Liv (15) is up and ready. “I can’t wait to get out and do some gardening!” she says. I follow her out half an hour later. She is on a deck chair outside my studio window, shrouded in a blanket. The sun is shining but it only March and it’s “fresh”. She has my speaker beside her and the Rolling Stones is blaring out. Reuben the terrier is barking and growling at the grass: one of his tics is that he likes to get a stone, bring it to the lawn, drop it, then roll it along with his nose. Grass seems to impede the rolling in a way that he cannot tolerate, and so he pulls great tufts of grass out with his teeth and spit them out as he goes. This is bad enough, but he even does it when the lawn is freshly mown, and turns it into an eyesore in an instant. I use grey paper, inspired by Mattieu Letelier, a Parisian sketcher I know, who has been all about the grey for the last while.
I do a draw-along demo on Instagram for the kids I teach, and anyone else who wants to join in. It features cupcakes, and some bugs because one of the viewers asked me to draw them. The children enjoy it and their mums send me their efforts. One mother says that as far as she was concerned, for that hour I was a deity. Another told me she had an hour of peace. I have done virtually nothing outside of my own family towards the crisis, but if I can give mums and dads peace and quiet for an hour a day, and kids a bit of fun and a few skills, that is something to be proud of. Paddy (18) and Liv watch the live demo, and while they say I am sick in the head for drawing a naked cupcake, I can tell they are proud.
I drag myself away from my non-productivity (what has happened to me? I have always been so focused) and go up the road for a walk. I mean to go for a long walk but I am taken with the sight of Tyrone House in the afternoon light, five minutes’ walk from my house. I go back and get my sketchbook. My Italian friend in Switzerland, Giulia, said that she’s noticed people are starting to be more friendly in the street. Just before my house I pass a neighbour with her small child. She moved here about 2 years ago and I have yet to drop in to say hello (although in my defence I baked two brioches, both of which got eaten by my marauding family before she got them), and I have never seen her out walking on the road. I am not wearing my specs and her face is a beautiful blurry vision of long blonde hair. “Are you keeping well?” I ask, inspired by Giulia. She smiles (I think) and says she is. To my shock I realise I am about to start crying. Funny how the lockdown takes you – one minute you’re normal, the next minute a young mother reduces you to tears. I get my sketching stuff and go back to Tyrone House. I try to capture the cold light and the looming eeriness of the house where so much unhappiness reigned for so many years. I use my grey paper and white and cream gel pens. Another neighbour who is never on the road passes. Her husband is a few paces behind her and he is wearing a mask. He says nothing, and keeps on walking. The woman says that Salthill Prom was thronged the day before. This means that there would have been zero social distancing. “There’s a lot of County Galway,” I say to the woman, “you’d think they could spread out a little”. She doesn’t really understand what I mean, not really. I meet Lorraine at my gate. We observe social distancing but our dogs do not. Lorraine tells me about her elderly cousin Margaret who is 85 and lives alone, and who can now not go out to daily Mass and see her friends, “to hear who’s died, who’s on the way out and who’s hanging on in there,” which is Lorraine’s typically down-to-earth way of describing what had been a pretty good social life. It’s a sad thing. People are going to go mad with loneliness.
It’s Paddy’s turn to make dinner. He’s not showing enthusiasm so I start peeling potatoes. When he hears that if I do it he will be given another night, he wrests the peeler from me and i go back to work. “Mum, what size to I chop the potatoes into?” he asks. “Any size you like,” I say. He’s quiet for a minute. “You’re just trying to trick me into thinking it’s fun,” he says, “because for a minute there I said “this is fun” to myself before I saw through your game!” He makes steak and “oven chips” and they are delicious. We share the four huge stems of asparagus I found in the polytunnel the day before and they are surprisingly tender and delicious.
I have a bath full of bubbles and lovely free hot water from the sunny day (we have solar panels). I fall asleep and dream about Red Riding Hood and the wolf, because one of my young students asks me to draw a wolf next time. It’s probably the bath but I sleep a full night for the first time in ages.