We did meet again
I was discussing with Dame V the strange situation many of us find ourselves in now we are in this halfway house between full lockdown and fancy-free life. The regulations around indoor bubbles, outdoor bubbles, numbers of people you can be with outdoors, numbers of people you can be with indoors have left me feeling numb with confusion.
So just like many other people I am attempting to use whatever common sense I have been left with as I navigate this bizarre new world where social interactions have taken on a whole new meaning.
Bubbles notwithstanding, the easing of lockdown has brought with it a new set of sensations and experiences that I would not have anticipated. One of these has been the joy as the little ‘non-essential’ shops in my local community have re-opened.
How one could consider The Handy Stores round the corner to me as non-essential I have no idea, but when I saw Mr P opening up again a few weeks ago, and his array of storage boxes, garden tools and other items start to populate the pavement in front of the shop, I felt an extraordinary sense of relief and pleasure. I dashed across the road, put on my mask and had a long chat with him. We exchanged the happy news that we and our nearest and dearest had all survived the pandemic but were TAKING NO CHANCES WHATEVER THOSE FOOLS IN NUMBER TEN MIGHT SAY.
I bought a couple of totally essential items and skipped home happily.
Another jolly encounter was with Pavel, who runs the local fruit and veg stall in a little thoroughfare off the High Street. In former times this stall was just one of a thriving street market. Now it is just Pavel and two people who run an adjacent plant stall. These were both closed during full lockdown, but as soon as restrictions started to be eased they opened up again and as before, I felt relieved and reassured that at least a little bit of my world was still on its axis.
As we all know, these summer months are affording us a respite from whatever comes next, and perhaps for this reason meeting people outside has a particular resonance.
However, the most powerful meeting during lockdown was with my mother as a young girl entering her teenage years. She departed these shores nine years ago, so this encounter was not a physical one. Over the Easter weekend, I remembered that amongst her belongings that I had chosen to keep was a set of diaries that she began in 1939 as a twelve-year-old schoolgirl. They end in 1947, just before her 21st birthday.
She wrote nearly every day, and as I read through these pages I became increasingly absorbed. It took me the entire long weekend, and I hardly did anything else. I followed her burgeoning adolescence, her brief evacuation from London in 1940, her hopes, the boys, the parties, the studies, the arguments with her father, the outings to the cinema, the death of her baby brother who was born prematurely during an air raid in 1943 when she was 16. He only lived for one day.
Finally I got to the date that she had recounted to us so many times; the Christmas party she attended in 1946 where she met my father. He walked her home with her cousin, and they talked till the early morning in the sitting room, while her cousin thought she ought to stay up for decency’s sake (not that the diaries reveal anything untoward going on), sitting in the kitchen next door and devouring coffee and biscuits to stay awake.
Lockdown let to a meeting I had not anticipated; I discovered a person who I realised I had hardly known. My mother’s diaries gave me a glimpse into the world she grew up in; I laughed and I cried.