Hilary Fannin: I wonder how I’ll manage the bigger world again after the pandemic

There has been a simplicity to life within the quiet trajectory of these suburban streets

I have never taken having a home for granted, and certainly don’t in this time of crisis. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

I have never taken having a home for granted, and certainly don’t in this time of crisis. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

 

Lockdown day 666, or so it seems. 

Yesterday a rough wind shook the buds from the cherry blossom trees that billow like frothy bridesmaids around the estate where I live. I love the reckless, fleeting, over-dressed extravagance of those trees. Blousey and voluptuous, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find their high heels kicked off at their roots.

Anyway, I’d spent too long in front of the computer screen. Square-eyed and weary, I went for a wander around the block and was ambushed by a flurry of hailstones. It was collection day for recyclables and someone’s green bin had toppled over, spilling crushed beer cans on to the empty pavement, a lava of metallic green to challenge the manicured lawns and well-tended gardens of the neighbourhood. 

Everyone except me, it seems, is gardening. I walked past bed after bed awash with tulips, some louche and sleepy with feathery edges, others prim and pink and upright, ballerinas in upside-down tutus holding their poses in the insubordinate gale. 

The neighbourhood has changed over the years. An orchard has been planted near my house by a group of community gardeners – the man I live with even planted a plum tree there – and open spaces on the estate have been seeded with wildflowers. Walkways have been developed, evergreens planted, murals painted, trees sponsored. There are bug hotels and fairy doors for toddlers to play with, and benches for people to sit and rest on. In the uncertain spring air, there’s a sense of goodwill, of community. 

A couple of people have even left books outside their garden gates for others to read, and hand sanitisers next to them so that those books can be perused safely.

And yes, I am sorely aware of my luck. I have never taken having a home for granted, and certainly don’t in this time of crisis. The kind of security that I longed for in my childhood, and spurned in my twenties and beyond, this suburban life that I’ve sometimes appreciated and sometimes chafed against, I finally now embrace. 

Like many of us who work from home, I find myself spending a lot of time these days looking down a Zoom lens

As I walked, I found myself wondering not so much how I’ll endure further isolation but how I’ll manage the bigger world again afterwards. There has, despite everything, been a simplicity to life within the confines of the season, within the quiet trajectory of these suburban streets. There is a part of me that’s afraid of becoming overwhelmed, of losing something that I can’t yet properly grasp; maybe its just a stillness, an acceptance.

Anyway, having said all that, it wasn’t long until I was back in front of the computer screen. Like many of us who work from home, I find myself spending a lot of time these days looking down a Zoom lens. Like a wrinkly Narcissus, I gaze at myself in the laptop screen, waiting for a meeting to start.

It’s weird seeing so much of oneself through this blunt, dispassionate medium. I watch my oft-washed, leather-cracked hands, pulling at my flesh to see what I’d look like with a facelift. (Truly alarming, actually.) It’s either that or I’m furtively scrabbling at my roots, which have now turned a mean yellowy white and strongly resemble the colour of impacted snow upon which a large dog has recently urinated. 

It seems I’m not the only one looking at myself in bewilderment. I’ve been Zooming to a few book clubs recently, to talk about my novel. In a sidebar discussion last night, with an exclusively female cohort of readers, many of whom work online, we concluded that examining acres of regrowth down the Zoom lens has become a kind of national sport.

It’s about the joy of knowing that we’re still listening to each other from our increasingly familiar isolation

I find myself looking forward to these online book events, to meeting new faces in my mucky home and engaging with people I’ve never met before from the comfort of my kitchen chair. 

Without wanting to sound overblown or operatic about it, I really cannot express my gratitude strongly enough to readers who continue to support writers and booksellers in these unprecedentedly tough times for the industry.

It’s a pleasure to peer at the photographs some of the booksellers have posted on social media of the online orders they’re dispatching all over the country. And yes, obviously you look for your own title in the pile, but really it’s about the joy of knowing that we’re still reading, still communicating, still listening to each other from our increasingly familiar isolation.  

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