It is now 12 weeks since we left London for our self-isolation at Puxley, my wife’s farm house in rural Northants, part 18th century, part nineteenth. As luck would have it we had commissioned a complete re-wiring and overhaul of the ancient central heating system and boiler replacement, which was in progress when all work had to cease so we have been without heating throughout: a major [art pf my exercise regime has been the sawing into logs of the old branches which always seem to collect in ‘informal’ and rambling gardens like ours and the splitting of those logs for firewood. Fortunately most of the wiring had been done although the channels gouged out of the plaster have yet to be filled in but we have become accustomed to that.
Before we went into isolation we filled the freezer with meat and I checked the store cupboard: we had adequate supplies of most of the essentials and serious over-stocking of my farmers market impulse buys. 13 different jars of lime pickle will, I realise, see me through this life, with enough for the afterlife should there be one. Impressively we have managed the past 12 weeks, during which I have prepared 250 meals, with just five visits to the supermarket and a four to our local village shop.
We pass the time very companionably, in the garden for much of the day, Vivienne making it beautiful in its lovely informality, me raising vegetables with more success than in past years; I am not by inclination a gardener, lacking the necessary patience, but the unusual availability of time allows me to do more of what is required. Part of my time is on culinary tasks which I prefer, making bread and yoghurt, curing salmon and pork belly, making marmalade and pickling excess cabbage. I have been experimenting more in my cooking – last night’s cab ravioli was a first. In the evenings we read and watch television, a mix of documentaries, drama and current affairs.
And of course the latter invariably leads to political discussion. Not debate as we are generally of one mind, but rants about the utter incompetence of our present government, the worst by a long way in my lifetime. The incompetence is made infinitely worse by their mendacity; they lie and we know they lie and they know we know they lie but still they lie and we have no sanctions. It is an appalling situation. They trot out the Cummings-crafted mantras, ‘we follow the science and have done the right thing at the right time’, yet the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor said at the start of the pandemic that ’20,000 dead would be a good result. At present we are on 60,000 plus, very obviously a bad result from doing ‘the right thing at the right time’.
On a lighter note I find it interesting that we no longer comment on one another’s hair; mine is of course longer than it has ever been, and when I am outside comes into the ‘wild and windswept’ category, Vivienne’s, always kept very short, now shoulder length, with just the least bit of grey front left. Our blond neighbour Mary Ann is decidedly not.
I am beginning to imagine life ‘after all this’. Our old life was split equally between Puxley and The Tree House in London. Our weekday London life was the more sociable, our socialising being largely book-trade related, Puxley was for weekend relaxation and getting together with friends in very small gatherings. The meetings required by what is left of my ‘working life’, directorships or trusteeships of half a dozen organisations, were almost entirely in London. Now we have got used to meeting by video-conferencing and if, as I suspect, no lasting vaccination is developed for this virus, the mortality rate of which increases exponentially with age, we will have to avoid large social gatherings, so the balance of our lives must tilt towards Puxley. I have greatly enjoyed our confinement here so I like that prospect but what do we then do with the Tree House?
Travel has always been a large part of my life, and since I got together with Vivienne, our lives. I expect that to be severely curtailed, largely limited to places we can reach in a hermetically-sealed vehicle. We have started to toy with the idea of a large motor-home!
We are headed for a life which would have been unimaginable only three months ago.