Today's Calls: Pandemic Pieces on BBC Radio Devon

by Kimwei

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1.
TODAY'S CALLS, PART 1 The first Skype window opens and he tells me that in his country the lockdown is easing now, that yesterday he finally could get a haircut and that when he left his apartment block to go to the barber the guard did not argue about his ID card before he signed out. Another Skype window opens and she tells me she is at home with her three boys and that it’s hard to take time for herself, that no-one is stopping her from going to her study every day yet an invisible thread ties her to each of her children, like ghosts of their umbilical cords, at a time when life feels so precious, and death roams the world taking it almost at random. Another Skype window opens and he tells me he has started giving balcony concerts for his friends, that one woman with cancer asked for him for her birthday and that he played and sang her favourite songs, pouring music from his balcony to her conservatory like tea into a cup. Another Skype window opens and she tells me things have never been better, that she can finally rest and the noise and pain have stopped, and for the first time in her life there is peace. Another Skype window opens and he tells me that his father is dead. That he died yesterday alone in the hospital, a flight and 30minute drive away from this computer that I am talking to him through, which sits on the desk in a room that he cannot leave, cannot fly away from, as though nothing else exists outside of that room so in a way nothing has changed, except that the man who had loved him since before he was born used to exist outside of that room. And now he doesn't.
2.
She calls and tells me that her world is shrinking, that at the beginning of lockdown her world was huge - there were so many people in it, all living the same indoor life, the common ground of isolation a palpable bond. But now fewer people are in, fewer people are wanting to call. Instead they are out and about and she is forgotten, invisible and alone. I call at the window and he is the first to answer. I see his grey beard peek out from the first floor and his bright eyes blink in the sunlight to find me standing below. He tells me he barely leaves the house, even to sit in the garden. “I thought you said you’d rather die?” I remark, recalling his adamant refusal when he first got the letter. He rubs his beard with his hand and then draws it in a circle over his whole face. “Turns out there’s a whole household of people who would rather I didn’t.” As if on cue, his wife appears from the ground floor window and holds up the cat for me to wave to. Their teenage girl opens her bedroom window and pokes herself out. Together they look like an advent calendar. “Where are the zombies?” the girl demands “the city is so empty that I keep expecting zombies.” He calls and tells me that he’s fine, over and over: “I’m fine” he says, but then he tells me that his family is in Uganda and that lockdown there is brutal with no way getting money, getting food, and that he cannot help but feel guilty for being lucky, healthy and safe, getting furlough and supermarket deliveries when he would rather be able to teleport home. I call at her window because it is her birthday and I have been invited to a window party. I sit in the garden on my foldable chair, being passed cake through that hole in the wall as though it is a serving hatch. I pass a gift back, sterilised of course, a new teapot for this mad hatter’s world, and watch her place it on her mantle piece. We play charades - it’s the only thing to do. “Film and a book” I mime “3 words”. “Alice in Wonderland?” she asks “How did you guess it from that?” I exclaim. “Something in the air I suppose,” she answers simply “nothing quite feels real these days.”
3.
We called in to a quiet little field that seemed made just for us. After weeks indoors it was a welcome change. We had been smart, or so we thought, not plumping for Bystock or the beach at Budleigh, Fingle Bridge or Badgers Holt. I’d shaken my head at the thought, complaining “I bet you they’ll be packed. Let’s just pick a patch of green on the map and go!” So we’d got together a bag of goodies set off in search of pastures green, a good social distance away from anyone and everyone. Delightfully we found an idyllic spot - a clearing of lush grass, lined with trees and with the odd pheasant roaming around. We spread out our blanket and snacks and had the place to ourselves until a strange man approached and said “excuse me”. Turns out we’d been so successful at avoiding public spaces that we ended up accidentally having our picnic in somebody’s front garden, slightly south of Inner Ting Tong. When we called on my family, sat in their garden late that afternoon, they said it was almost as funny as that viral video by that woman who made a mask out of a sock, only to find that the heel went in her mouth, making her look like a ventriloquist dummy. “In my defence”, I argued, “the path through the trees wasn’t terribly well labeled and, well, it was a big garden,” and you went on to explain that “the fella who owned the place was very polite and in fairness, he only asked us to leave once we’d finished all our cheeses and we’d been sprawled on his lawn for a good couple of hours.” “That’s embarrassing” Dad smiled, and Mum followed up with “Nevermind. We’ll probably find him camped in our garden next weekend.” Later we arrive home, and the landlady calls up to our window from the garden to ask “would we like to use the barbecue after she and her husband have finished”? The late evening light is dimming as we improvise bell peppers and sausages into tin foil and onto the warm grill, then lounge on the garden furniture a little way from the house whilst the collie circles us keenly, unsurprisingly. A friend of theirs calls in at the garden gate and they sit as a three on the porch, playing scrabble via 2 meter distance, shouting "Larry, please put my "zebra" across your "exit". We finish our food and in competition, start our own separate game. I begin with "virus", just for fun and you later surprise me by managing to hang "vaccine" down from its v. I add "hopefully" across that, but at the end when I get stuck on my very last tile and am feeling hopeless, you step in and solve it with "us".
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Today’s Calls Part 4 Today I call for a new world for the black girl who grew up in Devon who was called names, who rocks and sticks were thrown at, who grown men made monkey noises at, who was always blamed by her teachers, who was told she was stupid for little things that no-one else was told they were stupid for, who as a young woman was asked by a white man to be his black conquest one time and another time had a boyfriend who was ashamed to be with a black girl, and who was told every time that this wasn’t racism, but it was. If anyone tries to do it again they are going to have to come through me. Today I call out for a new world, for the trans woman who grew up in Devon, who’s father flat out won’t accept her as a “she” and whose mother keeps saying she does and then pretending to forget, who was told not to use the women’s toilets because she wasn’t a real woman and then got punched in the face by a man in the men’s, who’s wife was convinced that her desire to transition was a mental illness and so left her, who then qualified as a primary school teacher during her transition (10 years ago now) and yet has never passed a job interview and each time was told that it wasn’t transphobia, but it was. If anyone tries to do it again they are going to have to come through me. Today I call out for a new world, for the disabled who have not been considered by Supermarkets to need their groceries delivered during lockdown, to the poorest of workers who cannot afford to stay home, even if their work place cannot keep true social distancing, and who are told they are being treated fairly, but they aren’t. If anyone tries to do it again, they are going to have to come through me. Today I call out for a new world for myself, who growing up as Chinese trans-child was moved schools aged 5 because of the stones being thrown at me and my mother on our daily walk there, who on arriving aged 21 to Devon as a music teacher was told by my supervisor to beware that “many of these kids have never seen a half-caste lesbian before”, who was asked to leave a Dartmoor pub for kissing my partner on the cheek and who still has many well meaning friends who won’t call me “he” because they say “I see you as a girl”, and who is told it’s not discrimination... but it is. Call me and tell me that if anyone tries to do it again they are going to have to come through you. Today I call out for a new world - After all, it’s possible for the whole world to change completely - the pandemic has proven that to us at least. So I stand on the front line for those who have been harmed and say enough is enough. Today I call out to you and ask you to stand with me, for those who I stand up for, and so that you can stand up for me.
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Today calls for celebration because it’s your birthday and everything is open again. We can even stay out overnight, so perhaps a campervan trip to Dartmoor, where the hedges have grown high with 3 months of no trimming and we strain our necks to see the rolling fields over their wild heights. The sheep have grown shaggy and bold in our absence, sitting right in our path until we honk and swerve around them. We drive slow though a lane lined with bracken and brown cows - each has a pure white stripe and a feeding calf and we’re so close we could touch their fur, which is long enough that I ask why it is we don’t shear cows and knit with their wool. You say how this is the best birthday ever as we park up on a hill, brew tea at sunset, and drink in both, as if for the first time. Today calls for caution because even though they say Grandad can go back to work, I’m not so certain he should. At 64, ok that’s not 70, but he’s never been quite fit, starts to drown whenever he gets the flu until the doc gives him some meds to fight the phlegm and then he can breathe again. I hate the thought of him going to into people’s houses every day, putting up their shelves, hanging doors. I wake up in the night when his face flashes into my dream, pale through a ventilator mask and I want to call him right then and tell him not to do it but I know he’ll just growl and ask if I can pay his bills then. I can’t. Today calls for celebration because the whole town is open and compared to the emptiness of lockdown, this feels like a carnival. I walk up the high street as if tugging at an invisible leash, to the park where my friends are waiting. I’ve got my favourite sunflower patterned mask on and they have their own styles: one wears a halloween grin, another a rainbow. We beam like the sun to see each other and I can see their eyes smiling. We take up our drums, make a semi-circle spaced 2 meters apart, I raise the whistle to my lips, then we all raise our drumsticks in the air and I give the signal, and BANG, our first rehearsal in 3 months begins. Today calls for caution because the shops are crammed, the streets so are full I can’t go anywhere and stay shielded. I wish everyone would wear a mask - do they know that when they don’t they confine me to these 4 walls? I set an alarm for 3am, dress, and stroll down to the stir quiet beach, to the startling flatness of the water and the harvest moon on it like a glowing island. I keep thinking about how we have all lost someone by now, or know someone who has lost someone. I walk back, hollow. The boys who race their cars on the seafront have given up their game for the night, but they have left their mark - a stone wall to the public gardens with a car shaped bite in it: ruined, caved in. Today calls for celebration for everyone except for the cat, who had the city to herself till now. But the humans and cars are back and she’s terrified, shooting in through the cat-flap all big tail and screeching. We decide we have to do something - she’s shredding the sofa on a daily basis. I remember we’ve got a cat-harness with a lead somewhere, so I dig it up, wrestle her into it and we carry her to the park across the road, setting her down by a tree she might scratch. Instead she shoots straight up it, pulling on the lead in my hand. I’m scared she’ll strangle herself. You say “let go”, I say “I’ll never get her down”, you say “then you’d better get up then with her”, so I do, pulling myself onto a low branch and settling till she stops her meowling and picks her way down to me. We carry her home gently, place her lovingly on the carpet and instantly she runs to claw the sofa.
6.
Today dawn called at the window at 5am, lightly touching the edges of our curtains, until I used her as an excuse to wake, as though that little glow were enough to stir me. In fact, I had been labouring on the edge of half-sleep thinking about how Jason would be going to school for his last day of term, were I not shielded, and about how long we have been isolating for with no end in sight - 149 days. And for some reason I kept thinking about that kitchen tiling we started the other week, because after staring at that broken marigold tile day after day, well every day the cracks seemed bigger, because we get to look at fewer things these days, and we knew that the smart china-blue ones were sitting in the garage in a pile and all it would take would be to choose an afternoon to get to it and finally replace the whole row behind the cooker with those smart new tiles - and do you remember when we finally did that on day 102, except, remember we only came up with the idea at half past four and then of course the kids were wanting dinner so we stuck cling-film over that half-done job and it’s not been touched since, unless you count that after the cling film fell off Alice accidentally flicked spaghetti bolognese over that raw plastery bit where there were still two tiles missing - in my mind it looked like blood pouring from a gap where two teeth had been pulled. What I’m trying to tell you is that today when the dawn called, I answered, by stumbling to the kitchen under her tentative light and getting grout on my dressing gown, yes the one you hate, as I slotted those last two tiles into place. I did it because this is where I live - in this kitchen and in this house with you all - who I belong to and who belong to me by choice or birth. You slept on, but soon both children were awake and Jason bounded down the stairs and pulled his chair to the table. “Is it school today?” he asked me as I fed the toaster. My love, I didn’t know how to tell him no again. I thought of how my Dad was probably sitting in a cafe right then, drinking his morning coffee, and I couldn’t stand it. When he came at the weekend a little part of me hated him for having had the virus, winning his antibodies like a medal, passing his test with flying colours. It was like he had superpowers. When he talked about whether he should have the kids for a while so they don’t have to stay in just because I do? - the whole time I was staring at those two missing tiles. Maybe that’s why I filled them in this morning, put them where they belong, their indigo dye glowing blue as the sky. And when Jason asked about school again, those two new tiles just stared at me. So today, call me crazy but I decided to do it: the toaster popped up like an alarm going off, like a starting pistol signalling me, moving me, and I turned to Jason and said “yes, it’s school today. I’m taking you,” and I did.
7.
You have to wear a mask these days to get inside the shop in order to buy a mask in the first place: only in twenty-twenty and only in twenty-twenty (even though often there was plenty) did we panic at the Tesco as we rushed to buy the loo roll until someone got stampeded for taking the last one! (although we knew he didn’t need it) Then we watched the news with baited breath (corona upon corona) wondering how our world would change and what might slow the deaths? We stayed at home day after day. Key workers overworked; it took us till twenty-twenty to realise what they’re worth, and every single Thursday we banged our pots and pans out of windows to say thank you - rainbows streaming from our hands. We stayed at home to work and play and recreate great paintings; masterpieces we made manifest from any toilet roll remaining. With no more hugs to have with friends we zoomed around the world. The grieving could not reach for touch: They needed to be held. Now everyone has lost someone or knows someone whose lost someone and we have lost too many for us to count in twenty-twenty. So we all must make a difference: twenty-twenty taught us that. You could make a million masks from socks, t-shirts, bits of tat One boy camped out in his garden raising money for a cause: Hospicare - two grand. To be fair, he too deserves applause. and we all stayed home together with our twenty-twenty vision but for those desperate for an eye-test Barnard Castle’s an exception, and only in twenty-twenty did we make banana bread and then suddenly start campaigning for equality instead. Because black lives matter, we can do more. Because black lives matter we will do more. So 100 years from now Looking back on twenty-twenty will this be the year we learned to love and live a lot more gently? If a virus travelled around the world We must all be connected - Transmitted through our touch, our breath: We’re linked more than expected, and we were not equipped to stop to pause or to be still, to grieve, to lose, to cheer, to fear or risk becoming ill. We thought we were invincible ‘til covid took so many and nothing’s been the same again ever since twenty-twenty.
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“The problem,” you told me, as we sat in the pouring rain under bright floral festival ponchos, drinking coffee on opposite benches in the park, “is that the weather doesn’t know that Beautiful Days isn’t happening. I mean think about it - the weather has always loved mocking a festival that basically dares to call itself after a ‘nice summer’s day’ - the logo is even a great big sun with rays beaming out. And now, along with every other festival, it’s cancelled yet we still have to deal with this abhorrent weather,” you stick you upturned palm out from under your poncho as though you might not otherwise have known it was raining, “because no-one’s mentioned the change of plans to the rain clouds.” “And,” your wife picks up, as she always does, because you both are that particular way with each other that I had almost forgotten what with barely seeing you since March 23rd, “and, what’s more, where will we buy our summer clothes this year? Beautiful Days always has the best stalls and I always get a wraparound skirt. This one is wearing out.” She points…I couldn’t see if I tried, my glasses are filled with water. Through them I can just make out the embryonic stream forming and flowing around my feet, running down this tarmac path, under my bench and beyond until eventually I suppose it will reach the road where I like to imagine it pouring lazily into one of the cavernous monsoon drains of my mother’s country (Malaysia, where drains are so big that motorcycles sometimes come a cropper and are lost in them). Instead, we only have little metal grills in the ground that are unable to cope and I heard this morning that Longbrook Street is flooding. It is not the first time this week that I have mistakenly thought for a moment that I am in the tropics. Just a few days ago I was looking at the 36 degree reading that my household thermometer showed and the distinct humidity of the afternoon fooled my skin into memories of living on the equator - a trick that frightened it so that it prickled not just with the heat but with the shock of this reality: we have changed our climate - it’s happened - scientists with sad faces tell us so. That same afternoon I caught my flatmate, mad with heatstroke, pumping up an inflatable bath in our concrete backyard, filling it with the garden hose and shouting “It works! It’s works!” before jumping in with all her clothes on because she couldn’t wait, and then we had to put her mobile phone in a bag of rice in the conservatory to dry it out. I remember that it was in the midst of the scorching weather that you both called and asked to meet and I suggested the park would be lovely today and now we’re sitting as soaked as rats who are each one raincoat away from drowning. “More coffee?” your wife asks, holding out a large French press, because we may be daft but we DO have our standards, and I reach out gratefully with my Glastonbury souvenir plastic cup. “Of course,” she continues, “Cynthia is determined to have her 50th anyway rain or shine. She’s up on the moors, if you didn’t know, so we can pitch the tipi, bring out the stage lights and the music can be as loud as the cows can stand! Just a few people. Joint celebration for her son of course because he’s just got his A-Levels results now. I reckon his teacher predicted him better than he mighta done anyways. He says he’ll DJ - they’ve got that solar powered rig. You want to come?” I smile, take another sip of coffee and say, “Never underestimate the ability of the British public to insist on turning up to a field and turning it into a festival.” We all laugh then. I take off my glasses and wipe them with the last dry corner of my shirt, and soon the world becomes a little clearer. At the bottom of the path, where the stream beneath my bench is flowing to, mother’s stand socially distanced around a giant puddle, whilst their wellied toddlers take turns jumping in and squealing with delight. PuddleFest I think to myself, coming to a park near you, avoid spreading the virus whilst enjoying the simple pleasures of splashing around, waterproof masks for sale on site, available in many cheerful colours, bring your own candy floss and popcorn, only in 2020.
9.
Today I am standing in front of a journalist with a camera, the blue-green glass of the Met Office building gleaming behind me like a waterfall, or is it a mountain, or the sea or perhaps the sky? Fellow protesters wearing masks surround me, some carrying banners larger than themselves, some holding up a huge cardboard pink boat to remind us that the water is rising. I am trying to remember my script under the hard gaze of the camera lens (we are Extinction Rebellion and we are here to support the science on Climate Change) when the reporter cues me - “we’re recording in 3, 2, 1” - he asks a first question. I open my mouth and say “I am here to represent…” and all of a sudden I feel as though that glassy mountain of the Met Office building is sliding into my body, bringing a whole world of weather with it: storms and floods and droughts, heatwaves and hurricanes and all of the things that 500 scientists who work inside are warning us will come to pass if nothing changes. Facts and fears and truths jump into my throat and I speak for the planet: “Things have to change” I say “the science is clear”. The second question comes and this time when I answer it is my friends who seem to jump into my voice and take over my body. Some are standing beside me as I speak and some are in London, having already travelled from Devon with banners and drums, calling for The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill to be accepted. Yesterday it was presented to parliament, whilst my friends sat outside with one simple message: Listen to the science The science has the answer: We must act now. Because we do not really have what we own Nor do we have what we buy. We only truly have what we take care of. We do not have what belongs to us. We only truly have what we belong to. We only truly have what we take care of. The reporter asks me a third question and I feel like the whole world is inside my body as I speak. The feeling is familiar because during lockdown I have gotten used to carrying everyone to whom I am connected in my heart - everyone my choices could affect. “Only in 2020 can we look at the climate crisis with the bitter taste of the pandemic fresh on our tongues. We know what it is to face a planetary crisis that affects all of us and everything we love. 2020 has taught us to lose and to care like never before. So let’s do more. Let’s do more.”
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LINKS: If you want to help, you can contact your MP and encourage them to support any government legislation on these issues, for example the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill which is being put forward at the moment. Write to your MP - Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill https://www.ceebill.uk/writetoyourmp To find out more about what's happening on our Earth this guide Tells The Truth about what’s happening, why, and what we can do: EMERGENCY ON PLANET EARTH - https://extinctionrebellion.uk/the-truth/the-emergency/ or https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QdWn7PCDqNUQvzmPaJPMEYqsXKAVcuE0MPxcJVdaKjw/edit ONLY IN 2020 PART 4: 2020 VISION TRANSCRIPTION It’s official - Sir David, the nation’s grandfather, has spoken and confirmed what we have all been wondering since March: this terrible pandemic that has scorched its way across the earth… have we caused it? “Scientists have linked our destructive relationship with nature with the emergence of COVID-19” - as Sir David talks it becomes clearer and clearer, climate change, coronavirus, species extinction - they are not separate problems, they are all the same problem with the same cause. I turn the television off, look around the room - every object seems to unfold into its pollutant parts, the TV itself a plastic monster. The IKEA sofa (built as cheaply as possible for my convenience) to be piled onto a landfill mountain whenever I feel like replacing it. The pregnant orange fridge pulsing in the corner reminds me of the bright red river I saw onscreen a few minutes ago, it’s filled with foods farmed into the habitats of creatures that I would adopt in a second if I found them homeless on my doorstep. My youngest comes down from her bedroom to get a snack and scoops up Billy, our cat, from the arm of the sofa on her way to the kitchen. She has just started an animal care course at Bicton College, and every day she regales us with stories of lessons which might involve taking a lizard and some goats for a walk, ending up chasing them round and round the big tree before finally wrestling their feet into an iodine dip. I imagine her with a rescued pangolin, holding the scaly anteater in her arms in a dejected curled ball, until it forgets its time in captivity and begins to love her as much as Billy, who she is gently lifting onto her shoulder as she climbs back up the stairs with a packet of crisps tucked under her arm. I get up and shout after her that I am going to the shops, but instead I find myself driving to Dartmoor, painfully aware of what it is to drive: in my mind’s eye the diesel fumes leaving my exhaust merge with the smoke of forest fires and the sounds of screaming and death. Once I reach the path to Wistmans Woods I’m finally walking on land that has not been touched for hundreds of years. I take off my trainers and hide them in a dry stone wall, then pad through bright green grass, weaving between boulders as I climb the hill. A rolling landscape spreads out in every direction under the bright afternoon sun and as I breathe out I feel as though the land is breathing with me. It’s all an attempt to feel like a natural human, to go back to before all this happened, but my digital watch gives me away as I glance at it by accident - casio not caveman. The sight is sharp and clear, as the sun reflects in the glass of the watch face and as I look back to the hills and tors and crystal blue sky I suddenly have twenty-twenty vision - the vision to see that it is impossible to escape what I now know. Only in 2020 can we see the full 360 of what we are losing and what we have lost and so with 2020 vision we must turn a 180, from crisis to solution. “This is the moment”. This is the year. I stand on a hill by the Devil’s woods with my bare feet and my digital watch and I wish twenty-twenty vision on every politician, on every businessman, on everyone in the world.
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TRANSCRIPTION Daddy says humans are a ‘kind of mammal’ and that extinct means ‘being gone’ and he says he saw on TV that one in four mammals might get extinct so I’m hoping it’s going to be my brother Eddy because he keeps poking our new tiny little black kitten and scaring her behind the sofa and then I have make her come out by wiggling the fluffy stick. And kittens are baby cats and Daddy says that cats are mammals too so I hope she isn’t the one to get extinct ‘cause there’s only me and Daddy and Eddy and the kitten so that makes four. I asked Daddy if, when I was little, Mummy got extinct of cancer and he said ‘no not exactly’ but I think she must have got extinct of cancer because she’s gone and isn’t coming back. My Aunty works at the hospital where lots of people got extinct this year from being poorly with Corona-sickness, so she had to be at the hospital to take care of them all the time, every day and night and all the time and she had to wear a space suit, and then she stopped because the baby is going to be coming soon. Aunty looks the same as before except with a big tummy where the baby lives till it comes out. Do you think the baby will be like my kitten and sleep and wake up and play and eat and poo and play and then get drowsy-eyes and sleep again and make little snores with its ears all droopy? I want the baby to meet the kitten when it comes. We got her because of lockdown and being lonely but I don’t think Aunty and Uncle are getting a baby because of lockdown because I think you have to order babies in advance, so they must have come up with the idea already. Daddy says Aunty is scared of going to the hospital when the baby is coming out, but I don’t know why because she used to go there every day in her space suit and wasn’t scared. Maybe they don’t let her have her space suit if she’s going to the hospital for fun instead of for working. All the grown-ups say that it’s amazing to be having a baby in twenty-twenty because no-one knows what will happen next. I can’t tell if they think it’s amazing-good or amazing-bad. Maybe it’s like when you don’t know what’s going to happen next on Netflix and it’s scary and fun at the same time but you don’t know if you are scared and a bit excited or excited and a bit scared. *** Mum’s awake. I notice her light on and the door ajar as I walk back from my first loo visit of the night. There are several these days as you are nearly due and need the extra room usually claimed by my bladder. The weather has turned cold and I wrap my dressing gown double around you in my tummy and stick my head around the door. “Can’t sleep Mum?” I ask “how’s the pain?” “Oh love it’s much worse, it’s really bad.” “Did you take-“ “-yes, love I’ve taken everything. It is what it is. Come and sit with me will you?” I feel guilty then, for my medical training kicking in like a reflex, wanting to check her vitals and meds before anything. I float in and sit on the thick sheepskin rug by her single bed and see that familiar look of her trying to smile her warmest of smiles, whilst pain pins her face at the corners, at the brow. I take her hand, it’s cooler than mine but not by enough to worry. My brain does a risk assessment anyway - she has an illness of the gut, it hurts but it’s not dangerous. She’s survived Coronavirus and worse and I tell myself there is no need to fear losing your grandmother before you are born, or for many years to come. I smile back and think how you will adore her - her deep and ferocious love and overflowing good nature. Even now, she is festooned with cats, one sits on her hip on the blanket, another by her side tucked under her arm and the spindly brown dog who was originally a stray sleeps at the foot of the bed. They find her comforting. “Now, my dear, have you decided when I’ll become a grandma for the third time?” She asks simply. I laugh and squeeze her hand and pull closer so that she can touch my tummy and wonder if you can tell that it’s her. “Well, there’s no need to be impatient. You’ve already got two from my brother. I can’t decide when this one comes.” “Of course you can,” she insists, “a mother’s instinct,” you give me a kick, seeming to agree. “Everyone’s taking bets.” I tell her, “someone in the family has fifty pence on labour starting any day from tomorrow till the middle of next week.” “Well,” says mum, “what a time to be having a baby. Only you, my darling, would choose to do it in 2020 when no-one knows what is happening or what will happen next. It’s amazing, and I know if anyone can do it, you can.” I go back to bed with her words in my ears, pressing my back against your Dad’s back for comfort, because you’re so big now we can’t hug face to face anymore. Mum’s right - so much is uncertain I feel sick sometimes like my world is spinning. Everything I thought I could count on staying the same has changed or been lost, except for you, my constant, my child. My bet is that you come at just the right time.
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Tuning DADGAD Capo 2 Key E major V1 There is a ballerina, Hanging her shoes up by the door. There is an empty theatre where she used to dance, Where we once cried for more. She is our art, our culture: Here is our heart, our life, our blood. Only in 2020 could it all be lost, Too late, too far, too long. Pre-Chorus Music and song, Please don’t be gone. Chorus Stand up for the artists - We need em’ more in a crisis than ever before. Stand up for the ones who make us Cry and laugh and hope. Stand up for the creative ones. Sing a song for the singers we adore. Stand up for the ones who make us Cry and laugh and love. V2 There is a songwriter, With his guitar under his bed. There is an empty venue where he used to sing, Where he sang when we first met. Pre-Chorus These are the words, That need to be heard. CHORUS END
13.
V1 There is a ballerina, Hanging her shoes up by the door. There is an empty theatre where she used to dance, Where we once cried for more. She is our art, our culture: Here is our heart, our life, our blood. Only in 2020 could it all be lost, Too late, too far, too long. Pre-Chorus Music and song, Please don’t be gone. Chorus Stand up for the artists - We need em’ more in a crisis than ever before. Stand up for the ones who make us Cry and laugh and hope. Stand up for the creative ones. Sing a song for the singers we adore. Stand up for the ones who make us Cry and laugh and love. V2 There is a songwriter, With his guitar under his bed. There is an empty venue where he used to sing, Where he sang when we first met. Pre-Chorus These are the words, That need to be heard. CHORUS END
14.
INTRODUCTION This poem is a Halloween Special. Halloween is short for All Hallows Eve and it’s also called Samhain - the Pagan festival during which the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is believed to become thin. So, I wanted to honour and remember all those who have died from Covid-19 this year with this poem: “Feeding The Dead at Dumb Supper”. Dumb Supper is a traditional meal in which the guests of honor are both our distant ancestors and close loved ones who have passed away. They can’t speak literally to us, hence it is called the Dumb Supper. Their favorite food is prepared and served to them. Each guest is served a toast as they are remembered. The idea of feeding the dead seems so apt right now against the contrast of how so many in this country are struggling to feed themselves and their children. Feeding The Dead at Dumb Supper On Samhain pray the ghosts will be forgiving When hunger comes to grin with pumpkin jaws - As we serve food for the dead but not the living. School dinners will be cancelled, come the frost. If children do go hungry this Christmas - on Samhain pray the ghosts will be forgiving. Make halloween our supper for those lost - to covid, to injustice, violence, wars - as we serve food for the dead but not the living. Stay out and spread the virus: that’s the cost, and father death will know our reckless cause On Samhain pray the ghosts will be forgiving - - and on Hallows night invite them to the roast Let’s honour guests and ghosts with open doors as we serve food for the dead but not the living Let’s drink a toast to mothers, fathers - stopped - their breathing halted by corona’s claws. On Samhain pray their ghosts will be forgiving, as we serve food for the dead but not the living.
15.
This week’s installment is what’s called a “found poem”, meaning I didn’t write any of the words myself. Instead, I made a jigsaw of phrases written by the attendees of my sustainable future writing workshop today, expressing their feelings about the world’s current state and imagining how our future might look. Their words are interspersed with news headlines from the last week. This piece is raw and immediate, and whilst given the chance, each writer might well have honed and polished the lines they sent me, I wanted to present each line as it came, to share the group’s vision in its purest state. Andrew Aus, Clare Redfern, Emily Grossman, Tia Meraki and Ros all contributed. TOMORROW NEEDS TO BE DIFFERENT The UK becomes the first country in Europe to surpass 50,000 Covid deaths This pandemic will slow us down until we can make sense of our blurred motion. The future we spent our lives chasing, racing towards has nowhere left to run: “exponential growth” just two more words for cancer. The emptiness of our ambitions has been laid bare Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a second national lockdown for England to prevent a "medical and moral disaster" for the NHS. And so we meet, unprepared, here in the present, our social identifiers slipping like sand through our fingers. Who are we, and why are we here? We stand and watch and cannot leave - the curve flattens. To see the world anew again, tomorrow needs to be different. Joe Biden wins US election after four tumultuous years of Trump presidency: Biden styled himself as the antithesis to Trumpism – and won I can see the future - it's torn in two - it is bright, it is dark, near and far I see the land in recovery - hear it sighing in relief. The sight of insects and small creatures dancing together amongst diverse rows of plants. The air so pure you can taste the sunlight on the breeze. The forests yawn lazily as they wake like sleeping kingdoms kissed from slumber. The sounds of birds fills the wind, echoing around luscious expanses of green. US President-elect Joe Biden is poised to embed action on climate change across the breadth of the federal government… to speed U.S. efforts to mitigate global warming. It’s got to be sustainable this time because there is no other way. I'll shape a forest, tree by tree sculpt another flowerhead for the bees tomorrow needs to be different it's time to build these models to scale plant our tomorrows and our overmorrows peel back the concrete so the soil can breathe Oxford coronavirus vaccine results could be available within weeks. Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet. The dawn is still on the edge of breaking. Will it crack? Will it shake? Will the breaking break or will it mend? Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet: how delicious that is. All around the world we are dreaming of new ways and new beginnings The sun creeps its fingers over the edge of the horizon and hauls itself into the light.
16.
Hokey Kokey 06:06
Hokey Kokey Stay in go out, stay in go out, in out in out, I feel like we’re doing the hokey kokey? Well, my whole self is staying in for now - I got the message yesterday that my tutor has been exposed so we’re doing our classes from home this week. I wasn’t prepared for this. There’s not even a clear white wall in the house. In the end, I decided to use my bedroom door as a background, cause it’s kinda plain at least. I tried to set things up to make it look like I was sitting on a chair, you know, like normal, not curled up on the floor with my phone balanced on the chair in front of me. Then I saw everyone’s else’s backgrounds! Their houses all looked immaculate and they didn’t even seem to be trying and they all looked like they were typing on their laptops during the class, but I don’t have a laptop so I just kind of mimed typing. I thought I was getting away with it until the cat jumped up and knocked my phone over… 3 times. Next lesson I’m going to just say my camera is broken. I’ll be glad when the Christmas Holidays come. Lockdown is lifted and it’s time to take my whole self out! Out on the town, to Ashburton Arts Centre for some Saturday night folk music and off to Dartington on Sunday for some hot jazz - I can’t wait. I feel like my soul has been sucked into Zoom and I’m waiting for it to be teased out by somebody’s sweet voice and guitar. I’ve already been out today, Trago Mills, to get a new mirror for the living room, cause you just don’t realise how dark it gets in that room until you’re stuck at home for a whole winter month. Just going to a different shop besides the Supermarket kinda sent me on a high! I bumped into Jan and Tony in the Christmas decorations aisle and of course we couldn’t hug, so we ended up jumping up and down like happy reindeer - it was so good to see them. I’m not an indoor person. The guy I’m most jealous of is Santa, the only one who’s got a special license to travel anywhere and visit anyone in the world. Lucky git. In? Out? In? Out? Will I stay in or start to go out? It all depends on Pfizer… well that’s a bit of excitement isn’t it. Goodness! Just thinking about it shakes me all about I’ve been indoors for so long now, since March you know being 92 as I am, it’s the rules, but I take myself out for a drive every so often to prove I can still do it, don’t tell my son. He’d hit the roof. “Not until you’ve had the vaccine mum,” he’d say. He says I’ll be first on the list to get jabbed as fast I can stick my right arm out. Mind you, might I have to go back to doing my own shopping then? I didn’t know till lockdown that they can deliver your food these days. Didn’t know you could get a “what is app telephone”. My son bought me one of those which does all sorts of things like showing you a picture of who you’re talking to and apparently David Attenborough has one too. If I do get the jab, what I’m most looking forward to is seeing Mary down the road - she’s my age and she doesn’t have a family to visit her like I do and I do worry about her. Looking forward to Christmas? Am I? I’m practically ready to do the hokey kokey. It’s all turning around now we’re out of lockdown and I’m starting my Christmas shopping at the weekend that’s for sure. Then we’re taking the kids to socially distanced Santa’s Grotto the weekend after. I think it’s just me and Lianna who find bit weird like that he’ll be wearing a fluffy red mask but the kids ‘ave just gotten used to this kinda thing - it’s normal for them. Santa in a visor, it bothers me. And you know what else bothers me… what’s the actual difference between lockdown and Christmas? I mean, apart from the tinsel. Won’t we be just be at home, come Dec 25th, the 4 of us, eating lots and watching TV and playing daft games? I mean that’s what it’s all about.
17.
Story 1 - Past: My auntie always put orange juice in the mince-pie pastry - a family secret to keep it tangy. We’d always have grapefruit for starter, then the fully works turkey wise plus pigs-in-blankets, balls of stuffing on the side, and Mum would always make a steaming hot curry to boot, even though nobody understood why or wanted to have any except for me and my Dad. Dad used to sneak a few spoonfuls on his plate behind his two veg so that grandma couldn’t see that he liked it better than her slaved-over roast. I guess Christmas means different things to each of us. To me it’s not Christmas without scrabble, crackers, presents from under the tree, given out by the youngest (who has to wear a Santa hat especially for the ritual) and a box of chocolates being passed around after we’ve lost the card that tells us what’s in the middle and somehow that means that even though Lisa’s the only one who doesn’t like coffee she’ll be the one who gets the cappuccino truffle. I guess we’re not doing family this year then - it’s just me and you and the neighbours. Call me stuck in the past, but can we make madras to serve with the bird, and pour orange juice on the shop bought mince pies? Will you tear up the chocolate box menu so we can pretend we’ve lost it? I need these little nostalgic nods to the Christmas I used to know. For Christmas 2020 please, I wish for something familiar and comforting with tinsel on top. Story 2 - Present: Geofrey and I are staying at home for the first time in years. The kids and grandkids fought so hard over which one we’d go to that we decided to sod the lot of them and stay put for all 5 days of Christmas. We'll Zoom on the day of course, and we'll miss them, but we are looking forward to doing as we please. No more sleeping on the baggy sofa-bed in my daughter's living room, which is always a crush. No more spending Christmas day cooking a full Christmas Dinner for twelve people, oh no! We’ll be wearing our pyjamas and slippers and putting frozen pizza in the oven. Geofrey wants pepperoni on-top and, call me traditional, but I’m having shredded turkey and cranberry sauce on mine. We can get up when we want, go to bed when we want. Come the 24th I expect all our gifts will have arrived in the mail, and I’ve wrapped a little something to put out for the postie too - he’s a real life Santa Claus as far as I’m concerned. This Christmas won’t be like it’s been in the past and who knows what the future will bring. We’re old enough now to know how to take the good and sad in life. For Christmas 2020 please, I wish to trust in the ordinariness of miracles, or the miracle of ordinariness, to have the courage to stay exactly where I am and let life be Story 3 - Looking To The Future: Rosie was sent home from nursery after she had a coughing fit yesterday morning… and she hasn't coughed since. But, we completely understand that it’s important to take these things seriously so we took her for covid test - 20 miles away - there was nothing nearer. Then we had to sit in the queue with a screaming 3 year old in the back of the car with the 5 year old saying "I want to see" and the 1 year old crying... Now I have all 3 at home until we get the results which I'm 99% sure are gonna be negative. Both Jenny and Rosie are devastated to be missing their class Christmas parties this week - in a year when there hasn't been much to look forward to this is a real blow to them… so we've started the Christmas holidays early today, baking ten to the dozen and planning our own little party this afternoon but my goodness it’s hard work! Come this evening all I’ll want to do is zombie-out but I know teething Tommy will have other plans. I can’t help looking to the future, hoping for a better 2021, but for Christmas 2020 please I wish peace (and quiet), good health and sleep (lots and lots of sleep).
18.
FOR THE SAKE OF ALL MANKIND (after Auld Lang Syne) Let not the lonely be forgot And never brought to mind, Let all our friends and family cheer, For the sake of all mankind. We’ve been together and apart, While the virus has its time, We’ve held each other in our hearts, For the sake of all mankind, For all mankind my dear, For all mankind, We’ll take our vaccinations yet For the sake of all mankind Let’s surely drink to loved ones lost We’ll drink to Auld Lang Syne We’ll take a cup of kindness here Sending prayers to all mankind So take my hand my trusted friend, Oh put your hand in mine, Let’s drink to those who gave their all, Oh to care for all mankind, For all mankind my dear, For all mankind, Let twenty-twenty-one draw near And bring health to all mankind
19.
FOR THE SAKE OF ALL MANKIND (after Auld Lang Syne) Let not the lonely be forgot And never brought to mind. Let all our friends and family cheer, For the sake of all mankind. We’ve been together and apart, While the virus has its time. We’ve held each other in our hearts, For the sake of all mankind. For all mankind my dear, For all mankind. We’ll take our vaccinations yet, For the sake of all mankind. Let’s surely drink to loved ones lost - We’ll drink to Auld Lang Syne. We’ll take a cup of kindness here, Sending prayers to all mankind. So take my hand my trusted friend, Oh put your hand in mine. Let’s drink to those who gave their all, Oh to care for all mankind. For all mankind my dear, For all mankind. Let twenty-twenty-one draw near, And bring health to all mankind.
20.
Let our love keep us together as the darkness comes and goes, as the doctors, nurses, suffer, as the death toll grows and grows, let our love keep us together. Let our love keep us together as this virus binds us all, the price too high to see each other - we’re locked down, separate, lonely, small, yet love is keeping us together, and love too keeps us all apart when missing you is like a fever, you the lifeline for my heart whose life depends on seeing no-one. Let our love keep us apart, yet let our love keep us together, through the portal of our calls - through Zoom and Skype and phone and typing, let me hold you, catch your fall, and let my love keep you together, when you’re screaming in the night - your personal apocalypse, your fear, your grief, your need, your fight. Let my love keep you together. And you who’s lost your life, my darling, let your love surround me now. Reach for me when I am lonely. Let memories of you live on - of you who you were to me and how I let your love keep me together. Now let this land keep me together as it pounds beneath my feet. I run through Devon’s hills and valleys in the frost and rain and sleet. Let this land make me complete. At home, let love keep us from hell. Let us make heaven of this place where we share a bedsit flat and I want Kylie, you want Sting and The Police. Let love and earplugs save our grace, and let our love go on forever, through the lockdown and beyond. Let’s reach for love, let’s give it, share it, ‘till quiet kindness is the bond that let’s our love go on forever and let that love keep us together.
21.
The lady who has been given the job of injecting me with Pfizer’s finest, is a young ward nurse in a dark blue uniform, with a cheerful attitude and kind eyes. She tells me that since Torbay Hospital started doing vaccinations, she’s volunteered here on every day off she has. Nervously I straighten my mask, and ask where she works the rest of the week, worried that maybe it’s on a Covid ward. She reassures me that that would never be allowed and that she works at a ‘green’ hospital in Newton Abbot, so I’ve nothing to fear. I’m amazed that someone would choose to work seven days a week to make sure that hospital staff and key workers like me all get our vaccinations as quickly as possible, but this young nurse seems proud and pleased to be able to help. She checks me against a list of criteria (am I allergic to anything? Does my blood clot normally? etc. etc.) and enters the results into a computer, using a keyboard with a special rubberised hygienic cover on it. Then she gives me an A4 page of possible side effects. At first, the long list feels a bit daunting, but when I see that actually the chances are less than 1 in 10 of getting even a headache, and that the risk of anything serious is so unlikely that its likelihood can’t even be calculated, I feel a lot more comfortable. I take the jab on my left arm gratefully - sharp scratch and then it’s over, and the nurse signs me off, letting me know that the vaccine won’t be effective straight away, but over time. Next I’m to take my completed paperwork to the final desk for processing. Here, the lady who deals with my form tells me that I’ve accidentally written my date of birth down as 1895 (instead of 1985) making me 125 years old. She makes a joke that I’m looking young for my age. For some reason I decide to play along, by taking off my flat cap and hold it out towards her, saying “if you think I’ve aged well, you should look at this tweed! I bought it in 1928 you know and it’s got hardly any wear on it.” She smiles and carries on with me, saying “they don’t make things like they used to.” “No they don’t,” I continue, “times are a changin’.” “You can say that again,” the lady said, “never seen anything like this Pandemic,” “Neither I, in all my 125 years,” I enthuse, we laugh together then, and I make a final complaint that since I’m way over 80 I think I should have been vaccinated much sooner. I’m told to wait another 15 minutes before leaving completely, just to check that I’m totally ok, which I am. As I sit in the waiting room, with a few others - all on chairs 2 meters apart, I look around at these other key workers - a couple of them have medical uniforms on. One is a hospital caretaker. It’s hard to believe that after a year of lockdowns, here we are - some of the first people to start on the path towards a covid free world. After my 15mins are up, I’m dismissed, and I walk out the door and step onto the grey concrete footpath feeling like Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon.
22.
Lockdown Skills, Part 20 of my Immediate Writing Series for Sarah Gosling’s Arts Show, Feb 18th 2020 I can open parcels faster than ever before. I keep a letter opener by the door and brandish it at the postman like a ninja. No wonder he leaves the mail on the doorstep and backs away. Duration of lockdown is now measured in length of hair since last cut, but I’m planning a new lockdown skill as my mop begins to mop the floor. Give it another month or two and I’ll be able to plait it and use it as a rope to lift the grocery delivery in through my window. I am now able to make the weighing scales go much higher than they did before, just by standing on them! This might be because I’ve treated all three lockdowns as one giant Bake-Off. I’ve definitely gone in all buns glazing. Banana bread was the least of it! I’ve graduated to soufflés and I love a good bread and butter pudding. Thank goodness Zoom only shows me from the shoulders up. I can now solve a Rubix Cube in under two-and-a-half minutes and I also hold the household’s coffee-drinking, speed-drinking record! The two things may be related… but I’m not sure. I have also learned to knit socks on five double pointed needles, whilst the ginger cat snoozes on my lap, but I try NOT to do that on the same days as I speed-drink coffee because otherwise I poke the cat in the eye. First I developed FOMOOZ - F. O. M. O. O. Z - Fear of missing out on Zooms. But then I upskilled to being a zoom hopping pro! I start on my Zumba class at 10am and after half an hour, when it gets a bit difficult, I pretend my internet connection has gone down, but really I’m logging out on purpose so I can hop over to the stitch an’ bitch where I can have a knit and a natter and get out my muffin. I’ve built a shed which the kids love having picnics in whenever it’s warm enough. So, then I did the decking out the back and built a kennel for the dog, all out of reclaimed wood. It’s getting out of hand now! Next, I’m challenging myself to make a house out of matchsticks, before I fill up the yard and eclipse the lawn. I figured out how to turn the cat filter ON on my Dad’s laptop so now he can be just like that lawyer. I never thought I’d say this but I’ve actually started home brewing - last did it 20 odd years ago. Back then I had several successful batches from blueberries, plums and oranges. I've also learnt how to livestream, with all the tech bits and bobs that come with that. When the next batch of sloe gin is ready I think I’ll try and make a thing of doing my first radio show whilst nicely drunk on the labour of my fruits! Today is the first day of lockdown lent, so “what am I giving up” I hear you cry? Well, I have to tell you that my new skill is exactly that - giving up. I’m giving up on giving up anything, I’m giving up trying to get better doing anything whatsoever. I’m giving up on beating myself up for the novel that I didn’t write during this pandemic and giving up on wearing anything at ALL on my bottom half during video calls. Isn’t that what we all need? Just to be allowed to give up and be bare arsed and happy, farting with the mute button on.

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released May 15, 2020

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