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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.

AofA People: Susan Latchford


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Susan Latchford, 54, is unemployed in the conventional sense and brimming with ideas around the written word.

Age (in years)

55

Where do you live?

Chigwell Row, Essex, England

What do you do?

Right at this moment, I’m unemployed in the conventional sense I’ve been yearning for something but have never been able to find or admit what that was. After doing a Soul’s Work coaching session with Gitte Lassen, I was finally able to admit that I am a writer. Not a wannabe, not aspire to be but I AM. It’s my essential self, to question, to be curious, to pull on the loose thread, to research, to read, to write to form an opinion, to tell a story. After doing a CV, it became even clearer to me that all my life I’ve been writing: for others, for charity, for nothing. Now I’m going to be writing for myself, starting with a fear-inducing, sphincter clenching blog which launched on Friday 20th September. I have two half-written books on the go and already have an offer of professional help to work on finishing one of them.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

I actually love being my age! I was never too worried about people’s approval anyway, but there’s something very liberating about this time of life. I don’t worry about offending people – in fact everyone is far too easily offended these days. I do feel it’s something that’s easier as we get older and the need for peer approval, belonging to the tribe, fitting in – falls away. There is a parallel with autumn as trees start looking inward and leaves fall. At this time of my life, I’m seeking my bright and shiny self, letting go of things that no longer serve me. I hope I can stand proud of my truth and glory, even if others don’t get it – that’s ok. I don’t owe anyone an explanation or reason for my being. I’m very aware of my health having had two stress-induced heart attacks in 2016 and this has encouraged me to lose weight, take regular exercise and improve my diet. For me, every birthday since October 2016 is one I might never have seen. I’m aware that this isn’t everyone’s experience. One of my oldest and closest friends who are exactly the same age as me is not very well. I was very shocked when I saw him last year at how frail he seemed. I’m so very privileged to get a second chance and be in a position to keep pushing the envelope as much as I can!

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

In terms of material things, I have a home (rented), a husband and a ginger cat companion called Purdy. I have no real lack of anything other than a personal income which I intend to change. I have clarity of purpose, friends I truly value and am valued by, an amazing landscape to inhabit and explore both. The most important thing I have now that I didn’t at 25 is spiritual certainty.

What about sex?

Sex is great! I’ve always been someone with a high libido and find physical intimacy enjoyable and fun. Getting older has had some effects, but as I often say to my friends, I’m older not blind or dead.

And relationships?

Human relationships are important to me, particularly my female friends. As I’ve got older I prefer their company, to that of family, and often my husband. I’m quite happy to spend the majority of each day on my own. I never feel alone.

How free do you feel?

That’s such a loaded question! Am I free of fear and suffering? Do I feel safe and secure? To all intents and purposes ‘yes’. Do I think I live in a democracy in a free country, and exercise free will and free choice? Absolutely not, that’s complete fiction. The only place we have the potential to be truly free is in our mind – even that is fraught with ego and falsehood through the programming of two thousand years of Western society and culture; our childhood, education, peer groups; friends and family and the drip-feed of sometimes poisonous media.

What do you feel proud of?

Throwing my hat in the ring and declaring myself to be a writer.

What keeps you inspired?

The enormous mysterious beauty of Creation, not just on this little backwater planet, but our entire solar system and galaxy. Beyond that, it’s just too mind-blowing and vast to get to grips with.

When are you happiest?

When I’m deep in the forest, on my own, in the early morning, watching the comings and goings of all the creatures.

Where does your creativity go?

Over the years it’s gone into painting, drawing, crafting, wood-burning, photography, and mosaics but always comes back to writing, writing writing!

What’s your philosophy of living?

Life should be defined by joy. It’s just too short to do anything else.

And dying?

Well, I have been on the cusp of that and during a Shamanic journey had a spontaneous dismemberment experience. It’s often been said that it’s a doorway, a transition, another part of the journey. Dying is inevitable and certain. I no longer view it with trepidation, but at the same time I love being alive on this gorgeous planet. I’ll be sad to leave it.

Are you still dreaming?

Of course! I currently dream of spending the night in a desert so I can see an amazing sunset, experience the dramatic heat turning to cold and see the Milky Way Galaxy across the starry medicine bowl of the sky without light pollution. And of course, making a complete photo journal of it all.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

It all depends on how you define outrageous. If it’s bucking the social norm and trend of the average 54-year-old, then I must be perpetually outrageous! I did recently have an altercation with a young mum in the post office. Her rather weak parting shot was ‘you should be ashamed of yourself’. I just laughed in her face and said – ‘don’t let my shame hit you on the arse on the way out’. Or maybe that was just rude?

 https://thewoodp3cker.wordpress.com

AofA People: Sue Clark


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Sue Clark is retired and enjoys writing fiction.

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

Oxfordshire

AGE?

71

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

Mostly good. I’ve just enjoyed two major positive milestones: my first grandchild and my first novel being published. But the joints still ache and the wrinkles still multiply.

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

Patience and a little more tact.

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

Closeness is more important.

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

Friendships are vital. Not just sharing with old friends but making new, young ones and spending time with them.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

Free to use my time more as I wish but not free in that family responsibilities remain, even with a grownup family.

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

That my children are sociable, kind, funny and independent of thought. And that my comic novel Note to Boy is to be published by Unbound.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

Life is inspiring every day. I find a lively sense of humour keeps me going through any dark times.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

Eating and drinking with family and friends, walking in the countryside.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

Into reading and writing and dreaming.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

Stop faffing and get on with it.

AND DYING?

I’m happy to make room for the next generations. Only let it be pain-free.

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

Of course. With one book on its way to publication, I’m writing my next.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

Being brave enough to send my book – my baby – out into the cruel world.

Note to Boy is fundraising on Unbound. You can contribute here. https://unbound.com/books/note-to-boy/

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