How I survived lockdown.
I have finally got round to writing a blog now that, wisely or foolishly, the great British lockdown is being eased. Until now, I haven’t quite managed to write about this, the strangest of times. I was last on here in February for the launch of my poetry collection,
Remembering Blue, http://www.wardwoodpublishing.co.uk/titles-poetry-colin-bell-remembering-blue.htm After that memorable event, my last public adventure was when I went to London to see the impressive Troy exhibition at the British Museum.
Then the curtain came down on my life outside my home here in Lewes.
Here are some photographs and thoughts to mark the passage from then to now. Just one person’s view on the extraordinary and, for many, the often tragic interruption to normal life that was, and still is, Covid-19. I know that I have been very lucky.
The reality sank in over Covid-19 and the long lockdown when I looked out of my window one evening. Here is my street in those weird days of silence – days went by with no one out there, it seemed. There were no cars either, but all over the world we had a clear and clean blue sky – an unexpected plus.
On TV, I watched the Italians suffering and showing a brave face – it couldn’t happen here could it?
I had been having my roof retiled and, luckily, the job was finished just before the lockdown rules came into force. So, at least, I wasn’t going to be subjected to scaffolding being my only view.
Instead of scaffolding I got this face at my window next morning – the Waitrose van delivering somewhere in my street made me jump in momentary terror when I saw him, this guy, like someone in The Shining, grinning at me.
Being a writer is a lot like being in permanent lockdown. I was used to spending hours alone in an empty room, so I was unfazed by the experience, especially in the early weeks. Good news comes for a writer when you hear of your work being published, , and it helped at this time that I had three new Fibonacci poems published by The Fib Review – http://www.musepiepress.com/fibreview/index.html making a total of 100 poems published in consecutive issues, over eleven years, in this impressive journal. I was chuffed by the news of those Fibs and then I heard that Ward Wood Publishing http://www.wardwoodpublishing.co.uk/author-search.htm plan to bring them all out as a book. I didn’t need to leave the house for any of this.
All over the world, people learned to come together using the new technological wizard on the block, Zoom. I did it for family reunions, personal training sessions, tai-chi and for my regular poetry group meetings. I worked for me, but I know several others found it distressing and isolating. I had been attracted to the internet and most of its offspring since the beginning, so I wan’t sure why people didn’t find it natural and a wonderful opportunity in a time of crisis.
Then came the Spring, not always a season lacking cruelty, but my flowering cherry tree greeted me every time I looked out of the window and I managed even to celebrate the traditional Japanese hanami ceremony as usual with my neighbours – not quite as usual of course, but we raised a glass of wine to each other over the fence, acknowledging, as the Japanese do at this time, the transience of beauty, and, of course, life.
Being locked-down meant there were less interruptions to my life than usual, so , during this period I finished my third novel, Over the hills is a long way off, and sent it off to the publishers Ward Wood Publishing. A great moment.
Then the tulips in my garden got into full keeping-Wolfie-happy mode. Was it lockdown, or was it one of the loveliest English Springs in memory? A bit of both, I suspect.
Even the flowerpots were seductive in the extraordinarily hot weather that dominated the beginning of lockdown and made life bearable for anyone lucky enough to have a garden.
Lilies and fuchsias started to flower as the temperatures soared and I started to spend longer out in the garden where you can’t feel isolated, self-isolated or any other kind of isolation, because there are the bees, butterflies but, yes, also evil lily beetles ready to devour the seasons most elegant flowers – gardens are seldom as peaceful as they look.
Then, it was Summer. The main event in my garden in any Summer is always the roses – and, this year, it was actually quite difficult to feel down when they were in full bloom. Mine are not just beautiful to look at, but they are shamelessly aromatic. On a hot morning and, for others, early evening, you don’t even have to stick your nose into their petals to get the fragrance.
My little poetry notebook came into its own out in the garden too. I have used this small book for writing poetry, mostly the Fibonacci ones, for over a decade now. It sits comfortably on the garden table and wears the smudges on the cover put there by a shower of rain in Florence when I first started writing these little poems. It is always there for those emergency poetry-writing moments.
Summer by the dustbins can be inspiring too – especially the tiny pond, a French washing bowl from the 1950s, with its irises and waterlilies….
…and, of course, the frog. She has been here in the garden now for three years and, I am not sure if I imagine it or not, but she seems like a friend when she pops out of the water to stare at me. I stare at her too. It feels like a rapport. I resist thinking that she recognises me, but if she happens to be in the pool, she always puts her head up out of the water, and, yes, we greet each other. I often wonder if there can be a relationship between man and frog.
As Summer became hot and sunny here in southern England, and the lockdown continued, I felt extremely fortunate to live in such a lovely place with the leafy Bronze Age mound to the rear of the traditional Sussex flint walls, When the study window is open, I even get a bit of a sun-tan and feel almost out-of-doors when I am at my computer.
In June, up there in my room, my novel-writing surge led me to finish my next book too – well, almost finished, it is the fourth draft of my fourth novel, In the lovely month of May. My time in lockdown has been well-spend completing two fiction projects and writing some new poetry too.
As lockdown eased, and social distancing became a priority, contractors were allowed back from furlough. Electrician Lloyd returned to complete the works that were interrupted in March. The final touch on home-improvements, illuminating the garden and allowing it to be a sanctuary day and night.
The gardening lighting system makes the garden a magical place by night….
….a glass of wine on a humid evening with the roses lit from beneath, and I felt I was living in a movie….
….sometimes waiting for Count Dracula to call.
Novel-writing on pause, Dracula asleep, the sun came back and things apart from just writing came to fruition, like the surprisingly good harvest from the little cherry tree that I planted in a pot last year.
The next important job after so many writing projects had reached completion was to catch up on reading The New Yorker – perfect summer reading was their fiction edition with a ‘new’ Ernest Hemingway short story and one, a rather good one, by the fascinating Haruki Murakami, unpredictable, cryptically profound and witty in turns – I am a fan.
Some idle rose dead-heading resulted in this accidental flower-arrangement in my birdbath. ..all seemed calm and still that day. Yet, I thought of others a lot less fortunate than me. Those that had lost their jobs, who had to live with a family of small children in a one-bedroom flat, the many elderly victims of the virus in Britain’s inadequate care home system, or those who weren’t even lucky enough to have a protective wall against infection, like the Brazilian slum-dwellers in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. I hope the world will learn to care about its endangered people after inequalities are so brutally exposed in this terrible time. It’s too easy, maybe, for me to say this from the privileged environment of my own back yard.
My garden, I know is an oasis. It was a good place to continue my study of the complex modernist poetry in Ezra Pound’s Cantos which I am reading, one by one, in chronological order, at the on-line poetry readings I give every week in the virtual world of Second Life. Beyond Pound’s unpleasant enthusiasm for Fascism and anti-semitism (recanted, I hope), I have found many parallels between the troubled world he was describing and our own. Like Wagner, and other ‘bad guys’ who were also geniuses in our culture, we have to hang on to their good bits – we can learn from them, and find inspiration there too.
My virtual world avatar is Wolfgang Glinka, or Wolfie for short, and his weekly poetry event, Wolfie’s Poetry Surf has been running without a break since 2012 http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Cookie/57/238/21 – during lockdown, I have not been the only one to appreciate the value of these virtual communities of writers and artists that gather together from all over the world in the much misunderstood virtual world of Second Life. Wolfgang Glinka now runs an arts complex there known as The Glinka Gallery and, during lockdown, opened four new buildings with a festival of fine art, poetry, photography, music and dance. when real life arts venues were all forced to close.
I even got to become a dancer in the virtual world in my collaboration with the creative talents of the Sway & Dance Troupe – we have also made animated films together https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAuvt2MOi_E
The Glinka Gallery has been an inspiring project which will, I hope, live long after lockdown ends. Believe it or not, it has kept me in the real world during this strange time when it is not always clear what is real and what is imagined. My virtual gallery is now a recommended venue on the Second Life webpage. http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Nolidae/122/233/3001
It would have been all too easy to get really unfit during lockdown but, luckily, I was able to continue my weekly personal training sessions with my excellent and dedicated trainer, Gyles Abbott. https://www.wearesoulfit.com/, who carried on doing our one-to-one classes via Zoom before we were allowed again to meet up once more at his studio. I now have a custom-built weights cupboard in my study and, during lockdown began to do a second personal training session with Gyles’ weekly notes. I have not felt so fit for a very long time.
I am not alone in thinking that many of our new lockdown habits will continue long after the dreaded virus has been defeated. Certainly I am determined to keep up my training at home as a brilliant extension of my fitness regime.
Over the last few weeks I have a new fitness challenge thanks to my friend Vanessa Newman who nominated me to take part in an online push-up marathon #25pushupchallenge on Facebook, when I had to do 25 pushups a day for 25 days to raise awareness of anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder issues. Problems, I suspect, only intensified by the lockdown. I hope my efforts, along with all the other participants, did some good. It certainly got me going and I enjoyed it immensely. I got better at push-ups too with online advice from my personal trainer, Gyles, and my ever-vigilant kungfu instructor, Neil Johnson http://www.whitecranefightingarts.com – an example of the positive value of social networking, not just when we are socially isolated. I shall continue to challenge myself with these press-ups – a classic from of exercise.
After three months when I had hardly left the house, some of the restrictions were lifted and, gradually and cautiously, I began to go out to places where social distancing was easiest – like the ruins of Lewes’ 11th century Cluniac Priory…
…or the wide open spaces of the Sussex Downs near Lewes, along the River Ouse…
…and over the hills – but not far away….
then after more restrictions were lifted, it was even possible to do the 6 miles journey to the sea at Seaford…..
…and then to Worthing in West Sussex to visit my mother, who had been socially isolated in her flat over-looking the sea.
In August, we entered another stage in the nation’s retreat from lockdown, I took a train to London for the first time since February. Masked and gloved, I reached the nation’s relatively deserted capital.
I was heading for the National Gallery and an exhibition postponed when all the country’s public venues were forced to close. I have never seen Trafalgar Square so empty.
Practically empty too was the National Gallery’s Titian exhibition, Love, Death, Desire which reunited Titian’s Poesie – six late masterpieces painted for King Philip II of Spain in the late 16th Century and not seen together for nearly 500 years until the National Gallery brought them all together again in London. It was a moving, and, after so long a time of social isolation, an overwhelming experience to see these powerful pieces in an almost perfect setting. Maybe there was a benefit in it being a bit of an effort to book ahead, to arrive at a precise time and to go round the gallery in a small group where everyone could see and appreciate the art on display. It has been a long time since I remember seeing such a serious group of art gallery visitors where people stood, often for ten minutes of more in front of a single painting and, yes, looked.
There was plenty to think about when I was back in my garden, but, of course, tempting though it is to think of the ending of lockdown being the end of Covid-19, that is far from the reality. I hope that people will carry on being careful and responsible in this long campaign against the 2020 pandemic. I hope too, that we will take some of the lessons of this period with us into the future. Let’s try not to pass on our germs to others in public places. Let’s value our personal spaces more, respect the time we need to spend alone in our own heads, and feel closer to our fellow human beings in a world where the virus treated us all as equals. I hope too that we will remain cautious over traffic pollution, and the excesses of early twenty-first century ‘First World’ hedonism.
Finally I have to reiterate my own sense of my own good fortune during this time. I wanted to share my experience of the lockdown, but I am well aware of how different it was for so many others far less fortunate than myself. I have to add too that I usually have the common cold at least several times a year, maybe even too many times a year, but, since lockdown, I have been 100% infection-free – I have learnt a lesson there. I wish us all a new world where, just maybe, there will be a vaccination that works to prevent all future pandemics.
Launching my poetry collection Remembering Blue in my home town of Lewes UK
In 2020 I went to Pompeii and then to Troy