I keep listening out for the doorbell, I keep looking out of the window, but the street is empty. The postman, greengrocer, Amazon delivery and Co Op groceries have all been, but They never come. Another day when a long pole, with a microphone on one end and a television interviewer at the other end, has not appeared at my front door.
How do they choose all these citizens who keep showing up on the news and breakfast television? I am not talking about science experts, political commentators, journalists and doctors, but ordinary people who sit in their living rooms unashamed of their ghastly wallpaper and awful fashion sense. Out of millions and millions of us how do they get chosen to be interviewed for several minutes in a segment that will be repeated endlessly on the main news and on News 24.
If they happen to have recovered from Covid they obviously have a head start over the rest of us, but it’s not just people pondering on pandemics, I have always been ignored. Every general election, the long years of Brexit, no one knocks on my door or stops me while I’m out shopping for my opinion. Though I would flee in the opposite direction if I did see cameras; too windswept, wrong clothes for television…
But if a reporter did call on me at home they might not get away; all those years of stored up opinions.
‘Yes we need more lockdown not less, gatherings of more than two people forbidden, identity cards, everyone to stay inside their own postcodes, disposable BBQs should be banned, litter bugs should be tasered on the spot, private motor vehicles confiscated, air travel banned… it was so nice during the first few weeks of lockdown…. Perhaps you and the cameraman would like to buy one of my books, I just happen to have a box full… or buy all my books…
Maybe a little bribery would secure their release…
Everyone is filmed at home now so if you haven’t had the chance to appear on television you can always pretend. Facetime with your boring family could become one of Alan Bennet’s brilliant Talking Heads – which are perfect for isolated actors and have just been remade.
Or dust off your bookshelves and pontificate late at night on tomorrow’s newspaper headlines.
In the kitchen you can have your own masterchef celebrity banquet bake off.
‘What are you making?’
‘Bangers and Mash, it could all go horribly wrong… I’m just going to test the potatoes, okay, this is the moment when it could really go wrong, I could end up with third degree burns, I need to strain the potatoes now… make sure the camera lens doesn’t steam up… yes the sausages all free range, they were running around in a Hampshire field yesterday… oh oh is that the smoke alarm, I forgot to check the sausages…
Perhaps it would be better to stay in the garden. Gardening programmes are so popular now for peaceful healthy escapism and you can even send in videos of yourself and your delightful children giving a guided tour of your fantastic / unusual / beautiful / bountiful garden. Gardener’s World receives thousands of them, so you might not get chosen unless you have turned your bathroom into a tropical paradise, installed a waterfall in your living room, or turned a six foot sunless concrete square by your back door into the Garden of Eden.
Perhaps it’s best if I don’t film my garden; putting carefully cropped selected flowers on Instagram is my limit. Though if the people with poles do turn up tomorrow I could give them my views on new major projects injecting money into the economy; have all the motorways turned into cycle routes and gardens…
Have you ever invited television cameras into your home?
The opening of pubs in England on the fourth of July might be welcomed by many, including characters in books and television dramas, but characters and their writers might be in for a shock. Pubs in fiction are where people meet, either by arrangement or propped at the bar chatting to a stranger. Large and busy pubs are also where characters good and bad like to lurk anonymously, looking out in case they are being followed or following someone. In the best stories our heroes and lead characters inevitably have secrets they must keep from family and friends; in dark corners of noisy pubs they meet up to exchange important information unnoticed.
Roving campervan detective, Tobias Channing, in my latest novel, regularly sought out popular chain Wetherspoons for a cheap meal where he would be unnoticed as the stranger in town. Fortunately his story is set firmly in 2014, pandemics are one of the few things he doesn’t have to cope with.
What of novels and dramas of the future? No one will be slipping anonymously into any establishment. At the pub you will have to give your name and contact details at the door, perhaps needing your passport to prove who you are. Inside you must sit down and wait to be served and you had better take a book to read or your phone to play with as you won’t get chatting to strangers. There will only be two or three other customers, all spaced well away.
And if you want to pop to the toilets to do a drug deal, sniff a line of cocaine or squeeze through a tiny window to escape the enemy you have just spotted, you are out of luck. You have to ask the bar staff for permission to visit the Ladies or Gents and they will be buzzing in one person at a time.
If this idea from Paris catches on it won’t do much for the street cred of a crime boss or super spy to sit with Big Ted.
Being in lockdown, isolation, shielding, what ever you like to call it, life has been different for all of us, some more than others; suddenly working from home, or not working at all. Even those who already worked from home, were stay at home parents or retired, still went out and about. How many of us are asking ourselves what’s the point of going out to work, what’s the point of ever leaving home at all? Will there be people who join the true agoraphobics and never leave home again?
If you live on a country estate or an outback station in Australia you probably rarely leave home; it’s a very long way to your front gate. If you live in a city centre with all life on your doorstep in normal times, you did not need to go far. But if you are among the millions and millions who live in suburbs, going out and coming home again is the natural order of things. For generations people have been getting on the train to go ‘up to town’ to the office. Cities are full of offices, new towers of offices are still being built, but why? When I was very young I asked my father what he did at work and he said ‘write letters’. That sounded very boring so I vowed to avoid an office job and I have, apart from a temporary job when I did commute up to Waterloo station for a few months. I’m sure lots of important things go on in offices, but my little temping job involved chasing up orders that were never ready and seemed unlikely to ever get to where they were supposed to and apologising on the phone to the people that were not going to get them.
Whether you are a big or little cog in your company, we now know you can contribute from a lap top on the kitchen table. All those office blocks could be used to house key workers who at present cannot afford to live near their work and also waste hours commuting.
If the world of work has changed what about leisure and shopping? Will shopping have altered so much there will be no point? I haven’t actually been near a shop except the tiny pharmacy attached to our doctors to collect prescriptions. In our new restricted life even that has taken on an allure of adventure. But will shopping be an adventure or an ordeal now?
When our well known chain BHS, British Home Stores, collapsed, one commentator suggested it did not offer a focussed shopping experience, which is probably why I used to go there, I am an unfocussed shopper. The best buys are when you stop for lunch at a garden centre to break a long journey and end up buying a coat, new trainers and colourful kitchen items you didn’t know you needed. We did have a lovely shop in town that sold an array of colourful and very expensive items that made you want to throw out everything in your kitchen and start all over again. I only looked and didn’t actually buy anything, but they had a nice coffee shop upstairs, strewn with unhygienic cushions, where you could relax and check your social media or write. Where do writers go now?
Whether you enjoyed trying on endless clothes and sampling makeup, or browsing in the book shop before going to your knit and knatter group in that trendy LITTLE yarn shop, the shopping future looks bleak. I imagine only focussed shoppers will be allowed in, two at a time, no browsing, one way system, no turning back, straight to what they need and out again, no idling, no coffee and cake. Jumping casually on the bus, laden with bags of shopping, squashed in by people standing in the aisle, listening in to people’s conversations, observing strange people for your next short story? All that real life is gone; six people on board, strictly spaced out, wait for the next bus. You will be glad to get home and maybe never leave again, glad you have mastered on line shopping.
And what of the great tradition of visiting garden centres? As well as our travel adventures, we did visit our local centre regularly to actually buy plants, browsing through the reduced stands for ‘rescue plants’, wandering round the water features and overpriced gift section. Then there were the very popular two for one dinners on Thursday evening, masses of people, leaving Cyberspouse with his coffee while I made my final choice of plants. Yesterday’s email outlined the latest rules. Every adult must take a trolley so they keep track of numbers and the strange line ‘We prefer one child per adult and trolley’ … what if you haven’t got a child, do they hand them out along with gloves and gel or might you have to fit your six foot 35year old son in the trolley? I have had plants delivered by the greengrocer and have ordered some on line, but it’s not quite the same…
Are you planning to leave home any time soon? Can you see any point in going shopping?
Hurrah it’s the longest day of the year; but that doesn’t mean you cannot join in the fun if you are in the southern hemisphere. One of the features of the new WordPress BLOCKS, which not many people are aware of, is the fifth dimension, which only works twice a year at Solstice. Simply click on a picture and you can be transported to that place. A square picture will take you there in the present, a round picture will take you to the exact moment the photograph was taken. Got it? Just make sure you read the complicated WordPress instructions on how to return…
How did you get on? Tell us which was your favourite place.
Friday again; each week Cassie was more relieved when Friday evening arrived. She had James to thank for ensuring she drew a line under the working week. He insisted they Facetime early and put the week behind them, they were not being paid to work at weekends, it was already too easy to catch up with work in the evenings. She opened a new bottle of wine, a glass to share with James and a glass later to enjoy with dinner as she watched Gardener’s World. Is that what her life had come to? Doris had got her on to gardening programmes, but it was to relax and enjoy the calm that she tuned in, away from Covid news and work. If a few gardening tips penetrated her brain, that was a bonus.
Working from home suited Cassie, but motivating and organising her little team was another matter. James said she should not be carrying the others, but it was easier to do extra herself than worrying. No one had sent their children back to school, even the few who could were too worried, or could see no point in sending one child back and still have to look after the others. Having seen, or more often heard, children of various sizes bouncing off the walls during Zoom sessions she thought it a miracle anyone got any work done. And then there were those who had found themselves being full time carers for elderly parents.
But that was only a part of Cassie’s low feeling this evening. She had spent so long planning and executing a move to own a proper house, have a change of interests, slip out of Giles’ life; she had done all that very successfully, but now what? The promotion had been a means to an end and now she realised it could have been a mistake. Being in lockdown made people think too much; normal rushing to and from work, out and about socialising stopped people pondering the big questions like ‘What are we all here for anyway?’
Cassie’s aunt had brought her up to be independent and secure; with no family to fall back on and the fact that ‘you can’t depend on a man to look after you’ Cassie had always sought out secure jobs, not that any job was secure in the 21st century. Now she wondered if she should have thrown caution to the wind and gone travelling properly or taken up breeding llamas. Was it too late to try something completely different?
‘James, cheers… oh some pink stuff I got from the One Stop down the road. Any news, have you been in to work yet.’
‘The good news is I got the hire car for a month and I went in yesterday, the bad news is we are no further forward. We can’t even take all the people who don’t have to worry about kids or parents. Coming in on different days, sitting three desks apart, it’s no improvement on what we have already. The boss thinks we are all doing a grand job working from home, but he’s hardly in the zone, it’s only six weeks since his daughter died and his second in command is pretty useless.’
‘That’s so sad… and the other girl, no wonder morale is low in the company and everyone is nervous of coming back to work. They were both younger than us… me and in good health. I don’t know how people can crowd down to the beach or go on protests when they know people are still catching it and dying.’
‘Cassie, Cassie, let’s get off that subject, I wanted to ask you something.’
Of course, it filtered through to her brain that he now had access to transport; the ferry was still out of action, but it wouldn’t take long to drive the hire car the long way round and over the bridge. Was he going to ask where she lived, were postcodes something modern young women kept a secret? She had not dated since Giles, what were the rules? No, she was jumping the gun, he was just going to suggest she cycle down to MPJ when he was assessing the building, stand two metres apart by the coffee machine…
She tuned back in to what he was saying
‘…and Mother would love to have you round for dinner and of course I could come and see you properly, so what do you think, would you consider being in our Bubble?’
The only bubble that made sense to Cassie was the one she had created around herself and her home and she wasn’t sure she wanted anyone to burst it, or was that just what she needed to raise her spirits?
For some pre-Covid tales dip into one of my collections.
After Nelson was toppled from his column in Trafalgar Square and dunked in the fountains, the Prime Minister announced that all statues around the kingdom would be removed and replaced by more of the ubiquitous figures of Everyman created by Antony Gormley.
Angry protestors, objecting to Gormley’s exclusive use of the male human body and also the fact he is white and has been middle aged for a good while, gathered at the foot of his Angel of the North. On arrival they called for more supporters to help pull it down as it turned out to be much bigger than it looked when they were driving along the A1.
One art enthusiast gathered to protect the great work and point out that the Angel was androgynous, a heavenly not human body and had led a blameless life, so could not offend anyone.
After a petition on 38 Degrees, parliament passed a motion that all the now empty plinths would be filled with life size replicas of the Angel of the North. Buckingham Palace released a statement saying The Queen was delighted at the prospect of seeing The Angel when she looked out of her bedroom window and retiring Queen Victoria to the back garden.
Like Japanese soldiers found hiding on remote Pacific islands decades after the Second World War, unaware the hostilities had ended, I fear I may emerge from isolation months in the future to discover everyone else has been out and about, holidaying and having fun. Scenes on the news of crowded beaches and beauty spots and anti racism protests, leave many of us wondering if we have missed a miraculous and sudden end to the pandemic.
One of my earliest memories is looking out of our upstairs window at sunshine and blue skies and feeling shut in. Until I was nearly seven, by which time my parents had a toddler and baby to cope with as well, Mum and Dad rented what they called a flat, but was really the spacious two top floors of a large Victorian terraced house. A quick glance on Zoopla reveals you would pay over a million and a quarter for such a house in that road today. But Mum had to lean out the kitchen window to hang the washing on a pulley line, suspended high above the back garden of the ‘wicked old lady’ ( mum’s words ) who lived on the ground floor. She never offered to let me play in her garden. But I certainly wasn’t a prisoner; my parents were always taking me down by the river or to Kew Gardens, Marble Hill Park and Richmond Park for fresh air and exercise. I feel so sorry for children literally locked into cramped flats because of the virus. Most children in England will not now return to school till after the summer holidays. While many are having fun and never had so many walks and bike rides with their parents, some children are isolated indoors because of their health or underlying health conditions of someone in their family.
We adults may grumble and some people have found themselves in dire situations, but we are not sheltering in a basement in a war shattered city. For writers, bloggers, artists and gardeners it’s just another day at home, an endless succession of days at home, but it’s okay. Obviously I could not survive without BBC Radio, books, music, the internet, television and of course chocolate.
When we were having our medical dramas just before lockdown, there was another patient who seemed to be following Cyberspouse from ward to ward. He had no visitors because he had a frail wife at home and no family near. I knew this because I heard all his conversations to medical staff and on his mobile, but his greatest upset was not having anything to read and nobody seemed able to get him a newspaper. When any medical staff asked how he was he told them he was soo bored. He was reduced to doing origami with the paperwork they left behind. By the third ward I made sure I brought him a newspaper and he was overwhelmed with gratitude. Boredom can be a worse threat than a pandemic.
What things have been essential for your survival in isolation?
On Monday I got a Christmas letter from Australia. For a moment I wondered if 2020 had all been a nightmare and we were still in 2019. But alas, it turned out a friend from long ago had been tidying her office, no doubt a Covid stayathome activity and had found the unsent Round Robin. On the reverse side was an updating handwritten letter. But this blog isn’t about Round Robins or my friend’s ‘far more interesting than mine’ life. The salient point was that she had been reading and enjoying my website, which was pleasing and also made me wonder how she had arrived there. Had I enclosed a business card in her Christmas card, had I even remembered to send one, or had she just looked up my name on the internet – for experimental reasons I tried this and my website came up first.
We started my website ages ago after publishing my first novel on Amazon Kindle in 2013, when I had even less idea what I was doing on the internet than I do now. It is a paid for website, a series of templates, a scrap book waiting to be filled in, without the glue, but for me just as messy; we accidentally created two domains, there were too many pages, which themselves had more pages… what to fill it with, lots of pictures?
My first positive step was discovering you could add a background colour, turning it yellow brightened the outlook, but what next? Over the years I have discovered skills at a slow rate, often there have been changes as soon as I got used to how things were done. How to change the size of words and pictures so people could actually see them, how to do links. At one stage you could put artistic frames around the pictures; that disappeared, but some interesting boxes turned up – perhaps I have been using blocks all along without knowing.
When I realised everyone except me was on WordPress I started this blog, the advantages are obvious, it is interactive, you know who is Liking or commenting and you can respond. On my Big Yellow Website visitors can only Like if they are on Facebook, there is also a visitor counter which records far higher numbers than the Likes. In the unlikely event a visitor is moved to comment they must make the effort to turn to the contact page and find my email address, I think only my sister and a few friends have ever done that.
If I share a link to the website on both my Facebook pages I get some Likes and lots of visits, so who is visiting apart from the friend in Australia? Of course none of this translates into actual book sales, which is why authors are told to start a website in the first place, but perhaps my website is happy in its own right, floating in yellow bliss in the ether waiting for its next visitor.