Journal of the Plague Years (Days 10-N)

Day 10 — pm

I’d expected this to be more like Ballard’s “The Empty Room”. Outside does seem big and my legs are uncertain. A couple of times I feel my boots slip on the pavement — have I trod on or in something? Apparently not.

It has been decided that off licenses sell Vital Supplies and that’s fine for me. The problem being that the nearest one doesn’t have as interesting stock as it might. I check I am the sole permitted customer and push the door open with an elbow. Yes, it is depressing as I feared, but Old Dairy and Curious Brew are interesting enough. I ponder buying chocolate, but restrain myself.

On the way back, an awkward dance as I try to maintain a safe distance.

Wincheap is empty of traffic. Last week on Friday it was quiet, when normally cars are bumper to bumper. Today it is emptier than even Newtontide.

So that’s outdoors.

Day 11

A Great Expotition.

I leave the house again, crossing Wincheap at the traffic lights from habit rather than need. Round to Aldi (a social distancing queue, but I have finer fish). Cross the ring road — traffic just a little too close for comfort — and follow the curve around to St Peter’s and, oddly, the park is open to cut through. Along St Dunstan’s and past a veg shop, and a Sainsbury’s assistant tries to stop me going in, but I’m headed for the butchers. Pork joint and sausages. Result.

Then past the new car park, its lollypop sticks dull in the half sun, to the farmers’ market and a socially distanced queue.

Men are less clear on two metres than women are. Go figure.

Having disinfected, I get in and to the cheese stall. Result: Flower Marie. I can die happy. Unsubtle to say this out loud maybe. Five more cheeses. Then to the grocer and four cans of Time and Tide beer. And finally saucisson. Too much money spent, but weeks of delights.

The high street is quieter than Newtontide, but I get aloe vera from the health food store and raisins at random. More disinfection and I have to scan my own items and leave by my elbow. I pause to pack outside what was Nason’s and the pigeons descend.

I am in a Hitchcock movie.

The veg stall has gone, so I swing back to the new Sainsbury’s for a few groceries. Milk, oranges, tomato paste, peppers.

Home again — there is a slow roast for tomorrow to plan.

Day 12

Duvet day. Several podcasts and a couple of documentaries, but I am so tired. I’d planned not to work, but —

I cancel the Eurostar ticket, nearly stymied by my inability to work out which set of characters in the one they want. I hit send and ponder then, too late, if I included my email. It says it is a required field so I must have done. I email the gallery, who have not been in touch, and try to cancel the hotel. The contact address is unclear.

Mostly I doze but —

The phone rings and I assume it’s an alarm. It is the hotel in Liverpool, cancelling my booking.

Mostly I doze.

Apparently, it snowed.

Day 13

Slow to get going, but I undertake a couple of tasks. This is meant to be leave.

I go for a walk — through the estate streets and past some kids who are too close, then through some fields, through the orchards, the cathedral vanishing behind me. I take a right turn, and head down a hill, hitting the A2. I’m further south than I imagined, and dodge dog walkers on Hollow Lane.

Home and a few more jobs.

Day 14

I ended up chatting late online and had troubled sleep. Duvet day. Again. But I am on leave.

Day 15

Another slow start, but I’m up in time for a call via Teams, where even sound only renders Sarah as an intermittent stutter. This is almost too much like hard work. I think I prefer the silence. I need a lie down.

After lunch I catch up on emails.

And then, eventually I start reading something I put off reading for too long, and this takes me far into the evening. Oh dear, my notes will be copious.

Tomorrow I must work, proofread, reread this document and go for a walk.

Or stay in bed.

And then it all begins to blur.

It’s never quite been boredom – but there’s an endless similarity to the time. Half a day reading academic materials and then needing time off to recover. Teams and Skype calls. Everything taking longer than I’d expect, especially expanding lectures to scripts. It’s a long time since I wrote these as 2,000 + word documents.

The days blur.

I’m incredibly lucky with timing – the few visits to Morrison’s or Tesco I abandon if there’s a queue or go round the block. Tesco has been transformed into a rat maze. Two women glare and gesture as I interrupt their aisle blocking conversation, rather than moving a metre either way into eggs or breads. I find proper cheese again.

It’s a cosy catastrophe.

Somewhere in there is proofreading of Extrapolation and some marking.

For a few days I take back control, and insist on 10k steps. I head out to Harbledown and up the hill, coming across Joseph Conrad’s grave. Another day I head out to St Stephen’s and the odder parts of Hale’s Place. I head south and navigate the A2 bridges and underpasses.

Are there more cars or is it me getting less tolerant?

I have endless Shakespeare productions to watch, but stamina is expensive. Must we be so worthy? I catch One Man, Two Guvnors, Treasure Island (not enough Muppets) and Twelfth Night. I keep getting confused by Archersless Fridays.

I mainly do my own worthy in the form of art documentaries and Radio 3/Radio 4 podcasts.

Soon, presumably, the endless free time will start and I can start reading and watching the DVDs.

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