There's a pile of parcels, packets and letters by the front door. Normally I'm keen on the Feng Shui principle that a hall should be unobstructed. If you have to step over things and fight to find your way in, then you're exhausted before you reach the sanctuary of home. But everything is different these days. And this no less. My parcels, packets and letters are subject to quarantine. The postal workers and couriers drop them in the porch and ring the bell to alert me. By the time I get to the door they've gone. Nowhere to be seen—disappearing like fantasy creatures, before I can infect them or they can infect me. I put on my rubber gloves, pick up the deliveries and move them into the hall where they sit for several days. Each in its own way an expression of the change that has infected our lives with such startling rapidity:
Parcel 1. A cardboard box about the shape of a shoebox. Until I unpack it I can't be sure but I think this contains a box of hair dye. My hairdresser normally comes to the house and we chat comfortably about holidays and family events as she pastes on the dye, snips and blow-dries. Now there are no holidays or family events to chat about and I'm left to find my own way over the hurdle of keeping my grey at bay. I've never done this myself and feel nervous. My only exposure to home hair dying is coloured by memories of my teenage daughter's experiments. Now, she has a good sense of self, but back then, she was busy exploring her identity. Over the course of two unsettled weeks, she turned four different colours, and irredeemably stained nine of my towels.
Parcel 2. This one's a large cardboard box. I think it contains groceries. The days of wandering around the supermarket taking my time, and bumping into people are gone. I'm doing all I can to avoid trips out, but I can neither justify, nor get, a supermarket delivery slot as I'm not in the vulnerable bracket. 'Click and collect' slots can only be secured with a swift response like catching a butterfly in a net. I miss repeatedly and the butterfly flits away. So I've resorted to ordering from a local wholesaler who normally supplies restaurants but is now delivering to ordinary households. It's a new way of shopping and cooking. Mostly they're dry goods like oats and lentils but last week we had feta with everything when I mistakenly ordered a catering-sized block.
Parcel 3. This is a square cardboard box, a bit like a pizza delivery carton. I'm pretty sure this is my tarte tatin tin. As I write this I realise that I've never before had cause to write that sentence. Back in the days before the crisis, I'd wanted to make one of my favourite puddings, and realised that I didn't have the right kind of tin. I needed one that is strong enough to withstand the hot first stage during which a blob of butter and a shake of sugar transform magically into a sticky caramel, and then the second stage when this is cosseted with apple slices and pastry, and popped into the oven. Some online research revealed that a company in Birmingham makes tins specifically for this purpose and so I placed an order. Several weeks passed and the world became preoccupied with testing kits, social distancing, ventilators, PPE, and herd immunity. Then I remembered the now trivial fact that I'd never received my order so I sent an email to enquire whilst remembering to be polite and acknowledge that they must be very busy at the moment. That afternoon I got a phone call from a man with a very smart velvet voice who apologised lavishly for the delay and promised I would have my tin the next day. He ended with, “I saw from your card details that you're a doctor. I thought you'd probably be at the hospital. I didn't expect to get you.” His tone revealed that he wanted to do his bit to help the NHS. To rush a tarte tatin tin to a poor overworked doctor who longs to bake between harrowing shifts. I hesitated but felt duty bound to disappoint and tell him that I'm not 'that kind of doctor'.
Packet 1. This one's a Jiffy bag and arrived slightly torn revealing the dimpled bubble wrap inside. It's book-shaped. I need new supplies as without the usual distractions there's a lot more time to read. It's a relief to see the piles by my bed and on my desk, reducing faster than I could ever have imagined. At last I can indulge books and thoughts that have been buried under the weight of everyday distractions. Pressure is released like steam, and I love it. For the first time in my life I know what it's like to have a playing field in my head where I can kick a ball around. True space where each day runs into the next. Something unfinished today can be continued tomorrow, always provided that one successfully dodges the dreaded protagonist in this drama. I'm already wondering how it will feel to go back to life as it was in the BC years. My fear is that it will be overwhelming.
Letter 1. A white envelope with NHS stamped on it. After prescribing a few days of quarantine I open it, and find that my appointment at the local eye hospital has been postponed for the fourth time in a year. It's now been pushed back to September. I moaned about the previous delays but now I can only be grateful that we have a health service and acknowledge that there are matters more pressing than my corneal erosion. It's hard to believe that we'll be back to any kind of normality by September. And what will normality be? Today's normal is different from yesterday's normal. September's normal will doubtless be something different again.
Lynn Farley-Rose is formerly a research psychologist and then a full-time careers writer. She has also written a memoir based on a list, and is currently working on a follow-up with a different structure, as well as a book of interviews and several family memoirs.