So, two weeks have already passed. Time is doing the opposite of slowing down, strangely. Week two of staying at home starts to feel like normal life, for all my occasional raging against it. In Spain officially we have at least two more weeks to go, but my unofficial estimate is a lot more; in any case, I’m mentally prepared for a lot more.
I find myself excessively looking forward to mealtimes. They have become a bit of a highlight in these lockdown days. I’m reminded of Iris Murdoch’s ‘The Sea, the Sea’, and her descriptions of all the tiny meals the protagonist makes himself, and am inspired. I could make lots of small, interesting snacks throughout the day, using the limited collection of foodstuffs I have in my lair, and feel happy six or seven times a day, rather than just three. A big part of Spanish life is tapas, which caters for that need to graze. I miss tapas! Though the veggie option in my preferred bars is invariably chips, or bland cheese on white bread, so it might not be a bad thing to lay off for a while.
I’m also conscious of vitamins, keeping healthy, getting stronger. I’m taking vitamin C with zinc, magnesium to counteract gloom, and I was taking echinacea daily until I ran out. Having decided to limit my favourite flat eggs on toast and coffee to every other day (something to do with an article I read about coffee inhibiting your immune system) (it also had wine on the list of things to avoid, but let’s not go crazy) half my breakfasts consist of a mixture of mueslis, chia, fruit and cinnamon with rice milk, accompanied by herbal tea, lemon, ginger and honey. I should be feeling twice as healthy, twice as immune. Let’s see. For the other meals, or the countless snacks I intend to invent, I decide to branch out too. I could use the extra time I find myself with to improve my cooking skills. A good opportunity to dust off those recipe books. Then I remember I don’t own any recipe books. But who needs them – I can improvise, surely? And yes. Who knew marmite, banana and mayonnaise could taste so good? And kidney beans, tuna and melted dark chocolate on crackers so… interesting?
In isolation exercise news, I can report that running up and down my room genuinely freaks out my cats. One of them sprints away from me like a crazed loon, ears back; the other tries to stand in my way with her big eyes even wider than usual. Not helping my fitness regime, guys! They’re not much better while I’m trying to complete my (now five) repetitions of the Five Tibetans, apparently needing to clean their privates in the middle of the yoga mat at precisely that moment, or paw at my head and chew my hair while I’m being an upside down dog.
Saturday 21st March
Get woken up at six o’clock by heavy rain. Last time it rained, somewhere in the last century, the roof in my bedroom leaked, so I groggily move everything away from that side of the room, and lie back down, worrying that the ceiling will cave in. Not a great start to the day.
I read a couple of articles that spook me and resolve to absolutely really really not look at any more news things today. Can I do it? For my mental health I have to. So yes. I can. I feel, as I sense we all do, utterly emotionally exhausted, and the pingponging between anxiety and daring to feel hope is draining.
Anxiety is weird. I’ve suffered from it in bursts over the last few years, and it can be crippling. How many times have I said to myself, and to a couple of understanding, non-judgemental friends, that all I want to do is stay home with my cats? Sometimes I just didn’t want to travel, even though in theory I did. I didn’t want to take risks, just in case, even though I thought I should push myself to take those risks. On days like that, I preferred to avoid anything out there in the big bad world that could potentially go wrong, hurt the ones I love, or, right down the list, hurt me. And here we are. Careful what you wish for. I get to stay home with my cats.
I reach the end of the day having not looked at any more news. And feel a million times calmer.
Sunday 22nd March
The ever-growing numbers of cases and deaths (yes, I peeped through my fingers at the statistics this afternoon, whoops) strike me as a ghoulish version of the football scores that were read out at the end of the news when I was a kid. My brother and I used to copy the inflections – Leeds United 3 (the pitch of the voice rises on the number): Aston Villa 1 (pitch goes down) – amusing ourselves endlessly. Italy 4,825: Spain 1,326. Not so amusing. Not at all.
On a lighter note (and god knows we need those lighter notes, or else our collective souls would turn into dark and putrid matter and ooze away, never to return) (I’m not sure what I mean by that but I like the phrase) I was forcing myself through a minimising half hour, going through old CDs to see which ones still worked and which ones were worth keeping. As the music player on my computer shuffled randomly through the tracks, I was fed a song on an album I wrote quite a few years ago, that somehow resonated with how I’m feeling. A sense of nightmare you can’t wake from, a confused voyage through ‘strange corridors’ (‘there is nothing in this slippery moment to use as a foothold’), which suddenly lifts, as these moods and moments do, into a hopeful thought. I have no idea what I meant by ‘this is all for something’, nor did I when I wrote it; the lyrics just flowed. But I think I’m interpreting it right now to mean that for the earth, for nature, something had to give; the planet is doing a ‘hard reset’, as a musician/studio engineer friend said, and despite the very real nightmarish web that the virus is spinning, perhaps, as I said before, something positive could emerge. This article on the subject was interesting, click to read it here.
And here’s the song if you feel like listening:
Monday 23rd March
Just after my electricity trips twice (because I tried washing my clothes, as instructed in order to kill any remnants of virus that might be clinging onto the fibres, at 60 degrees, and there’s not enough juice in this house’s system to support that), I see a local post where someone nearby is wondering why the tap water tastes of TCP. Others say it’s the same for them. It’s almost certainly a routine cleaning of whatever bits are routinely cleaned in the waterworks, but it shoots me back to a conversation a week ago with a friend, where we went to possible worst case scenarios: no tap water anymore, or no power, or living off just plain rice, etc. She thought she might fill a large bottle with water, just in case. I laughed, thinking that was never going to be necessary. A few days after we spoke, I filled two large bottles with water. I’m pretty sure the water’s not suddenly going to dry up in our taps, or the electricity cut out, but those two bottles and a few candles (gifts that I’ve never used because I’m scared a cat will knock them over) make me feel slightly prepared. Ah – do I have a lighter?
My neighbour needs help walking her dogs again this morning, so I escape down the nearby deserted lanes and gaze at the snow-covered mountains, breathing the crisp air. Winter has arrived, finally. Back inside, hailstones hurl themselves down onto my skylights, rain falls for hours. I like the feeling today; it seems to legitimise the staying in without needing the current sinister reason for it. The heater goes on, the cats snuggle in, a little too much Netflix is imbibed. And that’s okay.
Tuesday 24th March
A good development in all of this is the more frequent calls to family and friends, and in particular the introduction of Skype calls with people I’ve never done that with before. Not that they always work; everyone on the planet is online at all times now, and we often become blurry, delayed daleks, and have to move to WhatsApp, which is a constant moving selfie, an arm-aching activity painful to keep up and a bizarre glimpse inside the mouths and nostrils of our loved ones. But it’s good to see each other, or at least parts of each other.
Despite that, I feel like I’ve reached my lockdown limit today. I’m down, despondent, with no energy. I miss hugs, I miss seeing my friends. I miss hanging out in bars and cafés with them, sharing time and space. I feel sulky, claustrophobic, trapped and scared. And lonely. It’s only day eleven; what am I going to do if it gets to day one hundred and eleven? Which is completely possible.
I slap my face metaphorically a few times, and another couple of times for good measure, and remind myself of all the worse possibilities, of which there are many, and snap out of it. Almost; I, again, watch too much of my new favourite series in between working, eat too much chocolate, drink too much wine. All signs that I’m not completely breezy. But I might be tomorrow.
Wednesday 25th March
I’m breezy! I wake up with a latin piano riff in my head, and the need to write and record some new music. A lockdown album! I’ve got a busy day with work, but in the gaps I start to prepare a track in my studio. And am foiled at the first hurdle: technical problems with my recording software stand in my way, and I can’t make it work despite a lot of swearing and grimacing. I take my laptop and hurl it out of the window onto the street below. It makes a satisfying crash as it breaks open, and all the parts flying up into the air and bouncing down again enthrall my cats who are watching from the balcony.
No, I don’t really do that, however tempting it is. I mark it down as ‘do tomorrow’ and get back to watching my series.
Thursday 26th March
Explosions sound throughout the day. We’re not actually in a war zone, I have to remind myself, though the feeling of the Blitz era is not too far removed from the situation we’re in. But this is the week of Cristo de la Expiración, a Jesus fiesta in the town, and although the procession obviously can’t take place, someone has decided that setting off the usual mini-bombs is important. My cats, vehemently, do not agree. If only, they say, someone could invent fireworks that don’t make much of a noise, so that the feeling of celebration could be seen and not heard! Oh, wait..
The aforementioned studio problems are overcome this evening, simply by applying a small crumb of logic that had been buried underneath a shovelful of agitation. I gleefully play in some piano, add some drums, strings and bass, and a song is forming. A vocal melody appears in my mind and I quickly get it down before I forget it. The lyrics need some work – I’m not sure that ‘oohhh, these lockdown blues’ is the best I can do, but it’s early days. I initially had the idea of finishing the whole song in a day, but it starts going in a direction I’m not convinced about, so I call it a night.
Talking of nights, although they’re allegedly getting shorter and this is normally the time everyone starts to come out of their winter hibernation, I’m feeling the opposite. Never have my musician hours been so upended; it gets to ten o’clock, sometimes even earlier, and I’m thinking about turning in. I’ve become ninety-two, but I’m so, so tired, and I can’t help it. I’m ecstatically happy to get into bed, and usually manage a paragraph of my book, sometimes even two, before I drop off. I think going with the flow and getting as much sleep as possible is not a bad thing at this point, so I’m not too worried. I’m sure 2am will feature once more in my life as a normal hour to be still up and recording, writing or drawing, once this is all over. Or maybe it’ll shift, my body clock will also do a hard reset and I’ll be up with the proverbial lark, raring to go at 6am. And that will be fine.