On the afternoon of Lockdown Day 16, I woke up from my siesta feeling as though we were all in a kind of suspended animation, with brave grins on our faces. I went outside to trim the hedge, but realised after a few minutes that, inside my skull, something had been at work, and needed my attention. So I went back indoors, and in five minutes had written down the words for a poem (finding the title took me two days). I was glad to snare these words as they came to me, because poems often take me weeks to work out.
In theory, this period of Lockdown ought to be useful ‘free time’ to get done what we really want to do: to write that family memoir, or put together a photo album for the grandchildren – or maybe re-decorate the spare bedroom. But Lockdown can be filled with distractions (think of all those addictive news-bulletins!), and somehow the normal domestic tasks take longer to finish, every step seems to need careful thought, because we just find ourselves proceeding more cautiously – suddenly more aware of other people, and what our actions might mean to them if we do the wrong thing. (And of course, we can also lose the plot: I realised this morning that the birthday cards I wrote in a rush last night won’t be needed till this time next month!)
How to plan re-stocking the kitchen cupboards; how to be sure we have enough to last until our helpful neighbours decide to make their next shopping trip? How to negotiate the supermarket’s website, or another shop’s, each with its own idiosyncrasies, to place an order – and why should healthy over-70s not pick up their own supplies? The loss of independence that comes with all this is surely one of the stressors of Lockdown: not simply the need but the requirement for independent people to accept help with everyday things. Yes, there can be small pleasures: unpacking groceries that were packed by someone else can feel a little bit like Christmas morning – but sometimes that too can be disappointing.
Intellectually, we know now we can live with Level 3 restrictions for two more weeks; but what if this leads on to confinement sine die for everyone over 70, regardless of our health as individuals, until a vaccine is available? As a healthy 82-year-old I take few risks, I don’t do ‘extreme’ things; I split firewood, work in the garden or walk round the block; and I’ve always been a careful and competent driver even when the streets were much busier than they are now. I’m aware, though, that Fate might step in and fell me at my own front gate, as happened to my sister when she turned round and tripped on uneven paving, and after a whole day in ED she now has her front teeth wired together.
Perhaps it’s not surprising if some of the folk in my poem’s New Zealand family photograph look a bit doubtful about things, and need some cajoling by their photographer. Even if we are all making history together, it can be tiresome to be told repeatedly to ‘Hold it, just one more time…’
Yesterday was Day 15
Come on, we want you all in the picture!
Not going to take part? Of course you are,
you must be: we’re making history.
It’s the whole family, and we need you here,
so stay where you are, don’t go dashing off,
we don’t want people saying, Where was she?
Right, let’s have some smiles, even you,
Grandad, just pretend you’re smiling.
That’s one good shot. Now we need another…
OK, that’s fine, and the next one’s for luck,
one more time, don’t spoil it for us all.
No need to get dressed up, you’ll do as you are,
just look yourselves, if you can’t relax.
All right then, you don’t have to smile,
it’s not a selfie, this is not about you.
Aaand hold it! Wait for it! Not much longer … ?
When we reach ‘real’ life, maybe next Christmas, I wonder how the picture will turn out? Some of us might not make it to Christmas. Some of us are wondering how we’re even going to get from Here to There, to join the rest of the family. Should we try booking our travel now, just in case it will be possible then?
Suddenly I feel much older than I felt on Day 1, but I want to end more positively with these thoughts from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I forget the context, but it feels timely right now:
It’s like the clouds coming over; and the clouds pass, and again the same music.”
Well, we’re going to have to learn a lot of new tunes, but let’s try to keep smiling!
Alan Roddick says: ‘In times like these I count myself a fortunate man, married (to Pat) for 61 years, and still writing poems.’ A poet and retired dentist, he lives in Dunedin, New Zealand. His poetry collection, Getting it Right, was published by Otago University Press in 2016. Read about it on Corpus here.