Crossroads in the grass

Scenes of life – Week 001

Back upstairs, I automatically spray my hands with sanitiser. I watch the motions of my fingers woven together, sliding along my palms and over my wrists. I am unable to understand how I feel. C.’s words finally reach my brain. So, we have come to the conclusion that we need to have a redundancy of one.

Self-Portrait with mask

#LockdownDiary – One of many – The Last Entry

I was paralysed, crippled by doubts and fears, unable to read, to write or focus on anything that was not a manual task. I remained afloat, my legs kicking frantically under water, my body unnaturally still above the water line until I gave in.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 109

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 109

Day 109

Through the paths of the nature reserve, I walk alongside my friend and colleague. She is moaning about work, venting about all her woes about customers, management, and whatever else that is not right. I remember the first time I walked with her to work when lockdown restrictions where beginning to ease. I felt disconnected then, incapable of connecting to what she was saying. I wanting to talk about other things, about our life, about anxiety, about what had happened since we last saw each other on the 23rd of March. Our lives had been vastly different during those hard lockdown months. I had been free to use my time for me while she had been working from home, so it was only logical that she had plenty to say about this.

But today, I do not feel this disconnection. Work is still distant, something I used to do, something I will have to do again, but I feel closer to it. And as G. is ranting to me, I feel a connection to this long ago world. I remember the pressure of summer days when there was more work to do than employees to deal with it, when to-do lists could never be completed, and when the non-absolute essential tasks to the business were forgotten and relegated to the distant future days of winter.

By sharing our old rants, I feel a part of something, of a world starting again. As we reach the warehouse were our offices are, my manager wheels past on her bike, a grey figure clad in lycra blurring around the corner. She gets off her bike and wave at me from a distance.

‘Hey! I like your hair,’ she exclaims.

‘Oh yeah,’ I reply forgetting that nobody but G. at work has witnessed my new hairstyle. ‘Thanks.’

‘How are you doing,’ she asks concern in her voice. She is one of the few people at work I have shared my anxiety with.

‘Better,’ I reply honestly. I do not want to dive deeper into how better is still not good. Not on a parking lot.

‘Hey!’ I raise my head to see two of my other colleagues popping their heads out of the office window on the first floor.

‘Hey,’ I wave and beam at them, the sight of them lifting my heart. I am flooded with memories of banter, jokes, and eagerness as I see them.

‘Not too bored yet,’ one of them ask.

‘Not at all. I’ve got so many things on the go!’

‘Hey there.’

I turn around to see yet another colleague walking out of the warehouse to greet me.

‘How are things?’

‘Yeah, good,’ I reply again. ‘Though I’m sure I’ve forgotten everything about how to do my job,’ I laugh.

‘I know, paperwork is a nightmare, I can’t remember anything.’

We laugh, carry on talking for a while. My body is vibrating with motion, wanting to go forward, into the belly of the warehouse and let the dark blue shutter close behind me, swallowed in a world I didn’t think I missed. But I stay rooted to the spot, at the edge of the parking lot.

Eventually we all wave goodbye, smiles on our faces, and I walk away, back home. I do not turn my head as I step away, not until I have turned a corner and I can only see one side of the building, one where there are no windows or doors for anyone to see me.

I am smiling, aching to step inside still. This is not the work that I miss. This, I know is a nightmare at the moment, too much pressure applied on the too few people that have been brought back. I miss the people, my colleagues and friends that I have not seen in so long. I miss the banter and the laughs. I miss the rituals of phrases said a hundred times over, of complaining about my computer, and the silence of the first cup of tea of the morning. I miss moaning about customers, making fun of them to release the tension, and sharing a packet of biscuits or a box of chocolate to make it all better.

My eyes water with tears as I disappear into a side street that is leading me further away from my colleagues and closer to the four walls of my home. I wipe my eyes, feeling silly for the rising tears, and grab the camera out of my bag. There are no shots I want to take here, but it helps shifts my attention away from the people I miss. I still have some way to go before I am allowed back behind those dark blue shutters. Until then, time is mine to shape as I will, and for now, I want to take some pinhole photographs.

Day 108

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 108

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 108

Day 108

‘What about this colour,’ my partner asks.

‘I’m not sure,’ I reply unconvinced by the variation of white she shows me. ‘It just reminds me of those ugly pale colours in some schools and hospitals,’ I hasten to add as I notice my partner exasperated expression.

We have been talking about painting the walls of our home since we moved in back in September, but so far we have not been able to agree on colours.

‘What walls are we even going to paint?’

‘It depends,’ my partner answers. ‘It’s either we paint this one or those three others.’

I scan the living room, my eyes slowly taking in all the walls and corners. ‘Yeah, I see what you mean.’ We have designed the living room in a way that two of the corners accommodate some of our furniture, the sharp angle of the walls broken by the diagonal of a chair and a television.

‘So just the one wall,’ my partner ask.

‘I think so.’

We stare the wall where the dining table is. Next to it, a bookcase filled with books and paraphernalia stand tall, almost reaching the ceiling. Next to it, an old poster of a painting is framed, half hidden by a tall green plant I have taken to name George. The wall disappears quickly after that, hidden under the slants of the stairs.

‘Remember, we’re going to put Paris there,’ I say pointing to the empty white wall above the table.

‘Oh yeah. I’d forgotten. What colours is it again. Blue, isn’t it?’

‘Yes. Blue and brown,’ I add. I google the painting of shepherd Paris by Van Dyck and show it to my partner.

She nods. Our gaze alternate between the wall and the samples of paint on the coffee table. ‘This one,’ I say, my fingers edging towards one of the pale blue.

‘Blue?’

‘I don’t know.’

I stare at the wall for a while longer, a sea of white. I am both daunted and excited about the idea of painting walls. This is the first house where this has been a choice. I am used to living between white walls. I don’t think about them. They are a fact of life.

‘This one,’ my partner points to a deep blue tinged with green.

‘Yeah, possibly.’

We highlight the name. ‘What about the other rooms?’

‘Let’s have a look at the prints we have for the stairs.’

We make our way to the study where I unearth the prints that have been hidden from the sun for months.

I lay them on the sofa bed, imagining them on the wall of the stairs as I go up and down everyday. My phone rings as I point to a colour. It is nearly time for Analogue Television and this week, I would like to see it live rather than on catch-up.

‘Can we leave that room until tomorrow? I’d like to watch my thing.’

‘Sure,’ my partner replies. I turn my laptop on, head over YouTube, and open the relevant live video. The countdown is ticking along, leaving me just enough time to make a cup of tea.

Day 105

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 105

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 105

Day 105

Which area of Bristol are you? The text come shortly before lunch.

I reply quickly to the stranger’s message. We have been chatting on and off following an advert I put on Freecycle.org for old film cameras. I am unsure why I put this advert out. The last thing I need is more film cameras, but I am curious to know how many are lying around in attics and boxes, unused.

I’m going to Selco by F. I’ll be there about 12/12.30pm, any good for you?’.

I double check I have the correct Selco and we have a plan. I leave my laptop alone, grab a pannier from the recess under the stairs and hop on my bicycle. Twenty minutes later I am standing in a car park filled with van, a stranger handing me a couple of camera with bags and straps included.

‘Thank you very much,’ I tell him as he hands me the last piece of analogue photography equipment he located in his house for me.

‘It’s okay. I have no use for those anymore,’ he replies brandishing his phone to me. ‘It’s so easy nowadays. You can just snap.’

‘Absolutely,’ I agree. I add nothing more, not wanting to go into the whys I am shooting film as well as digital now.

‘Where are you from,’ the man ask as the conversation dies down. ‘You’ve got a bit of an accent.’

‘I’m originally from France,’ I answer lazily wondering if I’ll ever be able to have a conversation with an older man without being asked this very question.

‘I would have never said. I’ve got a neighbour that’s just moved in. She’s French and married to a guy from New Zealand.’

‘Well, I’ve been here for ten years,’ I add, the words coming out automatically.

‘I use to live in Germany years ago. My German was spot on then but I still had a bit of accent, you know. But people could never guess I was from England.’

‘What did you do in Germany,’ I ask curious about his time living abroad.

‘Oh a bit of everything. I was in construction for a while, but I also worked in a pub. That was years ago though. I met all sorts of people there,’ he adds. ‘There was this one guy on a construction side, Fritz we called him.’

I listen to his story with attention, his eyes bright with memories of those bygone days. I wonder how much has been transformed in his mind from time and the version of the stories he has no doubt repeated to many people. As he talks, his feet inch closer to me. I inch back, trying to keep a distance between us. Her is not threatening, just trying to bridge the strange gap between two people chatting.

‘This one day, the manager came round and said to me and my mates ‘I don’t need you for the next week. You can go.’ And then he pointed to Fritz and told him he needed him. But he was having none of that because you see, he had taken us under his wings.’ He pauses and smiles, no doubt remember the moment it happened. ‘And Fritz said ’No. If you’re not needing them, then you’re not needing me. It’s all of us and none of us.’ And he just walked out with us. Just like that.’

I nod and the man carries on. ‘He didn’t have to do that, but he was like that Fritz. We were used to being in and out of work. It was just like that with construction, you know.’

‘Did you stay there long,’ I enquire, my interest picked in his memories.

‘Oh about seven years. I saw all sorts of things in that time. But Germany wasn’t for me.’

‘Why not?’ I remember my brief holiday from a year ago in Berlin and Leipzig rather fondly. But then it was a holiday and as most holiday, I only got to see a rosy snapshot of a place.

‘You know, there’s still a lot of,’ his voice comes to a stop as he raises his right arm and mimic a Hitler like moustache with his left fingers. As quickly as the gesture appears, it is gone. ‘There were nice people too, mind.’ Without a pause, he launches into another anecdote, this time from working in a pub.

I listen half mindedly, bothered by his use of the present tense while he hasn’t visited Germany for a very long time. We are still dancing with our steps, back and forth his body moves closer and mine further away. I wonder how many people are not adapting their behaviour to social distancing out of habit, the virus slipping from their mind. Or maybe I am too overcautious, my anxiety diminished but still present?

‘Anyway,’ he breathes out. ‘That’s enough of my stories. I hope you enjoy the cameras.’

‘I sure will,’ I answer smiling. ‘And I’ll send you the photos if I find any rolls in the camera.’

‘That’d be great!’.

We remain standing awkwardly for a second, each of our arm twitching for a hand shake to terminate the conversation. But we do nothing. Instead, I thank him again, stuff the cameras in my backpack and hop on my bicycle.

I wave one last time as I exit the car park and disappear into a side road that will lead me to quiet spaces. Turning the pedals, I realise I have not feared getting on my bicycle once today. What would have been an inconceivable journey a few weeks ago, has become matter of fact. I smile at the thought, my arms extending wide, catching the wind under the palms of my hands. My legs turn and turn, my body balancing the bike, I glide on the strangely smooth asphalt of this little used road.

At a corner, I grab the handlebars once more, turn into a different street, my mind mapping my local area to extend the journey home as much as possible.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 104

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 104

Day 104

‘So paper doesn’t have a fix ISO and it is sensitive to blue and UV light, not the whole spectrum,’ I mumble to myself as I write notes from a YouTube video I’m watching.

Over the last few days, I have grown increasingly curious about shooting on photographic paper instead of on film. I have no intention to stop shooting film, but I like the idea of shooting an image in camera, developing it, drying it, and hanging it on a wall without any further steps. With direct positive paper, it turns out I can do just that.

‘There’s less latitude too and more contrast,’ I add to my notes.

The video over, I glance back at my notes, scanning through what I have just learned. It is a complicated process if you listen to the Internet but I am convinced it doesn’t have to be as technical as this in practice.

My fingers hover over the keyboard of my laptop, itching to type in the web address my mind is whispering to them. Do I really need to get more photographic paper and explore yet another area of analogue photography?

I look around me in the study. To my left, on top of the film scanner, a small pack of photographic paper rest in a dark plastic bag hidden from sight by the cardboard packaging. The dark bag is mostly empty by now, the paper remaining inside cut up in all sort of varying sizes. I have used it a lot during lockdown to learn about solargraphy and lumen prints. To my right, there is a row of black empty film canisters, waiting for me to turn them into pinhole cameras. Behind me, under the sofa bed, an arsenal of darkroom tools is stacked up hidden from sight, ready to be pulled out when I need to develop film or attempt to contact print some film onto paper.

At the edge of the sofa bed, a storage unit is weight down by old cameras, random photographic equipment found and bought, and a plethora of paper, books, microphones, cassettes, magazines, and a box of administrative paper. Do I really need to add one more thing to this room?

I return my attention to the laptop screen. My fingers lower onto the keyboard and I begin to type Ilford’s web address. Within minutes, I have a selection of photographic paper put aside in my basket. I do not intend to buy them all, but they are all contender, I will return to later for a final decision.

I close the laptop before I begin another search on photographic paper and look out of the window. The sky is grey, clouds hanging low above my neighbourhood. The bright blue sky of the early days of lockdown are gone. I remember the rush of these days, the fear, the growing anxiety, but also the outpouring of creativity that kept me afloat. I have tried and learned so much thanks to the time that I have been granted. It is a double edge sword this lockdown, paralysing and freeing all at once. A blessing and a curse. A reflection of my privileged life too.

We are almost mid-July now, almost 120 days of being housebound and not working. It is more than a quarter of the year. Gone. I still do not know when I will return to work. My guess is August but I am not sure, my employer refusing to enter this conversation. I try to picture my life with work in it, but it is too distant a memory now and a part of me doesn’t want to think about it. How will I be able to create and experiment when my time will be eaten up by work again? I know my focus will slip, my time becoming compartmentalised, regimented. Preparation and planning will become key to my free time once more, the easy flowing rhythm of time constricted again, a watch by my side to remind me of its passing.

But this is for the future, I remind myself. For now, I am home, not working, and free to let my mind and creativity roam where it will. I leave the study for now and join my partner in the living room, a decision on photographic paper can wait another day.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 102

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 102

Day 102

‘We don’t have any nuts,’ I shout through the door of the kitchen.

‘And,’ my partner question from the first floor.

‘I said there would be nuts. And cake!’

‘Well, we have almonds.’

‘I think I’ll roast them.’

‘Okay.’

I turn to my phone and Google gluten-free chocolate cake recipes. Too many are far too complicated but I end up finding one that is easy to follow. For the next hour, the kitchen turns into a mess of flour, dirty pots, and stirring utensils. The sink is piled high with dishes, my face red from the exercise and hot oven by my legs, and the counter is covered in chalky white flour, twigs of rosemary, and lines of chocolate goo.

‘Okay,’ I say to no one at all. I take a deep breath and check the clock. I have a good half hour before my friends arrive. I wipe my hands on my trousers and set out to clean the kitchen. First I wipe all the surfaces, the wood slowly being revealed once more. Crumbs fall to the floor but I don’t mind them for now. Next, I set out to do the dishes, getting the awkward big pots out of the way so I can access the smaller ones. Soap and dish brush in hand, I scrub until everything is sparkly clean and drying on the mat by the sink. I grab the broom and sweep the crumbs, dust, and dirt away into a corner of the kitchen. It can be hoovered later.

The clock tells me I still have about ten minutes before my friends are due to arrive. I run up the stairs, taking them two at a times, and swerve into the bedroom. I change my dirty clothes for clean ones and look at myself in the mirror. My haircut is still wonky from the day before, my hair not having had enough time to grow to hide the mistakes I made. I am trying to create a gradient of length at the side of my head but with only a pair of scissors to help, I have missed the mark more than once. I don’t care. Cutting my own hair and experimenting with it, is still very fun.

I look past my reflection, my gaze lost into the memory of another reflection. I was eleven then, maybe twelve, waiting for a friend to ring the doorbell of my home. My fist clenched and unclenched at regular intervals, trying to get rid of the excess worry mounting in me. I never let people in my home. This was my sanctuary, the place where all of me was revealed, and I was about to let this friend see it. I trusted her. She was one of my closest friend at school and I knew she wouldn’t make fun of the posters on my wall, of the duvet cover on my bed, of the toys laying around the shelves above my desk. Still, I couldn’t help be afraid. I was letting her in my sanctuary.

The doorbell rang, my friend entered my house. I showed her around awkwardly, trying to avoid my little brother. After the tour, we retreated to my bedroom. My friend looked around, taking in her surroundings. She said nothing about the room. Instead she walked to the CD player and put the radio on before settling on the floor cross-legged.

‘So, this assignment. Do you have the tape for it?’

‘Yes,’ I immediately replied, beaming. ‘Here it is. I thought we could use the washing machine for the noise of the alien ship?’

‘Oh that’s a great idea!’

And like that, I forgot she was in my sanctuary. We were busy planning our art assignment for the class we almost always paired up in. She allowed me to be creative, offering space for my ideas as well as hers. I didn’t have to compromise and shy away, I could have my own thoughts.

The reflection in the mirror reappears. I am thirty again. My fists don’t clench and unclench at the thought of friends entering my home any longer, but I am still nervous. I still do not allow many people inside my home. It is still my sanctuary, a place I retreat to and that keeps me safe.

‘There’s not even coming in,’ I mutter. We are meeting in the garden and yet, I have dusted every surface, polished the wooden tables, and hovered the floor and upholstery to death. At least the house is super clean for us, I think.

I leave the mirror and head back to the kitchen. I check on the cakes and nuts I put to roast. They are both ready. I pull them out of the oven, turn it off, and leave them to cool. I return up the stairs to tidy a few bits in the bedroom.

A knock on the door echo through the house. I tumble down the stairs to open the front door to my friends. They are standing two metres back from it, smiling.

‘I’ll open the garden door,’ I say excited to see them.

I close the door and rush on the other side of the house to open the garden door. I step back, allowing space for my friends to come in. My partner gets out of the house and join us. We all greet each other and for a while I babble too much. We decide on drinks. My partner disappears to make gin and tonics and I carry on chatting with my friends. When my partner emerges with glass filled with the cool cocktail, I step inside to bring the various nibbles I have prepared.

As I sit, my friends disappear one at a time into the kitchen to wash their hands. They tread the carpet with their shoes, something I have never liked, but I say nothing. I am too happy to see them here, in my garden. I feel strangely proud of myself for receiving people that are not my family in my very own garden.

We drink, eat, and chat, our chairs pushed back further than they would have been a year ago. The sun is playing hide and seek with the clouds but it is warm enough not to have to retreat inside. We joke and laugh, sharing stories of lockdown, moments that made us smile and occasionally moments that made us despair, sad, and anxious. They are still happening but we are all adapting, doing okay. In this moment, we can forget about all the things that are not okay. I refill my friends glass, switching gin and tonic for white wine. I disappear into the kitchen for a few minutes, emerging with the chocolate cake on a tray, candles blown by the wind on top of it. I offer to light them again but we all decline, thinking that actually, she wouldn’t be able to blow the candles. We cut slices, pour cream and warm berries over the still warm chocolate, and devour our treat.

It is the first birthday cake I have baked during lockdown that the beneficiary has been able to enjoy. I cast a side glance at my friend whose birthday it was a few days ago. She seems to be enjoying herself. I miss spending time with her, moaning about work, watching films with her and her husband, discussing the films and digressing into philosophy and life’s big questions. But right here, right now, I forget about all those things I have missed. My friends are here.

The air is cooling quickly. I can see my friend pulling her cardigan closer to her body. My own skin feels cold, the hair on my legs raised to keep me warm. It doesn’t work. We say our goodbyes, my friend have a tajine on the go at home they need to eat. I close the garden door behind them. A few feet from me, empty glasses lay on the garden table. Patterns of cream and chocolate crumbs decorate the plates, forks resting by their side. The cake is half eaten, the bottle of wine almost empty. I smile and slowly carry each item back to the kitchen, my body relishing the warmth of the house. I pour myself one last glass of wine and settle on the sofa, the garden table in my line of sight.

Day 100

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 100

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 100

Day 100

‘This is a reminder that social distancing measures are still in place in this shop. Please stand two metres away from each other, this includes standing two metres away from members of staff’

The shop comes to a stand still for a brief second before the microphone emits an audible click as the person on the other side of it hangs up.

‘Thank you,’ I mutter towards the speakers.

The supermarket is filled with shoppers as usual but very few are wearing a mask today. Trolleys are being pushed left and right, the flow of the journey broken up by unexpected encounters at either end of the aisles.

The markings on the floor are faded, the colours dulled by thousands of wheels and shoes treading on them. People don’t see them any longer, they are part of our new visual language and it is easy not to see them anymore. But they are there, the pleas to keep two metres apart, the safety tape marking the distance.

The trolleys start their journey again, slowly, cautiously. Everyone is aware of the other shoppers eyes on them, spying to see who triggered a member of staff to make this announcement. We wait and smile, courtesy and silence now omnipresent in our gestures.

I continue to move the trolley, feeling safer for having heard an employee care about the guidelines, about safety.

The trolley overflowing with food for the next couple of weeks, I make my way to check-out, my feet finding the one till I have been using consistently throughout lockdown. It hasn’t been the usual person behind the screen for the last few shops. It still isn’t today. Instead of the dark-haired silent employee, there is a bubbly blonde haired one. We chat throughout the process as I try to keep some sort of organisation on the belt to make packing easier.

‘Oh that’s a lot,’ the person says before telling me how much I owe the shop. ‘But if that’s for a couple of weeks…’

‘I know,’ I tell her. ‘I had a moment during the first lockdown shop, but when you break down the price, it’s actually okay.’

We smile and carry on chatting as I put the last bag into the trolley.

I leave the shop, the trolley heavy, and wheels unruly.

Where are you? I text my partner who is waiting in the car.

To your right as you come out, she replied quickly.

I look up and scan the car park in search of our small red car. I spot it quickly and hurry to it. I transfer the bags into the boot and hop in the car. My partner squirts some hand gel in my hands. I rub it in, spreading it in every nook and cranny of my hand, fingers and wrists. Once dried, I close the door and we set off towards the house.

I am not walking today. We are trying to change our routine, make it faster and more manageable for when we both return to work. I take it one step at a time. This feels okay. Next we drop the bags in the garden. We said we wouldn’t clean the packaging but I cannot bring myself not to do it. I get the spray, gloves, and cloths out. My partner begins to clean as I head for the shower. When I come back to the garden, half the bags are already empty. I set out to store everything in the fridge and cupboards and within an hour we are done.

My partner head for the shower and I pour myself a fresh glass of apple juice. This shop has been a lot faster the any of the previous ones we have done during lockdown but it still takes a lot of time, time we won’t have when we return to work. One step at a time, I remind myself. For now, this is okay.

I move from the sofa to the step leading into the garden and watch the long blade of grass sway in the breeze, my mind focused on their movement rather than the possibility of not cleaning anything before putting it away.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 97

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 97

Day 97

Again and again, I copy/paste the same variations of a message into contact pages and message boxes. I am looking for a fencing contractor. We have been talking about replacing our fence with my partner for months but still haven’t done it.

We have been waiting for summer we said, for warmer days with less wind battering our neighbourhood. The pandemic began, our income was reduced, and we kept finding excuses not to replace the fence. We know it’s going to be a costly job, one neither of us want to pay for but it is necessary.

The wind has blown strongly in the last few days our fence wobbling dangerously at the edge of our garden, most of the posts held on by strings and strong pegs. It needs to be replaced. It probably needed to be replaced when we first visited the house just over a year ago but we didn’t think to look at it. We have never needed to consider such jobs in the past, landlords taking care of our problems and making them disappear with more or less nagging on our parts. We do not have this option any longer, any issue with the property is ours whether we want it or not.

‘We’ll know for next time,’ I tell my partner. ‘Maybe ask for a lower price.’

‘Definitely. Although, I don’t think we’d have gotten the house if we’d offered less than they asked.’

‘True.’

We both think of the first house we put an offer on, the one by the river Avon that had me dreaming of breakfast by the water, evening walk along its banks, and endless days watching it flow. We didn’t get it.

‘The bathroom needed redoing, remember.’

‘Yes, it was bad wasn’t it? And there would have been the comings and goings of cars all the time by the garden fence.’

‘Yeah.’

‘And the kitchen was small.’

‘Quite small.’

We nod to each other. We cannot help ourselves. Every time we mention that first house we both liked, we have to list all the reasons why it was good we didn’t get it. There are more that we have found. Neither of us truly regrets not getting it. The issues we find with that house by the river Avon are real but I sometimes wonder if the emphasis we put on them is to make us feel happier in the house we did buy. We both like it, this home of ours.

‘Do you ever regret not getting that house by the river,’ I ask my partner, voicing our thoughts.

‘No,’ she answers. She hesitates for a second and adds, ‘no. I don’t.’

‘Me neither.’

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 95

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 95

Day 95

‘Fourteen points,’ my partner says.

‘Is that it?’

I lean across to her on the bed and peer at the screen of her phone. Tiles are arranged on the digital Scrabble board in a tight packed pattern.

‘Oh, tricky.’

My partner nods.

I shuffle the letters about for a while, hoping to find inspiration. The board is telling us we can get much more than fourteen points. ‘What about there,’, I suggest, lining tiles against another set of words. The number 27 appears next to our word. There is more points to be had according to the app but we cannot be bothered to look for another word or position on the board.

We switch to the second game my partner has on the go. The pattern is more open, making it easier to insert new words in and stick letters close to one another for extra points. We linger in bed, playing Scrabble with people we only know by their app name. They too seem to be having a lazy morning, words being placed rapidly after ours.

The games over, I brush my teeth and head to the attic to retrieve a fabric I had bought a year previously to create a darkroom in the house we use to rent. I still have plenty of material spare and for the next two hours, I cut and tape pieces of cardboard together, covering them with the black out material I have. There are slight light leaks coming from the window but they are faint enough that I don’t worry about them. The door is a jumble of left over fabric, towels, and dressing gown to block the light coming from the corridor. The job finished, I lay down on the cold tiles and stare at the empty space above me. I can barely make out the features of our bathroom, the details known more than seen.

It reeks of the chemicals on the fabric adorning the window but I do not care. I feel safe and cocooned in this space. It is broad day light but in here it is dark and I can imagine what I want for the outside. I close my eyes, grey details disappearing from sight, and listen. I cannot hear the slow faint traffic of a Saturday morning, the double glazing doing its insulating job. But I can hear my partner below me, listening to a video lecture. The American voices echo familiarly, the waves of their speech reaching me like a the constant line of a drone.

A drop of water falls from the shower head, exploding against the cold white ceramic of the bath. I can hear it break into hundreds of smaller droplets, sliding into the drain hole. I open my eyes and get out of the bathroom, my eyes squinting at the brightness of the corridor. I step into the study and grab one of my camera. I want to use it as an enlarger. I have seen a video of someone doing it with a similar camera to mine. Only they had better tools than me. My tripod is inadequate for the job but I’m hoping I can project an image onto the bathroom wall but this will have to wait, for now I have scones to make for an afternoon tea date with Jonathan and Dan.

Scones whipped up and cooking in the oven, I arrange the table with an array of savoury food to eat with them. Steaming hot and not quite scone like, I set the baked good to the table and open up Skype waiting for my friends. E. joins me and soon we are all chatting away, eating scones and drinking tea.

‘I haven’t really missed anything,’ Jonathan comments during the conversation. I pause at his remark. I haven’t missed very much either. I certainly haven’t missed shops and the frenzy of consumerism. I have missed walking, cycling, and wild camping, but not as much as I expected. When reminded of it, I have felt the sharp edge of longing, the desire to get out in nature and think of nothing at all. But I have not suffered form the lack of micro adventures the way I normally do. Living at home, I have been able to set my own schedule, manage my own time and mental effort. I have not needed to push myself beyond what I wanted and crammed too much in too little time. Instead, I have consumed more artistic works than before, I have learned and am learning new skills, and I am learning to live with change and manage the anxiety it can bring.

‘It turns out, I’m more of a home buddy than you,’ I tell my partner later that day. ‘I definitely wouldn’t have said that before.’

My partner is beginning to feel trapped within the walls of our home. She wants to get away, travel and explore, while I am happy remaining where I am, exploring every inch of our neighbourhood and keeping busy with personal projects within the house. I would lie if I said I didn’t miss the outdoors. Of course I do. But I have shifted my expectations for now. Instead of exploring paths and roads further afield, I am learning about trees in my streets and along our daily walks. I am watching the garden grow and change, my hands turning the soil and observing the life underground while uprooting weeds. I am relaxed. In a sense, I have accepted this lockdown as a luxury of time, a privilege to reflect and learn. I watch the world and see my place in it, question it, reflect on it. This hasn’t been and isn’t an easy road. Last month, I have been adrift, the possibility of returning to work weighing on me. My anxiety spilled through my body and I was afraid. The world exploded in a burst of fire and I felt lost. I have not resolved those issues within me. My anxiety has not disappeared. It has quieten. The world is still ablaze. I am learning, shifting, questioning.

I think about this as I lay on the floor tiles in the dark bathroom. My camera didn’t work as intended to create a print. Instead I am attempting some contact prints. I am using a salt bath instead of chemicals to fix the image on paper and this takes a long time. So I wait. I think I’ve messed it up but it doesn’t matter. I will keep trying, the art of the darkroom too alluring to let go of it.

A knock comes on the door. ‘I need the loo.’

‘One minute,’ I shout back from the darkness within. I cover the tray with the prints in it and open the door. I could have done that earlier, gotten out and carried on with something else, but I like it here, in the dark.

‘How is it going,’ my partner asks as she comes in.

‘I’m not sure,’I reply honestly. ‘I think I’ve messed it up again but I have ideas for improvement.’

She looks at me quizzically.

‘No, not now,’ I reassure her. ‘What time is it anyway?’ I check my phone. It is nearly six o’clock. A good time to stop and return to a world of light.