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Archive for the category “Covid Diary”

I have to win at table tennis

You’d have thought that spending more time with your family would be a positive thing – and for many of us it is. But it’s amazing how small things can cause domestic discord. According to reports from home and other countries, lockdown will see a huge increase in cases of domestic abuse and many of us are already planning to divorce our partners: ‘when this is over’.

If you’ve not read Italian novelist Francesca Melandri’s piece in last weekend’s Guardian: ‘Letter to the UK from Italy: this is what we know about your future’, it’s worth a look. It’s a raw insight into the emotions and actions of a lockdown society. And the foibles and contradictions of human nature under duress.

Our table tennis table made the journey when we moved from north London to Berwick-upon-Tweed 10 years ago. During the spring and summer months, ping pong became a tea- and coffee-break activity for the Husband and I when we paused our desk-based work activities. The battle of the table continues to be as epic as the battle of the skies: as soon as we wipe the table down a marauding flock of screeching herring gulls craps on it. And the Husband’s out with his hose cursing and fist-waving. One day, the gulls got him twice in a row – the second when he was fresh from the shower after the first. Once, three of us were chatting on the lawn and a gull scored a simultaneous bullseye in all our cups of tea.

The freshly hosed table just before the Husband’s victory this morning

The Husband has now retired and taken up activities such as badminton. He has become fleeter of foot and, as if blossoming back into the primary school child he once was, improved his hand-eye coordination. I’m not saying I’m not pleased about this turn of affairs. But I’m happiest when he’s fighting the losing battle of the gulls and I am maintaining my rightful place as Queen of the Table.

We bought the table as a family bonding exercise – specifically for our then teenager (now 32) to enjoy. Purchase day was fraught: Finsbury Park in north London to Surrey Quays south of the river is not a jolly journey at the best of times and, what with the toddler and the teenager in the back of the car, it definitely wasn’t jolly that day. But good things do come from inauspicious beginnings. Once home, that table tennis table delivered above and beyond. It took over most of the garden and was the centre of gatherings: from baptisms to birthdays. It was played on and under; it was eaten off; and, on one memorable occasion, became a racing track for snails. It’s not something I’m proud of: the snail thing took place when we were in a South Korean reality TV show about families coping with no TV for a couple of weeks. A screen lockdown if you will. And, let’s face it, it’s amazing what you resort to to fill in the gaps. In our defence, we put the snails back on the ground when we’d finished.

Nowadays, the table tennis table is a firm feature at our Open Garden event here in Berwick (beginning of June but postponed this year). Children often enjoy a game while their parents peruse the garden. Then the parents wander back, grab a bat and thrash the kids – a là Competitive Dad from ‘The Fast Show’ – just to show them who’s boss. Or perhaps to remind themselves they’ve still got it in them. Anyway, there’s usually tears involved.

For us, it’s still a daily routine to grab a game or two of table tennis to distract us from whatever we’re meant to be doing. Or whatever’s going on in the world. But something’s shifted. The Husband’s upped his game. And I’m feeling the strain. It’s like a rainy day versus a sunny day. Beating him makes me happy. Losing to him makes me grumpy. And if I’m grumpy, family wellbeing could be at risk. I know some of you will be thinking this is overt competitiveness or even sour grapes. But it’s all about domestic harmony. I have to win at table tennis.

The world is in chaos and the hen is eating my meadow

I am trying to create a tiny meadow in my garden, but my hen is eating it. I know I could try to fence her out of the area but, right now, it seems sort of apposite to feel powerless in the face of her overwhelming desire to eat seed.

A young colleague who I’m working with on a little book asked me if I’m keeping a coronavirus diary. It made me feel rather guilty. I’m not really writing anything, I explained. The newly launched magazine I was writing a column for is in aspic for the foreseeable: how do you publish a local, lifestyle magazine when all visitor attractions and events are cancelled, and advertisers have nothing to advertise? Events and organisations I’m involved with are either postponed or holding their breath.

The self-justification continued: Who am I to add to the corona-word-mountain? Mind you, that didn’t stop me adding to the heap of cancer words when I had bowel cancer. And, actually, this self-isolation is a bit flashbacky. During chemo I isolated myself and spent hours in the garden, desperately trying not to pierce myself on a rose thorn and develop septicaemia. It felt lonely. However, this is now, and the whole world is in it with me. Besides, I am not ill and not pumped full of drugs. Frankly, being able to lay my hands on some paracetamol would be a fine thing.

This morning I went to the supermarket. It was the first time I’d been to the big supermarket in a fortnight. Last week I did my shop in Berwick. We’re lucky enough to live next door to Iceland, have two great local butchers, and the feisty organic Green Shop down the way. However, yesterday a friend was in touch. She’s a nurse and has Covid-19. Her mum lives out of town and there are no home deliveries to be had this side of Christmas.

I was happy to do the mum’s shop at the same time as I did my own. Her order was easy compared to ours and did not involve huge quantities of wine. I felt like a naughty schoolchild when I was told I could only have six bottles. It was hard to choose which four bottles to say goodbye to.  I also couldn’t understand why people kept coming so close to me. I think I may actually have said, ‘back off’ to one woman. I’ve just tried saying ‘back off’ to the hen who’s still pecking what has become bare soil but, a bit like my fellow shopper, she’s giving no quarter.

This hen’s not backing off

When I dropped off my friend’s mum’s shop, I felt guilty leaving it on the doorstep. That guilt was nothing compared to how I felt when the elderly woman appeared at the door, leaning on a stick. From my social distance of five metres along her path, I shouted to her that the bag was heavy and that she should carry the items in a few at a time. And now I’m haunted by a vision of her wrestling a giant honeydew melon from the bag with her walking-stick-free arm and somehow transferring it to her kitchen.

I’ve never been a big fan of warfare discourse when talking about illness. It’s always felt like a huge burden to place on the sick: as well as feeling crap, they’re supposed to show their mettle by battling down their illness and winning through. Presumably the alternative is to be a wimp and die. I acknowledge the fight formula works for some and, apparently, is particularly good for fundraising. ‘We’re going to thrash the living daylights out of this cancer/Covid-19!’ Woop-de-doo! Yeah! Let’s annihilate the plague! Meanwhile, those who have it will carry on dealing with it any way they see fit.

Having said that, war as a metaphor for illness and vice versa has a strong literary pedigree. According to a piece in the Guardian, Albert Camus’ 1947 novel ‘La Peste’ (‘The Plague’) is selling in extraordinary numbers. The plague of the title was symbolic both of the Algerian cholera outbreak of 1849 and of Nazism. It’s a book about individual and community responses to the plague of the title – heroic and selfish – during a time of lockdown, quarantine and self-isolation. I studied it for French A level and was profoundly moved and disturbed by it. But I can’t say I fancy reading it right now.

The fact is, I’d rather concentrate on feeling irritated with my hen’s obsessive destruction of my tiny nascent meadow. And, while she feasts, I am wondering whether or not I will rouse myself to fight back.

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