Long-time readers of this newsletter will be surprised to learn that I've decided to write a blog. Every day. Okay, I know I only manage one of these every six weeks. STOP LAUGHING.
Anyway, like most of us, I'm obsessing about life under the pandemic, and so I've decided to channel that into a short post on Medium each day. I'm copying today's edition below, but if you'd like them to arrive in your inbox every afternoon, you can sign up here.
All good wishes,
Katherine ~*~ Day 2: 'this one, enormous, distracting detail on the horizon'
Bert started coughing when he got up this morning. It is not — to the best of my knowledge — a COVID sort of a cough, but nevertheless I made startled eye contact with H over our toast. He was coughing last night, you see, and so this is now indisputably a ‘continuous cough’, and we all know what that means. Self-isolation. To be completely honest, I’m a little bit relieved. I’ve been waiting for this moment all week, and most of the last one, too. Part of me is outraged that the schools haven’t shut already. Another part of me wants to lap up every last ounce of childcare while I still can. But here we are. It’s time to accept the inevitable. I suspect we’re only a couple of days ahead of everyone else.
This hits us less hard than most families. For a start, I already work freelance from home, and I can shift my hours into early mornings and weekends. It’s not fun, but most people don’t have that privilege. But more importantly, we’ve been here before: I had to take Bert out of school for most of last year because he got overwhelmingly stressed. We have certain — shall we say — modalities for this, although that doesn’t mean we’re necessarily enthusiastic to return to them.
I call the school and leave a message on the answerphone: ‘Bert’s got a cough I’m afraid…I mean, he’s completely fine but…we’re trying to be responsible parents for once.’ I hang up, wincing at my lame joke. Bert is sitting placidly on the sofa, watching Pinky Malinky. He sighs. ‘Are we homeschooling again? You were terrible at homeschooling last time.’
‘Eat your breakfast and then we’ll walk the dog,’ I say.
We drive over to the woods, and wander for a while before happening upon a pile of sticks, which Bert wants to turn into an assault course. Soon, we are timing ourselves tiptoeing over twigs, balancing on logs, giant-stepping through branches, and then wading through a surprisingly deep puddle. Bert beats me every time, partly, I think, because he’s willing to let his wellies fill with water. You can’t compete with a seven year old at getting muddy. They enjoy it too much.
We pause to check our timings, and I notice a man standing a little further along the path, watching us. He’s elderly and walking with a stick, but despite that he’s skirting the main path, clambering behind a gorse bush to get past us. We are a threat to him, this woman with a coughing child, scrambling merrily through the undergrowth as though the sky isn’t falling. I wave to show that we’ve seen him and say, ‘Come on Bert, let’s go.’
There’s a family just arriving in the car park, a father with four girls. We don’t make eye contact as we pass. I find myself wondering what they’re carrying — whether they have a relative at home, wheezing — and then realise they’re probably thinking the same about us. Once we reach the car, I hand sanitise both of us.
We drive home, Bert sitting on the towel usually reserved for the dog. I keep thinking about those early scenes in The War of the Worlds, when everything seems normal except for the explosions on Mars. It’s that strange mix of everyday life and this one, enormous, distracting detail on the horizon. The difference is, we know what’s coming. We’ve seen it on TV. We’ve read the tweets. And yet still we’re dazed, feeling our way through, unable to take it seriously until it lands.
Back in Whitstable the High Street’s busy, full of prams and mobility scooters and bulging shopping bags. For a few moments, it’s possible to believe that nothing has changed.