Thursday 19th March
I host a Zoom session with my husband Marcel, Paddy (18) and Liv (15). The idea is to find a way to continue teaching online. It is moderately successful: the video quality is excellent and I figure out how to switch between overhead camera to draw and paint for the participants, and front camera so I can smile at them and talk to them. The two teenagers are messing with each other, bandying around bawdy comments as usual and generally trying my patience. On the other hand they see ways to shortcuts that I wouldn’t have seen, so I tolerate them. I draw a cat in pyjamas as a test subject. I pretend to be a real teacher and I tell Marcel to draw a cat. He does, and it is rather wobbly, to say the least. We all ask to see it a bit closer, and Paddy chimes in with a comment. “It’s been hit by a car,” he says, and I am not sure whether to laugh or mute him. It’s a moderately successful session, but I need to become more fluent before I can rally the kids around and get the classes going.
A woman phones into a radio show. She tells the broadcaster that she had brought her 14-month-old into a shop, carrying her in her arms. She picked up what she needed, then observed the correct social distance from the person ahead of her in the queue. The woman ahead of her, an older lady, tears strips off her for bringing her baby into the shop. “Don’t you realise children spread the disease?” she shouts. “You shouldn’t have brought her in here!” The mother tells her she has as much right to be there as she does. She didn’t have the presence of mind to say that all humans spread the virus, regardless of age, and that the fact that the child is in her arms makes her no more a threat than anyone else in the shop. That the problem with kids is that even when they don’t seem unwell, they may be carriers, and that the older woman has clearly misunderstood how it works. She doesn’t say that, she just feels upset instead.
I tell Paddy that everyone is going to take turns making dinner. “Not happening, Mum,” he says, “not happening. If you think I’m going to cook, you have another think coming.” “No,” I say, “I wasn’t asking you if you wanted to make dinner, I was giving you first choice of day to pick, before I say it to everyone else.” “Oh,” he says, “I’ll take Friday then.” Good man, Paddy!
It’s a gorgeous day. The sun is shining. All day long Liv has been looking dejected. I have seen her head on her hands. She is hating this at-home stuff. The children are told that the oral exams have been cancelled and that everyone is going to get full marks. This is not the good news that it might have been, as they have been putting lots of effort into practising, and were looking forward to doing their best. They are very disappointed. Paddy is crushed that his beloved school days have been snatched from his hands, no grad parties, no exams, no comradeship. It’s not fair, but neither is it fair that the doctor who alerted the Chinese authorities to the new virus died of it, or the head of the hospital, or any of the other people who have died or have become very ill. So we have to concentrate on the good stuff: the fact that we are all healthy. Liv decides to get her gardening clothes on, as do I, and we go out into the sunshine. Paddy throws his rugby ball around, runs full tilt into a “gear bag” that he has stuffed with a sleeping bag and generally does rugby stuff. I am prevailed upon to catch the ball with him for a few minutes. Then I go into the polytunnel, get utterly depressed about the absolute state of it, and spot some asparagus bravely fighting their way through ropes of prickly brambles. I can’t see them choke like that so I take a pair of scissors to the brambles, cutting some semi-edible asparagus spears in the process.
I whatsapp call my sister Fiona, who lives in Jamaica with her husband Bruce. The idea had been to share a beer or glass of wine online, but even though it’s only 1pm in Jamaica, Fiona has gamely cracked open a can of Red Stripe. I know that if I head back to the house for a glass of wine, I won’t get back, so I stay dry. It’s super to talk to her and she looks great, as does her beautiful tropical garden, so unlike my windswept mess of a garden (that Liv and I will whip into shape this year). I get called back to the house: Liv has made a wonderful mac ‘n’ cheese with a spinach, tomato and mozzarella salad. Her first family dinner done entirely solo. I marvel at the casserole dish of pasta bubbling away under the grill. “Out of my kitchen!” she says. “Lay the table!” “The power is going to her head,” I tell Fiona, before saying goodbye. Liv agrees and says she could get used to it. I do not argue, and lay the table.
Marcel is deeply mired in the world of cryptocurrency. He is always trying to get the kids to buy crypto with whatever money they have. The conversation turns to the stockmarket, trading, and how the coronavirus crisis has affected prices. Honor (20) has bought bitcoin over the last few days, and has made a small profit. She says she might use it to buy, ahem, certain items online. I sigh and ask her what she means. “Guns,” she says. I don’t think it will happen but with Honor you never know. She is responding very positively to the crisis. I am cold and go to bed: I chat with my brother Mal about life in Dublin under quarantine. He is working from home. Mal is a historian. He tells me that in the past, ships arriving back from somewhere that was experiencing a plague had to stay out at sea for a period of quarantine. I ask him to recommend me a good book on a plague from the past. He suggests one by Daniel Defoe and one by Albert Camus, neither of which title I can recall right now. I shall dig them out and one of these fine days sit in my rocking chair in my studio and read one of them.
That’s it for now, stay well!