A Writer’s Coronavirus Diary

I wake to the dawn chorus and the sun streaming in through the window. It’s lovely. For one brief, shining moment, life is a bed of roses. Then I remember our new reality. Covid-19. And I’m instantly back in survivalist mode.

Like most mornings nowadays, I’m in no great rush to get out of bed. I resist the urge to pick up my mobile; I’m not ready to face the world just yet. I reach for my current crime novel and read a few chapters. I put it down and pick up Ulysses. When I turned 66 last June, I undertook James Joyce’s masterpiece as a retirement project. Things have shifted since then, however, and Ulysses is now a Coronavirus endeavour. It’s heavy going. I manage to get through ten pages before my head starts to hurt.

I get up and put on my sweats. I cook breakfast. Huevos rancheros. The morning meal used to be a quick affair – a bowl of muesli, a fruit salad or the like – but these days I take my time. I eat well and I eat more. It’s taking its toll. I’ve worn only sweats since this dreadful virus made itself manifest but now and then I try on my glad-rags, admire myself in the mirror and ruminate on when and where and with whom I’ll next wear a particular outfit. My little act of faith. The trousers are tight around the waist.

My wife, working from home, is logged on to a conference call. My 25-year-old son is still in bed. I wish I could wave a magic wand and return his world to normal. He hasn’t seen his lady friend for weeks. He and his pals are valiantly adhering to the rules and restrictions of the new order but social distancing is particularly hard on the young. They shouldn’t be cooped up, imprisoned. They should be out in the world, living life, sowing wild oats, having fun. Laughing. Self-isolation is unnatural. It’s unnatural for all of us but the passions of us older folks are less ardent and we are more adaptable to temporary sanctions. Pity the young.

I peruse the morning paper. Seems like Covid-19 is the only happening in the world. New York, Spain, Italy and the UK are still getting hammered with shocking numbers of fatalities. Is this what’s coming down the pike at us? The Irish death toll remains in the low hundreds. For this we should be grateful? We are at the beginning of our surge and I shudder to think of the carnage ahead.

I spend an hour lifting weights and stretching – keeping my strength up and trying to stay supple inasmuch as is possible after 66 years of wear and tear and neglect. I shower and unconsciously burst into song while washing my hands. Happy Birthday. Twice. It seems that for the rest of my life I’ll be warbling that tune every time I wash my hands.

I go to my office and log onto my laptop. I write. I’m working on a short story collection about the joys and pains of fatherhood. And now there’s this – my Coronavirus Diary; I never planned to embark on it but over the past few weeks I’ve been sucked inexorably into the compulsion to record the drumbeats of these beleaguered days.

I take a break and relax. The big decision now is what to do first – the crossword or the sudoku. I pick the sudoku. I fly through it; I’ve been getting plenty of practice.

My son is up. The three of us eat a light lunch and go for our daily walk. We’re blessed to live in a part of North Dublin that’s in close proximity to a profusion of wonderful walkways but since the imposition of the two-kilometre restriction these places are all beyond our little Pale and so we restrict ourselves to the coast road close to home. Our world seems to be getting smaller and more oppressive every day.

Back home I start eyeballing the liquor cabinet. I resist temptation, return to my office and log onto Facebook. I catch up with the doings of my remote friends. Kevin is in Toronto, where we used to live. He’s a singer. Like many other performers he’s recording a song a day to put up on Facebook. Today it’s the old Vera Lynn classic, We’ll Meet Again. Seems appropriate. And hopeful.

God knows when we’ll visit Toronto again.

Social networks are packed with performing artists putting out their stuff. Singers must sing. Artists must make art. Writers must write. That is how we are. That is how we survive. How we try to keep our souls intact.

Andy, a friend from my college days, works for a newspaper in North Carolina. I message him to ask how he’s getting along. He’s worried that his society is in danger of falling to pieces. He fears for the safety of his family and he’s on his way out to buy more ammunition.

At six o’clock I surrender to temptation and pour myself a whiskey. A large one. I make Shepherd’s Pie for dinner. We wash it down with a bottle of wine. Afterwards our young man retires to his room and the allures of social media and his play station. The wife and I commence our Netflix trawl and settle on a fluffy romcom.  Innocuousness is now a welcome distraction from the havoc sweeping the planet.

I count my blessings. The three of us in the house are healthy and we like each other most of the time. My heart goes out to those who are stuck indoors with bullies, brutes and drunken louts.

After the movie ends, I pick myself up and go to bed, wondering when and how on earth this is all going to end.

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