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Living in London during Lockdown – Michele Kirsch


1 Minute Read

Michele Kirsch, asthmatic isolator, mother of two, author, and furloughed chef, writes about her experiences of lockdown from a tower block in East London.

LOCKDOWN: Day something. I forget exactly. The Vicar.

My vicar is bellowing to me from safety across the road. He is trying to put social distancing into a spiritual context, but he has to almost shout for me to hear him, and he’s just not a shouty vicar. I get the giggles and drift off into fantasy, even though this is the first conversation I’ve had in days.

Vicar dream: In my mind’s eye I see him preaching to NO ONE at the church behind my block of flats. He does the sermon and then asks the invisible congregation to line up for communion. He realises there is no one there, so he eats all the wafers himself, and guzzles the wine. ‘This is my body, this is my blood. WHATEVER!’

Pissed and sated on communion wafers, he recites the Psalm that starts, ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’

But that’s just in my cabin fever imagination. I actually have the vicar here on the pavement outside the chip shop. The first human real-life voice, not counting the phone or Zoom meetings, in days. Have I already forgotten how to talk to people, even if the talking is nearly shouting, six feet away?

He says that isolation is not the same as solitude and that solitude can be a good thing, and can put us in conscious contact with God. I’m paraphrasing here. He references the movie Papillion, and then we both say, at the same time, ‘But he escaped!’ And usually, when you say the same thing at the same time, you shout ‘SNAP’ or ‘JINX’ but you know, we’re in a pandemic and I don’t want to jinx the vicar. I need all the help I can get. So far, this has been a high point of lockdown. That and getting four tins of plum tomatoes left outside my door on my birthday. Lockdown has made me SUCH a cheap date.

EARLY ON: Day something, when it still felt like a novelty. The study of Torpor.

I think I will take very well to isolation. I was agoraphobic for large, inconvenient chunks of my life, and being alone, in my own space, was a blessed relief from the gut-clenching anxiety prompted by being with other people in public spaces, far away from home. Back then, isolation was called avoidance behaviour, and I was told, repeatedly that avoiding the thing I feared most would feed the fear and make me more screwed up, which it did. It took time and coming through a raging pill and alcohol addiction, to let me undo all the damage I had done by NOT going out, not doing normal life. It’s not healthy, but I know how to do it.

So the thought of having to isolate for very legit reasons, the health of myself and other people, seems a cinch. It is JUSTIFIABLE AGORAPHOBIA, and I don’t have to let people down, the way I used to. The whole pantomime of ‘Sorry, something suddenly came up’ is no longer necessary. This is gonna be like pulling one long-ass sickie that’s actually for the common good, as well as my own. It reminds me of that New Yorker cartoon with the guy at a desk, on the phone, saying, ‘No, Tuesday’s no good. How about never? Is Never good for you?’

Not only can I stay home from work and meet-ups without the inconvenience of being ill, but I can do great, creative, mind-enhancing, body hardening things. I signed up for a free course at the Open University; Animals at The Extremes: Hibernation and Torpor. I love a course with the word Torpor in it. I am ALL ABOUT the Torpor. But to counter the inner sloth, I do workouts with Youtube, tattooed sensation Betty Rocker. I get over my aversion to Uber, tidy lady Marie Kondo, and tidy and order all my clothes in the Kondo style, even watching shirt folding tutorials to maximise my space in an aesthetically pleasing way. All this frantic productivity lasts until a friend sent me an article saying that you don’t have to be frantically productive in lockdown. So that’s a relief. I go from hyper-activity to TORPOR, in about a day. Doing nothing, is much easier than doing loads of things. Who knew?

A BIT LATER: Day something. I should probably get some food. And drugs.

The novelty of doing nothing is not exactly starting to wear off, except I do worry that I am getting awfully good, awfully fast, at doing very little. One thing I have not been paying attention to is my medication. I am running low on my blue and brown asthma inhalers, and my thyroid pills. I go down to Boots near Liverpool St station and the City is desolate, pin-drop quiet. Everybody has GONE. ‘Everybody is dead,’ I think, melodramatically, and then add ‘Or just at home watching telly.’

I am also running low on food. Food is becoming quite central to other people’s lockdowns. My Facebook timeline is filled with domestic Gods and Goddesses, all displaying that Sourdough bread, or that beautiful Persian meal, or ‘Locktails’ made of Ben and Jerrys, Crème de Menthe and some holiday liqueur. People are exchanging information about where to get eggs, where to get flour, and other now elusive staples.

I have to go to the shop and queue and socially distance and stand forlornly in front of the now-empty shelf that used to have some ingredient I fancied, like tinned tomatoes, or marrowfat peas, or baked beans. Highly processed, and a bit disgusting. I can’t believe I’m a cook. The foods I crave- beans on toast, peanut butter and jam sarnies – are childhood staples. Am I regressing, or is it just a craving for some earlier, innocent time when the kind of thing that’s going on now, this pandemic, was something from an episode of The Twilight Zone? Dystopia does funny things to the appetite. My friend Nick asks if whacking chilli sauce over sauerkraut counts as kimchee. Of course it does.

LATER: I actually know this day. 4th April. My birthday. Followed by Easter! Hurrah. Festive fun.

On my birthday I throw myself a surprise party. It’s great. I have party bags and Soul Classics on the stereo. I put on my best frock and shout ‘Surprise!’ to myself. I have no cake, but jazz up some digestive biscuits by sprinkling them with icing sugar. I give myself presents, which include a box of chocolates, and a sexy dress. But the thing is, I don’t like chocolate, and the sexy dress is already mine. I know it’s the thought that counts, but I don’t think a lot of thought went into these presents. While dancing to the Temptations and swigging Ribena undiluted straight from the bottle, I say to my cats, ‘This party kind of blows.’

On Easter, I read the bible, and sing ‘Lamb of God you take away, the sins of the world….’ in the style of a tone-deaf Mariah Carey, drawing out each syllable until I am totally out of breath. I do all this totally bare arse naked. Because I can. This kills about five minutes of festive fun. Then I make myself an Easter egg hunt, only I don’t have any eggs cos there are none at the shops. So I hide a box of Vegan egg replacer from myself. And find it again in two minutes. I am alarmed that it took me that long. I might be losing the plot.

LATER STILL: Day something. Ah, the interweb!

Spending much more time on social media, and little rituals emerge, which give me a sense of belonging. Each morning Nicholas does his interpretive dad dancing, on camera, with his dog in the background, looking at times, terrified and other times, bemused. Then Naureen takes the register, a la school mistress, and asks who is alive. It’s like a virtual game of schools, and our ‘class’ has gone from simple ‘Here, Miss!’ responses to depraved, ‘To Sir, With Love’ style naughtiness. Virtually we ‘throw’ things, light cigarettes, swig from whiskey bottles. We have gone from being eager, suck up kiddies to a kind of virtual lockdown Behavioural Unit for maladjusted isolators. My virtual friends have become my lifeline, entertaining me when I feel low and conspiring, with me, to be irreverent, no matter how awful the news is. And the news is totally shit, every day.

People are playing a lot of participatory games on Facebook. Here are all these famous people I met, but one of them is a lie. Here are 10 LPs that changed my life. Please describe me using a word starting with the letter L. Here are 15 jobs I had in my life and guess which one is a lie. These games, some of which I play myself, are like those games you played on long car journeys, vaguely diverting you from the slow build of car sicky queasiness. Thing is, none of us know when this journey is going to end, which EXIT we will take. I am starting to feel a little bit ill, the games and quizzes not quite diverting enough to stop asking; ‘Are we there yet, mum?’

FINALLY: Day something, before tomorrow, but after yesterday. It’s good to talk.

I have a brilliant idea, which is to ring two people a day, two people that I wouldn’t normally speak to because work, life, no time, yadda yadda. Well, I have a TON of time now. I ring ________, holed up in his penthouse over a whorehouse in a red light district far, far away. The prostitutes have scarpered but forgot to take the goldfish. My pal has a new focal point of the day, which is to feed the fish. He’s delighted he has found a purpose, a thing to do. And it’s all going so well until the caretaker comes back. The caretaker now oversees the fish feeding operation. He’s stolen _______’s job. And in fact, he’s stolen the joy that I get from asking him how the fish is doing.

Then there is ______ in NY. She lives two blocks from the totally overrun Elmhurst hospital in Queens, with refrigerated trucks for the dead bodies parked outside. She’s trying to figure out a way to get to Costco without passing the trucks, which are scary and depressing.

I am speaking to friends in Moldova and Bangkok. And Hull. People who are stone-broke, and people who will be able to ride this out, financially. People who are doing tons of things, and people who are doing nothing. I am finding that in isolation, I am more connected to other people than I have been in a long time.

Will I use this time productively? I doubt it. I’m certainly not going to write the great Pandemic novel. I’m gonna go grey. I’m gonna run out of savings. I’m probably not going to get fit. I’m gonna watch waaay too much Netflix, and play all my records and dance like no one is looking because NO ONE IS LOOKING. I’m not going to think about what the future has in store for me (or any of us) because I’ve come to the conclusion that the future is none of my damn business.

Michele Kirsch is the author of  CLEAN: A Story of Addiction, Recovery, and the Removal of Stubborn Stains.

AofA People: Sue Bentley – Author


1 Minute Read

Sue Bentley is an author who has published over 70 books during her 25 year career. She is best known for her multi-million selling Magic Kitten, Magic Puppy, Magic Ponies and Magic Bunny series – for readers aged 5-8 years. Her latest, a dark fantasy thriller entitled We Other was published in April this year.

WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

Sue Bentley

WHAT IS YOUR AGE?

66

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

UK

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I write for a living – books for children and adults. I’ve published over 70 books in a career of over 25 years.

WHAT IS IS LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE?

Wonderful. I feel free of the worries and hang-ups that dogged me for many of my younger years. I have a wonderful group of writer friends and have been married to the same man for around 40 years. I’m more myself than I’ve ever been and I’m absolutely not bothered about what anyone else thinks of me.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AT 25?

Confidence. Time to be as creative as I like in my writing. Security of owning my own home. Time to enjoy relaxing with my partner and take a day off from working whenever I like. I can dress how I like and not be bothered by trends or agonise about body shape.

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

Intimacy is important to me. The security of being able to be myself in a loving relationship is very special.I feel free of the pressures on women to be ‘forever sexy’. I’m me – take it or leave it.

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

Relationships of all kind are very important to me. My partner and I share many interests, but I also enjoy spending time with my sisters – I have 4 of them, and we’re all very different – and my writing friends – with whom I do things my partner isn’t interested in. I think this is very healthy in a long-term relationship. I also have two grown up sons and 6 grandchildren – from ages 14years – to 2 years who I adore.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

 I feel free within myself, but I do worry about the troubled wider world in which we live.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?

 My writing achievements. Of being able to support myself from money earned from writing. I’m proud of my two sons who are healthy, fine young men.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

Being creative by nature and allowing my curiosity to go in whatever direction it leads me. I love learning new things, interacting with other writers and readers. I adore reading good fiction. That always inspires and sometimes awes me.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

Being by myself, but only because I know I have the security of those I love around me. I like my own company and get lots of my best ideas when walking alone. I love my workspace. I have my own room where I can be undisturbed.

WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

Wherever it wants to! I love colour, texture, flavour in all of life. I like the darkness, the fantastic and the extraordinary within the every day. These things are reflected in my books, short stories, and my artwork. I’m a multi-media artist and mono-print maker. Although most of my energy goes into whichever book I’m working on at the time.

WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

Live every day to the full. If you haven’t something kind to say, then say nothing. I’m a positive, glass half-full type of person.I’m imperfectly perfect, as I don’t always live up to my ideals!

AND DYING?

Philosophical about it. Not scared of dying, only of the process. These last two years we lost quite a few of our older generation, including my father just over a year ago. I was with three of my close relatives as they died. All the deaths were as individual as they were as people. It was a profoundly affecting experience, both terribly sad with a kind of beauty. I was also present at the birth of my grand daughter and held her in my arms immediately she took her first breath. And I’ve given birth naturally myself twice. So I have seen the beginning and the end of life. The mystery of it all is always with me.

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

Yes – I dream of the books I plan to write, the characters and setting I will create. Of all the wonderful things there are to experience in the world. I’m not a great traveller. I feel that I’m a creature of the place I was born in. My dreams are filled with the beauty and wonder all around me, of the greenness and trees of my little patch of earth. The wildlife in my garden. Of the laughter and wisdom of the children in my life. I allow myself to dream of the detail and richness of the close-at-hand. And that to me is the whole world.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

Well – most of the outrageous things I do are in my mind! They often find their way into print in one way or another. But I hate injustice and did once shout at someone in a car park who was berating my partner, when he was actually trying to help her. The words came flying out before I could stop them! I’m not proud of that.

AofA Culture Interview: Susie Osbourne – Author


6 Minute Read

The inimitable club owner and author Sophie Parkin talks to writer, Susi Osborne. And helps us to not be so London-centric.

Susi Osborne, 69, was born in Winsford, Cheshire and still lives there, just not in the same house! She is married with two children. In 2006 she had her first novel published, in 2011 she started Northwich LitFest in Cheshire, just outside Liverpool. Angelica Stone – the tale of a young woman in care who has been sexually abused in her past, it also manages to be funny – is her 4th book, published on 8th Sept with a party at www.Vout-O-Reenees.com. please RSVP HERE if you wish to attend.

I’ve always dabbled in writing. As a child I convinced myself I was Jo March from Little Women. I used to lock myself away in my grandmother’s attic in her rambling old house in Yorkshire and write short stories using that as my pen name. It was my favourite place on earth, filled with all kinds of treasures and was a source of great inspiration!

My next step towards the writing of an actual book came in the form of my actress daughter’s need for monologues. She has quite a specific casting and monologues were always in short supply so I started to write some for her – with great success! This sort of spurred me on. Well, this plus the fact that my mother had by that time developed Alzheimer’s and I was her main carer. That was tough – I cared for her for ten years but, in a weird sort of way, it was also a source of inspiration. If there’s one thing you need to hold onto when dealing with Alzheimer’s, it’s definitely your sense of humour. I have so many funny stories. And so, as a form of escapism almost, I started to write my first book.

What were you doing before?

Before this, for what seemed like forever, I worked in libraries. That does sound really boring and is the stuff jokes are made of, but we truly did have some good times in the libraries where I worked. We certainly had a lot of laughter – or maybe that’s just because I’m a bit bonkers and don’t like to take life too seriously! There was not a ‘Silence’ sign to be seen, nor a ‘ssshhh’ to be heard.

You always look so glamorous. Is this also something you took up later in life?

Well, thank you for the compliment! No, I have always loved clothes and style – really ever since my teenage years when I would get the train into Liverpool. It was the era of The Beatles and the place to be – a fashionista’s paradise, lots of trendy boutiques. Lucinda Byre in Bold Street was definitely my favourite.

But then I discovered London and Mary Quant and Biba. Actually Biba had a massive influence on me. I think Biba with a hippy edge is still my kind of style. I just love textures – crushed velvet, lace, silk and feathers – and colour (even though I do always seem to end up wearing black!)

What gets you up in the morning and makes you happy other than writing?

I really am not a morning person – although sunshine helps. Seriously, our two little dogs are always so overjoyed to see me in the morning that I couldn’t fail to be happy when I get such a waggly welcome. We have a cavapoochon and a chug – they’re both only just over a year old and so are still very much at the bouncy stage. We are just a little bit besotted.

What made you begin the Northwich Literary festival and when does it happen?

Having been to lots of other literary events throughout the country, six years ago I had this idea to start one locally – Northwich LitFest. It seemed like a good idea at the time – the fact that I didn’t have a budget or that I had never run a festival before just didn’t seem to come into it. Never have I blagged my way into getting so many things for free in my life. But it worked. Incredibly, Northwich LitFest has now gone from strength to strength – I organise about 15 different events and the festival runs throughout June annually. It is such hard work, but I have met so many interesting people because of the LitFest, many of whom have become good friends. It has opened up so many doors for me too – for instance, I wouldn’t be having this interview with you now if it hadn’t been for Northwich LitFest, that was how we got to know each other.

Who are your role models in life or writing?

Weirdly, as I’m talking to you, Molly Parkin has always been one of my role models in life. I love her attitude and her warmth – and her sense of style, obviously! A couple of other people I know, who I cannot name on here, are inspirational to me too – I’m always full of admiration for people who have come from nowhere, and have gone on to achieve great things in their lives while still remaining nice people.

In writing, it would have to be Marian Keyes (love her humour). Although I aspire to be able to write like Jojo Moyes.

Any regrets?

Yes, I totally regret not doing so much more with my life at a much younger age. I think you can get bogged down with the minutiae of life, thinking you have all the time in the world – and you really don’t have. You only have one life – get out there and grab it with both hands while you still can!!

What has been your favourite decade?

My sixties have definitely been my favourite decade – I feel as though I have achieved so much, met so many interesting people. And it really doesn’t matter now what anyone else thinks, when you reach a certain age you feel free to do what you want to do, to dress how you want to dress. You feel free to be you! As for my social life – it’s gone bonkers!!

Any future ambitions as you head into your 70s?

I do have another book bubbling away, although it hasn’t started to make its way from my head to the keyboard yet. I quite fancy the idea of writing a play script too. AND art. I’ve always wanted to paint.

Are you any relation to George Osborne and is he actually referring to you when promoting The Northern Powerhouse?

Hahaha!! Yes, I am the Northern Powerhouse – undoubtedly! I did meet George Osborne once and my husband started talking to him about ancestors. Don’t think he was too impressed!!

AofA People: Monique Roffey – Author, Lecturer


1 Minute Read

Monique Roffey is an award-winning Trinidadian-born writer. Her erotic novel The Tryst, was published in the summer of 2017. Her novel House of Ashes, 2014, was shortlisted for the COSTA Fiction Award, 2015, as well as the OCM BOCAS Award 2015. Her erotic memoir, With the Kisses of his Mouth, caused controversy and critical acclaim in 2011. She is a Lecturer on the Novel MFA at Manchester Metropolitan University and has also taught creative writing and mentored emerging writers in Trinidad for several years, for COSTAATT, the OCM Bocas Literature Festival, and privately in Port of Spain.

WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

Monique Roffey

HOW OLD ARE YOU?

52

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

East end of London and Port of Spain, Trinidad

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I’m a writer and university lecturer

TELL US WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE?

Cooler than I had expected.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AT 25?

A lot of life experience. I can call myself worldly. I have thirty-year-old friendships too; that’s amazing, when you know people and they know you for all your life.

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

I went out there, went to the buffet and tasted wheat was on the table. I’m so glad I did too. I’ve had many lovers and been loved and loved in return. I’m currently part of an advanced tantra group. I see myself as a sexual seeker, a sex positive lover, a tantrika, and very open to my body’s desires. I’ve developed the tendencies and the language of a tantrika to discuss sexual love.

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

Currently single. Last long term lover was a sex worker. We’ll see what happens.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

Entirely free.

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

My work, my books, and that I have mentored emerging writers in the UK and in Trinidad. It’s important for me to give back. I’m a good teacher, too. In fact I’d say teaching is as much a vocation as writing.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

Life! If you live a rich life and you have an active imagination, ideas keep coming.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

In the summer, here in the UK and I’m always happy in my home town of Port of Spain. I love the sea too, a beach gives me so much pleasure. I just spent a week alone writing in a cottage by the sea in Tobago. I was visited every day by a small dog called Pepper. A cottage, a beach and a happy dog, that’s my idea of perfect contentment.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

Into my books. I’ve also recently started drawing. I plan to do more drawing at the Royal Drawing school in Shoreditch near where I live.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

I’m a Buddhist, a mitra (friend) of the Triratna order. My philosophy is that of non duality and of compassion to self and others. One of the meditations Triratna teaches is called the metta bavana. Metta means loving kindness in Pali. The meditation is about 45 mins long and involves sending metta to yourself, a person you care for, a person you find challenging and a person you hardly know at all. I think that’s so simple and yet very advanced humanity.

AND DYING?

See above, I’m a Buddhist. Live well and when we die the soul moves on. The universal principal of creating karma in this life will decide what kind of life the soul moves onto.

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

Yes!

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