Sunday, 12 April 2020

That was then

It was four weeks ago today that we sat eating birthday cake, went for a swim, clinked glasses of fizz and mixed with guests in a swanky hotel on the Jurassic Coast. Our friend, who lives in Devon, presented me with a huge bunch of birthday roses. My sister-in-law agreed with me that the lockdown practices in China seemed OTT. My brother, our driver, relaxed on the huge sofa in the hotel lounge and supped Peroni with my husband who was fighting post-surgery depression. And he was chatting and improving the more he mixed and got out and about.

After we’d filled up with a sea food platter and chef’s chocolate cake, specially ordered, we sang ‘When I’m 64’, my roses were taken to the hotel’s cool room and we all went for a jolly walk on the prom. 

I remember my hands were raw from the twenty-second washing routines as, back then - March 14, the breeze was cool, our fingers were chilled and we needed scarves and coats for a walk by the sea.

Now, in the small hours of April 13th, our worlds have shut down. My husband has retreated, like a crab into its shell, into depression. My sister-in-law is working from home and my rose-yielding friend - a marathon runner who can barely sit still, has vowed to stay in his house for three months. He didn’t mention that at my birthday do. But he must have been planning it. He thought my idea of going for a swim was risky. I thought he was over-cautious.

I don’t now.

I have failed to secure a supermarket delivery for the foreseeable future. Thank goodness I stocked up very well at the farm shop on the way back from Devon and with my subsequent Asda and Sainsburys orders. 

Despite my husband being classed as vulnerable and myself as a carer, despite being emailed ‘You are a priority shopper please book your delivery slot now’ there are no more slots to be had. I am, therefore, following the advice of my super-helpful local WhatsApp group and using smaller shops for my deliveries. One farm shop will deliver a veg box, a salad box, a fruit box, a chicken or meat box, blueberries, chocolate, flour...yes flour, yeast, butter, eggs, milk, muesli, latex gloves and black bin bags.Even toilet roll but, strangely, no kitchen roll.

And they are delivering on the day I want.

A market petstall owner has just texted me, at midnight on Easter Day, note bene, that he can deliver Whiskas Delight for our fussy cat plus Gourmet tins of expensive food for our biting, clawing, semi-feral feline. Another shop on the other side of Bath can put together a smaller order of fruit, milk, eggs and bread to tide me over until my big farm shop delivery arrives. And next door have shut down their brasserie and given us left over cheese, tomatoes, lemons while they fill in copious forms to get some money back from the government. Their staff are furloughed and our tiny corner shop has shut for a month, maybe for ever. No dashing out for a pint of milk, washing up liquid or packet of biscuits now. Everything has to be planned and ordered.

Kind friends and neighbours will add milk, bread, chocolate, kitchen roll, laundry liquid, stamps...yes they found some, and cat food to their orders for me. An even kinder person, who has become my helper since lockdown, brings me her homemade ice cream. She even trudged up the hill from town for me with 4 bottles of screw-top Prosecco Frizzante and tins of red kidney beans in her backpack and a tray of bedding out plants held aloft, in the heat of the Easter weekend. On foot. After queueing. Her partner bought flowers for our wedding anniversary to ease my husband’s troubled depression. This is beyond the call of friendship. This is goodness. I pay them for the groceries, and more besides, for the effort they go to on my behalf. But this is the kindness of neighbours.

I have been advised to stay in. If I got sick Richard couldn’t cope with my illness nor would he eat well, I’m afraid, and he’d conveniently forget his meds. If he got sick the trauma of being in hospital again would set his mental state back by six months. So I am staying in. I cannot risk introducing a deadly virus into our home. Nor the disruption if we only got it in its mild form. I believe the clinically depressed can have an impaired immune system. It’s just not worth the exposure. 

I have my keep-fit routine and we have a large garden to dig, plant, water, weed and feed. And I can walk out at night, when it’s really quiet, to truly stretch my legs. Richard is more like himself by midnight.

When groceries or flowers or wine are left by the door we hear the loud knock or ping on my phone. I collect the goodies from our step and I plunge it all into soapy water or spray with disinfectant. We don’t know, because of a lack of testing, who has touched all these items before they crossed our threshold and whether the handlers are passing c-virus, unwittingly, on to us.

Every morning I use cilit bang or flash to wipe over surfaces: taps, handles, the stair rails, electric plugs, switches, remote controls, knobs, dials, buttons and loo seats. Then I feed the cat, assemble Richard’s meds and something edible and light for him to take with them and a cuppa for me. 

The new day starts. It feels as if it’s always been like this. 

In between times I have super neighbours who will shop for me for kitchen roll, in one case, slug pellets in another, a third neighbour has bought milk and classy chocolate. But, because my rather ill husband got anxious about not getting flowers for our wedding anniversary on Easter Saturday, my new WhatsApp helpers went to Morrisons early to make our anniversary complete and my husband happy. They didn’t have to. They wanted to. And they gave us a ‘Happy Anniversary’ card. They barely know us but it doesn’t matter. These are great acts of kindness and I will make it up to them.

On top of these neighbourly acts I followed another friend’s advice and have made a small order with a totally plastics-free whole food group. They too deliver and I look forward to ‘safe’ paperbags of dishwasher powder, dried blueberries ( now I’m running low on fresh ones) more muesli, dates, sweetener, chutney, lentils, dried kidney beans, whole food snacks, dried apple rings, cocoa powder and chocolate drops. Now I can bake sugar-free flapjakes with whole rolled oats.

I have yet to find an outlet who will deliver Fage Greek Yogurt. But I’m working on it. Like the Queen of Sheba the world can come to me. I won’t be going to a smart Devon hotel, swimming and admiring the shoreline, any time soon. Since before Good Friday it’s been hot in our larger-than-average garden. I’ve painted the shed and new fence panels with Cuprinol Shades. But it was so warm yesterday, Saturday, I got dehydrated, and started seeing the flickering lights of a migraine attack. I’d gone too long without a drink of cold water.

Today it’s cooler. Greek yogurt is the only item I can’t readily get delivered. Perhaps one of my neighbours will add it to their shop. But I don’t want to push their kindness too far.

It was four weeks ago that we sat eating birthday cake looking at the view over the ocean. People were chattering and laughing in the background. The bar was full, but not heaving. And we sang 

‘Will you still need me,
will you still feed me
When I’m 64?’

That was then.

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