Ever since the lockdown began the sky has been unendingly blue. Yesterday the cherry trees in front of the flat across the street started releasing their blossom, scattering it across cars which are no longer driven.
Being in quarantine is like being stuck in a too-hot bed on the edge of waking. Uncomfortable and claustrophobic, as well as having a sense of unreality; like half-dreaming, again and again, that you’ve got up and gone outside, before realising you can’t.
Putting aside the death, the fear, the social division, I am being felled by the most banal feature of the pandemic; being confined to my flat. The strange thing is, I’m not a particularly adventurous or active person. I struggle to think of interesting things to say when my co-workers ask how my weekend has been. The things which felt like markers of my boring life; the sedate walks through the park, visits to my local charity shops and weekly browsing in the library, it now turns out are the pleasures that made my life worth living. As Grace Dent wrote poignantly in the review of the last restaurant she visited before the lockdown began; ‘We were one big happy room of diners… for a restaurant critic, it was just an ordinary evening. I won’t ever take that for granted again.’
Now I’m effectively sealed into my boxy, four-room flat I feel a longing for outdoor spaces in the same way I felt an almost obsessional yearning for certain foods when I caught tonsillitis and couldn’t eat. Just as I then made lists like ‘buttered bread, pasta and pesto, fresh broccoli’ I find myself noting memories of places I didn’t realise had made such an impact on me.
Picnicking on the ancient earthworks of Old Sarum as a child on the day that school had broken up for the Summer. Walking along the changing landscape of Georgian grey stone in the canals of Bath. Walking along the wooded paths of the grittier ones of Uxbridge, like a scene from ‘Everything Under’. The joy of visiting Tilbury Docks and stumbling unplanned upon the Tilbury Carnival, a sea of brightly arrayed children whirling in circles, steel drums and cheap rum punch in same passenger terminal that was the Windrush generation’s first impression of England. The camaraderie of the international Homeless World Cup in Cardiff’s Bute Park, multilingual chants and scalding plastic bleachers.
Castles have always sparked my imagination, too. I remember the treacherous steps up to Tintagel, in my mind I climb them as a storm batters the sea below. Playing make-believe in the hexagonal, greensand Old Wardour Castle. A visit this winter to the tetralogy of Chepstow Castle, its balconies peering over the placid Wye.
Memories of Italy and Spain collage over news reports about their struggles in the current crisis. Reading in the geometric Giardino Giusti in Verona while the music of piano lessons drifted from an adjacent school. Picking my way through the little medieval herb garden at the Borgo Mediviale at Turin, lizards scurrying through small bushes of lemonbalm and fennel. Sunbathing on the stony beach at Boccadesse, Genoa as the Church of St Anthony tolled the hour. Crossing a bridge like the arm of a felled transformer to the surreal Camino town of Portomarin, passing over the submerged old village, sacrificed to a dam.
People usually look to the future for happiness, waiting for the weekend, the summer, the retirement when they can finally enjoy life.
I am probably among many who are now looking back at the perceived mundanity of their past lives and being taught better than any self-help book could that happiness is gleaned from the short, joyful moments of the everyday, not an unreachable future time of perpetual bliss.
I saw a sweet idea on Facebook – every time her children miss something (a trip to the beach, or a visit to Grandma) one mother is getting them to write it down then deposit the slip of paper in a jar. Once they can go out again they will go through the jar and do all the unassuming things they missed.
Does this mean after quarantine is over we’ll be able to come back with a renewed appreciation of simple happiness, even though our lives will likely be harder than before? One thing that commentators across nations have agreed on is that after the covid-19 pandemic, ‘life will never be the same again’. Having worked with a charity that faced the aftermath of the Ebola crisis, I don’t think this pandemic is something we’ll want to narrativise or romanticise in the future. We’ll want to try and forget. Nor is lockdown a time when we should feel obliged to increase our productivity, health and mental wellbeing, just when these things are going to be hardest to maintain. Even so, I’ve pledged to do things differently in the future. To get out more, see more, do more.
But if that can’t happen then I’ll still be able to find solace in the memories I’ve shared here. Of places stumbled upon, vistas found on an evening walk after a stressful day, and trips my parents dragged me on as a child. Just writing them down and remembering them to my family has been a therapy at this time of uncertainty and fear. For that reason, I would recommend it to anyone.
Richeldis is a loafer from the UK who enjoys reading and making collages. Her current goals are submitting more writing to publications and finding a writing community online
You can read more of her writing at Rich Giptar