Someone a few doors down was making use of the weather not being quite as nice as it had been on previous days, by burning stuff in their garden. In the first few days of the lockdown the street was buzzing; not with people getting too close but with lawnmowers, and those other noisy gardening things for bushes and hedges, hoses for car washes, chatter and chains as small families of cyclists passed by. The little lockdown changes were almost imperceivable: cars would return home with big shops, drivers shouting over its rooftop to neighbours which supermarket still had toilet roll and bread in stock.
By a day or two, little lockdown changes emerged: the hoses were reeled in, the lawnmowers shut away again in sheds, and the holiday feeling of the new lockdown had subsided. Cars stayed parked, no sign of neighbours, much fewer passers-by.
The smoke from the garden fire furled into the front bedroom window, and mingled with the smell of Ariel non bio from the clothes on the radiator. Together they smelled like incense, and I was reminded that there is no Mass.
The churches closing came as an ominous sign, unnoticed by many, that ‘All This’ was serious. But in many communities across the globe, this was more than little lockdown changes. In the May blitz of 1941 they didn’t close the churches. They said they dug by hand for my great grandmother in the rubble. St Anthony’s, Our Lady’s, St Augustine’s. Families sought refuge in Holy Cross shelter and were snuffed out in a direct hit.
Today the priests say Mass behind closed doors. We keep our grandmothers behind closed doors too, safe this time. Our homes, our only sanctuary now (but are they though, really…?). There is no warning of what could creep up on us here. There is no siren to listen out for. The quiet roads let you hear that the skies are quiet too.
On our daily exercise old habits die hard. We Stop, Look and Listen before we cross the road but nothing’s coming. Good practise I suppose for when ‘All This’ is over. We hold hands on our walks and I feel the baby’s hands don’t feel like baby’s hands any more. His knuckles are dry and leathery from all the extra hand washing; his tiny part in a global fight against a merciless pandemic.
We stay close to home and see more of the feral cats, usually only heard at night, now making the quiet daytimes their own as well. They can roam without encountering humans, which we try to do as well.
A couple of Kit Kats to liven up our final lap of the field. The two-finger ones, from a multipack. Put the wrappers in your pocket to bring home, I tell him. We don’t go near outside bins anymore, love. These are our little lockdown changes.
Back home we live more slowly. We eat more thoughtfully. I plan our meals and waste less food. Google how long it takes to grow potatoes, how easy would tomatoes be? Cupboard audits take place. You can’t just nip to the shop for missing ingredients or something you fancy anymore. That’s fine; nobody really likes kidney beans in their chilli anyway do they?
At least we don’t have to go through rationing like during the war, I think, and I wonder what it was like for my nana when that happened. People all seemed so much better at these things then, in black and white photos. Maybe they were better at adapting. Maybe they didn’t rely on convenience as much as we do. Still, these are little changes compared to what they went through.
I have these existential moments that I try to wash away with soap, or walk off once a day. Too much time to overthink now. I count back along my family’s survival timeline: world war, cholera and typhoid fever epidemics, the Great Famine… When we survive this, I tell myself, I’ll go back to Ireland and think of them. I’ll go back to Mass and pray for them. I’ll go back to my Mum’s for tea, and be with them.