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Irresistibly Drawn to Work in a Recording Studio Down The Road Aged 59


9 Minute Read

Michele Kirsch, writer, wit, asthmatic isolator, mother of two, furloughed chef wrote about Lockdown 2 for AofA and it was brilliantly funny. Here it is. Now she’s onto the next one, and a new enterprise has arisen.

Of course, by the second lockdown, after the confusing tiers for fears, the novelty had worn off. I was well over the glorious government approved and subsidized slacking of getting paid to NOT go to work. At first, my furlough payments were looking kinda handsome as my employers had forgotten to take off tax and National Insurance, but suddenly remembered, and took the lot off as soon as I returned to work. This was after two months of going for long bike rides in desolate London, trying to remind myself that that ghosts of the civil dead might not actually all be dead, but watching telly, in their flats, on furlough, swearing at Joe Wicks and waiting for the ice cream van, just like me. The vast emptiness of London I initially adored, now just felt abandoned and, like me, waiting for something to happen.

At home with the cat

It was so stinking hot; I could barely breathe.  I’d get home from work, run a cold bath and lie in it with bra undies on. Then, chilled to the bone for about five minutes, I would lay on the bed, briefly blue with cold and looking halfway dead. In no time I would be unbearably hot again, and swearing at England, which was clearly breaking the summer rules, of being chilly, by New York standards. I had done many New York summers, and they all felt like this: unbreathable, unbearable, and slow-mo. Nothing was going up except the temperature, and the death count. The manic gaiety I felt – the joy of small things, was fading fast.

Michele in the bath

Work as a chef had changed, in the lockdown. They were more performance-orientated, all speed and efficiency. Right about the same time, I was LESS all of these things, and older. Very suddenly. When a rating system came up i.e. the better you performed, the more hours you got, I came second to last. It was A SIGN. I had spoken to my ex vicar (I have at least as many ex vicars as ex-husbands, but I am very fond of this one) who told me something would happen but not in the way I expected. So I gave notice on my job, thinking Rev Marj, with her Bat phone to God, would make sure nothing very bad happens to me, even though I was doing this insane and catastrophic thing – quitting a job I did not deplore, but certainly no longer loved.

I kept thinking of a line from a Lake Woebegone story, where the mother of the protagonist, a waitress, keeps saying to her, ‘Oh honey, you coulda done something with your life.’

Well, I HAD done something with my life. I had just temporarily forgotten. In July I won a prize for my book, CLEAN, which gave me some money, and a holiday in a mansion in Sligo, which my daughter said I must take because that’s where Normal People happened, and Normal People was all anybody was talking about the last lockdown. But if I were to take the holiday, I would be locked in the mansion for 14 days for quarantine. Yes, it’s not exactly like being locked in Holloway Prison for a similar stretch, but still, I would want to walk through the bottomlands and pick wildflowers and hang out with young groovy and beautiful intellectuals like the ones in Normal People. The photogenic shaggers, him with his medallion swinging all over the shop. Her with the cheekbones. Not on my lonesome, trying to work out the plot of a novel, and figuring out where the microwave bit of an Aga was located. All that had to be put on hold.

Michele in her mask

Then on Jobseekers allowance, I did every free course available to those on JSA. I was going to re-train to be something useful, not just some withered, wasted form of post-pandemic protoplasmic life. I studied, did modules for coursework and had two job advisors. That bit was a fluke that would never happen in real Jobcentre life, my past experience of that Inferno being dead-eyed, stressed out, shouted at civil servants in Matalan suits, shouting at me, shouting at them, in my Matalan suit. These work-from-home Jobcentre people were nice people, and they seemed to genuinely keen to get me back into work. I’d hear a dog barking in the background. The Jobcentre never had a dog.

I also signed up for Advantages of Age’s own Suzanne Noble’s course, Start Up School for Seniors. Not that I actually had an idea for a start-up, but there was a potential opportunity for something local, that had been started up, dropped as per safety measures during the pandemic, but on the verge of starting up again. It was something shapeless, brewing in my head, but there. It was at a recording studio that I passed most days, as it is about 200 yards from where I live. I was drawn to the place, for reasons not yet clear to me.

While I didn’t attend every session of the Start Up School for Seniors course, I just got into the idea that starting conversations about the thing you wanted to do, was a good thing. It helped me work out what I wanted to do. I already knew WHERE I wanted to do it: at the recording studio.  Everybody who walked in or out of there, or who hung out the front, vaping or smoking, seemed in an impossibly good mood. It had a VIBE. I told Suzanne I wanted to be part of it but wasn’t sure what USP I had to offer.

Now the idea of working in a recording studio appealed to me, because I was in the music biz many years ago, as a journalist, press officer and briefly and traumatically, as a tour manager. I understand people in the biz, how they roll, how pretty much all you have to do, to get ahead behind the scenes, is not be an arsehole. To be useful, to be nice, and to be efficient at modern life. This last bit might take some work, but I was two-thirds of the way there. Oh sure, the business has changed beyond recognition from the days when I was young and green and down the front at some indie gig at ULU, going home drenched in sweat that did not come from my body. This was still in the biz, but more grown-up and desk-based.

Plus, I had been in recording studios, well – twice. The first time was with Killing Joke, and that was the most noise-related fun a gal could have at maximum volume if you discount the two weeks of tinnitus that followed. The second time was many years later, watching The Neville Brothers record some tracks, and that was heavenly, in swampy New Orleans, in an air-conditioned room. Could I put that on a CV? More to the point, could I get a job, the way I did in the olden days, without a CV, just by, er, not being stupid, or a shit? I just wanted to be IN there, doing something. I did this about a billion years ago at my first newspaper job in NYC. I wanted to be IN, so I just walked in and then it kind of happened-the newspaper job. Right place, right time, and willingness. My life coach friends would call it the Universe being ready. I call it being willing to be ready for the next thing, without quite knowing what that next thing would be.

Then, a couple of things happened which made me think Rev Marj had been on the Bat phone to God. First of all, I met the owner of the studio in a book group I had just joined. We got on very well You know those rapid-fire conversations where you just kind of nod furiously in agreement about pretty much everything? It was like that. Then, weirdly, the novel I had started to write was set not quite in a recording studio but around some rehearsal rooms off the back of Carnegie Hall and centred on a music teacher who came from nowhere, to teach piano and singing and meet Stephen Sondheim. Could life imitate this formative art, maybe swapping Carnegie Hall for Hackney Road?

The owner and I got to chatting, mainly on email, and he told me that his second in command had sadly passed away from the vile virus. Not that I thought for a minute, that I could replace her, but I could do some of the jobs that she did, again, using the ubiquitous skills of giving good phone and email, and not being difficult. He mentioned that one of the things that got dropped during the Plague was the educational side of the studios, delivering masterclasses and intensive courses in piano, vocal techniques and songwriting. Was that something I thought I could pick up, help organise, administrate, deliver, publicise? Revive? Dare I even apply for a job that I thought might be fun? Well, yeah!

After a few more emails and some socially distanced walks, I was offered a part-time job, and there was really nothing to not love about it, except an uncertain terror that I might be crap at it. A terror, like most of my terrors, founded on zero evidence.

Now I spend three half days a week surrounded by music, fun people, and a feeling of proper hope, that people will never stop making music and never stop wanting to learn how to make music or be better at the music they make. It’s solar-powered, the people are super friendly, and there is an office cat. The potential bonus is that if something weird or plot twisty happens during my time there, I can whack it into the book.

I thought leaving my job during a time of mass unemployment was probably not smart, at first. But the confluence of the prize money, the book club, setting my novel in a place where people did music lessons, and then getting a job where I would be setting up, initially, music lessons, felt really smart. The longer-term goal is to set up a songwriting academy, get some kind of Brill Building mojo going right in the heart of Hackney. I think it’s possible. I think lockdown 2 consolidated my job goals, and everything else was just kind of intention and good fortune. That stuff counts more than you think.

www.premisesstudios.com/blog/jazz-piano-week

A Guide to Surviving A Pandemic by Sophie Parkin


12 Minute Read

To make it through a pandemic – if you are me –
You will need:
A telephone, modern mobile pref
Some books, assorted 50-100 – fiction, poetry, short stories, history, philosophy, autobiog, art, various dictionaries
A wifi connection + laptop
One projector
Some empty jam jars – about 30
Weekly delivery from Oddbox – fruit and veg
A diary
Coffee and herbal tea
Paint (I use pigments and refined linseed oil but tubes are fine too), canvas, paper, brushes, turps, rags
Chocolate milk, chocolate bars – whatever takes your fancy current fav Tony Chocolonely
A bottle of dark rum – good quality for emergency chocolate milk

Some wine, European, good quality
Regular mail delivery
Postcards, envelopes and stamps
A crush, it is nice to daydream of another time and place
Five empty note/sketchbooks without lines and at least 10 Muji 0.5 ink pens
A garden, seeds, trowel and enthusiasm
A comfortable bed and bedding. I am happiest with French linen sheets and an eiderdown both underneath and on top, but I believe this is my particular
An alarm clock for meditating set to 31mins
A radio
A sewing basket
A comfortable chair/sofa for reading/ watching films/meditating
A yoga mat
A bicycle – this is now less necessary since it was stolen
Walking shoes
Good neighbours
Friends and family who can use WhatsApp
A surreal sense of humour
A slug of empathy
A barrel of not taking yourself too seriously
A box of good imagination
A sprinkling of willpower
A bucket of curiosity
A pinch of perspective
A carton of top non-judgement, and some apologies
A Spotify account
A lot of deep breathes
A note in the kitchen that reads – happiness comes from within
Ingredients are not necessarily in that order

Most recipes don’t unless they are Christmas cake, have such a large selection of ingredients but surviving a pandemic requires emergency supplies. It’s like preparing to make Christmas cakes for royal families everywhere in the world. Except it’s just me, by myself now.

This is a luxury. I did have my gorgeous son with me for the first nine months, but we couldn’t cope in a one-bedroom flat, and now he lives elsewhere, and I visit twice a week with shopping. Alone with all these ingredients in this second lockdown, I feel less in need of so many jam jars. The jam jars are to distribute all the ginger marmalade, aubergine Sri Lankan chutney, lemon curd and salsa verde that I make. The last lockdown I tried to learn Spanish every day for a month now I can’t remember a word. Gracias!

I’m certainly utilising my living room with all the paints, pigments and canvas which has become a studio. It’s no longer just a reading room with its large bookshelves, dining room with its table, or cinema with the one bare wall where I project from my laptop countless Preston Sturgis, Powell+Pressburger, Hitchcock, Fellini and De Sica movies. Here I have the separate space that allows me not to leave the flat and not feel that cabin fever will overwhelm me. Some days I run down the four stairs into the kitchen and out into the garden, then back again and every other day or so, I go to the Post Office, then buy milk and bread from the bakers. I was going on bicycle rides as well, but that will have to wait until spring. I hope someone is enjoying my rusty old gold Raleigh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wake in the morning, always trying to remember enough of my dreams to write something down. I seem to alternate between Armageddon, last place on earth, or expensive costume dramas in luxury mansions with endless performances. Some days there is total clarity, others a thick fog and then two days later it comes to me… I was in Italy!

I jump out of bed and say as I draw the curtains, ‘What Amazing things will happen today?’ because you never know. The time can be anything from 8-10 am, and I have no need to be strict about getting up. With no appointments for work or social, does it matter what time I start my meditation? But the one thing I’ve learnt is that meditation delayed can often mean it never appears. And a day without reflecting is like a day without sunshine, I’d rather have it even if it’s for only 15 mins.

Why I have spent so many years not meditating is beyond me? I suppose it’s why so many people I know don’t practice at all. It’s free. It requires no membership contract, studio or equipment, other than you and your dedication; in other words, it’s almost too good to be true. So most people don’t believe it will benefit them because it requires only willpower. Meditation is the only proved discipline that keeps the brain cells expanding as we get older. It keeps me calm with a sunny disposition; it delights me with unexpected ideas and delivers what I need from the universe. The other day I opened my eyes, knowing that my purpose was to inspire joy. I don’t have to win a prize. I have to bring joy, what a relief! So with that in mind, I always wear nice bright clothes, do my hair and makeup plus never forget a hat. Other people have to look at me in the street, so I try not to be an eyesore!

I have breakfast every day, something I used to think below me. Usually some muesli with plain live yoghurt and a homemade fruit compote with ginger. And sometimes some fresh fruit on top too – gild that lily. I have a lurking glut of kiwis, and yet I eat the peach. I make coffee from two different ground coffee types in a cafetiere with milk in a Mottoware jug heated up in the microwave. I drink my coffee out of a handmade @MandeeGage mug. It’s these small rituals in a diary of nothing that gives urgency to the day. Sometimes I will eat breakfast, exercise, shower, meditate, and then have my coffee and sit down to work on my laptop or my phone, topping up social media, reading what’s on other peoples’ minds, and adding funny thoughts into the Vout-O-Reenee’s WhatsApp group. Though my business premises are closed, my business is never closed. There is plenty to keep one person busy looking after members, applying for grants, working out ways to make money whilst my partner is furloughed on the other side of the world. I’ve had my website re-designed, a shop built, ticketing put in – the whole caboodle but I have to make the caboodle.

I tend to do my reading in the morning, or first thing, my writing. However, my painting is a thing of the night, and there is nothing I like more than listening to philosophical podcasts whilst grinding pigments. I am on a Jungian bent (This Jungian Life, Salome The Red Book) at the moment though I have been obsessed for the last few years with the Stoics. There is no doubt that Stoicism from Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Hecate, and Seneca helps keep me sane when the world tells me otherwise. These books are by my bed.

I will paint before as well as after I make dinner. And when I say make dinner, that’s one of my great pleasures – lunch will be a piece of toast some cheese and homemade chutney – but for dinner, I will slow roast tomatoes with chipotle, garlic and oregano from Mount Parnassus near Delphi. I will make a tortilla from scratch to have with the tomato sauce and a salad with watercress and oranges. Yes -all that care just for me. And I might even make a rice pudding. And why wouldn’t I? If I am not willing to spend time on myself, why would anyone else? I am beginning to understand that what we do in the outside world is responding to the deficit within. That for us to change the world outside our walls, we must change our relationship with ourselves. Jung calls this shadow work.

The things annoying you about the outside world are usually things about yourself you haven’t accepted. Like that bossy blustering Boris who never thinks before he speaks, or Priti Patel just trying to wing it with so little substance and so much confidence in deriding others. I see all that in myself sometimes, and it makes me want to gag, but I’m conscious, and I’m not sure how much of the government is, any government in the middle of this crisis.

I like sending postcards and packages to my friends and family. I like waiting in a Post Office queue just watching. I’m lucky enough to live between Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill’s Jewish community. I love seeing the families from my window on Friday nights and Saturday dressed in their best-going-to-synagogue wear. The kids are all in matching outfits playing in the streets on their scooters or pushing their younger siblings in prams, the boys and men huddled together in their tailored suits, white stockings and fur hats discussing the Torah. Social distancing seems a million miles away as it does on Church Street where the affluent anoraks parade inside and outside the expensive American health food stores. I want to shout; ‘Try the Turkish family store’.

The peacocks are hibernating I expect, sewing fabulous costumes of colour and spectacle. When spring hits us, I anticipate a magnificent carnival display down Dalston! I have been mostly darning, using bright embroidery threads to decorate the holes left by the ravenous moth family that stuffed itself silly over Christmas on my cashmere, Merino and lambswool. Now my jumpers, jackets and scarves look like they’ve been flicked with paint from a rainbow palette. I hope to start a trend that will stop people from throwing moth-eaten garments away by upcycling them into the height of fashionability so that people in Chelsea will be faking/making holes to ‘get that look’.

Darning moth holes allows me to watch old Hollywood movies or Netflix rubbish without feeling I’m squandering time. Because the cost to me is that I will never get this lack of pressure back again, which is silly because I will, I give myself the pressure, so I can damn well take it away. I worry that I will never have enough time to read all the books I want to, write all the books I need to, (slightly less worried about this as there are more than enough books in the world), paint all the paintings I want to, make all the people I love, feel truly loved. As I’m also the bringer of joy, there’s no option to be lazy.

Today I talk to my daughter Carson in Ramsgate on WhatsApp video. This is as close as we get to a hug. I’m so proud of her. Tomorrow I’ll visit my mum with a box full of homemade food. She likes trifle, so I always make a version of that. It’s not as if she can’t cook her food and maybe I do it as much for me as for her. Mum and I, we’re good. She said; ‘if it’s this pandemic that takes me then that’s what it is, I’ve had a great life, and I’m 88 almost 89, and maybe I’m not meant to live to 100, I’ve got to go sometime.’ I like that sanguine acceptance. Yes, we do have to go some time, it’s just, are you ready to leave the party? Have you done the work you were put on this earth to do?

Have you fulfilled your destiny? I know I haven’t, I’m sure my mum has, but I will miss her like hell when she leaves. But I will see that she knows I love her and I know she has loved me. However, I don’t think she’ll be going anytime soon, she’s just had her second vaccination and feels ‘full of beans and quite cosy’, plus she is starting a new series of collages.

At some point during the day, I will make cups of tea, eat chocolate, make phone calls or send texts to check that those I love are okay. I might make something from all the fruit and veg from my weekly Oddbox delivery. Now, what shall I do with white carrots, pickle them? And all those parsnips? Some nights I have a glass of wine. Most nights not but I like the thought that I can.

Just before bed, I’ll do the washing up, make a large cup of chamomile and mint tea, brush my teeth, touch my toes and thank the universe for another day that’s rushed by. When I finally tumble into bed at night, it is with a definite sense of abundance, sometimes it’s after a warm bath with scented oils, but I have a propensity to fall asleep in baths, so I put the radio on quite loud. I don’t intend to drown. I like my bedsheets to be French linen, white, clean and with an eiderdown and quilt and lots of pillows. There are piles of books to peruse whilst I lather unguents into my face and hands like a 1950s sitcom. I listen to the late news either at 10 or 12 pm. There are no rules since I got divorced two years ago!

I’m accountable to no one and yet to everyone in a pandemic, for though we must keep apart, we must always remember that especially post Brexit, no man Is an Island. That when we come through this, whenever that is, we will continue to give each other a helping hand, as well as all those hugs we’ve missed and not to stand with harsh judgements over each other’s behaviour. The other day I had a surprise phone call from an old friend who rang to see how I was getting on; ‘I suppose you’re madly creative’, he said. ‘Painting, writing…’ Yes, I answered all that. I felt too guilty to tell him about my moth embroidery, marmalade making, gardening, conversations with the squirrels and birds; it seemed too much like virtue signalling.

As enjoyable as I’m finding this time, life should not be about treading water. I do not wish that we go back to how we were before Covid when there is so much more joy to be created and shared. We can invent a better way to be together. Perhaps we are all being recalibrated so that our pre-pandemic, anxious, rushing, headless chicken within disappears.

How am I Coping?


9 Minute Read

Ok, just got the news of a new lockup on 16th December. It had been expected but I was hoping it would be on Friday so I could still have lunch with my friend Pamela at the French House in Soho on Thursday. No such luck. Was planning on oysters. It was going to be my Xmas treat, but I had to kiss that one goodbye.

One of the main reasons the lockdown is upsetting is because many pubs and restaurants are going to go under. Will the historic French House survive? Doubtful. So many jobs lost.

I’d been going there regularly since the 60s when the good-natured Gaston Berlemonwas was the owner. He knew how to mix the best cocktails.

The French House had always been popular with actors, painters, and writers. In other words, bohemians.  It was the days of the very long liquid lunch, and there one could enjoy good conversations with heavy drinking journalists, martini downing publishers, and famous barristers drinking champagne

Struggling artists cadged free drinks from sloshed businessmen who hoped sooner or later to lay their hands on a painting that would make them a lot of money. Scruffy looking bards, whose nourishment seemed to consist of mainly vodka, flirted with gregarious, heavy boozing gutsy chain-smoking women out for a good time, who were to be found there.

As was Jeffrey Barnard, whose weekly column for the Spectator principally chronicled his daily round of intoxication. His writing was once described by the journalist, Jonathan Meades, as a “suicide note in weekly installments.” And there was the regular, Frank Norman, whose play about cockney low-life characters in the 1950s, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be, had won The Evening Standard’s award for best musical in 1960. Other regulars over the years have included Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Tom BakerMalcolm Lowry, Jay Landesman, Elizabeth Smart, and John Mortimer.

Before my time, when the pub belonged to Gaston Berlemonwas senior, the painter, Augustus John, drank in the company of Brendan Behan who reputedly wrote large portions of The Quare Fellow there. Dylan Thomas, it’s said, once left the manuscript of Under Milk Wood under his chair. Sylvia Plath is also reported to have visited the French House.

For me, it was the one place in Soho where people truly chose to share time and conversation.

Soho will never be the same when we go back to ‘normal’ times. Gone are the ‘normal’ times. It has all changed, we have changed, I have changed.

Not that I know quite how I’ve changed, but I feel like a limp wool doll that’s been turned inside out. I’m upside down.

Before the crown of all pandemics sequestered our lives, I didn’t watch TV programs a lot. Now, to pass the interminable time, I see much more stuff on my computer. Films, documentaries, Amazon Prime videos, Italian movies on YouTube — what have you. But I still don’t have Netflix. I feel that Netflix is a monopolism, so I’m boycotting it, but who knows, as time proceeds and there is less and less material for me left to look at I might give in. After all, I buy from Amazon constantly, and that too is a monopolism. I am a contradiction.

I don’t feel like reading. My eyes hurt, the print is too small. And as for eating on my own? How does one cook for one? Take a cabbage leaf, add a baby tomato, a slice of potato . . . Some of my friends make soups or vegetable stews which they put in the fridge to eat all week. But that’s not for me. Sometimes a yogurt with berries and nuts can suffice. And yet, even though I don’t eat that much, I’ve put on weight. Coronavirus pounds. Surely a glass of wine in the evening and the occasional Bloody Mary are not the cause of me no longer being able to get into my clothes? But you know what? I don’t care. I’ve grown up in 2020.

I know I’m fortunate to be on my own. I’m an old cat with a sticky character and others enervate me. I’m aware there is a price to pay for having a sticky character. There’s a price for everything.

My cleaner came this morning. Her eyes a combination of fury and tears, and before she even greeted me, she cried out, ‘They’ve closed the schools!’ She has two young sons. She’ll come to me on Sundays now when her husband is home to take care of the kids. We all need to adjust. Somehow we adjust. It is what it is. Fucking awful, is what it is.

I wake up each morning with my heart in the pit of my stomach which is in a  knot. I turn on my radio. All the news is bad again. How am I going to get through today? Although I don’t even know what day it is as I seem to have lost all sense of reality as days melt into each other. I feel I’m in a Dali scenario.

Under the soothing hot water in my shower, I remind myself that here I am, in a privileged condition, so best stop complaining. You’ll get to see your grandchildren next year, I tell myself. The time will pass in a jiffy, treat it as the retreat you’ve always wanted to take and never have, and now here it is. The good news is you have lots of time for writing. And don’t forget to follow the advice of Eckhart Tolle to be here now. Maybe I’m coming to terms with fate. What else can one do?

I castigate myself for moaning as my thoughts go to the masses of underprivileged poor who will not be able to afford to give their children a Xmas treat, who shiver in the hovels they cannot afford to heat, let alone pay the rent for. How many abused wives and children will suffer in this festive season? How many more homeless will hit the streets? How many suicides will there be? And to think that Dominic Cummings received a pay rise of at least £40,000 this year. Not that that seemed to put a smile on his surely face. Nor does Scrooge Rees-Mogg smile as he criticises Unicef who will now be feeding hungry children in South London. He accuses them of playing politics. Really? Has he any idea? How many gifts will the nanny be wrapping to place under his huge Christmas tree? How large will the turkey, so lovingly stuffed by the cook, be a feast for the taste buds as it rests ready for carving on the antique family table?

Christmas promises to be a disaster. People are tearing their hair out. Total contradiction and confusion. Celebrate with your loved ones, but don’t get on a train, it’s dangerous. In fact, best to stay at home. Do this, do that, be careful not to kill your granny and whatever you do, remember no hugs. Danger looms around every corner. We are in the unpleasant hands of a cheating populist government that does not know what it’s doing as death tolls rise. They’ve lost the plot and we pay for their stupidity. The Joker Johnson, at all times, fails in his duty to protect his citizens.

Weather permitting, I’ll take a walk on my own and talk to the ducks on the canal. Not that I mind being on my own, for some years I’ve spent Christmas alone. It’s ok, no big deal, 25th of December is just another day. When you get to my age you can be philosophical about it, especially as most old-time friends I used to celebrate it with have died. There is a mausoleum inside of me crowded with those dear departed. I think about them daily.

But wait a minute, hold your turkeys, Christmas has just been canceled! With the excuse of the advent of a new, more virulent virus, we have been moved to Tier 4. Not going anywhere.

Grandparents are beyond desolation, disappointed children are shedding tears, fathers are cursing as they have another Gin, and mothers don’t know what they will be doing with all the food they have bought in anticipation of feasts.

A black mist of anger hangs over the depressed population.

But don’t despair, the powers that be assure us. The brilliant news is that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel called The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID19 vaccine. It’s astonishing that they got it together so quickly, and is, indeed, great news. Doormat Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health, sheds tears publicly as he witnesses Margaret Keenan, a 91-year-old grandmother, be the first person in the world to receive a jab as part of a mass vaccination programme. ‘I’m so proud to be British,’ he says, unaware, perhaps, that the vaccine has been developed by the Turkish, Uğur Şahin and the German Özlem Türeci, daughter of a Turkish physician who immigrated from Istanbul. These two gifted emigrants are now amongst the richest people in Germany. For them, Covid-19 has not been an ill wind.

I was surprised to have already received a phone call from my surgery offering me a jab. Which I refused. This was not an easy decision, but I’m not ready yet. I need to think about it carefully. At this point, I don’t want to put anything foreign into my healthy body. I use no allopathic medication but instead eat healthy food, make extensive use of essential oils, take a zillion supplements, do a zillion exercises. I haven’t been ill, not even a cold, in years.

My son is upset. “Mum, get the vax, if you get the virus you will probably die.”

“I won’t get it. I’m being very careful,” I try to reassure him. Wishing for a more ‘normal’ mother, he shakes his sceptical head.

‘You won’t be able to travel if you don’t get vaccinated,’ friends cry out. Maybe so, but in the meantime, I’ve booked myself a flight (before Brexit kicks in) to Tuscany for next year.

As for now, I’ll continue wearing a mask, keep a reasonable distance, wash my hands, rush through Waitrose, and remind myself, at all times, that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

The fundamental question is whether our values will shift after we come out of the nightmare?

A renaissance must take place. Principles will have to be reviewed. The powers that be will have to seriously understand that love, altruism, compassion, fairness, caring for those less fortunate than us, is fundamental. There are going to be new viruses just around the corner if people don’t change their behaviour and attitude to animals. Huge amounts of money will have to be deployed to heal the climate.

If we don’t do this, it means we have learned nothing at all from this plague which surely has come to give us a lesson.

Living in London during Lockdown – Michele Kirsch


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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.

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