• KS

Covid-19 - The View from Casa Frugal II

The weather, which has been dry virtually every day since lockdown began, (and that’s a rarity in Cornwall) is now getting warmer. The hedgerows, grey and forbidding for so long, are white with blackthorn blossom, beneath which countless tiny coloured flowers (the names of some of which I could guess at, but won’t) rock gently in the lightest of breezes. The banks of gorse across from my flat are a blaze of gold. Is it always like this at this time of year? Or is it the constraints of the times that makes it all so tantalisingly vivid?

It goes on, this strange never-before-or-since experience, exacting its incremental and often unseen toll. I’m fine, I think, though every so often it hits me that I haven’t actually touched another human being in four weeks. That’s odd. My teaching friends and former colleagues are feeling the strain. Alcohol consumption is rising and the humour on Facebook is beginning to take on a slightly desperate tone, although there are still flashes of laugh-out-loud ingenuity, and heart-stopping moments of artistic beauty and generosity – the young pianist whose Albert Hall concert was cancelled, and who performed the first movement of Beethoven’s third piano concerto with a scratch chamber orchestra from her living room. Two guitarists in different countries duetting across the ether.

The virus itself seems a remote presence down here. Our one large hospital, known, occasionally traduced but hugely valued by every local family, is, apparently, coping. I know of nobody local to me who has had COVID-19, although elderly or sick friends of friends elsewhere in the country have died. A few days ago good friends in Glasgow posted that they had both had the virus, and one of them had had a fairly torrid time of it. That came as a shock – the closest the illness has come to me personally – and I doubled down a bit on the hand washing and the glove and masking.

An odd reminder of the strangeness of the times is the continuing presence of the trains. The main railway line to London passes the end of my road, and although I am fifteen minutes’ walk from the station I love the sense of connectedness it gives me. In normal times I am up and down to the capital four or five times a year, and while the journey can feel longer than its four and a half hours there is something special about it, particularly the return trip, when the train pulls out of Plymouth and begins its slow crawl back over the Tamar, often in the dusk. You look around and you know that everyone on board is going to Cornwall. The faces seem familiar. Sometimes they even reduce the sandwiches.

The trains still rock past Casa Frugal twice an hour, but they are largely empty, and If I were to wander along to the station and buy even a return ticket to Penzance, I would be risking a fine. Since the autumn, as a response to the climate emergency, I have been consciously changing my travelling habits, opting to use the train rather than the car for local trips, and I was relishing the little differences that made. Now, like the box of bamboo toothbrushes that arrived in the second week of lockdown, it all seems oddly irrelevant, a symbol of the last crisis.

But there are positives. I’ve been doing my supermarket shop at 6 am to beat the rush, and the manager plays stadium rock “to keep everyobody’s spirits up”. It’s a bit surreal, wandering around the one way channel with the other early risers in their masks, trying not to drop things from my gloved fingers, with Layla belting out over the tannoy. And my laundrette, In a Spin (All Services to be paid for in Advance; Comfort Dispensed Automatically) of which I cannot speak too highly, is still functioning, albeit in a strangely non-human Ray Bradbury-ish kind of way. The lovely family that run it are sealed off behind closed doors, though watching via videolink, and still available to offer help advice if required.

So as BBC presenters (Newsnight’s Nick Watt a notable example) morph gradually, for want of a haircut, into their seventies counterparts, I wish you all well, and finish with news that as my own contribution to the Lockdown economy, and in celebration the balmy delights beyond my window, Mentoring Mr Singleman is available to download completely free until midnight pacific time on Saturday 25th April.

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