In week seven of her lockdown diaries, Jane struggles to stay alert…
It is 8.30am and I have just caught the end of an announcement on Radio 4. Saturday Live is calling for “Escape” stories. I scuttle to my computer and bash out an email. I have long hankered to get my dulcet tones on here – one of my favourite programmes – with the fabulous Reverend Richard Coles, and this is clearly my moment.
“Anna” from the studio, phones me within minutes. I am due on at 9.30, which is a dream come true, even though in my fantasies I was in the Green Room at Broadcasting House, looking rather stylish as I sipped coffee with luminaries – not still in my dressing gown recovering from the trauma of finding a headless mouse next to my slipper. I still determined to make the most of it – as this story is a peach. It centres around the time, some 24 years ago, when my son, then aged two, locked me in a cupboard and I had to talk him through phoning 999 to get me out. I have often performed the tale when doing after-dinner speaking and it takes about ten minutes. “You’ve got a minute and a half,” says “Steve”, seconds before I am introduced. I gabble.
The good Rev is kind enough to cue me to finish with the fact that the incident kick-started my writing career and I have now written nine books. I check Amazon periodically for the rest of the day to see if any of the 2.4 million listeners have brought about a spike in sales. They haven’t.
We get through dinner early so we can gather en famille around the TV to see what Boris has to say. He goes on for some time. When he has finished, my husband opens another bottle of wine and we all look at each other bewildered. WTF. As the young people say.
I am already struggling to “Stay Alert” as the cat woke me up three times last night and then I had a nightmare about Dominic Raab. Would “Keep your Distance” be clearer? Or how about taking the radical step of following the rest of the UK, and urging the older people at least, for just a little bit longer, to Stay at Home?
Since we are now allowed to, I meet my friend Marina O’Loughlin for a socially-responsible bellow at each other across the beach. There are definitely a lot more people about.
We trade tales of near familicide and she gives me tips on the best local food deliveries – being restaurant critic for the Sunday Times means what this woman doesn’t know about good things to eat, ain’t worth knowing.
We are perched either end of a concrete bench, reminiscing about meals gone by, when the third dog of the day ignores the rules on distancing. Sorry, says its owner, sounding anything but. There is that usual pause where we are expected to say that it doesn’t matter at all and we welcome a strange wet muzzle in our faces and a hefty dose of canine breath. “Rufus” is only “being friendly,” she adds accusingly, even though her mutt had already cocked its leg and Marina had alerted me only seconds before it slashed against my foot.
“I’m more of a cat person,” I say, as Rufus & Co mercifully go on their way.
“And I like animals best,” adds Marina, “when they’re on my plate.”
Following up on a suggestion from Marina, we venture out to get fish and chips from the award-winning Newington Fish Bar in Ramsgate, who have got an excellent system going. Phone your order through in advance and it is ready and waiting and handed over by a person in gloves and a mask. I send my son forth and don’t even have to get out of the car.
The food itself is wonderful – crispest batter for miles – but even if it wasn’t, what a treat to eat anything I haven’t cooked myself.
“I made that curry,” says my son indignantly, when I express this view beatifically through a hot vinegar haze. He did make a curry. And very good it was too. Something I was able to reflect on fondly as I cleaned up for an hour, and can continue to enjoy each time I chip another fleck of it from the kitchen tiles.
I am still watching Amazon and spot a review I’ve not previously noticed. “The story was OK,” writes an enthusiastic reader. “Saw the twist coming from a mile off…”
“Slightly convoluted,” it continues. “Could’ve been cut down by at least a third.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” guffaws my son, surveying the screen from over my shoulder. “Sounds quite a lot like you…”
Lockdown home-entertainment tip of the week
Make your own Hitchcock video by taking a few scraps of old fish skin down the garden with a handful of leftover chips. Then duck. Forty Herring Gulls, deprived of their seafront pickings, savaging each other and narrowly missing your head, is bound to amuse the grandchildren when you send it on WhatsApp. Your cat will perk up too.