My friend turned up wearing a snorkelling mask, beneath which she had tied a bandana around her mouth. On her hands were crinkled latex gloves that looked like they had seen better days.
She removed the mask once she had got herself settled in the garden. Needless to say, she had brought her own refreshments.
‘How long have you had those gloves on?’ I asked her. ‘You do know they’re only any good if you change them after everything you do?’
‘I know, I know!’ she snapped, lifting her bandana to take a suck at her vaping machine, or crack pipe as I call it, disappearing into a haze of stage smoke, like a magician mid-conjuring trick.
‘It’s so nice to see you!’ she shrieked to the spaniels, who wagged their tails at her as though they were not sure what to make of it.
She had brought her dinner in a carry crate, a big bowl of mixed salad which she began to coat in salad cream from a squeezy tube. ‘I’ve lost loads of weight during this lockdown.’
I watched her empty the contents of the quarter-full bottle of Heinz and decided to nod my head. ‘You look… shapely,’ I said. She had been living on her own in a caravan in the middle of a field in Hampshire. She had seen no one. She had done the right thing, she said, because she hadn’t got the virus.
‘You may have had it and not noticed,’ I said. ‘I bloody well would notice because I’ve got an underlying condition.’ ‘Oh? What?’ ‘Asthma!’ she shouted, as if that was obvious. Then she took another drag of blackcurrant-flavoured nicotine and disappeared into a cloud of vapour.
The number of people with underlying conditions has taken me aback.
People I never knew had asthma, emphysema, arrhythmia and all kinds of respiratory and pulmonary diseases are telling me about them for the first time. It’s shocking how little I know about some of my friends.
It feels as though a very high proportion of people have declared themselves not fit for purpose.
My window cleaner told me he has a customer who has not come out of his second floor flat once since lockdown started and still won’t because he’s got an underlying condition.
‘What condition has he got?’
‘Dunno. I think there’s something wrong with his legs.’
‘Oh, how awful! Does he need help to get out?’ ‘No, he doesn’t want to come out.’
Another friend of mine has declared she’s ‘not coming out until there’s a vaccine’. I wonder whether what they really mean is they’re not coming out until there’s a cure for death.
Also, I’m confused as to why so many people, including the perpetually terrified, have enjoyed lockdown so much. I’ve hated every last minute of it and I believe that to be the correct response.
But most of my friends say something along the lines of: ‘I’ve just really taken this time to concentrate on me and do my yoga and get in touch with myself and I feel like it’s a journey and I’m actually in a better place than I was before, you know?’
No. No, I don’t know. I feel like I’ve become a basket case. I need people to please go back to work now and leave me to be the only recluse in the village.
This world ain’t big enough for all of us to sit in the back garden shouting our business into Zoom. Long term, working from home must be reserved for the true weirdos like me. And please don’t let’s all decide we now want to live lives of leisure, getting in touch with ourselves on a daily basis. I’d like to get out of touch with myself, much in the way one would stop writing to a category A prisoner after doing one’s bit for a few months.
Enough’s enough. The only difference between the lockdown lovers and me is that I know I’m potty. They don’t. They’ve drunk their own Kool Aid. They’ve actually bought into the idea they’re making sense when in fact they’re losing touch with reality.
After telling me her account of living in a van, like something from an Alan Bennett play, my friend in the snorkelling mask informed me that I looked fat. I’ve lost a stone and a half while she’s been drinking salad cream.
Just before lockdown, I was so concerned about my weight I starved myself down to just under nine stone. I told her this but she didn’t hear me.
I wanted to say: ‘Are you all right?’ But it’s pretty darn clear none of us are all right. If we don’t get back to normal and accept the ‘fun’ is over, we’re going to find ourselves in a place of no return.