Coleslaw shall not live on carrots alone

It’s all going a bit pear-shaped. Or rather carrot-shaped. I’m getting weekly Government food boxes at the moment, though they keep texting me to inform me that I have said I no longer require them – which I haven’t – and so they will no longer arrive – which they continue to do. I get them because I am shielding and have no other human being (sob!) that I could bring myself to ask to do supermarket shopping for me. The neighbours all have their own problems, and many of them are shielding too.

I am grateful for the food boxes, though possibly not for the reasons the Government imagines. I look forward to Fridays all week because that is the day when Something Happens. Throughout the rest of the week Nothing Happens.

The food box is one-size-fits-all, I suspect, ie I get enough for a family of three. Every week, 2kg of potatoes, plus rice, plus pasta. Well, I like potatoes, in moderation. Every week, a monster bag of carrots. I must admit, I don’t like carrots, but I have been doing my best, because the carrots are free, and waste not, want not. I made a couple of hot-pots every week, eating one third, freezing two thirds, eating another third…until I could not face even opening one  of the little plastic tubs. They gave me wind. This was because of the tin of baked beans that went into each.

I coincided with my neighbour at the bins. She is a little deaf but we mimed and shouted a kind of conversation whilst remaining socially distanced. “Make coleslaw with them,” she said, as if it was obvious. Well, she’s a school teacher and I’m not. I imagined grating that giant bag of carrots – enough grated carrot to fill a kitchen. And then what? No onion, no cabbage, no – anything you could make coleslaw out of. Coleslaw shall not live on carrots alone, as Jesus might have have said, had coleslaw existed in those days.

Also in my box – every week, more or less – a bottle of Lynx men’s shower gel – a black bottle with an impenetrable top and writing so tiny I couldn’t read it. Until I finally wrenched it open, I wasn’t even sure what it was. Something esoteric to do with shaving, perhaps. I’ve tried it out – it smells gruff and medical – the way you’d imagine a man would want to smell – but I’d rather smell of pine disinfectant than sweat. Shower gel every week (my sister suggested I open a shop) but no toothpaste. I suppose if I ran out I could use baking powder. You can use baking powder, can’t you?

Handfuls of teabags kind of scattered randomly throughout, each tea bag in it’s own little paper packet, so you have to undo them all, but then – what else would I be doing? It’s therapy.

Tomato soup and tinned tomatoes. Two tins of each, per week. Tomato pasta sauce, two jars of each, per week. Sadly, though I gather tomato soup is the most popular kind, I simply cannot force it into my mouth. I can get the spoon half way there, then the smell makes me retch. So much tomato. Tomato soup can be made palatable by putting it in a hot-pot. But I am all hot-potted out. Which reminds me of that rather lovely older Scottish chap in Primeval – that series about dinosaurs and monsters falling through a rift in time. Eventually he left the series and the reason he gave was that he was “All Oh-My-Godded Out”. Oh My God, it’s a miniature pterodactyl! – Oh My God, it’s a super-sized flesh-eating futuristic super-killer!” Etcetera.

Six oranges. I wish I liked oranges, because they’re so good for you. I like the taste, but not the dribbly, squelchy texture. I bought an old-fashioned lemon-squeezer on Ebay (that thing you impale the fruit on is called a reamer, did you know? Ex always used to be talking about reamers) and now I squeeze all six oranges and drink the juice, an Orange Vampire.

I could go on. I am grateful for the boxes, for as long as they continue to arrive. Like the curate’s egg, they are good in parts, and those parts that are not good are a great boon to my mental health, providing me with amusement when there is absolutely no other amusement to be had. I tell a lie – this morning I went out with the secateurs and cut back some of the brambles.

It occurred to me the other day that, given the Underlying Health Condition, etc etc, I cannot safely un-shield, ie emerge from lockdown, apart from my weekly engine-boosting circuit in the car, until there is a vaccine – and there might never be a vaccine. Even if there is a vaccine – I did the math – I keep forgetting how old I am – by the time there is one, and I can get my paws on it, I may well be seventy. I cannot imagine being seventy. I cannot imagine being under house arrest until I am seventy, though equipped to survive, after a fashion, being solitary by nature.

Some days it feels like the ending of “2001” – that bit where he goes through the whatever – all those tedious lights, some kind of wormhole – and ends up in an olive-and-other-shades-of-green mansion of incredible dullness, being studied by unseen aliens – or possibly not, who knows? – whilst growing older and older (and older and older) and eventually dying, whilst reaching out to that blasted monolith yet again! What was that all about? Does anybody know? Does anybody care any more?

And some days it feels like all my Christmases have come at once. Sitting out in the sun on my plastic garden chair, an unread paperback and a mug of bitter-tasting Government coffee on the pile of paving-stones beside me; looking down the garden at a lawn somebody else has just mown for me; looking at the ratty old roses, now visible where the brambles have been thinned out; listening to the birds – so many birds – and the silence, otherwise; imagining what the world would be like if entirely emptied of human beings, if I was the only one left…

At those moments I am mercifully thinking of nothing, at one with the sunshine, thankful and at peace. At last my torment is over. The outside world is leaving me alone.

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.

From Behind The Garage

This lunchtime I took my coffee and a book out behind the garage. It’s the only place my neighbours can’t spy on me, gazing down from their newly reinstated decking. Behind the garage, on my faded green plastic chair, surrounded by weeds I no longer have the energy or inclination to pull out, I read another couple of chapters of At Mrs Lippincote’s. Slower reader, nowadays – and after all, what’s the hurry?

I look at the Triffid assortment and think “You are alive, at least, and I don’t intend to spoil your day in the sunshine. Go right ahead, Mr Nightshade. Keep right on, Mr Thistle. Burgeon, Miss – whatever you are. Let us veg out together. I have always applied this principle to animals/bugs etc; now I have extended it to weeds. I have become – St Francis – ish.

I am supposed to be “shielding” because I have one of the health conditions on The List that makes me, technically, Extremely Vulnerable. Unfortunately although my condition is clearly listed on The List I am not in receipt of The Letter from NHS Digital (the idiot arm of the National Health Service). Apparently thousands of people have been overlooked.

Without The Letter I am invisible – not entitled to help from one of the army of kind NHS Volunteers – things like collecting prescriptions, phoning to see if you are all right – or the Food Parcels. I would have so appreciated Food Parcels – psychologically as much as practically – especially as I have had to mortgage everything sourcing any old tins of cat food and bags of cat litter from anywhere, and at amazingly huge prices.

You see, they don’t think, when they have these pandemics, that not everyone is going to have the standard 1.5 pet household. They just ration everything, willy-nilly, to only two or three. Two or three bundles of cat food would last me a couple of days. Am I supposed to watch the little moggies starve? However, it’s all right at the moment – and I haven’t told them they might be out pursuing rats and sparrows soon, in case they worry.

I count my blessings. I am alive – neither my “underlying condition” nor Coronavirus have killed me yet. I have a garage full of cat food, a garden full of weeds, and the sun is shining. I am also making a quilt. I find the monotony of sewing together all those tiny squares with tiny, neat stitches, immeasurably soothing. It connects me to the past, and to other women. I imagine them in remote Alaskan log-cabins, or sitting outside their doorways watching people strolling past on cobbled streets; or curled up in cane chairs in quiet, rainy conservatories deep in the green heart of England.

I forgot N’s birthday. One day seems so much like another, doesn’t it? In any case, if I had got a card, I probably would have been tempted to plod up to the Rusty Post Box to post it – through that sea of little droplets coughed and sneezed out by others. And really, I shouldn’t even do that – even though I haven’t been sent The Letter instructing me to “shield”. Officially, I suppose, one could still go wild and – go for a little walk once a day. But I don’t. I don’t like the idea of those ventilators.

Poor Boris is really, really ill. I do worry about him, since I feel at this time we really need him to be “with us”. Him and The Queen. English Sister wrote at one point that she didn’t much care what happened to Boris, as he was “an arse”. But that of course was before he got taken into intensive care. Also, there is no one of any character to replace him – just a lot of grey chaps in grey suits, standing there looking dubious at the Daily Briefing. Which, by the way, will be starting soon. Not that it will produce anything new. More people dead. More brave doctors and nurses praised. More admonitions to Stay Home, Protect The NHS, Save Lives from people who have unimaginable amounts of money, and huge back gardens to retreat to. Bet they aren’t having to hide Behind The Garage, amid the Triffids.

Stay safe, all of you.