#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 105
The idea of a collection of daily words describing how you felt for 30 days of social distancing and isolation feels really meaningful to me and something that I think I’d really appreciate having in 10 years. Think outside the box of what you might typically write!— NaNoWriMo (@NaNoWriMo) March 31, 2020
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.