Friday 27th March
Paddy (18) hangs the washing on the line. It’s whites, and consists of sheets, towels and a few socks and pants. He says if we think he is going to hang underpants on the line, we are mad. Later, I see them fluttering dry and clean in the breeze and Liv (15) imitates how he did it. It is comical. If only Paddy could treat every surface as if it were underpants, he’d never be sick. I try to get on with work but the sun is tantalising. Paddy and Liv pass a rugby ball to each other outside my studio window. This I can watch without wanting to join in, but when Liv arrives at my door with little Reuben in the wheelbarrow, ready for a spin around the garden, it’s less easy to resist. He is sitting upright with his tongue out – as close to smiling excitedly as a dog can do – and is clearly ready for his ride. Even when we are distracted by something he stays in the wheelbarrow, waiting patiently. No matter how fast Liv pushes it around the garden Reuben is unperturbed and never jumps out; he clearly loves it. We say foolish things to amuse each other: “Has he bought his ticket? No! He snuck in under the barrier!” and so on. This is too adorable to ignore, but after a couple of spins around the garden Liv has moved on. I feel the need to have some sunshine so I grab my sketching things and get busy. At first I feel I haven’t caught the brilliant white of the sheets and towels, and I desperately want to get the right shade of blue for the shadows (see how sketching takes your mind off bad stuff?), but I remember all the stuff I know from my years and years of observing and this toolbox of tricks gets me through. Darken any area next to an area you want to make glow. Identify the brightest area and compare anything else that looks white, asking yourself how they compare. Wait for stuff to dry and don’t freak if colour runs because it always looks great. In the end I am very happy: the sketch captures something of the beauty of the sun, wind and sky, which was my aim.
Malachy, my brother in Dublin, can’t find his paints, so I am sending him some replacements. I send him a photo of his newly-squeezed paints drying on the windowsill in the sun. They will go into a tiny tin and will have a few fun accessories that he will have to wait to discover. I always have spare sketching kit because (a) I buy stuff to give to my students in my workshops and (b) I am given rather a lot of free stuff. I hold onto it because I won’t give it to anyone whom I suspect will not appreciate it. I believe that Mal will produce fantastic work during his quarantine time. No pressure Mal.
My sister Fiona shares a video to the family WhatsApp group of a little English girl of about three who is devasted that all the fast food outlets are closed due to the coronavirus restrictions. . She is barely old enough to say the word “deliveries” and is horrified to learn that they’ve stopped too. With each anguished cry the mother names another fast food place and says it, too, is closed. Someone in the background can be heard trying to stifle guffaws. It ends with the mother, who is goading her little one into her cries and wails, telling her that she’ll “have to eat Mummy’s cooking, I’m so sorry Laylah” at which the little girl throws her head back and howls long and heartfeltedly. I love it: I love the take-no-prisoners English humour, the robust treatment of their children. I am married to an Englishman and I love that side of the English character. It is so different from the Irish, who are anything but direct. I share the video to a few of my friends, and my Italian friends are utterly horrified that the little girl wants to eat fast food all the time, and that her parents feed it to her.
My husband Marcel goes to Lidl to do a bit of grocery shopping. He wears one of the masks I have made. “I was the only one in the whole supermarket wearing a mask,” he says when he gets back. “I got some very funny looks, I can tell you, and people gave me a wider berth than normal.” “They can all cop on,” I say, “and get used to it, and they should be wearing masks too.” We have come to the conclusion (on evidence, I hasten to add) that wearing a mask can, at the very least, stop you infecting yourself…which means everyone else too, in the long run. But the government did such a good job of spreading the message that masks were of no use, no one is wearing them. They will be soon. (Has anyone stopped to ask why the government is so desperate to supply masks to health workers if they’re of no use? Or why everyone in the Far East wears them?) “No one can see you smile wearing a mask,” I say. I remind him of Boubou our boxer who had had his tail cut off by the time we bought him 22 years ago. Other dogs couldn’t see it wagging when they met him, so they were immediately on edge. It’s interesting how important it is to say “I’m friendly” through our faces. “Think what it must be like for Muslim women in burqas,” I say. “They must face this slight unease every time they meet anyone in the West.” I tell him we’ll be trail-blazers, that we are both plenty confident enough to put up with the disapproving glances. Besides – even better if our masks make people increase their distance!
Dinner is frozen pizzas dressed up a bit (the kids) and tortilla (Marcel and me), salad and lots of wine. We have long since decided that now is not the time to be abstemious but we are laying it on a bit thick. It’s just been announced that from midnight tonight, no one can travel further than 2km from their home unless it’s to buy food or travel to work that cannot be carried out from home. “That means I can’t go sailing on Sunday,” says Liv. She sails a double-handed dinghy with her friend Isabella. They have been doing exceptionally well of late and have recently acquired a new boat, which they are dying to test properly. The sailing club is a bit further than 2km away.”No, you can,” says Marcel. He is a sailing fanatic. “No…I can’t,” says Liv. “It’s illegal.” “That’s doesn’t matter,” says Marcel. “The law is there to be interpreted.” “No it isn’t,” I say. “It’s for the lawyers to interpret, not us! We just have to follow it.” You must understand that these are the words of a man desperate for his daughter to sail, and really he knows it wasn’t going to happen – he’s just pushing it to see how far he can go. It goes on like this for a bit. “I am NOT going to contribute to the crisis,” says Liv. “You’re saying, in effect, that just because I want to sail, I put others’ lives at risk? Not happening!” “But we’re allowed to go out shopping,” says Marcel. “So we’ll just put a couple of bags in the car if we’re stopped. And we’ll go at 7.30am. The Guards are still asleep at that time.” I tell him that the thing about the law is that you have to follow it, whether it suits you at the time or not. It’s true that neither Liv nor Isabella would be either at risk or putting anyone else at risk: they would simply turn up, get in the boat, sail around for a bit and come home, without seeing anyone else. But who’s to say Isabella – or indeed Liv – aren’t carrying the virus? How would they know, if one of either household became ill, that they were not responsible? Finally, Marcel decides that sailing is not going to take place for the forseeable future. In a way, it’s not for me to judge: I have yet to make a single sacrifice to the virus. Yes, I miss my weekly trips to Dublin to draw and write my new book, and yes, it bothers me that my workshop couldn’t go ahead, and of course I am indirectly very sad for my children (particularly Paddy) who have been snatched from their school life and important exams but other than that I have not suffered at all. So I am not judging those who are finding it hard to give up their pleasures.
It’s late. I give up trying to finish my book for submission to my editor, shut the door to the studio, get back to the house and fall into a somewhat boozy sleep.