Yes, this week ends on a Monday, an eight-day week, and we’re back here in Herefordshire. Home?
We spent the past week in Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex, which, previously, last year, we were visiting every couple of weeks, from London. This visit, however, was the first since December, and the first journey for me of more than a few miles since the current period began.
It’s been a while since I had to deal with many strangers. Here, if I go for a walk for an hour or two, I might only pass a couple of people, on the other side of the country roads. Normally, returning to a town or city and once again encountering lots of people wouldn’t be a problem. I’ve had practice! But now the rules have changed. Before this trip it had been four months since I’d even walked along a pavement. The only shop I’d been in was a couple of visits to the butcher in the next village.
Because we now have a car, and we were wary of public transport, we drove across the country. (Looking back, the apparently fairly empty trains would have been fine, although at least this way we could visit my parents and minimise the amount of contact we’d had with anything and anyone beforehand.) So I arrived in Walton, emerging from the cocoon of our car, and I found everything pretty stressful. I’m aware that you’ve probably been having to cope with people, among all this, for a while but this was suddenly new to poor me. I expected it to take a few years of living in the countryside before I felt like a country bumpkin when visiting a town but this situation appears to have heightened the contrast.
Dealing with masks and shoppers all of a sudden, in somewhere so familiar, was, obviously, odd. In retrospect mask-wearing would have been a great, cheap, way of filming some mundane science fiction. Everything in this small town appeared normal except for the woman stopping as she entered the Co-op to find a home-made mask and pull it over her mouth. And except for the elderly man with a walking stick in one hand, a plastic bag of shopping in the other, and a clear plastic visor over his face. Except for the parents and three small children walking down the High Street wearing greeny-blue surgical masks.
After the first couple of days we’d done all the shopping so that was most of the stress-generating activity over and things got easier. But still. Pavements, eh? Some people are conscientious and we all keep single-file, as far apart as possible, muttering and awkwardly nodding thanks as we pass. Others are as oblivious as they’ve always been, families and groups taking up the entire pavement’s width, an unflankable army facing down its powerless enemy.
I think the town was a little quieter than during precedented sunny summer holidays. Still plenty of people and lots of parked cars, but enough space along the beach for groups large and small to spread out. Away from the shops an oblivious observer of the seaside fun would have no idea there was a deadly contagion somewhere around us. Ice creams, ball games, sandcastles, kayaks, splashing, laughing, dozing, sunburn, all of it the same. Visibly, anyway.
And then it was time to return to here, Herefordshire, and not back to London as normal.
When I was at LISPA there was an exercise that focused simply on whether, when entering “the space” (i.e. stage), you should breathe in or out. Each gives you, and generates, a different energy. Try it as you enter a room. Breathe in; prepare, grow. Breathe out; relax, submit.
Traveling from one place to another can remind me of that. Arriving in Walton from London I’d be breathing out, letting go. On our return to London, despite my life there not being stressful or busy, I’d breathe in, girding myself for the noise, the busy streets and the return to routine.
This time it was the reverse. Arriving at the seaside I breathed in, preparing for negotiating this new, overcrowded, dangerous reality. I only let that breath go completely today, when we arrived back to the stillness and silence of rural Herefordshire. Breathe out. Is this the feeling of returning home? Is this our home now? Or is this feeling just because we’ve coincidentally, fortunately, luckily, found a temporary escape?
§ This holiday I was determined to do something I rarely do – read an entire novel in a few days, rather than spread over weeks of brief bed-time readings. Perhaps inspired by our recent watching of Babylon Berlin I picked Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz and got through it in four days, extremely quick for me. It was good and, thankfully, pretty readable. I’m always wary of older “classics” but this mostly flowed along readably, although apparently that 1931 translation “was not well received”.
It was an interesting read, in terms of style using, apparently, free indirect speech plus many digressions describing the surroundings: where the trams have come from and are heading to; the people on the streets, even briefly recounting the entire future life story of one passer-by before returning to the present; the shop windows and advertising messages.
§ This week we watched season one of My Brilliant Friend which we were a bit wary of but thought we’d give it a go. It was really good! I knew nothing about it, or the books, and it was less slight, a little more weighty, than I expected. In a lazy comparison it reminded me of watching 1990s continental-European arthouse films: fairly slow, good-looking, not much action, lots of thinking and talking.
We also started watching the new Perry Mason only to find it’s still being broadcast and we have to wait to see the remaining two episodes as if we’re living in 2015 or something. Madness.
§ And here we are, back. Expecting things to close in again, presumably in a haphazard fashion. Breathe out.