A Journal of the Plague Months Chapter 1
I was drifting slowly down a tunnel. It was grey, not black, and there were lights floating in it. I could hear the voices of Mom and Dad calling to me, and I was quite happy. I went on towards the lights.
I came back to consciousness with a start. There was a light, but it was the glaring overhead light of Ward Nine. I was in my hospital bed, and being held up and forward. Somebody - a man in full PPE - was kneeling behind me on the bed. There were sharp blows on my back, and his fists were closed in front of me, in what I recognised as the Heimlich manoeuvre, from numerous First Aid courses at work. I’d actually never expected to see it in action though.
I was choking, and then it all came up, into the basin that Nurse Susan was holding in front of me.
Laster, when the nurses had changed my gown and all the bedsheets, she came up to me.
“You stopped breathing,” she said. “We called for the doctor, and when he came, he said you were choking on your own vomit in your sleep.”
I’d spent the last part of two weeks being constantly sick; now, apparently, it has nearly killed me.
Susan came closer.
“You need to try,” she said. “You aren’t trying enough. You need to try so you can get better.”
I closed my eyes.
“Sue,” I said at last, “I honestly don’t care any more. If I could close my eyes and just drift away, I would. I think I actually want to die. I can’t stand it any longer.”
I opened my eyes. She was staring at me, and I think there were tears in her eyes.
Saturday March 21st
And so they always say that you remember where you were when you first heard of it.
Mom used to say:
“I was playing in the back yard when war was declared. Dad came out, and sat me on his knee and told me about it. I thought nothing of it.”
Went to the library and was just browsing when Jane, one of the library staff, came over.
“Borrow as many books as you want,” she said, looking distressed. “We’ve just had a call. We close at 12 noon today and we don’t know when we will open again.”
I watched as she went round telling everybody - she didn’t make an announcement. I think it was to stop people from panicking.
I gathered up a stack of paperbacks from new books and returned books, and as I checked them out, Tash, the other library assistant, told me about the digital book download service. Not sure I can master it.
I’ve never known public libraries close before. I was working in Birmingham libraries when the city centre was bombed back in 1974. The next day we all went back in as normal, and every library opened. I remember the caretakers were standing in front of a table as we went in, and they said, “Check your bags please.” It was the first time I had ever heard that phrase, which I was to hear for the next twenty years.
Mom started work during the war, in munitions, and she went in every day. When the sirens went off she said, they used just to put their tin hats on and carry on working. In the evening, she went to the pictures, usually the Lozells Picture Theatre. One night, she decided to go to the Youth Club at Burlington Hall instead. That night, the picture theatre took a direct hit and everyone was killed.
Sunday March 22nd
Johnson was on TV but I didn’t watch it. Can’t stand the way his hair always needs brushing. My dad worked in a factory for fifty years and never turned up looking like that. Followed it on the BBC Live blog. Apparently we are now in lockdown, though nobody quite knows what that means, and in my view we should have been in it much earlier. As far as I know I’m in work tomorrow.
I looked up pictures of the Coronavirus on the internet. It is a round ball, with spikes sticking out of it, and looks rather like a sputnik. I stared at it some time. I don’t fancy that rolling about in my body. It is of course the
kind of thing that happens to other people.
Monday March 23rd
First day back in at work since the lockdown announcement. Very quiet in the college library. First thing I noticed when I came in today was a hand wash dispenser presumably put up over the weekend and Mary the receptionist had put a line in front of her desk. She gave me some gloves and a hand wash.
Lots of rumours sweeping the site; we’re part of a much bigger college complex. I heard that we might close on the Tuesday.
Lots of frantic last minute arrangements about contacting staff and students via Google Meet. The library at the main site had set up last minute training sessions on this. Decided to close the library early and go to one at 4 pm.
I caught the bus as I’m trying to avoid driving. At Colwyn Bay, a poor old man got on. Carrying a box and a carrier bag. He didn’t seem well at all. I heard him chatting to the bus driver as he fiddled for change.
“Got thrown out at two hours notice,” he said. “I’m on my way to Llandudno to find a shop door to sleep in.”
I remembered hearing that homeless people living in branches of a national hotel chain had been thrown out as the hotels closed down.
I got out my purse, and gave him some money.
“Go to the police,” I said, though I didn’t hold out much hope of anybody being able to help him.
Arrived at 3.30 pm to find the library staff assembled. Philip, the librarian, had called an impromptu staff meeting.
“We’re all closing at five o’ clock today,” he said. “You will all be working from home. You can take a laptop home if you need it, and I’ll be setting up staff meetings on Google Meet.”
I was relieved I’d come over as I joined in the training meeting set today which was the first and last. So now I know how to use Google Meet.
Tuesday March 24th
First day of working at home. I can’t say it’s my first experience of home
working, as I had to take a few days off during the petrol strike in 1999. I didn’t have the internet then so I seem to remember taking masses of files home with me. Catrin was nine then so I didn’t have to entertain her much; it must be hard for people with small children.
So it’s all online now. I checked the library email regularly and sent round an email to staff and students offering help with any catalogue and information services. I had my NVQ folders to work on, which are all online. But I can’t see my students finishing this summer, and I don’t think I’ll be finishing by Internal Assessors’s award either.
Weds March 25th
Caught the bus into Landudno to get some book vouchers for birthday presents at Waterstone’s. Noticed that many of the shops on the High St were already closed, with sad notices up in their windows. And Waterstone’s was closing at 6pm as well.
Said, “See you on the other side,” to the staff, but that sounded a bit final, really.
On the bus going home, noticed we all sat in separate seats, but people do anyway, don’t they?
Thursday March 26th
Went with John to our local supermarket, Tesco. Overnight, they’ve made a lane to queue in, made up of trolleys on their sides with the yellow tape slung between them they usually put up to mark spillages.
We shuffled along with only so many people being allowed to go in at a time.
A one way system was in place, they’d put footsteps in all the aisles where you were supposed to go but we still ended up making mistakes. Bit irritating to go round all the supermarket.
Some of the staff were wearing masks and gloves.
The High St in Abergele was deserted, with all the non essential shops closed. I felt sorry for the charity shops, and all the causes they support.
Friday March 27th
It helps that the weather is beautiful. Had my allotted hour of exercise as I’ve done every day this week. I walk down to the beach and along the coast path. Lots of cyclists out. I don’t miss getting the car out at all.
Emails from our two local theatres, saying some shows we had booked to go to were obviously now cancelled. We could apply for a refund, or we could choose to count it as a donation.
It’s a bad time for the arts. I thought about all the young people who would now be out of work. I’ve had so many good years at the theatre, cinema, opera and ballet. And they are all something that cheers people up, although there are apparently going to be a lot of live streams.
Saturday March 28th
Couldn’t face the supermarket and its queues so I went down our little High St in Abergele. Some of the shops were closed, but I got meat at the butcher’s, and vegetables and eggs at the grocer’s next door. Both of them practicing what they now call social distancing - they’re such small shops that only one person can go in at a time, and hand wash is provided on the way in.
Bread at the baker’s, and then I crossed over to our little Health Shop, which I use anyway. No problem here with hand wash or soap, she had plenty and all environmentally friendly. Also nice biscuits and tinned food.
Came back via Mr Patel’s Convenience Store, where I picked up sanitary towels for Catrin and a few other things like air freshener.
Milkman had been when I got back. Left flyer saying that in addition to milk, he can provide salad and vegetable boxes, fresh juice, cream, sacks of potatoes, cheese and yoghurts.
Struck me that I’d done all my shopping without setting foot in the supermarket. The supermarkets are doing a great job, but it reminded me of the days when Liz and I used to go shopping with Mom in the small shops on the Lozells Rd in Birmingham.
Sunday March 29th
Worried about Catrin who lives in a housing association flat in Rhyl. She has a heart condition but she hasn’t had a shielding letter, and as she works in a hardware store, she has to go in as usual.
John said he would do some shopping for her and leave it just inside the door; she can look in and pick it up.
I assume this lockdown means you can’t see members of your own family. Liz phones every day; she’s absolutely paranoid about getting CV. She can’t see her sons or her grandsons. Something else that’s different from Mom’s accounts of the war, when the family all stuck together and refused to be evacuated. I can see it is going to make a lot of people very depressed.
Monday March 30th
Enjoyed my walk as always along the coast path.
Continued my working at home by beginning a list of lockdown novels. Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year and Samuel Pepys’s Diary were obvious ones, as is Camus’ The Pest (apparently a best seller on Amazon). I started thinking as well as books about being isolated – Robinson Crusoe and anything by Anita Brookner.
All the schools are closed, of course. There is not much evidence of children round here doing home learning. They are running round screaming while their parents sit drinking and barbecuing. At some point, the parents also start screaming. One thing the kids are learning is the use of the F word.
I don’t ever remember the schools closing in my childhood, even for snow. Dad was at school every day in the Blitz, and he did say he was ecstatic when he turned up one morning, and the school had been bombed flat in the night.
Liz and I had a bit of home learning with Mom before we went to school. Mom could add things up in her head; she’d always finished her bill before the Co-op cashier rang it up. Hew secondary school wanted her to go to Aston Technical College and do book keeping, but she had to go to work in the Jewellery Quarter making munitions, because she was the eldest and Grandad had died at Dunkirk. They needed the money; Nan used to have to pawn her wedding ring every Friday for food, and beg for parish relief.
Mom hated reading and hadn’t read a book since she left school at fourteen, but she taught us to read using alphabet cards and to count using an abacus.
Curious incident in the evening. I was sitting watching television when I heard the door open and close. Went out, and saw Catrin. Come to pick up her shopping. She obviously had a cold; her nose and eyes were streaming.
I said “Cat, surely you aren’t at work?”
“Yes, I am, Mum, we’re short staffed.”
“But they know about your heart?”
“I haven’t had a shielding letter, Mum. So they say I have to be in.”
Went through a lot of emotions in thirty seconds; sending her away, looking like that.
“I should go up to your room here and stay there. Your stepfather will phone them in the morning.”
I think she was quite grateful for this, but John looked concerned when I told him.
“I think lockdown means she shouldn’t be here.”
A very difficult situation.
Tuesday March 31st
Put my head round the door into Catrin’s room. She was lying in bed, a hankie to her mouth.
“Don’t come near me!”
Left tray outside her room. She doesn’t want to eat, so I left a jug of water, orange juice and paracetamol.
Went in quest of paracetamol, which took much of the day. None in any of the supermarkets. I ended up queuing at the chemist’s which is tiny, and we shuffled along, as only one person at a time can go in.
John watches the daily press conferences at 5pm, but I don’t. I’ve noticed a lot of repeats beginning to appear on TV. Thank God for the radio and box sets.
To be continued….