Day 107

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 107

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 107

Day 107

My hands are beginning to sweat under the warmth of a duvet, two blankets, and a dressing gown piled over me. I wipe them awkwardly on my t-shirt, my range of movement very limited. I am sitting hunched over a crowded wooden chopping board. I take a deep breath and focus on the task at hand, my eyes squinting in the dim makeshift red light by my side.

I bring my cardboard template of 120 film and carefully mark a line next to the edges. I take it away and feel around for the marks on the photographic paper. They are hard to spot in the dark but I do and score them until I feel the wood of the chopping board below.

I create four sheets of paper to fit in one of my medium format camera, stuff them inside my processing tank, making sure to close the lid as tightly as I possibly can, and throw the covers away from me.

‘I need a better dark space,’ I mumble as I jerk my body upright, the light breeze coming from the window a relief on my skin. But I know I won’t really get a better dark space for a while. I can turn my bathroom into a darkroom but the process is long, requiring too much effort when I just want to spend ten minutes in it.

I grab my old folding camera and the processing tank with the paper inside safely protected from light. I slide them both inside my dark bag and transfer paper to camera. I feel the paper under my fingers, both sides sleek and slippery.

‘Shoot.’

I lower my head in defeat. I forgot to create a marking on the paper so I can recognise the emulsion side without looking at it. With the fibre based paper I have used previously, it was easy to feel the difference, but with this resin coated paper, I have absolutely no idea of which way around is the emulsion side. I take a gamble, and load the camera.

I run downstairs, open the garden door and set up a shot by one of our mint plant. I take a light reading with my phone, hope for the best, and take the shot. I repeat the process three times until my four pieces of paper are exposed, all rated at different ISO. My hands slide under the sofa bed in the study and grab the soda crystals, cheap coffee granules, and vitamin C from their hiding place. I mix the ingredient together, the stench of fabricated orange smell and cheap coffee invading the bathroom within minutes.

I pour the mixture into the processing tank where the sheets of paper are, hoping they don’t end up all sticking together, images printing on one another. The timer goes off, I rinse the paper, coffee stain draining down the sink. When the water runs clear, I pour in some fixer and let it do its job, before giving the paper another thorough rinse.

I twist the dark funnel out of the tank and dip in for the paper. They are swimming away from one another, the emulsions not having stuck to one another. I pull the paper out and burst out laughing.

‘I loaded it wrong!’

Weak images with numbers written on them stare back at me. I guessed the light sensitive side wrong.

‘It’s back under the dark space for me’, I mumble as I drop the paper back into the water for a wash.

I repeat the entire process, cutting off a bit of paper at the right hand corner so I can easily load it in the camera. This time, I come up with images exposed on the correct side of the paper. I return to the study, sit at the desk, open my darkroom notebook, and begin to write my findings of the day.

Day 103

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 103

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 103

Day 103

‘Cheers!’

I snap a photo of our glasses together, brimming with the golden brown liquids inside. I take a sip and sigh.

‘It’s been so long.’

‘Yeah…,’ my partner agrees quietly.

I turn my head to the side where the road is and beyond a the house with a stone wall and ivy climbing to the roof. There are flowers in pots by the windows, purple and blue. The grass verge at the front is messy, uncut and unruly.

I take a deep breath, my soul quivering. It is easy to ignore the low drone of the A-road just beyond this otherwise idyllic village. They even have a village store, the sign freshly painted in glossy white, the letters bold and black against the pale background.

It’s been a good day, I think. And this is the perfect ending to it.

We drove along quiet roads in the morning, meandering our ways through the back lanes of North Somerset and Wiltshire to reach a sleepy village at the northern edge of the Cranborne Chase AONB. I walked here with a friend nearly a year ago, the memories of that walk etched so deeply in my memories, they still make me quiver. We traipsed for hours in the countryside without seeing another soul, dipping down into the valleys below the hills where we trod for refreshments in pubs. We dipped into river, refreshing our souls and bodies into their cool waters. We laid our head down in fields and forests we shared with bucks and does, our eyes glowing with the fire of each sunsets we witnessed.

The world was different then. Hopping into a train to meet up was an easy thing, dipping in and out of pubs and cafés to ask for a pint or a coffee and a refill of our water bottles was not something to plan.

My hand reaches for a warm chip in the bowl in the middle of the table. Hot to the touch, it nearly burns my tongue but I do not care. I am sitting at a pub, at the end of a long walk on a Saturday, and it feels a little bit like life again.

We had not intended to stop at the pub. When they re-opened we both agreed not to go, but here, in the later afternoon haze, our bodies spent from the walk and not quite enough water, it was a matter of fact to sit at this table outside this pub.

A member of staff had disinfected it before our eyes as we approached. Cocooned in a two metres wide bubble marked by black and yellow tape, we sat down, not thinking about the consequences. We squirted hand gel into our palms, a gesture that is becoming too familiar, the smell of the particular brand we have been using a part our olfactory memory now. Another member of staff came to take out order, a sign at the door ordering us to wait outside.

I take another sip of my ale, the liquid tasting better in this setting than it would have in a bottle in my house. Locals come and go, shouting at one another across the distances marked on the ground. A man swigs the last of his whiskey glass into his mouth before continuing his conversation.

‘She’s a weird one,’ he comments about a girl I do not know but instantly like.

‘Don’t say that,’ the woman interjects.

‘Well she is,’ he insists as they walk away, peace returning to the village, the drone of the A road audible once more.

My partner calls the pub from her cellphone to ask for the bill, the members of staff too busy inside to patrol the outside tables at regular interval. I step into the entrance of the pub, the card machine losing connection if it gets out. I tap my card as quickly as I can on the screen and step out, waiting for confirmation the payment has gone through.

We sling our backpacks on our shoulders again. ‘The river route or the road one?’

‘The river route.’

It is an easy answer, one that doesn’t require any thought even though the light is beginning to fade. We still have a couple of hours of daylight ahead of us. We find the river easily, the air a little cooler by its side. We duck under the A-road, motor vehicles unaware of what lay beneath their wheels, and leave it behind, bleating sheep gradually getting louder around us.

Through nettles and overgrown paths, we carry on until we run out of path and have to join the asphalt again. We tread it quietly, our steps taking to the middle of the road. We pass houses, conversations dipping as people see us pass, an unusual sight in their quiet rural escape.

We reach the car, drink from the water bottle I left there on purpose, and start our journey back. The sun is dipping below the horizon, blinding our eyes to the road ahead. I dip my head out of the window, repeating over and over ‘you’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay,’ to my partner who can barely see the road through the glare of the windscreen.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 101

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 101

Day 101

Sitting on the sofa, hooked to the TV, I am watching Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga. Having been raised in France, I know little of British history. What I have learned about it is entirely white and this program is opening my eyes to a whole other side of history I am ignorant of.

It makes me wonder what I haven’t been taught at school about French history. I remember talking about the slave trade, a maritime triangle drawn over an expanse of blue. I remember being told about colonisation and decolonisation. Neither of those topics occupied more than a handful of lessons. Neither of those topics really talked about history from a non-white perspective, and neither of those topics needed to be studied to pass an exam.

Early on during lockdown, I discovered the work of Adeline Rapon. My eyes opened then to a sliver of what I wasn’t taught but more importantly I realised I had not ever considered this gap in history. Of course, I have know that the history I had to learn at school was white and selected. We never spoke about our neighbouring countries unless a war was involved, so anything further afield is vague at best in my mind. But as David Olusoga mentions in his programme, the history of white Europe and BIPOC is intertwined. You cannot narrate one without the other. But we do and I have.

I think of the book laying on my bedside table too, filled with myths and legends of Nigeria. I am devouring it, turning to Google at least once every chapter to read more about what I am learning. I question why I have never been curious about those myths. Not just Nigeria but further afield too. I have read widely about Western myths and legends, from Greece, from Rome, from France, from Ireland, from Nordic countries, from Russia and more. I have glanced at myths and legends from the Americas, China, Japan, and even Australia. But I know nothing of Africa. It is a blank slate, one I cannot explain. I rack my brain for why this gap exist in my knowledge. Myths and legends is a thing I like so why have I ignored all of Africa for so long. It is an easy answer. I have not looked very hard. Most of my learning has come from lessons, books, exhibitions, and television programs. Algorithms and human bias have offered me a truncated view of the world, one I didn’t question much until recently.

I think of the conversation I had with a friend recently who told me the lives of BIPOC is not as bad in France as it is in the USA. I am not convinced. If part of your identity is constantly buried under the noise of white society, how can you truly be? If society sees you as a threat, as someone who is other all the time, how can you truly be? I cannot imagine how it must feel but I can perceive glimpses of what it might be like from being a lesbian. I used to be ill at ease in France, homophobic language casually thrown about without a second thought, society sending me images of what a couple should be like and it wasn’t me. But I have always been safe. I was often asked for my ID card in border trains, the police checking for illegal travellers, but they barely glanced at my plastic card. How could I be a threat? Me, this young white female quietly reading a book in a corner of the train carriage? I will never understand what it feels like. And this is okay. But I have run out of excuses not to question my world view, my daily life, and my actions.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 99

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 99

Day 99

I slot the Zelda game cartridge into the Nintendo Switch, wondering if I’m going to remember the controls. I spent hours early on in lockdown playing the games, wandering the fields, and doing nothing at all but explore the landscape of Hyrule. It was soothing to be this little figure in this vast expansive world. I could lose myself in green fields or forests, explore deserts and mountain tops, or fight my way through a demolished castle. Gradually, I left the game behind, the world unchanging and a constant reminder of what I couldn’t have in the physical world. I pulled the cartridge out and replaced it with a game of Harry Potter Lego, the world of Hogwarts and magic pulling me in. I am near finishing the main storyline of that game but I do not want to play it today.

Today, I want to get lost in the mountaintops of Hyrule, the snow covered peaks, dark and cool on the screen. I sit on the sofa, load the game, and within minutes it’s like I have never stopped playing the game. I wander around the landscape, fighting monsters, hunting down shrines I have not completed, and harvesting all the food I spot.

‘I’m going to hog the TV today,’ I tell my partner as I hear her footsteps approach the sofa. I curl my legs towards me, creating space for her on the sofa but she only got down to grab her notebook. She disappear upstairs to the study within minutes.

The controls in my hands, I wander through the colourful world on the screen, forgetting the jab of pain that rise and fall in my uterus. Today is the first day of my period and it isn’t the most fun day. I am glad to be having my period, my body having forgotten the month of June entirely. I suspect anxiety and a new sustained exercise regime to be the causes of this skipped month. This month, it came as a surprise. The mood swing, the warm throbbing ache of the left side of my face, the cramps in my legs, and the other myriads of tell-tale signs have not occurred. My period has simply arrived, my body gentle on the pre-menstrual symptoms for once.

As I make Link jump off a cliff, their paraglider opening automatically, I delight in the ability to lie on the sofa, playing Zelda all day. There is a luxury in being able to take a day off because of the pain of my period. The pain feel less acute, my brain less muddled. I know it isn’t the case. I am simply demanding less of my body today that I do when I am at work. I let it rest, able to listen to its demands for once.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 98

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 98

Day 98

‘I’m just tired,’ my partner says quietly. ‘Tired of being in the house all the time, tired of doing the same walks over and over again. I just want to go somewhere.’

‘I know,’ I reply offering my arms as shelter.

We have been arguing on and off all day, our voices raising, our feelings strained. Restrictions are being lifted, people are going on holidays, and we are remaining where we are. I would like to go on holiday too, to escape for a moment and forget the world we live in, but I can’t. With a diminished pay and the threat of the virus still looming, a holiday is not something I can think about.

I imagine arriving in a hotel or airbnb only to have to spend my time cleaning it, changing the sheets, disinfecting every surface and kitchen utensils we may use. It feels overkill. People are probably not doing this and they are fine, but the ‘what if’ voices in my head are loud.

I quell them often for everyday gestures and routines. I am careful. I wear a mask. I wash my hands. I carry hand gel with me at all times. But I cannot control everything. I cannot trap myself within the walls of my home. So I relax if someone passes me a little too close. This is out of my control. I head out in the car to different part of the city to collect fabric for the sewing machine. I trust that people will be responsible, safe. So far, they have been.

I do not want to let this anxiety take over me as it did. I need to be able to live in this new world and accept the threat. Holidays in unknown accommodation feel too scary for now though.

‘What about going to the beach,’ my partner ask.

I wince. I do not feel comfortable with the idea of the beach, not when campsites are reopening, when the weather is warm, and people head to the coast.

‘I don’t know,’ I reply. ‘They just don’t feel safe.’

They probably are but I don’t want to chance it. I would rather get lost somewhere in the countryside, on empty paths far from imagined crowded beaches, far from national trails, and national parks. This now feels possible even though I know paths are narrow and hedges overgrown. I have to continue pushing the boundaries of what I’m comfortable with. A few weeks ago, I would have refused to consider going out on any footpaths. Today I am ready for small unknown ones, drawn green and pink on the OS maps.

‘Let’s have a look where we can walk this week-end, yeah?’

My partner nods. We remain on the sofa for a while longer, each of us lost in our own swirling thoughts. A blackbird lands on our fence, looks left and right, but decide against our grass. It flies away, the garden still and quiet.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 96

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 96

Day 96

A man shouts a greeting I do not understand from the saddle of his bicycle to the men seating outside the pub. They raise their pints to the cyclist and laugh.

‘It’s odd,’ I comment, ‘seeing people at the pub.’

Our feet carry us towards the building. We have no inclination to get in but the sight lures us to it. A few tables away from the men, a family is sitting by a round table. A few metres further still, the entrance of the pub is guarded by two bodies. One is sitting behind a computer, the other blocks the door. I take it in as we walk, not stopping to stare.

‘It’s…’ I try to find words for what I feel but nothing comes to me. I do not know how to encapsulate how odd this sight is but also how normal. It is almost soothing to see people enjoying a pint on a Sunday afternoon. Only there are not enough people outside and there shouldn’t be someone at the door acting like a bouncer, not in this pub. But still, it is an unmistakable sign of life returning to what it was.

I  have been trying to banish the word ‘normal’ from my vocabulary. I do not want to say ‘normal’ because I do not want the pre-pandemic normal to be the one we return to. There is so much I want to change, yearn to see being changed. So I alter my vocabulary. I use the word ‘before’ a lot or the expression ‘the times pre-covid’. It rasps against my throat, the sentences jagged and unnatural, but I refuse to say the word ‘normal’.

‘…life,’ I end up saying to describe the pub. My eyes glitter with excitement. ‘Imagine that, stopping in our walk for a quick drink and a snack.’

‘But not now.’

‘No, not now,’ I confirm. Not anytime soon, I think. I remember my thoughts of the day before about not missing the outdoors too much, about feeling relaxed in my home, keeping busy. What I didn’t add to this trail of thoughts is how my house and immediate outdoors has become a bubble of safety. I know these places, I control these places enough that they are marked as safe. Inside a building or further afield, the unknowns are too many to calculate and predict. They are unsafe in my mind.

We carry on walking, through familiar streets and known parks until we have created a loop of footfalls starting and ending at our front door.

Day 93

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 93

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 93

Day 93

The echoing feet of a runner can be heard. I turn my head and instinctively say ‘runner’ even though my partner can hear them just as well as I can. We move our bodies to the edge of the path and look at the river below, our backs turned to the oncoming body.

‘Thank you,’ they say in one short exhale, their words lingering behind them.

We wait a moment before joining the path again. The river is murky brown by our side, filled with silt. An inflatable boat journeys along it, the rower unsure of its path. On the other side, groups of cyclists have gathered to shed their clothes and jump into the water. I shiver at the thought of it, the river undoubtedly cold still. I envy them too.

We walk on, the woods above the path sheltering us from the early evening sunshine. It feels like dusk where we are, our eyes tricked by shadows. Another couple pass us by and for a moment, we all walk single file trying to give the others as much space as possible.

We nod and greet one another in this now familiar dance.

‘Let’s turn around,’ my partner says after a while.

‘Already?’

‘We’ve been walking a good while.’

‘No we haven’t,’ I argue, but when I check the time on my phone, I can see we have already been out for more than half an hour. We still have to retrace our steps. ‘Okay,’ I admit, defeated.

I would have liked to carry on, follow the river past a small row of houses, past the pubs where we used to enjoyed summer pints in the heat of the day, past the weir and out of the urban area, next to fields, past another pub we have never stopped at, and into Bath. We don’t have time for this journey, not today.

We turn around, let another runner go past, and retrace our steps. I stop by the boathouse, coloured lines of rowing boat brightening the darkening greens of the tree. I frame a shot but don’t press the shutter. The light is too low for the film loaded inside the camera.

Back home, I receive a text from my brother. He is ready to chat. I text back, telling him I’ll call after dinner. It has been weeks since we last chatted, my brother not replying to my many messages. I knew he was fine, got news via our mother, but still. I cannot shove a certain resentment at him for not communicating more. We catch up on his life, the changes happening since taking actions against his unlawful boss, the new role he has found working for a friend of a friend, the project ideas swimming in his head. My life is unchanged, the same as it has been since the beginning of lockdown. Only now, it is life, a routine I know and have relaxed into.

It is dark outside by the time we finish our conversation. Street lights glow orange and white outside of my window, accompanied by the warmth of house lights filtering through blinds and curtains. There are still clouds in the sky.

I close the laptop, brush my teeth, and get into bed where my partner is still reading her book.

‘He’s okay,’ I say. There is more to be said but I am tired and for now, it is all that matters.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 90

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 90

Day 90

How to research your village history I type into my search engine in French. A few blogposts come up, a few official websites, and I’m on my way to research the history of the village I grew up in.

Since arriving in the UK, I have taken to learn the local history of places where I have lived. It has been a way to ground myself in places, to understand where I am and write myself within that history. I have never done this for any of the places I have lived with in France.

During lockdown, I have thought a lot about the past, about where I grew up and about the anger I held for so long against those places. It was an old anger, the anger of youth fed by fear and feeling of difference. Instead of learning about the places I lived in, finding ways to belong, I spent most of my teenage and university years fleeing from one place to another, hoping to find a home. I never did. Ten years later, I am curious about where I come from. What are the sides I have never seen? What are the faces I have disregarded because they didn’t fit my world view?

I look up images first. The search results are filled with shots taken during the first world war, a mixture of bomb damage and aerial shots. Next to them, a series of plans for a church that was never built are drawn neatly, digitised for me to see. There is a mansion too, one I have never seen, never even heard of. It too was destroyed during the wars.

I save the results in my computer and jump to another site. More images come up, some more picturesque ones perfect for a postcard. Mostly, though, I see the same images over and over again.

I file the photos away and turn my attention to the history of the village. I make a stop on Wikipedia and then the old and new official websites of the village. None of the articles about the village history are quoting sources but one of the writers name jumps at me.

‘Mme Maillart,’ I read aloud.

I stop my frantic copy/pasting and read the name again. I don’t need a series of sources to trust this name. Mme Maillart was my history teacher when I was aged 11 to 14. She was the best history teacher I ever had. She taught us about the lives of people, made the past relevant to the present. The day after 9/11 happened, she talked to the class. She let us express our feelings, asked questions our parents didn’t answer, and explained to us what had happened. She was careful in her use of language, making firm distinctions between Muslim people and extremism. She gave us a brief history of the middle east, of the raging wars with the west, and of everything else that was not on the school curriculum. As the bell rang the end of the class hour, we all had a better grasp of what had happened.

‘I wonder if she’s still alive,’ I mutter to myself. I perform a quick search but without a first name, I find it very difficult to locate any information. She could have moved, she could have died in another town than the village or neighbouring ones. ‘I’ll have to write to the village library,’ I think, ‘she used to volunteer with them. Maybe they’ll know’.

‘Mme Maillart,’ I say once more, straining to remember a first name. I can picture her house and my small hand handing an assignment over to her. I had been sick that day and hadn’t been to school. Since she lived in the same village as me, my mom had made me drop it off that evening. I was nervous about trespassing into a territory that wasn’t mine to be in. She was my teacher, I was her pupil. I had no business to be in her front garden. I remember tall trees and plants shading her windows from the street, a warm light coming through, and a strong wooden door I knocked on timidly. She opened, her body strange in the golden light of her house, relaxed in a way I had never seen.

‘Hello. I wanted to hand in my homework,’ I muttered under my breath, too shy to speak loudly. My cheeks burned, my skin red. I looked at my shoes.

She must have said something but I cannot recall. I went away as soon as possible, hurrying back to my own street, my cheeks still prickling with shyness and shame.

What was her first name? Have I never known her first name? Probably not, I think. I would have never needed to know her first name. She was simply Mme Maillart, my history teacher that lived in the same village as me.

My phone alarm rings, startling me out of the past. The laptop is in front of me again, the screen gone black from inactivity. I shut the lid and walk downstairs to join my partner in the living room.

‘Do you want to do some meditation with me,’ I ask, my alarm having reminded me it is time for it.

’No, I’m okay.’

I kiss her cheek and head back to the study, close my eyes, and breathe.

Day 87

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 87

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 87

Day 87

‘Okay, so…’ I fold the fabric over as demonstrated in the photos. ‘Like this. Like this?’ I pinch the screen on my phone to enlarge the photo. ‘Yes, like this.’

Tongue sticking out of my mouth, I double check the measurements, press the fold, and bring it to the ironing table. I laugh at myself as I pick up the iron I never thought I would use. Back at the dining table, I slide the fabric under the needle, align it as best I can, and begin to sew. Up and down the needle goes, the speed controlled by the pressure of my foot. I go slow, trying to keep a straight line.

I carry on sewing the sides of what is supposed to be a face mask. We have plenty, but while I await for new fabric to arrive, I am trying to use the leftover I have, and this seemed like a good enough project.

Three sides sewed, I turn it inside out, the cute fabric of hedgehogs and foxes revealing itself. I smile at the sight. I go back to my phone screen, reading the next set of instructions. I now need to fold the fabric to create the pleats. With the help of hand sewing needles, I find a pattern of layers that works for me and iron them flat.

I call my partner downstairs to help with the ear attachment. I have no elasticated fabric. I’m using shoe laces instead which means I need to be precise with my fit. I pinch the shoelaces between my fingers to mark where to cut them. ‘Thanks,’ I tell my partner who is already disappearing into the corridor.

I cut and hand stitch the shoe lace and try the mask on. ‘Too long,’ I mutter to myself. I adjust the fit. ‘Too short,’ I grumble. I rip the stitching apart and add a small length of shoe lace to join the cut up pieces together until finally, I have a good fit.

I run upstairs, mask over my face to my partner. ‘Tadam!’

‘It’s a bit big isn’t it.’

‘I know, I know,’ I reply my voice muffled by the layers of fabric. ‘It’s too saggy at the cheeks. Maybe if I do that,’ I say, pressing the fabric down against my face. ‘Just a few stitches there,’ I announce as if I have any idea what I’m doing.

I run back down the stairs to the sewing machine in the living room and carefully stitch the sides where I marked them. The mask is a better fit, my cheeks protected against droplets of virus.

I add an unfolded paper clip for a nose clip and hide it behind layers of white duct tape. It is mostly invisible if people don’t look too close. I take a photo and sent it to my friends and family on WhatsApp, displaying my new mask proudly. It’s much better looking and a much better fit than the first one I sewed by hand.

I check the time before I put my phone to sleep. I have been at the sewing machine for a good few hours. I laugh at myself. Such a simple design and yet, it has taken me most of the afternoon to complete. Baby steps, I remind myself. This is the first project I have ever sewed with a machine.

Day 80

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 80

Adrift for a week, I am slowly emerging back into my routine, reminding myself to work on my projects instead of wasting too much time killing time, avoiding work, avoiding too much scrutiny into myself. This scrutiny though is different than the one from the early days of lockdown. Back then, my entire being was raw. Everything was different, scary, and unknown. It was easy to keep track of my emotions and actions because they were loud. Three months later, they are not.