I am upstairs in my home, about to get ready to go out for a walk. Liv (15) and I coo over Reuben, the fluffy white terrier, who is gamboling around the bedrooms carefree and happy. We both find him adorable beyond belief, ever since the first time we saw him with little green paws where he had been trotting in freshly-mown grass. Liv and I discuss how cute Reuben would look in pyjamas. “Ohhhh!” we howl. “Those stripy ones with the long pointy hat!” says Liv, “you know, like the mayor in Whoville!” She looks up “mayor of whoville pyjamas” and I tell her things have come to a pretty pass if she’s looking up that kind of thing on Google Images on a school day. I put on my tracksuit and head out for a two and a half mile walk, one that I used to do every day, but have found curiously difficult of late. When I get out the birds are roaring at the tops of their lungs for the other dudes to back the flip off, but it comes out all wrong, like a delicate, exquisitely musical trill. It is beautiful.
The kids come out to my studio with me. Paddy (18) wants to go over a bit of Spanish listening comprehension and Liv has a project to do for school that entails making a stop motion film, and so needs to use my overhead camera and powerful lamps. It is peaceful in my studio and feels very safe. Reuben runs hither and thither with his yellow frisbee ring, growling (playfully) at anyone he thinks might chuck it for him, even within the confines of this small room. Everyone is too busy to throw it for him and so he lies morosely under the table. Paddy understands all the snippets of conversation in Spanish that we listen to. There’s no way I would have been that good at that age, as it took me a very long time to be able to understand Spanish as well as I could speak it. I tell him how good he is. “What bothers me, Mum,” he says, “is that I make an effort in Spanish, and I do OK, and that lazy lump Bill in my class” (not his real name) “spends the entire day vaping in the jacks, and we’re both getting the same mark.” All the kids were awarded 100% in the oral exams they would never take, but at which some kids had worked very hard. A little later I say this to Marcel, Paddy’s dad. “Yes, Paddy,” he says, “but at the end of it you’ll speak Spanish, and he won’t.” Paddy says he can’t wait to get to Spain this summer. I have a strong feeling that is not going to happen, but I respond enthusiastically nonetheless.
I leave the studio and make my way back to the house. There I learn that my eldest is seeing her ex again. He has come though the illness and is on the other side. He will be staying with us once more. By rights I should be delighted that Honor is with someone who (a) she is crazy about and (b) can neither infect nor become infected but I am not. I am petrified. Until now my home has been my sanctuary. That has changed. It is a very hard thing to accept. Marcel has long suffered with asthma and my lungs have been making very quiet but unsettling crackling noises for the last couple of years. My home was my castle, my family unit sacred. I go to bed filled with dread: my peace is gone.
Just before I turn out the light, I read a message on Twitter that gives me great comfort. It is from a doctor in New York who works at a busy hospital. He tells us we mustn’t worry. He says that there are four simple, very simple, rules to follow and that if we do follow them we will be fine. He is young and he looks very tired. He is special: he laughs at himself and at things he finds funny. He is extremely likeable. He spends all day intubating covid patients. He says they are all the same: that from a doctor’s point of view their job is easy, because they are all coughing, they all have a fever and they are all frightened. He says it’s their job to make them less frightened. Sometimes they are intubated and put on a ventilator. This very often makes them better until they can manage on their own. He tells them “I’m going to put you on this ventilator in order to take you off it.”. He says we must wash our hands as if our life depends on it [it does]: he says we must NOT touch our face under any circumstances; he says we should wear a mask, because wearing one, even a bandana, might prevent us from touching our face; and he says we must remember to keep our distance from each other. He says nearly all covid infections are picked up within the family. That you must spend 15 – 30 minutes in close contact with someone to catch it from them. He says that rather than seeing the people we meet out and about, like delivery people, as fearsome and terrifying, we should regard them as heroes, ensuring that our lives can continue. He reminds us over and over again that it doesn’t matter what you touch, nor who has touched it before you, as long as you wash your hands immediately and do not touch your face. In other words, if you’re not extremely careful you can give yourself the virus with your own hands. This won’t help my girl if her boyfriend is still infectious, which she insists he is not, but it does mean that we can take real and practical steps to remain safe in our own home.
Thank God, and the doctor, for that comforting video. My thanks to you, Dr. David. You have given me my peace back. Then I learn that in China you get a special QR code if you are on the other side of covid. Mad but ingenious. So it turns out the the on-again boyfriend is even more special. Nonetheless I am still hideously anxious, but I sleep well.