Sophie Parkin is a writer, artist and poet. Her most recent book is A History of Soho’s The Colony Club. She owns an artist club in East London Vout-o-Reenees. During the lockdown, she’s taken to the cocktail shaker. With or without her ex-husband, Jan.
I nearly lost it yesterday. I thought I was enjoying this time. I never seem to have enough time. But suddenly I was mad as hell, I wasn’t going to be able to take it any more, my head was going to explode in frustration. For three and a half hours, I had been trying to sort out my Amazon account as a seller, none of my books was left on sale because my lovely book distributors had closed for the duration.
This was the ideal time to sell books, wasn’t it?
This is when people have time and might actually read my books, or just buy it and look at the pictures. This was an opportunity from nowhere and the one time it happens, none are for sale…. typical!
My final outburst was caused by realising I was shouting at a typing robot. I had to laugh. This wasn’t anything to do with the lockdown getting to me, this is what it’s always like dealing with any of those faceless global brands, any day any year. So at two in the afternoon, I stopped and had a long soak in a scented bath, washed my hair, did half an hour of meditation and started again.
Discarding my annoyance, I contemplated what I should make of this day? Should I organise another part of my flat, pick up the phone and have one of the many extended catch-ups with friends I don’t see or talk enough to, or repair all the moth holes in my jumpers? Or make marmalade? I could make marmalade with ginger. Rice pudding? Wild garlic pesto.
I have been doing a lot of cooking, not just for me but also for my son Cameron who was between accommodations at Christmas and was looking for a place when this happened. He has been sleeping on a blow-up mattress in the front room of my one-bedroom flat, not ideal but we have a garden so we are blessed. He is a lovely boy of 32. Where did those years go? It is hard for mothers to see their sons as men in these times, which are so much to do with caring and rubbing along in the make-believe of normal family life but none of this is normal. I haven’t spent so much time with him since before he was 12? 8? Played football.
I do find myself sectioning out days to deal with stuff, work. I have a business and the priority is how I’m to keep it running and relevant. Emails to the council, trips onto Gov.UK for latest updates, calls to the accountant, is it worth being furloughed it turns out not -because to be paid by the government as a director of my company I am not allowed to do ANY work from my company accountants of social media or emails. What are they trying to do, kill us all?
For Vout-O-Reenee’s, I keep up the jolliness quota with my silly Vout’s Cocktail Masterclass (Slim Gaillard would have loved these!) – I go to the club once a week to check on paperwork, my ex-husband Jan Vink and the plants, and I make three videos of three drinks and post them through the week. People seem to like them. They are not professional in the least, they have Jan and I back-biting, laughing at each other rather than with, and recall Fanny Craddock and Jonny. Sometimes Jan doesn’t even appear because he’s so annoyed with me! I just thank the Universe that we aren’t still married, otherwise one of us would be a casualty. All it would take is a bottle to the back of the head. This is real life, but is it relevant?
I keep on coming back to that word; relevant. When I was swept up in how life used to be, the hamster wheel of keeping a business, including an art gallery going; I hadn’t stopped for a long time, certainly not to think about what is and isn’t relevant. Now I think about it almost every day.
The books I thought I would read in an orgy of indulgence – for that is how I saw lockdown like a greedy girl ‘oh good I’ll be able to read…everything!’ – half I have tossed to one side as irrelevant. I find myself going back to the classics – William James, RS Thomas, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus. Essays by Michel de Montaigne. Then searching for things to make me laugh, Dorothy Parker can be a little depressing but I return to Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard To Find, short stories. Black humour seems a little tasteless yet Francis Plug Writer in Residence by Paul Ewan still appeals to me and there’s comfort in Sue Townsend’s The Diaries of Adrian Mole.
There is not enough good writing that makes you howl with laughter. There is too much misery. The largest prize in literature should go to the books that make us laugh, anyone can bring you down with good writing like Karl Ove Knusgaard’s My Struggle but what about his poor kids! Lifting the spirits takes a gargantuan effort that belies its lightness of touch. That’s why there isn’t much comedy on the BBC. I expect it’s too damn difficult.
My mum, Molly Parkin a proud 88-year-old, has been locked in now for six weeks with me visiting for the last two once ever five days. She is full of beans, she laughs from the moment she gets up, to the moment she falls asleep. Last week her activities included putting some eggs onto boil, only to find Steve the fireman waking her up by pummelling the door down. She’d left them a bit too long and they were burning. She still laughed.
When my mother was five she had mastoid and was put into isolation. She expected to be taken by the angels but someone had other ideas. She regularly rings me up and says – ‘Where’s my special delivery chef?’ leaving me concerned that she has discovered Deliveroo, but she’s talking about me and Masterchef in one breath. I cook up a storm and expect it to last, but in one day she’s gobbled it all down. Home cooking, not shopping is the answer to a lot of love at this time. She once gave me the sage advice not to invite any paramours to dinner in my home if I wanted to be taken out to fancy restaurants, and I wasn’t entirely sure of the man.
’Once you get them in the back kitchen and start cooking for them, they’ll never want to go anywhere else.’ She was right. Trying to get my husband to take me out for dinner was like asking for Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond rings!
And what of love? How are you supposed to date? Are couples having sex like never before or in exactly the same way? I doubt with this uncertainty that there will be a baby boom, more time doesn’t always lead to inclination. So it has to be friendship, making each other laugh over the phone or with a WhatsApp message. And I’d just got some super sexy new underwear, damn – my timing is out not just on books. No point in preparing the fire that cannot be lit, let alone stoked for another 3 weeks – with government guidelines.
To laugh and be light in this heavy time is a gift that needs spreading. Forget the conspiracy theories. Books recommended by members of Vouts include – The Colony Room as an e-book on Kindle (and all my teenage series The Life and Loves of Lily). David Sedaris – Dress Your Children in Corduroy and Denim. Diary of a Nobody by The Grossmith Bros. Pale Fire By Nabokov. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole. A fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz. Rude Britannia by Tim Fountain. The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer. Augustus Carp Esq by Henry Howarth Bashford. Money by Martin Amis. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. The Education of Hyman Kaplan by Leo Rosten. Spike Milligan, Anything by Jeffrey Bernard and My Last Breath by Luis Bunuel.
So meditation, acceptance of how it is, cooking with love, and laughter are my answer to getting out of this lockdown alive, What’s the laugh out loud funniest book you’ve ever read and reread during this time? Answers on a postcard…. maybe we can start a book club but only for books that make you laugh. See you at Vout-o-Reenees. @Voutoreenees_ @TheStashGallery_London.
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Living in London during Lockdown – Sophie Parkin
‘An Evening of Long Goodbyes’ by Paul Murray had me in stitches. My son bought it for me as it’s one of Donna Tartt’s favourite books – and he knows I love Donna Tartt (whose novels – she writes one every 10 years to great acclaim – are not funny at all. Well, maybe subtly). Paul Murray is not very subtle. And prepare to get the dictionary out! He can use obscure words.