I am Lockdown Man. The only living descendant of Piltdown Man. The appearance gives me away. The shuffling gait, food stained tee shirt, and the almost complete lack of personal hygiene or grooming. With all this free time I could have done so much, but all I engaged in was the growing of an ill advised beard. If the lockdown goes on till next Christmas, I can audition for Selfridges’ Santa. If, in the mean time they’re looking for a new Captain Birds-eye, I’ll be there. Mind you, even the Capin’ is younger than me these days.
I go no further than the park at the end of our street, for mine and the dogs’ exercise and toilet, though generally I use the one at home. I used to go across the road to Sainsbury’s for supplies, but now wife Emma’s had the jab, I don’t even get to go there. I wear a furry Depty’ Dawg hat to hide my unkept hair as much as to keep me warm. Along with the beard and the jacket with holes in it, I’d like to think it gives me the look of an early Arctic explorer.
With the first lockdown came spring, and the bluest skies I have ever seen in London. And there was peace in SW11, with no Heathrow bound jets of packaged tourists. Really quite divine. I spent way too much time down at the garages, my lockdown lockups, sorting out the latest projects. The 1957 Renault Dauphine slowly came together, and became the most perfect of cars. A lot better for its years than this 1957 model. I sat in the sun on discarded dining chairs retrieved from the rubbish, and Emma brought me tea in a thermos and stayed to share it. Scrubs and Montana, our two lurchers enjoyed the sunshine too, lying on bits of discarded carpet, retrieved from the rubbish. People stopped to chat every day, and friends even risked driving over in their old cars, knowing we could have tea in the sunshine with generous social distancing. There were times I felt guilty for doing little but natter all day.
Extended automotive fettling made me happy, and I got a tan into the bargain. Lockdown 3 is very different.
I’ve had a problem with winter for a long time. Escaping London’s cold and damp was a major motivation for my four years of travels, starting back in 2012. Then I got rather ill, and the therapies left me with a sensitivity to cold that makes me feel like I’m going to expire, when others simply find it bracing. A winter in London under leaden skies, when every day’s the same, is difficult. I recall talking to a girl who worked at the first design group that was daft enough to employ me many years ago. She was from Ohio – Cleveland, maybe Columbus, or perhaps Akron. She told me that for six months of the year her city’s skies were solid grey and the temperature hovered around zero, never getting properly cold. Six months without seeing the sun. The city had the highest suicide rate in the US.
I haven’t heard anything about UK suicide numbers this winter, but I’ll bet they’re a tragedy.
Motivation is now a memory. Just before the first lockdown I got busy sending submissions to dozens of literary agents. I had produced a cover for my novel, Lost Track, that I was pleased with, and that surely had to catch the agents’ eyes. I got a couple of rejections, and after that the dust thickened. Nobody else bothered to reply. It doesn’t get you going.
Now with the garages out of bounds due to the temperature, and every other form of recreation illegal, I’ve only had a couple of activities available to me. If sleep can be called an activity. Is sleep the greatest of luxuries? I’ve always enjoyed it very highly. To be able to sleep whenever you fancy it is extremely pleasant, if dangerous in the way of habit forming. With Emma working at home, a cuddle is only ever an ask away, and how lucky is that? My other recreation has been reading. When else would I have found the time to read all 780 pages of Peter Ackroyd’s verbose and florid, if absolutely fascinating, ‘London The Biography’?
And I forgot. Whiskey. It’s just amazing how quickly those bottles empty themselves.
Of course weekly life drawing at the Mall Galleries stopped, and I just didn’t get around to doing any other drawing. There’s just the half finished watercolour on the desk, that I’ll always finish tomorrow. The School of Meditation groups went to Zoom, as did Morley College’s writing group. Both have been lifelines in this time of grey suspended animation.
Christmas came, or rather it didn’t. The same fate as our summer holiday. £180 paid for the dogs’ passports, but I never even got round to collecting the certificates from the vets. Now, post Brexit, they’re obsolete and will never be used. The trouble with too much time on your hands, is that the Devil makes work for them. And for a lazy mind.
A visit to the Aveyron, in southern France was our planned holiday. I’ve been a couple of times and did not understand why an area of such extraordinary beauty was so completely uncelebrated, even within France.
The most cursory search on the internet presented ancient stone houses with land and barns for less than half of what my ‘70s Battersea flat is worth. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a problem for me that I have somehow accumulated six old bangers, and there’s really only one I would like to part with. Two at a stretch. And then I’m quite sure I would want another one, perhaps going pre-war. Living in the city I have to rent lockups, for thousands a year. Even with three and a half garages, two cars have to survive under covers, and one just sits out in the rain. The Standard 10 is sixty five years old, but it’s supposed to be my, ‘everyday’ car. Recently it’s been my once a month to Asda, half a mile away, car. Now we get deliveries from Sainsbury’s. The dream of a barn to put the motors in, is powerful.
Untold hours were idled away on French property sites. But then the realities of Brexshit started to bite. Living in France was never going to happen.
I really have no idea how many millions of years human kind has had the opportunity to evolve, but it is a quite staggering number. Yet in 2016 people voted for Brexit, and Donald trump. Eons wasted. Why did we even bother with the ancient Greeks, the Romans, Christ, Buddha, Shakespeare or the Renaissance? All that effort and we end up with Brexit and Trump. The world was going down the toilet, and it looks like God may have pulled the chain in 2020.
At least Trump is out. History will not be kind to him. Nor, I hope, will the US legal system. But Brexit is here, and call me impatient, but I can’t wait another forty years for us to re-join.
What is it about the mind that it so enjoys pondering a plan? Or should I be honest and call it daydreaming? Though I do have excuses.
I love old cars and I love driving them. Driving in London is now somewhere between impossible and something simply to be avoided, due to it’s being such a foul experience. Six undriven cars is stupid. It’s either lose the cars or get out of town. I’ve had some of them a long time – the Mercedes for forty three years, so it will eventually be London that has to go.
London itself has changed. It isn’t as much fun as it was when I came to Battersea twenty five years ago. Or maybe I’m not so much fun. There used to be a real feeling of freedom. Pubs were scruffy, you could drive anywhere, and park in the street outside your home. Commercial rents were cheap, which meant lots of unusual, and perhaps not too profitable businesses, flourished. All those fascinating places are gone. The pubs are universally smart and respectable. Good, but respectable. Where do you get a bad meal these days?
There was a freedom, and it’s more than an impression that it has gone. Seldom are you not on camera. Behave nice, because someone is observing you. It is now impossible to drive in London, however careful and law abiding you attempt to be, without being regularly fined. Stop for a minute where you’re not quite sure if you should, and you will be fined.
And don’t get me going on the Met. I’ve had a few run ins, and I’ve met rank dishonesty more than once. The aggression, laziness and dishonesty of Met officers really scares me. You can’t win. They’re police officers.
The seductive dream of a rural French idyll, complete with better weather, better food and a better house, is over. So now my lockdown dream is a house in north Devon. And who knows – it might even happen. Might, one day.
Just like there are garages full of lovely cars I never see, my wardrobe is full of nice clothes I never wear. I enjoy the attempt to look good, but for now my style is one up on vagrant. I so look forward to donning some glad rags, persuading one of the cars into life, and going to see some Devon houses.
You have to hang onto anything you’ve got to look forward to. The trouble is there is so little day to day. We can’t say, lets go over to Shoreditch and The Bike Shed at the weekend. Can’t say, let’s have a quiet pint at the Woodman. Can’t say, lets have a coffee with Simon, Simon, or Simon. We know a lot of Simons. Can’t go up to Northcote Road market, or take the bike over to Columbia Road. No Waterloo Classics, either.
We’ve got it good. Emma got the boot when her clinic closed, but a much better post in the NHS was waiting. I have nothing to complain about, apart from my own inertia.
Life will change and change again, and with good fortune, for the better – if we all live long enough to get our jab. What else but that hope have we got to hang onto, apart from Netflix, iPlayer, Amazon Prime and Spotify. Especially Spotify. And I suppose when it’s all over I’ll have a nice beard to shave off.