Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Sharon Brace

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from writer, tutor, and facilitator, Sharon Brace. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

Dear Isobel,

‘We live in interesting times.’

Pandemic… Lockdown… Panic buying… Isolation… As we approach the second month of lockdown, I feel that I have settled into a sort of bespoke routine which has minimal interruptions from the world beyond my walls and ironically, those words of fear have turned this place into one of love and security once again. I don’t plan to stay here forever but I rejoice that the lockdown found me here not elsewhere.

I am comforted that the universe knew the plan even when I did not and, after many years of roaming the world I have returned to the unexpectedly sunny valleys and shores of south Wales only fifty days pre the possibly the grim reality of lockdown.

Lockdown…? The dimensions of this area, so much smaller than the worlds I’ve wandered in the last decade or two, alarmed me somewhat and the thought of being literally ‘home alone’ for the foreseeable future sent waves of claustrophobia through me in the same way that the apprehension of take-off had myriad times before. Yet I had a pre-pandemic mission; to study until my ultimate qualification was complete and then to return to the me this house had created and begin to cram in as much living as I could beyond its confines. However, a microscopic virus was able to change so much.

The reality of lockdown is, however, disparate. I have established my own routine from which I draw comfort. In a bid to diversify and live a more complete life than merely a quest for a qualification, and as lockdown became inevitable I filled the house with food, yanked up my metaphorical drawbridge and prepared for a sit-in but I also invested in a packet of tomato seeds, a packet of pepper seeds and several cumbersome bags of compost which I dragged home and housed in the garage. I’d grown nothing but houseplants so I dug my fingers into the huge newly-filled pots I found in yesteryear and dropped a few seeds into each. Within weeks I had lain waste to my dining room, filled it with constantly developing living things which were a conciliatory paradox to the death that raged in so many homes in so many of the lands I’ve walked.

In an effort to remain at one with the outside world I have now walk at 7. And 12. And then again at 7. I have begun to see the cul-de-sac in which I played and made friends in three different lights, in three different seasons and, thanks to climate change, in an increasing amount of sunshine. These hills which have witnessed wars and previous pandemics look on silently, and as I now have time to look up, I gaze back adoringly never before grasping that these hills have framed my life. Their varying colours of green, a little yellow and a little a brown yet now in Summer, vibrantly green. The blue, unblemished sky is free of vapour trails and the and the clouds which so often appear to be held up by these intangible barriers scurry along unrestricted.

I embrace a sense of community from people whose presence was always on my life’s periphery but where in bygone days I felt the bond of an interloper.

Saturday morning as I queue, two meters away from the person before me, I have time – and interest to engage with others. Once, I would have found their conversation banal and unnecessary but my current lack of human contact has granted me a curiosity in my fellow man.

Friday evening, as I call my newly acquired yet lifelong neighbours and discuss their grocery needs and prescriptions, I feel vital in a way which is quite distinct from the professional imperative of a mere half a year ago. And as I deliver their groceries to their front door and step away, we joke at a distance. I’ll make sure their curtains and blinds are open by 9 and call them midweek just for the joy of an octogenarian perspective on the new world we inhabit equally.

Friendships and telephone calls have become a lifeline and as we gather at 11 each morning for cyber coffee and chats, I acknowledge that those bonds too have intensified, braced and bolstered by the imposed isolation. We fight each day to imprison each other’s isolation and to forbid it becoming loneliness. Friends around the world, traditionally held near often only in Christmas greetings, are now weekly contacts as we Zoom in and out of each other’s realities all in agreement that people are our principal priority.

I don’t go to the shops; I haven’t purchased any new fashions in half a year, yet as I student again, I was expecting not to need anything more than patched jeans and numerous leggings; I order books online in such volumes I now know both postman and Amazon delivery driver by name; I no longer spend £3 a day on coffee but rather have coffee indoors with people who will always be part of my home even when I can’t invite them there; my car has guzzled less than £50 of fuel in three months; my uncut hair touches my belt and my attire is occasionally the same sweater twice consecutively; I cook vegetables each evening and struggle to invent new menus by the next; I try only to imbibe twice a week and still respect the rules of a school night; in the safety of my childhood bedroom eight hours of good sleep has once again become my norm and my mind is grateful for the silence that sleep affords me.

Lockdown has changed us but mercifully and by some quirk of fate and the joy of education, I was home to experience it and ever so grateful that my new chap had stayed over the night it was announced. I fear that things would have been dreadfully different without him.

I am so terribly woeful for the people who have been robbed of their people by the Virus; tears often slide down my cheeks as I absorb the daily figures. Yet somehow this hell has given me so very many people and ironically turned the panic of a pandemic and the loss of so many lives into a reaffirmation of my own.

As I have relegated my triffid-like tomatoes to the sunshine of the garden, my dining room feels empty and lifeless and, with no prospects of a dinner-party to fill it with life and love, with the easing of lockdown on garden centres I bought a goldfish; no I bought five goldfish. Animals can be lovely too. The continual movement of the steady and silent Moby, Jane, Alice, Pip and Stig and the grandeur of the mountains of my childhood reminds me that, despite the hardship we face together, all things will ultimately continue as they have before.

Ironically, the panic of a pandemic, for me, has swiftly turned into consolidated friendship and a renewed sense of community and old-fashioned values. My intention to leave when my purpose is served is unchanged but as is human nature, we face a siege from our stronghold, I have faced this from mine.

As the lockdown decreases, I hope to see you very soon.

Until then…

Sharon

Sharon Brace is a writer, tutor, and facilitator. Visit Sharon’s website for more info.

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