I remember a thought I had in the early months of the pandemic. It was a Sunday in late May, lockdown was starting to ease, and I was stopped at a set of traffic lights on Glasgow’s Crow Road. While I waited, I glanced at the people in the car next to me and it struck me that I could probably guess exactly what they were doing because they would be doing the same as me, because that’s all there was to do: driving home from a country walk, via a supermarket.
It was oddly comforting. A bit like that feeling you get when you shut your front door of an evening, when all your family is safely at home and no one is going out again.
No matter how fabulous, or clever, or jet set, or brilliant someone else was, right now they were in the same place as you. Stuck, waiting, co-ordinating their actions with everyone else in order to protect everyone else. There was such as sweetness to that thought – but it was also a thought that made me wonder how it would be possible to put words to lockdown?
Mostly we read to try and understand an experience beyond our own. But to read about a worse lockdown experience that yours just seems to invite unnecessary heartache at a time when you are probably just managing to keep your heart afloat, and to read about a better lockdown experience seems an unnecessary exercise in fuelling jealousy and resentment, whereas to read your own humdrum echoed back at you is unbearable. Who needs to relive the dullness of one day through words when you can achieve the same by just going to sleep and waking up again?
So what to say about this extraordinary time of human history? What is worth documenting? And who are you documenting it for? As I write this I realise exactly who I need to write this for. Fintry Annie Bell. My daughter, who has lived through all of this, and because of her young age – 2 – won’t remember much of it, although I do wonder if any of this will feature in her list of earliest memories.
So Fintry. What will I tell you?
It started off a novelty – just like the virus itself.
There was almost a relief to being told we had to stop whatever we were doing because we were so accustomed to doing so much, and I for one had forgotten how to not operate at warp speed.
We were in South Africa when the first lockdown happened. We had been due to fly back to Glasgow a month later, and then go to Rome for a few days before jetting to New York to visit Uncle Clinton who was working on a big show on Broadway. I had a “one life, live it” mentality and my idea of “live it” meant doing as many and as varied things as often as possible. That’s not to say I didn’t value contemplation and reflection, I did, but I scheduled it for plane journeys, time at my writing desk and for walks in the hills. The idea of just spending days and days on end, at home, with no plans was anathema.
Without COVID, my behaviour would never have changed. I would have forever carried on chasing a faint scent of something more glamorous and seductive that always seemed just beyond my reach, before dropping down dead in a silk kimono, orange lipstick and smelling of Vivienne Westwood perfume.
Now I am wearing acrylic (supermarket clothes shopping), my perfume has been discontinued and can’t find my lipstick anywhere, even though considering I am at home all the time, it must be here somewhere.
You don’t seem to be suffering from it though. By the age of one I had you doing an activity every day. I rolled my eyes at parents who overscheduled their child’s lives and then did exactly the same. Ballet on a Monday, swimming on a Tuesday, mum and baby group on a Wednesday, ballet again on a Thursday, and worried that I hadn’t found something to fill up Fridays.
I have chatted with other mums about this now and we all laugh at how agree that it was as if we were afraid to be alone with our children, that our mere presence wouldn’t be enough for them. Perhaps that’s exactly the capitalist myth. You are not enough, never enough. You need other things to fill in the spaces between you. And now we have realised that those spaces are actually part of the links that join us together.
Spaces where you get to set the agenda, rather than having the agenda set for you. That is where your future motivation and direction will come from. The fertile ground of empty space, endless time and open-ended days. Like how I grew up, before the world became packed to the gills with things to do.
And then didn’t anymore.