One Day in May
I wonder if anyone else has been having particularly vivid dreams since lockdown started? I have. Last night, I dreamt that Bob Dylan, no less, had come to perform an intimate concert for us in our back garden. He was tuning up and seemed anxious to do his best. I must have got bored and wandered out into the street where I met a good-looking young man who seemed keen to get to know me better. Yes, I know that hearing about other people’s dreams is so boring but I was really enjoying this parallel universe.
And then I wake and all too quickly I realise again that I’m living in an altered world every bit as unbelievable as my dreams. This morning, as every morning, I walk the one and a half miles to provide care for an elderly relative. I walk so that I can combine an essential journey with the sort of exercise allowed by the government. Although I’m now in the category that is deemed too elderly to go out (“Stay at home, Save lives, Protect the NHS”) I am also in the category of “caring for a vulnerable person”, so I can go out after all.
I walk to my mother-in-law’s house through a local nature reserve, a daily ritual that has helped keep me just this side of sanity. I listen to a woodpecker drilling a tree, admire the wondrous swathes of bluebells and contemplate whether picking the wild garlic would make me an eco-vandal, although I don’t know what I would do with it if I did. Normally I would never think of walking through this thickly-wooded area on my own but these days I feel quite blasé about it. I pass old ladies with equally elderly dogs, mothers trying to wear out their small children and an occasional jogger. Perhaps, in the presence of coronavirus, lone walking in the woods seems a relatively safe activity.
The next few hours pass quickly: personal care, some light housework and lunch preparation. My mother-in-law sees the news about the virus on television but then forgets about it. If you are unable to get out of bed, leave alone leave the house, it really doesn’t make much difference to your life. She tunes into “Loose Women” and I’m thankful that there is some continuity in her world, even though they are broadcasting from their own homes, which look suspiciously clean and tidy.
The carers arrive for their second visit of the day. They wear masks, gloves, plastic aprons, and are unfailingly cheerful and kind although their eyes are blurred with tiredness. As well as covering for staff absences in addition to their regular calls, they are in their second week of Ramadhan and have been up since 4 am. A few days ago, I asked them why so many of their colleagues were away. They told me that they were too frightened to come to work. Yesterday, I heard on the news that carers are twice as likely as health workers to die from Covid-19. After they leave, I do my best to disinfect the house, cleaning down everything anyone could have touched with a solution of Domestos and water: doorbell, letterbox, handrails, bed rails, door handles, microwave, fridge door, kettle, toaster. I think the carers are at more risk than us.
When I arrive home, I find five cards in the porch. It was my birthday last week but the postal service is under pressure and things take a long time to arrive. It’s yet another thing that doesn’t seem to matter any more.
In the evening, after catching up with what’s been called “the number theatre”, the latest statistics for new Covid cases and deaths, we watch a serial on television. We have become addicted to it and try to ration ourselves to one episode a night so that we don’t finish it too soon. It’s about an ultra-orthodox Jewish family living in old Jerusalem. They have many challenges in their lives: bereavement, marital problems, thwarted ambitions, terrible clothes. Their lives are surprisingly austere and the men all seem to be rabbis and smoke all the time while the married women wear wigs over their own hair and appear to do most of the real work. I consider whether I would actually prefer to live in that world at the moment. It’s another parallel universe and one that, like my dreams, is Covid-free. Shalom!