Hilary Fannin: The veganism has gone up the spout. I lost the will to pulse a mushroom

What are the best bits of the pandemic? ‘Art class’, ‘being outside’, ‘talking to my mother’

‘Every day the dog and I walk down to my mother’s at lunchtime. The dog loves it.’ Photograph: iStock

‘Every day the dog and I walk down to my mother’s at lunchtime. The dog loves it.’ Photograph: iStock

 

I found myself getting quite excited about a cauliflower the other day. “Ooh,” I thought, “look at that handsome, brainy cauliflower, firm and creamy and capable and just packed with tight little boffin-like florets.

“So many possibilities,” I mused. “Why, I could roast it with garlic and turmeric, or bake it with jerk seasoning and maple syrup. I could pulse it to make a satisfyingly crunchy alternative to rice, or I could just do it plain old missionary position, blanketed in cheese sauce and hidden in the oven.”

What larks, eh? I skipped gaily to the checkout, like a spring lamb awoken to the scent of clover. 

‘Every day the dog and I walk down to my mother’s at lunchtime,’ my friend said. ‘The dog loves it. He eats a cubed-up apple, and we chat, my mother and I’

I think they do something with the lighting in supermarkets. When I got home, the vegetable looked dull, jaundiced and unresponsive. I threw it in the box next to a worried-looking parsnip, in the process discombobulating the cat, who, as I told you, has taken to nesting on top of the veg like an agricultural sphinx.

“Oh, when will it be day?” I asked myself, slumped on a kitchen chair in my anorak. “When will this pantomime end?”

I’ve done as much oohing and aahing as I can. I’ve booed the villains and cheered the heroes. I’ve looked behind me and been truly scared, and I’m still here, in my grubby kitchen/gym, tripping over barbells, headbutting the boxing bag and getting over-excited about chilli-flavoured sausages. (The veganism has gone up the spout, by the way. Sometimes you just lose the will to pulse a mushroom.)  

“Listen to me, pussycat,” I hissed at the reclining moggie. “I just can’t take it any more!”

This was a line echoed the other morning by a friend who rang me from her bed. “I just can’t take it any more!” she said. 

My friend lives alone; she’s a gregarious and resourceful character who infuses the world around her with warmth.

“I haven’t hugged a friend since . . .” 

She trailed off.

“What’s the best bit?” I asked her.

She didn’t hesitate. “I’ve started painting. I do an online art class once a week. I love it.”

Days later, an envelope arrived in the post. I recognised my friend’s loopy handwriting. Inside was a supermarket catalogue and, tucked inside that, a small painting my friend had made of reeds by water. I stuck it on the wall.

“I just can’t take this any more,” another friend said. We were walking together along a rutted path, mud choking our boots, the wind whipping her words away.

“I see my children through a Zoom lens,” she said. “My work is gone, I wake up every day and think: ‘When will this end?’ And then I think: ‘Hang on, will this end?’” 

“What’s the best bit?” I asked her.

She didn’t hesitate. 

“Every day the dog and I walk down to my mother’s at lunchtime,” she said. “The dog loves it. He eats a cubed-up apple, and we chat, my mother and I. And if it wasn’t for all this” – she gestured around her – “that wouldn’t have happened.”  

‘What’s the best bit when you come off your shift?’ I asked my paramedic friend. ‘Cooking at home, being outside, spoon-feeding porridge to the hens. I’ve learned to be content without being busy’

A young woman I know, and love, is an advanced paramedic, working with the ambulance service in another city. Reading between the lines of her texts and messages, I hear her weariness from days spent parked in emergency bays, working in the back of an ambulance in full PPE, treating sick people waiting for a bed. 

“What’s the best bit when you come off your shift?” I asked her.

“Cooking at home, being outside, spoon-feeding porridge to the hens. I’ve learned to be content without being busy.”

I texted my sisters, one of whom lives abroad, and asked the same question. I was surprised at the alacrity of their responses. Both acknowledged their loneliness (not least for the other). One talked about becoming more independent, the other of rejecting guilt at not being busy and of the peace that comes from days without plans. But both spoke enthusiastically of the satisfaction of learning to knit (with very big needles). 

Others in my deeply unrepresentative sample group talked about the joy of not having to commute to work, of not having to hurl themselves out of bed in the mornings, of having someone deliver their supermarket shopping. Everyone, though, said they would swap these small compensations for a chance to sit together, to raise a glass in their freezing mitts. 

“What’s the best bit?” I asked the reclining cat in the vegetable box. She treated the cauliflower to a hopeful sideways glance. Maybe, in her dotage, she thought it was a friend.

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