#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 10072

#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.

Day 9472

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 94

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 94

Day 94

I walk with my friend to work this morning, through the known trodden ground of the nature reserve and the labyrinth of paths between streets and housing. At the end of our walk, she dives into the mouth of the warehouse where another colleague stand. He is wearing a mask and a set of gloves. I wave at him. He waves back before turning back inside the warehouse. The shutter closes behind them, the dark blue metal appearing cold in the grey morning light. I turn around and follow the paths we have just walked back to my home.

In a few hours, I will receive an e-mail update from work. I have no doubt that I will be ignored again. As my manager puts it the week before, there are only six of us furloughed in my department, so it is only normal that the e-mail from work address the 400 employees of the other much bigger departments. I shake my head at the thought of her words. I don’t think that it matters that the furlough status of 6 employees out of 400 is different. Those six employees should still be cared for. I stop my trail of thoughts. There is no need for me to spiral into my growing resentment towards my workplace. I cannot do anything about it currently.

Back home, I set to work on Queer Out Here. I want to finish the rounds of edit I’m currently on so Jonathan can work on creating an introduction for issue 05. Halfway through the process, I check my e-mails. There are two from work. The official one that I quickly disregard, and one from the head of my department that send my blood boiling.

My annual leave is stripped away from me, allocated partly at the end of the month, over Christmas, and relegated to 2021. If I need a break between my return to work and December, I am unlikely to be able to have one.

I immediately text my manager to confirm how many days of annual leave it leaves me with. She replies quickly. Four. Not even a full week. I take a deep breath and read over her words again. In them, she hints at the fact that I am unlikely to be back at work before August, something nobody has ever mentioned before but here it is, as a stray comment in a middle of a paragraph about something else.

I hammer away at the keyboard on my phone screen before deleting the entire message. There is no point in sending an angry message. It will not achieve anything. Instead, I turn my phone off and return my attention to Queer Out Here but my focus is gone. All I can think of is how much I hate how work communicates with me. There is little care, no consultation, and a sense of information being dumped on me as and when managers remember they have furloughed employees. I understand the uncertainty they too face but I do not understand the lack of care. All it would take is a change of words in the e-mails, a mention of shared humanity, an understanding of the stresses that furloughed employees have. But increasingly there is less and less of that. I am stranded, apart from the company, different, irrelevant.

I walk out of the study and join my partner in the living room, sharing my concern with her. My voice rises in volume as my anger spurts out of me. I can hear the echo chamber I am creating, my words looping on themselves. I am going nowhere but I cannot stop. I am angry. My partner tries to find ways to make me see the situation differently but I do not want to. Instead, I text a friend I know I can moan with. She shares my anger and through our interaction, I calm down. My anger reflected back at me triggers my brain out of the vacuum it has created.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 91

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 91

Day 91

‘Is that your car,’ I ask my partner. A loud metallic noise has just resonated through the streets as we drove. I look through the side view mirror but cannot see anything wrong.

‘I don’t know. I hope not,’ she replies.

We say no more and carry on driving to the instructions of the GPS. We are in an unfamiliar part of Bristol, on our way to pick up a bag of clothes for my sewing experiments.

‘Here, number 11,’ I exclaim as we inch our way through the road in search of the correct house.

My partner pulls up, park against the pavement, and I get off. I knock on the door, the noise falling flat against the wood, and step back to a safe distance.

Nothing happens. I knock again and wait. The door unlocks and a lanky teenager opens the door. Dressed with a too-short dressing gown, he hands the bag over to me and whisper ‘Sorry,’ his eyes fixed to the ground.

‘Thank you,’ I reply smiling and taking hold of the plastic bag. The door closes as soon as I have the bag in hand. I shove it in the boot and we drive back towards our home.

‘You’re exhaust is falling!’

‘What,’ my partner shouts back at the man in the car next to us. Window opens, he gestures at the back of our car and repeats, ‘your exhaust is falling!’

‘Oh. Thank you,’ my partner has just enough time to shout back before his car disappear in traffic.

‘Well, I guess that’s what the noise was earlier,’ I comment.

‘Yeah…’

Back home, we call our nearest garage. They have a slot today to look at the car. At the same time, I get a notification that someone has some sewing bits and bobs they can give me. A few days earlier, I had posted an add on Freecycle.com for fabric and anything else a beginner sewer might need. I text back and hop on my bicycle to the person’s house. Leaving my bike on the ground at the end of her drive, I knock on the door, step back, and wait. The lady opens the door smiling.

‘Hello. I’m Allysse, here for the sewing bits and bobs.’

‘Hello. I’ve got a whole box for you.’ She notices my bicycle and adds worried. ‘Are you going to be okay carrying it?’

‘Sure. I’ve got straps in my backpack for the rack.’

She smiles again and disappear into the house for a minute before returning with a large plastic red box. ‘There are some needles, bits of fabric, as well as some thread, and a dress I began years ago and never finished.’

She leaves the box on the ground.

‘Thank you,’ I say infusing the words with as much meaning as possible. When she had told me online she had a few things for me, I never imagined it would be an entire box worth of things.

‘No problem. Have fun with it.’ She closes the door and I step forward to grab the box. I strap it around my backpack and cycles back home. I wash my home and disinfect the box in a series of gestures that are becoming too familiar. The washing machine with the clothes I picked up earlier in the day is finished. I hang the garments up and focus my attention on the red plastic box. I open it. There is a tray filled with half a dozens threads, bobbins, a lot of needles, and more items I cannot name but vaguely know the use for. Under it are a selection of fabric, all used and cuts in varying sizes. At the bottom, cut out for the dress are folded neatly, the paper still stuck under the blue cotton fabric. I put the tray back on and close the box.

I hear the front door open and turn my head towards it. My partner is back from the garage. ‘So?’

‘They can fix it. Apparently it’s corroded as well. It’ll be £100 to fix it. This car is starting to cost us quite a bit.’

‘Well, the battery was our fault,’ I remind my partner. ‘How long?’

‘They’ll give me a ring but it should be later today.’

‘I’ll come with you. I need to drop by the post office. Someone brought one of the item I’m selling on eBay.’

‘Oh good.’

‘Well, it’s only the small cable thing,’ I add.

‘Still. It’s a start.’

My partner heads upstairs while I remain downstairs. I read through an Instructables.com tutorial about making a pair of short using an existing one for a pattern. The instructions vaguely make sense but not entirely. I figure they’ll make more sense as I start sewing. I bookmark the instructions for later. The clothes I want to cut up are still wet on the racks outside.

Later, as we are walking towards the post office and garage, I spot the figure of a friend in the distance. ‘Is that C.?’ I interject mid-sentence.

‘Where?’

‘There. Do you think it’s him?’ I squint my eyes as if that would make his features clearer. As I do, I see the man take off the headphones on his head and stare at me. ‘It is C.,’ I exclaim.

He is on the opposite pavement as us. We cross the road and greet one another from afar. His hair has grown long, making his face even more boyish than it used to be. ‘How have you been?’

We catch up briefly, promising to see each other in our garden for a drink soon, and part ways. In spite of living a street apart, we have never bumped into each other during lockdown before now. ‘I have missed C. And G.,’ I tell my partner. I normally would spend an evening a week at their house, eating good food, watching films or tv shows, and remaking the world with them. I do not say it aloud but I wonder when we will be able to do this again. Next week, I suppose. But how will we all feel about being indoors? I stop my trail of thoughts, not wanting to kickstart my anxiety by thoughts of all the surfaces we could potentially touch, share, and infect.

‘I’ll see you at the garage,’ I tell my partner as I queue for the post office. I step in the building, cautious about my movements. This is the first public building I enter that is not a supermarket. I expected to feel a tinge of stress, a rise of anxiety, but I am okay. The space is empty, all furniture and shelving taken apart to provide as much space as possible to people. There are three customers in the shop with me, our bodies moving along invisible lines drawing two metres between us. When my turn comes, I step towards the counter, keeping my body distanced from the lady behind the unscreened counter.

I hand the small parcel over. ‘Do you take coins?’

‘Yes we do. Any kind of money, we take it,’ she jokes, a smile broadening on her face.

I reply with my own smile, my shoulders relaxing. I hand over the cash, she gives me my change, and within minutes I am back on the streets. I keep my hands by my side, away from my pockets or the skin on my face.

I reach the garage as my partner exits their entrance with the car. I open the door and get in, my hands extended towards my partner. She quirts some alcohol gel on them. ‘All fixed?’

‘Yes.’

‘Super.’

We drive back in silence, the ride taking us through the familiar streets of our neighbourhood, the speed unfamiliar in these landscapes after three months of walking these streets over and over again.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 89

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 89

Day 89

I dig into the earth and pull out a weed, carefully trying to avoid pulling out any of the wild flowers I planted a few weeks ago. Kneeling by the currant tree, I repeat the process over and over again, my attention focused on keeping the wild flowers in and the roots of the tree undamaged. I follow the curve of the grass edge, weeding out what we have seen grow and didn’t like.

‘I’m going for a walk,’ my partner announces as she steps into the garden.

‘With J.?’

‘Yes.’

‘Okay,’ I reply a bit uneasy. J., a friend of my partner, has been in various protests recently and lives with someone who has had little care for the rules of lockdown.

‘I’ll take a mask,’ my partner adds seeing the concern on my face.

‘Okay. Say hello to J. from me,’ I add smiling.

‘Will do.’

My partner turns around. Soon I can hear the car engine purr into action. My hands are deep in soil, worms are wriggling free of the earth I am turning. I am uncomfortable with my partner going into Bristol, going to see someone with little control over her environment. I need to let go of those fears. I cannot stop my partner or myself from seeing friends when we both know none of the persons involved are irresponsible. I need to learn to live with the virus and the threat attached to it. It is not going away.

The sides and back of the garden free of weeds, I step back towards the patio to look at my work. I feel like we can breathe again in the garden. Nothing is growing wild and out of control anymore, overpowering the neighbouring trees and the grass around. We don’t want a tidy garden, but we do want colour and life instead of choking weed. Slowly, it will come into shape.

I carry my piles of weeds into our green bin and return inside for a shower. Clean and refreshed, I settle into the living room with my laptop and go over our finances. June is the first month when I have not been paid in full, my employer no longer filling in the gap between the furlough scheme and my full wage. It is not much but enough to be felt. I tally up our salary against our bills. It is not a figure I like. We can afford everything but not much else. It is a luxury, I know, but one I have grown used to living with. I am uncomfortable with the thought of being unable to save, of losing my job as my employer still refuses to make any mention of a possible return date to work. Still, we can afford our house, we can pay our bills, and we can keep eating healthily. We are okay.

I head upstairs to the put my laptop away. In the study, the storage unit catches my eye, some of the musical and camera equipment gathering dust, unused for months. I pull them out before I have time to think, check everything is still intact and working and before I know it, I have a pile of electronics to sell. I sit on the sofa bed, open my laptop, and begin to research second-hand pricing for those items. I add them up, the total coming up to a satisfying amount. I grab my camera to take photos of the items conditions and within the next hour, they are all put up for sale on various websites.

I shove them to the side of the study, easy to grab and reach if they sell quickly. I return downstairs and check the clock. It is past one o’clock. My stomach grumbling, I decide to make lunch instead of waiting for my partner. By three o’clock she is still not back. I worry that she has had lunch with J., taken off her mask and rendered it useless that way. As the thought strikes me, I shove it aside. My partner is more responsible than this. I trust her.

I read for a while before revising some of my Portuguese lesson. They are becoming more complex, the easy knowledge of French and Spanish not enough to get me by any longer. By four o’clock, my partner comes home. We follow the cleaning routine we have set up from coming back from a shop. Clothes are thrown in the washing machine with the mask, my partner hands are cleaned, and she heads for a shower. It feels superfluous and necessary at the same time.

Later, we sit on the sofa, eating an apéritif in front of an old half-remembered episode of Columbo while playing a game of Scrabble.

‘How was J.,’ I enquire my mind relaxed.

‘Yeah, pretty good all things considered. She’s really concerned about returning to work though,’ she adds.

‘Yeah,’ I murmur. I think back of my days working in a library, the public unleashed in the building, the raging wars at the computers, the surfaces touched, the staff desks unprotected in the middle of often stuffy structures.

We say no more on the subject, my partner worries at returning to work in libraries known and shared. For now, it is Sunday evening, and all we want to do is relax.

Day 8672

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 86

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 86

Day 86

‘I’ve been in the UK for ten years today,’ I tell my partner as I finish swallowing a piece of toast.

I can still see myself stepping off the Eurostar with a suitcase and a heavy backpack. All my worldly possession I thought I couldn’t do without were carefully packed within. It had not been the first time I had set foot in St Pancras International train station but it was the first time I was doing so without a return ticket. I was terrified and exhilarated in equal amount.

‘Ten years,’ I murmur. I can’t comprehend that number or the difference between who I was when I arrived and who I am now. ‘I was due to go to the pub, have a carvery, wear a football shirt and cargo pants, have fish and chips, and a full English for breakfast.’

My partner looks at me horrified. ‘Well, not really,’ I clarify laughing. ‘I would have never made it through all that. But I would have definitely gone to the pub.’

I grab my cup of tea and take another sip of the burning hot liquid I now consider essential to my days. I remember L., one of the boys I was looking after as an au pair, six years old and eager to drink tea like a grown up. He would be given milk with a hint of tea, his face delighting in sharing moments with adults. I haven’t thought of L. and A. in a long time. They would be grown up now and I am unsure I would recognise them if I passed them in the streets.

‘Are we still okay to pick up the sewing machine after we go to Argos,’ I ask my partner.

‘Sure. We can have a walk in St Andrews Park afterwards too.’

‘Good idea.’

We finish our breakfast and get dressed lazily, our days having lost all sense of urgency to them.

In Argos, we pick up new water filter. The lawnmower is not ready yet. Through the backstreets, we drive to another part of Bristol. My partner knows the way well from working in a library nearby.

I get out of the car, knock on the door and step back two metres away. The door swings open quickly.

‘Hello, I’m Allysse, here for the sewing machine.’

‘Ah yes.’ The man gestures towards a corner of the entrance. I lean my body to the side, twisting my waist to see the machine sitting atop a chest of drawer.

‘Do you want to check it?’

‘I’m sure it’s fine. You say it’s working, I trust you.’ I smile, adding. ‘I’m only starting so I don’t really know much. I’m mostly sewn by hand so far.’

‘You’ll definitely find this much easier,’ he replies, relaxing a little. ‘I’ll pop it on the wall there.’ He points to the dividing wall between his and his neighbour’s front garden.

‘Thanks.’

I hand him the money, adding. ‘I’ve just taken it out of the cash machine.’

Both notes are the new plastic ones, easier to clean if he would like to.

‘Thank you,’ he replies. I extend my arm for him to take the notes. He does so. As they slip from my fingers to his, I step back, leaving him space to get out of his house with the machine. He positions it on the wall. We awkwardly say our goodbyes and I pick up the machine, heavier than expected in my hands. I carry it to the boot of the car where my partner is waiting. I tuck it in safely and cleanse my hands with hand sanitiser.

My partner lock the car and we follow the unfamiliar street to the end until we reach a road we know. We walk uphill until we reach the park.

‘It’s strange to be here without a pizza,’ I comment. I have only ever come to this park in the evenings after work, joining my partner outside of one of the libraries she works at, picking up a pizza, and coming to eat it here.

We walk around the park, avoiding running children and dog walkers. A van sells coffees and cakes near the playground. People are queuing, a metre apart from one another, deep in conversation with friends. If I ignore the lock on the playground door, the park appears normal for a Thursday morning.

We walk back towards the entrance of the park. A woman is standing there with her child, tidying her small dress before snapping a picture on her phone. She stands up, putting her phone back in her pocket, and sees us for the first time. ‘Oh sorry, are you waiting to go?’ The woman cheeks turn red.

‘Yes,’ we reply. ‘But it’s okay. We’re not in any rush.’

She skitters to the side, gesturing her child to follow.

‘Thank you,’ I say still smiling.

Back home, I clean the sewing machine with disinfectant before setting it down on the living room floor. I look at it for a while, at once familiar and foreign. I open the instruction manual and start at page 1. I read the names of the parts and touch them on the machine as if that would imbue them with meaning.

Carefully, I wriggle the thread through multiple loops before it can slide through the needle. ‘Okay…’ I tell myself. ‘Now what?’

I press the foot piece but nothing happens. I switch on the light and this time, the needle spurs into action, the thread flying away from it, back inside the machine. ‘Not like that then,’ I laugh. I try again, and again, dipping in and out of the user manual. ‘The problem with this manual,’ I tell my partner as she walks in from the kitchen with a hot cup of tea, ‘is that it assumes you know about sewing machines already.’

I try again and fail. A few minutes, my partner hands me her phone. ‘Would this video help?’

‘I don’t know. Let’s see.’ I prop the phone against the machine and watch as a person on the screen tells me all about sewing machine. Theirs is different from mine but I find the same features easily enough. I repeat their motions carefully, switching my attention from the video to the user manual. ‘Ah, I threaded it wrong,’ I tell my partner who is reading a magazine. Not a good start,’ I laugh.

‘Always keep the footer down before sewing,’ the voice from the phone says.

‘I didn’t do that either.’

I press the lever at the back of the machine. The footer traps the piece of spare fabric down. I pause the video and press the foot piece. The needle springs into action, the thread going in and out of the fabric, creating a line of tight stitches. ‘Success!’ I exclaim, raising my hands in the air. ‘And it only took about an hour,’ I add laughing at myself.

I carry on watching the video and practice sewing some straight lines of stitches until the thread pops away from the needle again. I put the machine away, tidy my remaining fabric by its side and move upstairs to work through the essay I wrote about Brexit. It traces my experience of life in the UK and the ramification of Brexit in my life. I was due to share it publicly today but I won’t. My website is still under construction as my brother and webmaster battles his boss and I feel it is inappropriate to share at this time.

My experience remains a privileged one compared to what I have read and learned from the Black Live Matters movement. My words can wait. I polish the text nonetheless and post it on my website, hidden behind a wall nobody can get through without a password.

In the evening, we prepare dinner and eat outside, the heat of the day less oppressive in the shade of the garden. ‘Cheers,’ I say raising my glass of beer to my partner glass of wine. ‘It’s not the pub but it’s pretty good like this too,’ I add feeling cocooned and safe within the boundary of our home.

We tuck in, watching the sun mellow the colour of the sky behind the barricade of trees next to the house bordering the edge of our garden.

‘Fancy a digestive walk,’ I ask my partner as we finish our meal.

‘Sure.’

We tidy up and get out of the house, walking through familiar streets. In the park, people are gathered in wide circles, sitting on camping chairs. Music is thrumming gently from one area of the park where young men are playing a game of football. I close my eyes for a second and listen to it all. I remember, a year ago, laying in my tent in a campsite, exhausted from the day’s walk, hearing the exact same sounds. I take a deep breath and we carry on.

The sky shines yellow and metallic blue, as the sun dips in and out of clouds. Long grass tickles my bare legs as we walk further into the park where tree grows and the council lawnmower doesn’t go. I take my partner hand in mine, the evening breeze cooling our bodies down.

Day 8572

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 85

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 85

Day 85

I awake with a headache that I know has nothing to do with the heat already gathering in the air.

‘Too much to drink,’ I moan as I roll over to my partner.

‘Yeah,’ she whispers back at me.

‘I’m going to take it easy today,’ I add.

‘Good idea.’

We hug for a moment until our bodies grow too hot. I get out of bed and prepare breakfast. We eat in bed. I finish a book and research how to sew shorts. I am growing tired of looking through too many shops to find nothing at all I like and have decided to make my own. It looks easy enough.

Breakfast over, I head downstairs and find the spare fabric I have left over from making a cover for my Nintendo Switch earlier in the year. It is too small for a pair of shorts but a sleeveless t-shirt might just be doable. I draw a pattern based on an existing garnment and cut it roughly. I leave it alone until the afternoon when I return to it and begin to sew by hand.

I slide a DVD of Hero Corp in the player and switch my focus from TV to thread every few minutes. Time tick on and I have a makeshift sleeveless t-shirt. The threading is weak and I have no doubt it will break but it doesn’t matter. I slide it on, my breasts catching on the fabric and making it almost impossible to put fully on.

I run up the stairs to the study where my partner is.

‘Tadam,’ I exclaim.

‘It’s…’ she begins to say trying to conceal her laughter.

‘Way too small,’ I finish her sentence, laughing fully.

‘Yeah, way too small.’

‘But it’s all the fabric I had,’ I add in defence of my work. ‘Can you help me take it off?’

We battle the fabric, the stitching holding much better than expected and I breath again out of the too tight top.

‘It wasn’t difficult to make but it’s a pain to do it by hand.’

‘I can imagine. Look, what do you think of this,’ my partner enquires pointing at the computer screen.

‘If it will do the job,’ I reply. On the screen is a photo of a simple small lawnmower. ‘I know nothing about this. I trust you on this.’ My partner doesn’t know much more than me on lawnmowers but she has used some and researched reviews more than I have.

‘I’ll order it then. We should be able to pick it up tomorrow.’

‘Super. Thanks for doing that.’ And with those words, I head back downstairs to tidy the mess I have created. Fabric and thread back in their storage, I open my laptop and type in ‘sewing machine’ in a search engine. Prices are higher than I would be happy paying. I look around second hand website and find a local one at a cheap enough price to my liking. I send a message and before I can turn my computer off, a replies come. Someone is due to collect their machine that very evening. If they don’t come, the sewing machine can be mine.

I slump on the sofa and rest, the heat of the day too much for me to bear. I think of my bicycle and how I could create breeze this way. The thought of riding one of them does not riddle me with anxiety. I stand up and uncover my daily commuter. The saddle doesn’t need oiling, the tyres are still full, and nothing squeaks too much. I check the clock. It is nearly five. I decide to wait until rush hour is gone. I do not know how much of it there is but I do not want to find out.

‘I’m going for a ride,’ I tell my partner half an hour later. ‘Do you want to join?’

‘I’m good. We’ve already exercised this morning.’

‘I know. But it’s just a little ride.’

‘Hangover,’ she adds.

‘Sure thing.’

I hop on the saddle and push the pedal forward. My hands rest easily on the handlebar, my grip steady and secure. Each movement is like a memory coming back to me, my body knowing it far better than my brain. I pedal on and on, the wind rushing against my body cooling me down as temperature soars well into the twenties. I look back as a pedestrian comes towards me on the pavement by the road. There are no cars. I swerve in the middle of the lane, creating distance between them and me. I switch back to the side of the lane. A car passes me by in the opposite lane. I raise my hands in thanks for the space given.

I reach the duck pond I had intended to be my destination but I do not want to stop. I keep pedalling through alleyways and empty streets until I reach the giant commercial centre at the edge of town. I know I could cross it and join cycle route 4. From there it is a short distance to the Servern bridge. I am itching to go, to sit by the estuary, watch the water flow below and vehicles go above. But time is ticking and I have no water. I take a turn into an unknown street, follow a sign I have never noticed and end up looping back on myself, freewheeling down the last incline before reaching my street.

I slide the bike with my squished body between the growing bush by our fence and our garden gate. I rest the bicycle agains the fence, the cover it lying on the ground, kept in place by a brick. Next time we go out for a day,’ I tell it without speaking. I remain rooted to the spot for a moment longer, my eyes fixed on the bicycle, a smile on my face.