#32 Peace and Disquiet
Some have to grow into the role they must play, for others it comes naturally and where social distancing is concerned I am, not to put too fine a point on it, not only gifted, but experienced. It’s stricter here in France than in the UK, but as far as I can see in London and surrounding areas current social distancing measures would make me marginally more sociable than I usually am. I’ve seen the crowds gathering for what the UK population laughably considers to be social distancing and can think of a number of comedy clubs, theatres and Championship football clubs who’d also kill for such numbers. Maybe British people would take Lockdown more seriously if it was called Lock-In instead.
Anyway, I’m not a part of that. Both the UK government and the French government have sent out texts to clarify confinement rules and as I have a dual-sim phone with both UK and French sim cards, you’d have thought I’d get at least one of the messages? But no, no I haven’t. I’ve gone under the radar. And while everyone else is planning Coronavirus strategies, I’m out of the loop and it’s horribly reminiscent of my university social life all over again.
It’s difficult to describe how it all feels at the moment. I suspect we’re all in the same boat, that is it’s not just that each day that’s different, but that we go through a range of emotions almost on an hourly basis. I know I do. One minute I’m strong, ‘we can get through this’ dad, the next I’m a quivering wreck of ‘where will the money come from?’ and the feeling that there’s immense responsibility to look after others. Men are programmed from an early age to be ‘head of the household’ leaders, stoic and so on, and anyone who isn’t should ‘man up’. Well, I have my moments, but without Natalie as a constant, or to lean on and be there when she needs to lean on me, it would be an impossible task and essentially quite pointless. My first, biggest, fear was that with everyone home, the family would have a ringside seat as to what my days at home are actually like. I’m a writer though essentially and far from inspiring confidence that the man of the house could go off and pin down a woolly mammoth at the drop of a hat, he sprawls listlessly on the sofa, catches snippets of a Margaret Rutherford film, nips off to write a few words occasionally and tries, not always successfully, to avoid hitting the booze before lunch.
For Natalie’s part she is teaching her collège students remotely via the school’s Intranet system and is doing longer hours than she would be if she were in the actual classroom. Maurice as always is on top of his schoolwork and happy to be living at home for once, whereas Thérence spends 60% of his time railing against the injustice of education, and the remaining 40% perfecting his reverse in-swinging yorker. Samuel has remained in the UK, his choice, and therefore an extra remote concern.
It’s all very odd.
We’re incredibly fortunate to be where we are and have what we have and we keep telling ourselves that, but there’s a brittle tension in the air at all times because things are essentially out of your control. It’s not only us humans feeling that tension either, despite the sunny weather all the cats feel the need to be indoors all day and the horse, Ultime, gets through a bucket of water a day like an aged Diva who’s decided that liquid oblivion is the only way forward. The goats are standoffish as usual, the hens are down to one egg a day between them as if conserving their strength for the long haul and the dogs are just going stir crazy. Dogs are very sensitive to the human condition, so they react the same way. They’re jumpy, snappy and, just like me, permanently on the verge of barking. And all dogs must be reacting the same way. I had to go shopping for vitals yesterday and while I’m happy to report that most shelves were in reasonable condition, the dog food aisle was empty. It seems that if this situation goes on for many months, as some have predicted, it’ll be the dogs that come out of it best, possibly even become our new overlords in the process, though I suspect that their way of meet and greet will be subject to social distancing rules for some considerable time.
Again though, it felt strange to even be going out yesterday. The French government have issued a new ATTESTATION DE DÉPLACEMENT DÉROGATOIRE, that’s the document we must all carry if we leave our house. This one has the time you left because you aren’t supposed to be away from home for more than an hour, not in all circumstances, but some. Well I was gone an hour and five minutes and I’ve rarely felt more alive. I felt like I was in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and that I’d dodged a wall patrol and returned with the secret microfilm, or in this case frozen chips, tins of ravioli and some bacofoil.
None of us know where this will all end, and I repeat, I find it a scary situation and sometimes like I’m in a mental vice that’s squeezing the last drop of strength out of me. So I’m going to concentrate on the little victories, keep the enormous cloud of global reality at a well-informed arms length is the way forward for me. And Natalie and I have decided to go on holiday too. It’s not really a holiday obviously, but as all the bookings for our B&B have cancelled and the authorities have, quite rightly, forced us to close, we’ve decamped the thirty metres or so to the other side of the pond and to our luxury holiday home. The kids tried it for one night and have moved out, which suits us just fine, and are we worried that the boys are effectively home alone? No, we left the dogs in charge.
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