Fogy or FOGO?

Amongst the British public, apparently, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) has been replaced by FOGO (Fear of Going Out). Little by little they have been easing the restrictions that kept us locked down for months. In the past few days there has been quite a rush to ease this and ease that. Basically, now, almost everything is open, almost everybody can go almost anywhere and almost nobody understands where they can go, how close to anybody else they can stand, whether they can get on an aeroplane, when they need to wear a mask, etc etc. Basically, nobody has the energy to untangle it all, so they are just doing what they think.

I suppose I’m one of those Old, or New, Fogos.  Technically shielding – the strictest of all the lockdowns – will be suspended from August the first. Which means it might be reapplied if everyone starts dying again – as no doubt they will – but possibly on a regional ‘whack-a-mole’ basis, as the PM puts it. Meanwhile I could in theory now “bubble” with – I forget how many friends, relatives or households, whether outdoors or indoors, whether two metres apart or one. Since I have actually no friends, relatives or households within “bubbling” distance, and since I wouldn’t be “bubbling” even if hypothetical Loved Ones were to ask me to – I don’t really need to have memorised the details.

I have decided I’m Not Going Out until such time as there is a vaccine and I, and everyone else has had one. I can’t see how the situation has changed. The virus is still there, un-mutated, un-modified etc, and I still have my “underlying health condition”. I thought about it and decided I would rather die of the “underlying, etc, etc” than this virus, since the virus I have at least something of a choice about. I don’t want to go into hospital and be unconscious and gasping on some awful machine for weeks. I’d rather fade away gently, over years, and at a totally unpredictable rate. Besides, the cats require their two-legged Tin Opener. They have given me a stern talking to – Cats Come First, Mummy.

I have decided to live in the 1950s for a bit. I found a set of six “Miss Reads” on eBay, and they arrived from Cornwall this morning. There are hundreds (well, slight exaggeration – an awful lot) of Miss Read’s chronicling the uneventful life of two villages and a village schoolmistress. I remember them from years back. Comfort Reading. I intend to gradually munch my way through Miss Read, one second-hand paperback at a time – yet another pointless-but-pleasurable project. I have taped up a list on one of the kitchen cupboards, and am crossing them off as I go, to avoid duplicate purchases.

The above is a picture of a scarf – you didn’t know that, did you? – and I have been working on it it, in between all my other half-finished and largely pointless craft projects, for weeks. It is going to be 63″ long. I am starting to use up all the odds and ends in my “stash” – or rather “stashes” since I’ve got both a wool one and a fabric one. I feel a bit silly sitting indoors in a heatwave – curtains closed against the searing heat – knitting a thick woolly scarf of enormous and unnecessary length whilst binge-watching gaelic-language portrait-painting and farmhouse cookery programmes on i-Player, but somebody’s got to do it.

Until just now I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do with the scarf, once finished. Could I sell it on eBay – use the proceeds to purchase a few more Miss Reads? I was in the middle of washing up when inspiration struck – Canadian sister. It would pad out the Christmas present, and weighing relatively little would not incur too much postage. What better place for a giant, multicoloured scarf than Canada? Or, as they say in the top half of Scotland – something that sounds like a-Hannada.

I did start trying to teach myself Scottish Gaelic before, but gave up. It was too much for me – the way the spelling, the sound and the meaning of a word were totally unrelated, and furthermore, all had a tendency to shift and mutate according to what sort of grammatical state you happened to have stumbled into. But this time I seem to have got over my fury at the un-Englishness of it all. I am delighted to learn that a rabbit is a rabad, pronounced something like – rebbich! – with lots of spit. Except when it’s a coineanaich, pronounced conyanyocccchhh. Probably.

Well, you’ve got to keep busy somehow.

Haven’t you, George?

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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?

Ivy, Ivy, Give Me Your Answer Do…

Yes I know, but I didn’t have a picture of daisies. And I had a Great Aunt called Ivy.

…et o ces voix d’enfants… (or rather Grandma, to Dad, a hundred years or so ago)

“That Ivy – once she gets her feet under your table she won’t budge…”

Funny how grown-ups assume children aren’t listening – forget they are there, even – and have no thought that a hundred or so years later, when they are dead and gone, that same remark…

Poor old Ivy, whose face I can’t remember. She was single and she was lonely. No wonder she lingered overlong.

I am experimenting with one-finger typing on the tablet in an attempt to combine my photos with my writing, without a technological battle involving a box full of those black joining-up cables, only one of which will talk to my desktop. Sometimes.

Expect very short posts.

I am still shielding. Technically I could now go out for a walk once a day, with one other person, but distancing. The thing is, the virus hasn’t changed, it’s still here. And my health hasn’t changed. Therefore I am just as likely to catch it and expire most unpleasantly from it as I ever was. The only thing that’s changed is the Government’s need to re-start the economy. People have to start dying a bit more, basically. I’m not going to be experimented with. I was never much use to the economy anyway.

This morning I did have to go out, though. Four of the cats’ claws had reached the ‘dangerous’ stage, meaning they had finally entered the realm of ’emergency surgery’ and could be seen. I had had to actually email photos of the sixteen paws in question.

I haven’t had to get myself organised for anything since two weeks before lockdown, now suddenly I had to embasket (probably not a real word) four cats, one of whom is at death’s door, stow them in my car, drive (actually, physically) to the next village and deposit them, in the icy, spitting early morning rain of an English June. I phoned reception, got stuck in the “very, very busy at the moment” queue, then let them know the cats had landed.

A nurse came to the back door, and waved. Rubber gloves, mask. Cats disappeared inside. I waited in my car for half an hour. Rain on the windscreen, fighting the panic attack. I should be in there with them. I seem to be attached to my cats by that old invisible elastic band. It stretches, it stretches…

Then the cats reappear, re-embasketed, with the nurse, and a burly vet. They come right up to the car. This was not how I rehearsed it. No, I squeak, leaping back, I’m meant to be distancing.. My new pink flowery mask, I notice, is still on the dashboard, not on my face.

We do that cumbersome little social dance that only the English can do. The burly vet shuffles backwards on the gravel. The nurse has bought the paying machine out with her. I fumble in my bag for the card. We lean across the cat boxes at an awkward angle, passing bits of plastic back and forth, tapping in the PIN. It rains on us both. It rains on the cats. I mustn’t touch my face till I can get home and soap away the germs.

I mustn’t order any online groceries for at least the next fortnight. Four cats manicured equals two weeks’ food. Of course there’s still the Government’s food box, Friday. All those yummy carrots…

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.