Being in lockdown reminds me of life on my tropical island, although there are no waves breaking on the reef below, and I am plagued by squirrels in the apple tree not fruit bats eating my pawpaws.
I have one house but two homes. The first is a tall Victorian terrace with sash windows, picture rails and fireplaces. I have painted the rooms in strong colours, grass green, mustard, and in my bedroom a pink that I chose for its exotic name – Russian Velvet. But the house is north-facing, dark, and plants do not thrive. So at the back I have built a study, with doors that open onto a patio overhung with wisteria. It is white and light and full of greenery.
In my Victorian home I am a lover of history, a collector of stuff: family photographs, china and silver, a vintage piano, my father’s books and my grandmother’s sheet music. It is where I turn inwards, wrapping myself in the warm blanket of my possessions. In my garden room I am a traveller, facing out into the world, remembering the year when I left everything behind to voyage to the South Seas. Here I keep the reminders of that time, the wood carvings, the baskets woven of pandanus leaves, the shells in shades of creamy pink, rust and coral, the pig’s tusk, and the faded grass skirt from a tribe that worships the Duke of Edinburgh.
Being in lockdown reminds me of life on my tropical island, although there are no waves breaking on the reef below, and I am plagued by squirrels in the apple tree not fruit bats eating my pawpaws. Forty years ago there was no internet, we had no television, our only contact with family and friends was through flimsy blue airmail letters and, for emergencies, an expensive satellite phone with a delay that made communication hesitant and stilted.
My island home had been ruled by the French so the supermarket stocked wine and cheese and at dawn the bakery smelled of freshly baked baguettes. But we became inured to odd shortages. For several months there were no onions while we waited for the next ship. Life unfolded at the deliberate walking pace of the islanders, who had more sense than to hurry in the heat and humidity. The single road had little traffic, there were few consumer goods – no clothes shops, bookshops, or even a library. I took up painting in watercolours, intent on the details of the flowers around me, frangipani and hibiscus.
Half a lifetime later, thanks to Zoom and Kindle, I am better connected and I have more resources. But my emotions are not so different. I take pleasure in the quiet, the solitude, the vast expanse of empty time stretching ahead of me. But I also feel exiled from reality, marooned on an alien shore. And this time, the experience is not of my choosing.
Alison Baxter is a writer and, until recently, a traveller. When she remembers, she updates her blog about her travels.