Locked Down or Locked In?

Like Japanese soldiers found hiding on remote Pacific islands decades after the Second World War, unaware the hostilities had ended, I fear I may emerge from isolation months in the future to discover everyone else has been out and about, holidaying and having fun. Scenes on the news of crowded beaches and beauty spots and anti racism protests, leave many of us wondering if we have missed a miraculous and sudden end to the pandemic.

One of my earliest memories is looking out of our upstairs window at sunshine and blue skies and feeling shut in. Until I was nearly seven, by which time my parents had a toddler and baby to cope with as well, Mum and Dad rented what they called a flat, but was really the spacious two top floors of a large Victorian terraced house. A quick glance on Zoopla reveals you would pay over a million and a quarter for such a house in that road today. But Mum had to lean out the kitchen window to hang the washing on a pulley line, suspended high above the back garden of the ‘wicked old lady’ ( mum’s words ) who lived on the ground floor. She never offered to let me play in her garden. But I certainly wasn’t a prisoner; my parents were always taking me down by the river or to Kew Gardens, Marble Hill Park and Richmond Park for fresh air and exercise. I feel so sorry for children literally locked into cramped flats because of the virus. Most children in England will not now return to school till after the summer holidays. While many are having fun and never had so many walks and bike rides with their parents, some children are isolated indoors because of their health or underlying health conditions of someone in their family.

We adults may grumble and some people have found themselves in dire situations, but we are not sheltering in a basement in a war shattered city. For writers, bloggers, artists and gardeners it’s just another day at home, an endless succession of days at home, but it’s okay. Obviously I could not survive without BBC Radio, books, music, the internet, television and of course chocolate.

When we were having our medical dramas just before lockdown, there was another patient who seemed to be following Cyberspouse from ward to ward. He had no visitors because he had a frail wife at home and no family near. I knew this because I heard all his conversations to medical staff and on his mobile, but his greatest upset was not having anything to read and nobody seemed able to get him a newspaper. When any medical staff asked how he was he told them he was soo bored. He was reduced to doing origami with the paperwork they left behind. By the third ward I made sure I brought him a newspaper and he was overwhelmed with gratitude. Boredom can be a worse threat than a pandemic.

What things have been essential for your survival in isolation?

Two Metre Movement

Writers can still keep writing in isolation and quarantine, but what of photographers? No more traveling to local beauty spots, let alone visiting exotic locations, no more turning up at weddings and social gatherings to take formal and informal shots. One of our local award winning photographers has still been busy; Emily Endean has been using her daily exercise to walk to the homes of volunteering locals and snap them at their front door or in the garden – while staying at a safe distance on the pavement. A piece of everyman history, recording what we hope will be a unique year, not the new normal.

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Gardens were already important to many of us, but have taken on a new significance in isolation for those of us lucky enough to have one. Are they a zoo compound or is your front garden your own little stage where all life takes place? We stand in it to chat safely to neighbours or passers by; on Thursday evenings we stand at 8pm to clap and bang saucepan lids for the NHS and all carers.

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Hopefully a few or more flowers will brighten the daily walks of others. No one could have foreseen back in the autumn, when we were planting bulbs and wallflowers, how much time we would spend enjoying the splash of colour. With garden centres closing there has been dismay among gardeners looking forward to getting their bedding plants; we like to fill in gaps as spring flowers fade and plant up pots and patio tubs for the summer. Luckily our local greengrocer’s has been delivering plants; tidying the garden and planting is perfect for fresh air and exercise.

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I had my chance to take part in Emily’s project on Sunday. If you want to stroll around peeping at homes and seeing who lives there, visit Emily’s website here.

https://www.emilyendeanphotography.co.uk/post/the-two-metre-movement-people-in-quarantine

Friday Flash Fiction – SixSixty

In Good Spirits

I had hoped to get on the computer this evening to follow up my research at the local library, but my husband’s idiot friend Paul was coming round for dinner with some new update, App or whatever they call them. For all I know he could be a computer genius; as I am a technophobe who only knows how to Google I have no way of judging. Both men dispatched the meal quickly, eager to play with the grown up toy. I was only half listening to what Paul was saying with his mouth full.

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‘I’ve really done it this time, what Houdini and Arthur Connan Doyle failed to do; you two are going to be the first to try it out. You both must know some dead people.’

‘What are you talking about Paul?’ I finally asked.

‘Ouija-App, Soulbook, Ethernet; not sure what I’m going to call it yet, that doesn’t matter, the point is it works, it’s true.’

‘What is?’ asked my husband.

‘Haven’t you been listening? I started from the premise that there is nothing out there, only electricity and the radio waves living people have broadcast. Then I formulated the search on the theory that if we did survive after death we would most likely be in a form of electrical energy, after all, don’t our brains work with electrical impulses?’

‘You are no scientist, nor a doctor’ laughed my husband.

‘That’s an advantage, my ideas are fresh and unfettered.’

‘So who did you contact?’

‘Somebody I had never heard of… all the better, I could not know anything about him.’

‘No proof that he ever existed.’

‘Yes, he told me where to find his gravestone.’

‘Another computer geek is just having you on, he was their great granddad or they looked him up on the internet.’

‘No reference to him on Wikipedia, a nobody who lived and died and left nothing behind except the epitaph.’

‘Not a very interesting person to chat to on the other side’ I said.

‘On the contrary, he had fantastic ideas when he was alive, but nobody listened to him. He has been waiting for someone like me to get in touch.’

‘Pudding, coffee?’

‘Bring coffee upstairs to the computer, let’s get started.’

I felt the first misgivings. ‘Are you actually serious?’

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‘There he is, my Facebook friend Nathanial.’

Indeed, there was a black and white picture of a Dickensian character.

‘People put old photos on Facebook all the time’ said my husband.

‘But the photos don’t usually write their own comment… look.’

Hello Paul, couldn’t find a better photo than this, I see you have your two cynical friends with you.

Paul tapped at the keyboard, words appeared in the comment box.

‘Give them a chance, this is all new to them.’

A reply came back straight away.

Perhaps they would like to meet the original inhabitants of this house?

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A shiver went down my spine, we lived in an old house, I had been researching its history, but perhaps I could play Paul at his own game.

‘Let me type a comment.’

I tapped in ‘Yes I would, if they tell me their names and when they lived here.’

Words appeared instantly in the comments box.

Benjamin and Martha Helston, married 20th June 1876, took the lease on this house 5th July 1876, were blessed with a son Samuel James 8th September1877 and two daughters…

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‘Stop, this is creepy, have you been looking at my research notes Paul?’

The writing on the screen continued, while I found the paper notes I had taken at the local library just that afternoon.

…and you can see where he marked his height on his tenth birthday –  on the scullery wall where you stripped off that ghastly wallpaper recently.

My husband gasped. ‘Of course SJH, those markings prompted your interest in the history, didn’t they Love, but we haven’t shown Paul yet what we’re doing in that room…’