Well, these are my worms…

Sadly only two of them. My sister started a kind of tradition of buying me one – well, buying me a small something from the concrete-somethings-place, when she came over. And somehow they always turned out to be worms. They are mating at the moment, or at least engaging in some pretty intense courtship. Often, however, they are just having a chat, chastely at right angles to one another.

I always assumed I was behind all these worm-repositionings until, every now and then, I would find they had moved of their own volition, taking up poses I would never have thought of. I thought maybe it was Charlie from over the road. People do tend to wander in and out, round here. You soon learn to put a dressing gown over your nightie before going into the kitchen. Charlie was occasionally to be spotted somewhere down among the brambles, looking for his blind old dog, or his black and white cat (who much prefers me). But somehow – I didn’t think Charlie had the wit to rearrange a worm.

I now think it might have been assorted delivery drivers. Before lockdown/shielding, the standard thing for Amazon parcels etc was to go round the back and leave them there. I was rarely away for that long. But since I’ve had to be in virtually all of the time, the worms seemed have ceased their unauthorised wiggling.  Poor delivery drivers – they can’t get much amusement, on their never-ending circuits. I never really minded…

I was quietly hoping for another worm to add to my collection – a wormage-a-trois, as you might say, but my sister is unlikely to be over from Canada any time soon. Maybe, whenever – if ever – it feels safe to actually go somewhere and buy something, I will make a pilgrimage to the concrete-something-place, meandering joyfully among as yet unpainted gnomes, naked nymphs and praying-hands birdbaths, just glad to be – ah, shopping! And if there should still be worms, I will purchase one.

Whereas for women that visceral, instinctive – now missing – necessity seems to be the leisurely shop – the browsing, the pondering, the calculating – for men it seems to be building garden sheds. There are so many men round here – white van men, small tradesmen, that sort of chap – and since lockdown there has been one bags-of-sand delivery lorry after another along our road. The lorries come with their own cranes to lift the bags, and every front garden now has its untidy heap of materials. Garden sheds seem to be the favourite.

The man down the bottom from me – the one who cut down my tree – has been threatening for years to put up in its place,  between his garden and mine, “a nice row of sheds”. Now he is out there with a hired roller, flattening the ground in readiness. All day long he and his mate shout instructions at one another. What is is with men, that they can’t just talk to one another when engaged in joint projects? Why has everything got to be high volume?

Alice down the rabbit-hole

Up till now I haven’t felt like writing anything. Other people seem to have “dropped off” (the radar, hopefully, as opposed to the perch) too. Also, my readers seem to have mostly vanished. That little world-map they give you? – is blank. That graph? One reader every few days – presumably having tripped and fallen into one of my old posts from somewhere more interesting or relevant. Like Alice down the rabbit-hole.

What is there to write about? It all seems so big, so irretrievable, so – final. Could this be the end of the world? I wouldn’t mind betting that when the End of the World finally does come, nobody will recognise it. And yet we have the wars, and rumours of wars; we have fires breaking out all over the place; we have the melting ice, the poisoned seas; we have the President of the United States suggesting people might inject themselves with disinfectant or “shine light inside their body” and now – full set, really – we have a Very Excellent Sort of Plague. No, when it ends it will be with a whimper. Everyone will be kidding themselves, right up to the last nanosecond, that it’s just a Bit of a Blip and things will go back to normal soon.

However, assuming this is not quite Armageddon, we have to manage it – and not only on a national and international level. Each one of us has to fashion a “new normal” that works for them and doesn’t endanger their neighbours.

I am supposed to be shielding, not, as you may have assumed, through old age, but because of this pesky “underlying health condition” which means my immune system is (probably) rubbish. I say probably because what I’ve got is rare and everybody seems to be hazarding guesses, rather, as to what might happen to me next – or eventually. Will she expire early, will she live out her natural lifespan, mildly but not too inconveniently symptomatic? Will she be more or less OK providing she manages to sidestep the odd, um, killer virus?

It has taken me four weeks of fruitless/answerless emailing to finally receive my “shielding” letter in the post. No Government food parcels as yet, but I suppose there’s still a faint hope. I do feel somewhat embittered about this. It’s bad enough having an illness that makes you feel wobbly and vaguely hung-over most days, without the built-in Invisibility Cloak. What is it about me, that people kind of skim over me? All my life – oy, here I am, mate, just under your nose! Grr…

However – yes, there is a however – today I took one small step towards my “new normal”. I got in my car (having looked both ways in case the neighbours were watching from behind their net curtains) and drove it as far as the roundabout above the next village, then drove it home. The roads were more or less deserted but all the while I was expecting policemen to leap out from behind the bushes, insist that I wind down my windows, and – blowing in gusts of virus-laden breath – question me as to why I had dared to leave my house at all. More than a touch paranoid by this time, obviously.

I have been inside my house and garden since two weeks before lockdown. I self-isolated, knowing I needed to, in spite of the Invisibility Cloak. I have not even walked up the road to post a letter. Meanwhile, my car was slowly dying, nose slightly downwards, on the driveway. It’s tyres began to look unhappy – squashed into the same position. It wouldn’t start. One AA man and a lecture on “How Not To Flood A Car Engine” later, I knew to start it once a week and run it for half an hour, still nose downwards on the driveway.

Then I realised that it wasn’t just the car. By the time I have my next (rearranged) hospital appointment in November, I may well have forgotten how to drive. You don’t want your first terrified time behind the wheel in seven months to be the one where you have to negotiate an hour-long, steering-wheel gripping obstacle course of traffic, traffic-lights and multi-lane roundabouts. I needed to maintain me as well as the motor. So today, with the windows tightly wound up, a green bandanna round my neck in case sudden masking should be required, a bottle of veterinary hand-steriliser and a big pack of antiseptic hand-wipes, I set forth.

It was like a small cloud lifting. I hadn’t realised how depressed I had got until I saw (through my tightly wound-up windows) that the sky was blue, the clouds white etc. Spring had sprung, in my absence. Last time I saw the fields they were brown – now they are acid yellow, with a crop of oil-seed rape. The same roads are there, with the same patches and potholes that I remember. There are people – not many, but the occasional one. Strange, upright creatures – how have I never properly looked at them before? Fancy – things that walk on two legs! I had thought – dear Lord, I had imagined I was the only one left.

Little Red Friends

I remember sitting at the kitchen table in my parents house, in hysterics, which wasn’t unusual. Maybe I was about fifteen. Bit of a meltdown, but this one was worse than usual. My mother was there – perched on the table edge – and she said something like “You’ll have to calm down, or you’ll end up going mad.” I remember sobbing, “And what would you do, if I went mad?”

“I’d look after you,” she said.

That was what they call nowadays a “seminal moment”.  I think. Maybe I’m getting seminal mixed up with semen, but whatever, it was one of those. My future life flashed before my eyes. The sobbing and the howling didn’t stop, but inside, the part of me that stands backs and takes notes on what “my” body and mind are doing, replied to her loud and clear – and in absolute silence.

“You will never look after me. The minute you manage to turn me back into a child, a patient or a victim, I’m lost.”

From that moment on I fought the long, dirty fight against my own inhabitants. I didn’t ask for help. To be honest, there was never exactly a tsunami of earnest/dangerous “helpers” to be fended off! I did such a good job of boring and confusing them – and people are so easily misdirected. In another life, maybe, I was a conjurer.

I was unassailable, but all the time balanced on a knife’s edge. Waiting for that momentary lapse in concentration, the teetering, the screaming descent, the ending up on the wrong side of the knife. Oh that wall of silver, that bright cliff face. I was always afraid of heights in the real world, and these – I think – are probably the heights in question.

Anyway, I am locked in now – or rather we are – me and my little red friends. We have been together for a long time.  Almost but not quite friends. We have studied each other’s games and can largely guess what the next move will be.

No doubt we will emerge together, blinking in unaccustomed sunlight, whenever this situation ends. Most of us will return to normal. The traffic will start up again, the noise; it will be easy to just go to the supermarket and buy some food. Remember that? People will forget that other people are surrounded by a cloud of infectious gubbins. They will forget to wear their masks, and eventually leave them home altogether. They will stop to chat in the street.

But by then me and my little red friends will have been locked in together for that few weeks too long. It doesn’t take long, really, for the transformation to happen. To much of me will have been lost to them. Too many of them will have mutated into me. And at last, we will have learned all there is to learn from one another.