out of the firing line the world goes on.
We wake with the alarm, a wood pigeon outside the window belting out its morning aria. Almost three weeks away from London now. An hour and a half in the car was a two week delay on the spread of the disease but a world away from its clutches.
Here Covid-19 isn’t on the other side of the front door, or in the silence of empty roads and shuttered shopfronts. It isn’t written on the faces of strangers. I hear birds around me and sirens on the news and don’t know what to think.
How are we meant to feel. Do we carry this new world with us all the time, fill our heads with the most recent numbers, with flattening curves, malign government U-turns as we sing to the health service, mourn the dead, deride fiscal stimuli, taking each day as it comes to step out into it blindly, thinking about only as much as we can to stay sane.
For how long.
Nous sommes en guerre, Macron told his people two weeks ago.
Monday 30th March
Matilda picks primroses to make Victoria a birthday garland and a little one for Mary. From a distance of two metres we cut chocolate cake and raise our glasses and sing to Victoria. The weather turns. Lionel Richie filters through the drizzle.
The NHS pause volunteer subscriptions to process the mass of signups while the government makes plans to harness the tide of goodwill. For four days I am melancholy without knowing it. In the afternoons I only feel like sleeping.
Wednesday 1st April
The previous night I lie awake for an hour, sat on the side of my bed in the dark. The same as the night before. For the second time I have woken myself up coughing and am convinced I am infected. Turns out I’m far more afraid of death than I thought. I do some more thinking and come round to death, what I fear more is living each hour afraid.
During the siege of Leningrad Shostakovich wrote a symphony that became a symbol of hope for the war while in the streets people were so hungry they boiled their boots for food. 642 marks the biggest daily rise in deaths, I gaze out of the window and wonder what good words can do.
A cut appears on my knuckle from all the scrubbing and gets deep enough to use as a crosshair. I line up my hand with a distant object the other side of it and squint til it appears in the V. My cough has evaporated and I think less of myself for my midnight quandary.
We would begin to love life now.
Wrote Proust of an imaginary end of the world looming. Life would seem all of a sudden wonderful to us, he said, and we would begin to live. How many projects, travels, love affairs, studies our life hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which certain of a future delays them incessantly.
A plane threads a line of silk between two clouds. Across the country a huge operation tries to house the homeless. What if it is Jesus, says Matilda half-smiling. The governor of Kansas declares his state safe due to its low number of Chinese residents. At 8pm we clap and hoot and the noises sound around the village and the birds flip out.
Fuck Corona! yells my brother from a window across the yard.
Weekend 4th – 5th April
Some guy in the book I’m reading goes to the library and I wonder how the hell he got away with it and I realise he is not in quarantine. Write, says Matilda. When you don’t write for three days you fall off the edge of the world. 4,934 deaths.
The horse chestnut is playing a blinder. From the bud four lots of five leaves and a little baubled Christmas tree explode outward. Like a chef’s kiss, says Miguel. On YouTube David Hockney says there are two days in spring when everything looks like it has been doused in champagne bubbles.
A man enters Jerusalem on a donkey and the people lay down their clothes and wave palm branches in the air. Who is this? the people of the city ask. This is Jesus, prophet from Nazareth of Galilee. 786 more lose their lives.
More government bashing and doom-mongering from the Guardian. A pair of French authors get panned for elegiac accounts of spring from their second homes. You can’t see the sky from my window, writes one critic. The building opposite is dirty, the empty streets fill me with roaring anxieties.
Supply chains have been cut. Food banks face record demand, supermarket shelves lie empty, farmers dispose of fresh milk and plow vegetable back into the dirt. At 2am a paramedic friend of Matilda fields 250 covid-19 calls. Now more than ever we need art, clamours a piece in the FT.
Mary and I chase a bumblebee round the garden.
Arrow-tailed great tits play at Statues, on the long lilted limb.
Miguel writes a poem called County Lines. The previous evening a discussion about quarantining and protecting our mother gets heated. You fucking gaslighting bastard he shouts through the dusk.
I lie in the bath with a Camden Pale and a rosemary and parmesan crisp.
No end to the lockdown in sight says the news. Deaths up by 938. Boris spends his third night in intensive care. Before the church bells rang, now only the sirens I hear, an old teacher in an Italian village recalls the past. We will meet again, says the Queen.
We spend the afternoon up the scaffold sanding and plastering the window frame and it is thirsty work. I ask my mother for a cold beer. I think a man working outdoors feels more like a man, if he can have a bottle of suds. That’s only my opinion, I say. We sit and drink with the sun on our shoulders and feel like free men, the Lords of all creation.
Love one another as I have loved you. 7,000 miles away my father will be emotional. Has he found the Stations of the Cross on his computer, will he walk to the Virgin by the wood and pray to her. He isn’t speaking to me.
I watch for the champagne bubbles on the trees. The bluebell wood my mother planted twenty years ago is finally coming out and she is happy. Another day comes and goes. If you can’t be important things become simpler. Your insignificance dissolves, you submit. What might have been and what has been point to one end, which is always present.
In the valley plumes of blue wash hang from the clouds like strokes from a broad brush. The fading light catches the wall and moves down the corridor at the top of the house.
A hundred years from now someone I will never meet will stand here and see this too.