Wednesday 18th March
The government is showing great leadership. Yes, the “lockdown”, such as it is, could have come a bit more quickly, but a good balance was struck between doing too little and doing too much. We have nearly 300 cases, and rising, of the Covid in Ireland. The pubs and most restaurants are closed now, so that leaves just services and shops, many of the latter of which have chosen to close. Like or loathe Leo Varadkar, our Taoiseach, he’s no fool and I am proud of my country’s calm and sensible reaction. One of the things the government suggests is to cocoon our older loved ones: to help them stay at home. My brother Mal has set up an online delivery service for our parents Cinnie and Paddy. My contribution is less useful, and is a drawing of my parents…cocooned. In my drawing Cinnie is still wearing her earrings, as she is always beautifully turned out, and being cocooned isn’t going to change that. My dad Paddy looks a bit bored in his cocoon, because his arms are stuck, and he can’t reach his book or play golf. Then again perhaps his arms have melted into the cocoon, because doesn’t something unusual happen in a cocoon while the occupant is turning into a…ok I’ll stop now.
My brother Mal sends me a very interesting article from the Guardian on handwashing through the years by Amy Fleming: “Keep it clean: The surprising 130-year history of handwashing.” There’s a bit in it about how doctors in the early 19th century couldn’t understand how women whose babies they delivered had a mortality rate of 18% from childbed fever, but when midwives delivered them it was much lower. How could that be? It didn’t occur to them to make the connection between the fact that they went straight from dissecting corpses to attending labouring women. Then one of them cut himself with a scalpel during a dissection and died a few days later – from the same complaint the mothers did. A Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, noticed that when his team washed their hands in a chlorinated solution he kept by the door before surgery, the death rate plummeted. He tried in vain to spread the word that it must be something on doctors’ hands (in a pre-microbe age) that was the cause of the trouble: he was met with ridicule and even fury, as the doctors – middle- and upper-class men – were outraged at the suggestion that they were as dirty, or dirtier, than their working-class patients. Poor Dr. Semmelweis died a broken man in an asylum at just 47 years old, unappreciated, unsung, unheard. The article went on to say that even in an age of novel viruses and antibiotic-resistant bacteria lurking everywhere, the simple act of washing one’s hands can make a huge difference to keeping us healthy.
My husband Marcel, Paddy (18), Liv (15), the terrier Reuben and I meet our friend Lorraine, her two kids Lily (19) and Mattie (15) and their miniature schnauzer Penny down at Mulroog for a walk, because it’s a reasonably nice spring day. Lorraine’s husband Sean can’t join us because although he’s at home, he’s on conference calls all day. We travel in separate cars and when we arrive at the beach we maintain a healthy distance. Mulroog is a seashore at the end of a long country road. Normally Lorraine and I see no one, even at the weekend. No one ever seems to walk their dogs around here. It’s very different today, and we pass many groups of people, people on their own, kids on bikes in their droves. Winter is over and school is out, and you can no more keep the people indoors than you can a hedgehog after hibernation smelling a slug (not my finest analogy but the best I can come up with). The Irish are out in droves. At the shore, Paddy, Liv and their great friend Mattie edge gradually away from the shore until they’re well into the tide, leaping perilously from rock to rock, oblivious to anyone outside their tight little world They don’t care about cold sea, and discuss coming back in their wetsuits for a swim. Paddy returns with new profile pics, waxing lyrical about the beautiful sky and sea (both a very pale silver grey). As we get ready to leave, Lorraine notices a bicycle leaning against an old fishery look-out station. “Look in the basket, Ro,” she says, “we haven’t seen a pile of books and a flask in a bike since the days of the Famous Five.”
I draw my studio because some very sweet people have asked me to show them what it looks like. I am starting with the tidy bit and will draw the messier bits soon. I decide to keep it monochrome apart from the fire, because if you want to capture a dramatic colour in watercolour a good way to go about it is to just paint that one colour. After that, I use my waterproof yellow ink to write a few bits and pieces, and feel very smug that I occasionally have a chance to use it. The pile of sketchbooks in the corner is the tip of an iceberg of around 50 sketchbooks, which are being dredged for images for the book I’m currently finishing. I am very proud of my beautiful studio. It was a shed at the bottom of the garden for nearly 18 years, but no ordinary shed. It was built out of insulated panels left over from our house build. It is now a beautifully-insulated studio. It has no shelves or floor yet because we ran out of cash when it was time to put in the floor insulation (and is cold as the grave at floor level), but it has wifi, power, a stove and is plumbed for water. It’s mine and it’s paradise.
Liv decorates her St. Patrick’s Day Key Lime Pie with orange and lime slices. It has been patriotically decorated in the colours of the Irish flag. Liv is on the other side of the counter from me and we admire it. Paddy says the way I have drawn it is the flag of the Ivory Coast. I turn it around but then Liv complains that it’s an Ivory Coast flag from her point of view now. The cream filling in the pie hasn’t set but it is delicious.
We sit down together to watch The Social Network on Netflix. I feel sneezy and self-conscious about it. I say very quietly to Marcel that I feel shivery. Turns out I’m just cold. I go to bed. I scroll through Twitter for a bit and am (1) exasperated at all the idiots, (2) sad for the lonely people self-isolating and (3) greatly amused by some very funny people, then turn out the light.