A Journal of the Plague Week 8

Sunday, May 10th, 2020

Early in the week, I started to experience lockdown fatigue. I looked back on what I’d previously said about the long time it would take me to feel comfortable being out of lockdown, and I began to wonder if that were really true. I felt at risk of the “amnesia” described by Anne Helen Petersen:

You want things to be the way things were, you want not to feel this way, so you just act as if things aren’t this way.

I should note that, regardless of those passing feelings, I certainly am not acting as if things aren’t this way. I remain safely tucked up at home and I’m not going anywhere. That’s because the other thought rattling in my brain is the comment circulating online about how easing the restrictions doesn’t mean the pandemic is over, it means there’s space for you now in the ICU (I can’t figure out where that line originated, but it’s good—and by “good” I mean appropriately sobering). More people have now died from the virus in the UK than any other European country, with hundreds of new deaths and thousands of new cases every day. It’s no safer Out There now than it was a month ago. Things are still very much the way they are.

I know this, but I want to not know it. I want to be able to move through the outside world as blithely as a runner barreling down the middle of the sidewalk without a mask. I want to be as carefree as our next-door neighbor, who seems to have a different friend coming over to hang out every day. I want to dance in a proper studio and play fiddle in a pub while worrying only about accidentally bumping into someone as I dance or fiddle, not about whether one of us is going to infect the other with a deadly disease (and that worry is not going to disappear anytime soon, seeing as a crowded pub is one of the worst possible places to be).

So, I can’t do some of the things I would like to do, but I also can’t and won’t ignore the actual situation. Not everyone around here feels the same way, however. On Wednesday we ventured outside and had the kind of encounter I’ve been dreading since this all started. We’d had a nice walk up by the racecourse and were coming back through the Tunnel of Doom to go home when we had an altercation with some blokes who apparently hadn’t heard of COVID-19. Jeremy and I were a good halfway through the tunnel, walking fast, when a (not young) guy on his phone entered the tunnel and started walking towards us. Now, the informal one-way system has actually been working quite well in this stupid tunnel. People have been spacing themselves out and patiently waiting at either end for their chance to walk through, and only once, in the early days, did we have to call out to a woman starting to come in from the other direction and ask her to wait until we were out (and she did, without complaint, so I think maybe she just hadn’t seen that we were there—I should reiterate that it is a very small and dark pedestrian tunnel).

So, phone guy is walking towards us in the tunnel, and we call out to him to let him know we’re there and almost through—and he keeps walking towards us, so we call out more insistently—and he still doesn’t stop, so finally we’re shouting, “Dude, can you back up and let us pass?!” (that was me) and “You are not six feet away!” (that was Jeremy). Dude finally stops, lowers his phone a bit and starts yelling back at us (all of us still crammed in this damn tunnel): “What? What’s your problem? SIX FEET?! What are you talking about? You want me to do what? Why should I be six feet away?”

At this point it became clear that this wasn’t all just a misunderstanding—he was looking for an argument. And reader, I did not want to argue with an aggressive stranger in a claustrophobic tunnel in the middle of a pandemic. I was ready to turn around and escape in the other direction, but the guy (still bellowing) finally backed up to the mouth of the tunnel, where he was joined by a friend. Bloke 1 proceeded to tell Bloke 2—loudly, in a tone of incredulity—that we had asked him to let us pass, as if this were the most baffling request he’d ever heard, as if we were utterly outrageous for asking such a thing, as if every single television station, newspaper and website in this country hasn’t been banging on endlessly about staying six feet apart to keep everyone safe, as if more than 30,000 people hadn’t died of the virus here in the past two months.

Bloke 1 and Bloke 2 eventually moved far enough away that we could dash past, though they continued to deride and provoke us as we did. There was a younger woman outside the tunnel as well, with a dog. She seemed to be with the two guys, but she didn’t do or say anything, she just stood there next to them. I keep thinking about her and wondering what she made of the scene, if she agreed with her companions or thought it wiser to keep silent. And I think about the fact that, for all of their bluster and false outrage, the guys did eventually back off and let us go by without further incident. I guess they weren’t so sure of themselves in the end.

If I were to be generous, I would say it was perhaps a desperate show of self-assertion by men who feel as trapped and powerless as we all do. But most of us are managing (or at least trying) to channel those feelings into compassion, not aggression. Venting your feelings of being trapped by actually trapping frightened strangers in a tunnel is a questionable strategy at best. So the more likely diagnosis is that the guys were just assholes. In any case, I’m never leaving the house again.

Well, we did nip out to the bakery on Friday to pick up bread and coffee beans (and pizza dough and delicious goat cheese and fabulous local nduja, because the bakery now sells EVERYTHING). Saturday would have been a great day to leave the house because it was gloriously warm and sunny—but that also made it a terrible day to leave the house. Between the enticing weather and the “bank holiday weekend” (for whatever that’s worth these days) and the tabloids intimating that we were all about to be “freed” from the lockdown, it was bound to be busy everywhere. So instead we had a delightful day at home: breakfast and lunch in the sunshine, an afternoon of pottering around in the kitchen (this is my idea of fun), pre-dinner drinks and jamón in the garden, a delicious supper of grilled lamb and local asparagus, and a lazy evening on the sofa with tea, chocolate and televisual entertainment.

I was itching to escape at the start of the week, but by the end of the week our little home felt like paradise. Claustrophobia to agoraphobia in the space of just a few days. At home, there are no covidiots shouting at me. The neighbors may occasionally get on my nerves, but at least they can’t breathe on me. We have everything we need here (coffee, ham) and much more besides (cauliflower). So regardless of whether the nationwide lockdown is officially (and inexplicably) loosened soon or not, my personal lockdown will continue for the time being. And right now, I’m actually okay with that.



There just seems to be idiots everywhere these days. Getting out…even if only to the bakery (which sells EVERYTHING) and being able to enjoy the fresh air of your backyard helps break the monotony and gets you some fresh air.

Posted by Ladycliff

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