Admittedly, as a writer, I tend to be a bit fussy about words. Some people might even call me obsessive.
Few things annoy me more, for example, than that constant misuse of the word ‘literally’ – as in my heart was literally in my mouth or I was literally knocked over with surprise.
So it’s no wonder that this phrase, LOCK DOWN, is beginning to irritate me profoundly. Literally, in this case.
Because vast swathes of the population are not actually in any kind of literal confinement that the word implies. Prison inmates are locked up. Most of us are, literally, actually, not locked in anywhere.
And running by the River Itchen the other evening, walking yesterday by the tow path through the water meadows, sharing the glorious weather with numerous others – all biddable citizens, obediently 6 feet from one another, naturally – nothing could feel further from a situation of lock down.
In fact, the word that felt more appropriate and came easily to mind as families, striding walkers, cyclists, strollers, struggling runners (that would be me …) spent a while in the warmth of the May day, was not ‘lockdown,’ but liberation.
We all looked liberated by the unusual gift of time – aided, of course, by the obliging sunshine.
Of course we are in the midst of the VE day anniversary- and even though potential street parties have been forced to reform themselves into discreet pavement or front garden gatherings at a suitable distance, at least a marking and awareness of that time 75 years ago is in our consciousness.
To my generation – born into the decade immediately following that of the war, its proximity is ever bewildering. A mere handful of years separated the war from our birth dates and yet we thought of it as something so remote, as a ‘historic’ event that was of little relevance to us. How blinkered that attitude seems to us now!
Yes, the boys in the boys’ section of our segregated junior school playground at West Lodge Primary in Pinner played war games. They were constantly ‘firing’ at the enemy, ‘bombing’ from their aircraft as us precious girls skirted the perimeter to reach the safety of our end where we could play at more peaceable activities: skipping, jacks, marbles, beads – or whatever was the current trend.
But the war must have hovered over our childhood in ways we can only appreciate with hindsight. Our parents must have looked at us, knowing what they had seen, what they had survived, what had come so close to being a very new reality – and marvelled at our blithe, easy health and happiness. What with our clinic orange juice, our quarter bottles of milk at playtime, our freedom to walk home through streets that were not going to be threatened by a night raid or stray bomb. To live in houses where black out curtains had become redundant and where there was no Anderson shelter at the end of the street. My mother wrote – rather randomly and spasmodically, it has to be said – a diary in 1943 when she was 17, living in Harrow Weald with her parents and working in an office. Extracts from it have references to air raids in such a casual way such as:
Went to the Odeon to see Betty Grable and George Montgomery in ‘Coney Island’ – quite good. Siren went while we were in the flicks, but no guns – all clear just after we came out.
And when on voluntary fire-watching duty at her old school:
Siren went at 11.30, went to get blankets from medical room when someone yelled ‘DOWN’ and we all fell to the floor. Next minute plank off the ceiling came down. I put on a tin hat and went to look for the crater and found a piece of bomb in the playground. An hour more of disturbance. Then had tea and sandwiches.
And on another fire-watching session: Ceiling down over the stairs, main door splintered, several pains of glass out, all doors blown off. Definitely a hectic night, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, not that it was enjoyable by any means. And to hear things coming down and then the crash – only wish I had a piece of bomb for remembrance.
No wonder our parents granted us such licence when we were growing up because to them this was peacetime – and in peacetime you don’t stop your children riding alone on bikes, going to the park with friends, wandering into town at a relatively young age – because for them, the enemy had gone. Fear dispatched. Freedom restored. We have been the generation to impose a new fear on our children – and grandchildren -and restrict their movements in a way that we escaped.
Back to NOW.
And to two things I’ve discovered about myself during the past 6 weeks or so of – well, during the past 6 weeks.
And it’s nothing terribly profound or revealing at all.
The first is – I have a huge incapacity for boredom.
I just can’t seem to become bored.
Every day I wake up and the list of things I plan to do – beyond making inroads into novel 4 – is endless. And every night I go to bed and realise that I have only managed to complete a couple. And the list grows. The ideas expand – as if now granted more time means more possible ways of filling it occur. And although online teaching is now occupying only part of 2 days, I find myself resenting the intrusion on my precious time which seems in such scant supply ….
Which takes me to my second, rather banal, certainly unoriginal, discovery:
The days still go incredibly quickly. One moment it’s 9.00 am with the whole day spread expansively out in front of me – and the next, it’s close to 6.00 pm and all those hours have spent themselves and skipped off somewhere into oblivion without me having caught hold of them and stopped them in their tracks.
And if the days go quickly, don’t even get me started on the weeks.
These weeks of – no, not lock down – the negative connotations are not at all helpful or suggestive of productivity – but what is a suitable, appropriate alternative word?
Anyone any ideas?