20 April. My wife and I keep in touch with our London-based family through Zoom and Skype: a get-together of the entire tribe at 4 on Sundays, bi-laterals with each of our three children and the grandchildren at intervals during the week. In one of these, my second daughter, having gone through all the projects she had undertaken with her two young, now unschooled, children, and described her re-entry into home-based work after three weeks of inactivity, turned the conversation back to her parents:
“So, what have you two been doing?” We both of us realised that we really had no answer to that question.
Our days had not been empty. We had gardened, cooked, shopped online. I had sat at my desk writing odd pieces and collecting material for books which may never be written. Thanks to the discovery of sites such as Curzon Films, and, in particular, MUBI, we had watched an increasing range of art-house films late at night – our physical art-house, The Old Market Hall, a seventeenth-century building in the town square, skilfully converted into an compact cinema, with an adjacent café to supply food and drink, is like all public entertainment, firmly closed.
But we had not really done anything worth reporting. Nothing to change our circumstances. Nothing to impact upon the world and its suffering.
It is of course otherwise with those, who include my children and their spouses, who are at home but still pursuing their careers. And with those who are using their enforced idleness to undertake useful voluntary work. But for those of us who are both retired and locked down, each day just follows another.
We no longer have plans with outcomes. There are occasional disjunctions, but for the most part action has been replaced by ritual and routine. In our household, as in much of British culture, these are largely secular and private. Unlike the celebrations so vividly described by Nike in Katerini, Easter has never passed so unremarked as it did with us. The upcoming May Bank Holidays have no meaning. Nor do the summer holidays beyond them. The Queen will have no guns firing for her birthday.
Now we focus attention on the weekly round of Zoom conversations. In the early evening we take a turn round the adjacent field, circling a flock of mildly curious sheep. Within each day my wife and I not only eat together but make a particular point of meeting at the coffee and tea breaks which punctuate our particular labours. Two public rituals have been introduced. The first is the daily press conference given by some hapless minister. The second is the Thursday 8 p.m. public applause for the front-line workers, which is partly a genuine show of gratitude, and partly a demonstration that we remain connected members of a larger society.
“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” wrote J Alfred Prufrock (as it happens in the middle of the national crisis of the First World War). So, for the time being, with us.