Saturday 21st March
I’m up at nine, ready to broadcast the Instagram Live video that I promised to the kids I teach, and anyone else who wants to tune in. I am very lucky to teach the nicest bunch of kids, and they make what I do (drawing very silly stuff) feel like a privilege. I am doing nothing to help in this crisis: I have one vulnerable little person in my home, so I have to be extra careful about going out and about. The one thing I can do is take people’s minds off the stupid plague that’s all around us with ridiculous drawings and this very inconsequential blog. Even for a few minutes. So I go out to my studio, light a fire and get filming. Reuben the terrier says hello (well, he cocks his head) for the viewers. And I’m off. One little girl has asked me to draw a wolf, so I decide to follow a Red Riding Hood theme. It is a lot of fun. I draw a few yellow eyes to show how putting in the eyebrows makes such a big difference to a character’s emotions. The comments come in. “Slow down,” says one of my young students, so I do, and draw the wolf again, this time with no evil eyebrows, making him look more of an eejit. The comments go quiet and I wonder has everyone trotted off. Then they start to come in again, I realise the viewers are still there, and I am told afterwards that watching the drawing was mesmerising for parents and kids alike. This makes me proud of this weird and not-very-useful parlour trick I have.
Afterwards I am conscious that I have not done any work on my book yet today (submission date, one week ago). I think of the opprobrium directed towards me by my well-meaning friend who wants me to get it finished, and I have a sudden urge to draw the Wolf again, who has tied Grandmother up and put her in a cupboard, and now finds himself stuck with her jobs. He can’t read the box of cat food because of the bifocals-disguise he’s wearing, nor can he get on with Grandmother’s knitting because, quite frankly, knitting is hard even when someone has shown you what to do AND you have opposable thumbs. Then I draw the Wolf trying to play Bingo getting utterly bogged down in the rules, and I leave it unpainted because of the afore-mentioned opprobrium. I can feel it. I write a few lines of my book, sort out a few images for it, and am quickly distracted by Twitter again. Then I wonder what other jobs the Wolf might find hard, that grannies wouldn’t blink at, and I am happily distracted for a minute.
While I am very glad to hear about birds and swans and fish coming back to Wuhan and Venice and so on, I am vaguely offended by the notion that this can in any way compensate for the horror of what is happening to the human beings in corridors, trying to say their last goodbyes to their loved ones via Skype. I would see all the swans in the whole world fly gracefully and majestically back to wherever they normally live in return for comfort to return to one of those people suffering. I don’t care who they are. And I love wildlife, and the pics that are being shared do show lovely swans in lovely clear water, but I still don’t like it. Someone on Twitter posts a photo of a square somewhere full of toy pandas, with the caption along the lines of “the piazzas of Venice are once more filled with pandas” and it’s exactly the response I need to see. Sadly, I’m not as witty as those clever people, but I do my best. Then I have to tell my snake-averse mum Cinnie that they haven’t really returned anywhere and it seems I’m the only person who finds the snake cartoon funny. This happens quite a lot.
My soul has lost its peace, for now anyway. I keep returning to stupid Twitter for updates, anything, everything, it’s non-stop. I have always been so disciplined but that seems to have dissolved. Up until today I have been absolutely fine. I think it’s just an excess of bad news, and dread at what’s down the line. It doesn’t help that it has rained all day. So I sketch, because sketching never fails to work its magic (even soothes during the most terrifying in-flight turbulence). And…it works. Soon my mind is no longer dwelling on stupid coronavirus but the more pressing question of whether I can be bothered to move the bag blocking the curtain, whether I will finish my sketch before the light fades (I don’t) and what minimum combination of colours will best represent the doll’s house, the concrete mixer, the door frame and the curtains. I am tremendously over-satisfied with the result, and wish I could tell the whole world how easy it is to paint when you stick to just a few colours. Maybe I could, if I would just finish my book. But all the opprobrium in the world can’t guilt me into leaving my pointless sketch of my studio and get back to the laptop.
I have a horror of making out like my house is really cute and my studio is perfect and all that, because it’s not fair on others, and anyway it’s not true. I want to show that my studio is a mess, with a rusting concrete mixer outside the door, but my propensity to naturally draw in a kind of Disney-esque way makes everything look cute rather than messy. Just remember, you can’t see all the rats that are just outside my door.
The kids’ section of Bray Library was cold and a little damp in the 1970s and I always had wet hair because Dad always brought us on a Tuesday after swimming, but I loved it. Dad would close the door to the kids’ section, say “I’ll be back in a while” while he went to choose his own books and I was in heaven. On the phone to him today I remind him that there used to be a sticker in some of the books saying that if you had been in contact with anyone with TB you weren’t to take the book out. He doesn’t remember that. Thinking of that musty smell now (and the Calor Gas heaters that were everywhere) I’m back in that room lined with books from floor to ceiling, on my own, trying to reach the Historical Medicine section. I was always looking for books on the Black Death. Occasionally I would find something and scurry home feeling a combination of excitement and dread. Like adults watching horror movies, I was drawn to the most gruesome tidbits. They were bad, as bad as anything you’ve read recently, and worse, because they came with beautifully-engraved illustrations. I have never watched horror as an adult – maybe I got it out of my system as a child, or maybe I am too close to horror in my mind to enjoy it (I am a catastrophist). There is a TV show on about the Black Death tonight that I want to watch – about how it’s still lurking today – but it’s been replaced by something less topical. My husband and I watch an Arnie Schwarzenegger movie on Netflix instead called The Last Stand. It has all the tropes, and it’s hugely predictable for people good at that kind of thing, which I’m not. It’s just what we need.
The movie ends and I return to Twitter for more gloomy updates. It’s a bad idea. Marcel and I have another row about the British vs. Irish approaches to managing the emergency. We end up saying such stupid and childish things that the row quickly blows itself out: it’s a trick anyone can use in their marriage, although like the strategy of certain governments, it’s risky, because there are many variables. Liv (15) comes in to me at 1.00am and asks me what I would like for my Mother’s day breakfast in bed tomorrow. I count my blessings and turn out the light.