Oh yes, normal. A word that has been part of my life for a long time because of its absence. I have used a wheelchair for 25 years so that is my normal. And being home much of the time and restricted in what I can do is also normal. And doing things differently from everyone else is normal but no one else’s normal. So, strangely, I simply have new words for my normal – self isolating, quarantine, locked down, vulnerable, underlying conditions, comorbidities. The only difference is that it used to be easier to get flour. And now I kick the envelopes that slip through the letterbox to the side of the hall and leave them for a few days to decontaminate. Everything from outside is nuclear waste for at least three days. And I have one new mission in life: an email every day to one of my grandchildren. She lives at the other end of the country and we were meant to be visiting for Easter which was the week of her 10th birthday. We were also going to visit a new house that was being built a few miles from hers, a house we were meant to move to in June. For years she has asked us to move close to her and we had been looking for a house for a long time.
But then came lockdown and the trip had to be cancelled and the house postponed possibly never to happen. The next day I received an email labelled SAD and decided I would send an email every day as it would mark this lockdown with something special between us as we might not be able to visit for quite some time. I started adding interesting quirky images to the emails to possibly spark her imagination or plant a memory that might influence her sometime in the future. Helped by her suggestions, the images have varied from funny animals in the borders of mediaeval book illuminations, Lego sculpture, some of which were kinetic, which reminded me of automata, both modern and antique. That led me to puppets – hand puppets, marionettes, stage sets and shadow puppets. Then I changed tack again and tried intriguing and beautiful houses around the world like yurts, Inuit tents, Japanese houses, balconies in Tbilisi and carved farm entrances in the Carpathian mountains of northern Romania. And she suggested cool sculpture – what is cool to a 10-year-old girl? I tried Cornelia Parker’s hanging pieces of blown up shed, Antony Gormley’s figures in the sea (as she lives by the sea), and Joseph Cornell’s boxes. I came upon book art – from old books carved into sculpture to little books of sketches or paintings, sometimes on handmade paper… the search goes on.
And now, 6 weeks on in lockdown, the new house may be back on the cards, and eventually I may live near my grandchildren and the sea. And as others begin to emerge from lockdown, while I remain self-isolating, I hope they give a thought to people whose lives are not so different from lockdown and realise that you can make something quite special, in fact a whole world, from your home with a bit of imagination, the images around you, the words you read, and the bits of stuff that have so much meaning and so many memories, the stone from a beach, the old glass bottle dug up in the garden, the tintoy clown picked up in an Italian market 50 years ago, sparking ideas from each other. And a mission to write a daily email to a 10-year-old grandchild until we meet again in more normal times, probably still 6 feet apart.
by Ruth Bridgens.