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Monday 23 March 2020

Contagion Layman

In week one of her self-isolation diary, Hannah Jane Parkinson documents her quick degeneration into squalor: skin as dry as soil, solo games of Scrabble, and arguments with her cat

I was going to begin this dispatch with: “Hello from my bunker!” But that has strong Eva Braun vibes, and, really, I don’t think we need things to be any more grim. But hello from quarantine! Or, more specifically, a one-bed flat in North London, where I have been indoors for six days with a cat, a fever, the persistent churn of dystopia in the gut, and (my) bad cooking.

I am a very sociable person. Gregarious. But I am also someone who has had “episodes”. A word flexible enough that it can be used to describe both the total banality of 30 minutes of Mrs. Brown’s Boys as well as the most grandiose periods of severe mental illness. So I have endured being, quite literally, locked down before. In a psychiatric ward, where the windows opened a centimetre, the coffee was uniformly decaf, and there was a patient with an assigned drug cocktail I was achingly jealous of, who would tell me in significant detail the factual errors in the film Titanic – whilst we were watching the film Titanic. There was also the nine months I spent as a clinically depressed teen, not leaving the house at all, and writing a novel which I knew would be a hit purely on the basis of it being double-line-spaced and, therefore, extremely accomplished.

I am not 100 per cent new to this, then. But, and I am sure most of us will agree: it ain’t easy, whatever our circumstances. I don’t have kids, for example. I am grateful for this. Many of my friends, admirably putting a positive spin on things, announced they would use this pandemic as an opportunity to spend more time with their offspring. But within hours they’re on the cusp of dragging a mattress down to the basement and creating a child-proof quarantine within a quarantine.

I have been padding about – padding because shoes are now a stranger to me; gnawing on celery and considering the meaning (or, optimistically, meanings) of life. In truth, none of this is out of the ordinary, but quarantine takes everything that little bit too far. Yesterday, for an hour or so, I played Scrabble by myself, and I still wasn’t confident I would win.

Some other things I have noted: though I avoided majorly stockpiling because it is utterly selfish and irresponsible to clear out the shelves, I did buy a little extra, and have found that a truism of shopping during this time is purchasing something you never, ever usually consume nor use. Oooh, fennel! I despise fennel! I would rather be waterboarded than eat fennel! In the basket it goes! (This is the equivalent of buying bell-bottoms during the January sales.) I have asked the cat questions on multiple occasions. My skin has the central heating-infused texture of dry soil. Personal hygiene-wise, I am somewhere between a natural, musty scent that science tells us might almost be attractive to a sexual partner, and Eau de Rancid.

Some are thinking of using the lockdown to learn. I aim to acquire the skill of surviving a coronavirus pandemic. There is also the option of studying a language. Except it’s really a wild guess as to which countries will still be habitable when all this is over. The rich don’t care because they’ll shoot off into space in a rocket put together in gulag-adjacent conditions by unappreciated workers in extremely Fruit of the Loom-energy polo shirts. As for keeping fit? I have an ancient, broken exercise bike, stubbled with rust, that a friend once gave me. I believe walks and runs in open space are fine. But, again, given that the government comms might as well have been written in the Windings font, who the fuck really knows?

My mental state swings between staying cheerful and desperation. The latter when thinking of friends whose livelihoods are close to being destroyed. Or the uncertainty of how the dice will land. I never quite know whether to make a joke or whether to cry. That is true of me generally, I suppose, but particularly so now. I don’t know whether to listen to something which reflects the doom of the headlines (‘Like Spinning Plates’ by Radiohead) or watch something hilarious for complete distraction. Here I must say two things: people sharing recommendations online has been one of my favourite things to come out of this. And so, knowing how nourishing art is, please do what you can to support the creatives and industries that right now are hurting.

Here are some other things that I am focusing on as ballast:

  • The kindness of Gary Neville and those with smaller resources but the same size hearts.
  • The fact that “so sorry, am hiding from the threat of death xoxo” is an amazing excuse to avoid, well, literally any event.
  • Knowing that I will inhale an expanse of sky when I burst out into the world again, and drink in the rain.
  • And that, when all this is over, we are going to have the best party ever.

Until next time: Forza.

Illustrations by Tim King

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