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27 May 2020

Each day I walk, garden and cook – but at night, my dreams give the lie to my apparent calmness

I double up on the vodka in my cocktail shaker and mute the chaos of my Twitter feed.

By Tracey Thorn

My diary mocks me with its empty pages, its entries so sadly rubbed out. I still keep a Filofax, the same one I’ve had since the 1980s, so the rubbing out has to be done physically. I turn pages and can see the faint reminders of all the things we should have been doing. Ben’s tour of the US, and then Japan, and Australia; my nights out at Duckie, and to see Harry Styles, and Weyes Blood, and Waxahatchee; my daughter’s final exams at university, her summer ball, her graduation. 

And now, our summer holiday, still pencilled in but no longer looking possible. It seems likely that I will soon have to erase that too.

Meanwhile the diary I started to keep of These Strange Times, These Difficult Days, or whatever it is we are calling this period, has petered out. I was determined to note everything down, to try and capture the strangeness, but I didn’t reckon with the sameness. Although when I look back at my entries now I realise they have a hallucinatory quality – repetitive and humdrum, with sudden outbursts of complete weirdness.

Each day I walk, and garden, and cook, but then go to bed and have dreams which give the lie to my apparent calmness. Hitler is in one of them, and I am expected to kill him. In another, I am on a plane which needs to refuel in mid-air and then make an emergency landing. The next night I am looking after kittens, but realise with horror that I have completely neglected one and it is wasting away. Then someone I love is on a journey through perilous mountain passes, and can’t get home.

Oh I won’t bore you with any more. Other people’s dreams are a nightmare to hear about. But you get the picture. My brain is doing a lot of work here below the surface. ON the surface, it’s all Zoom quizzes, and Zoom coffees, and Zoom bingo, and honestly I’ve never seen so much of my family. I’m very glad I like them.

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To cheer myself up, I order a cocktail shaker, and some nice glasses and start making drinks I’ve only ever had out in bars. One night I make cosmopolitans for the two kids who are at home with us, and afterwards when I look at the recipe again I realise I got the proportions a bit wrong, and doubled up on the vodka. They both come down for their dinner looking cross-eyed, and with a new-found respect for their mother’s mixology skills. 

I clear away the books by the telly and turn it into Cocktail Corner, surrounding the bottles with postcards of Germaine Greer, Cindy Sherman, Dylan Thomas. And on the night I can’t DJ at Duckie I do it instead from my kitchen, posting the songs I would have played, drinking margaritas, and although it’s fun, it perhaps reminds me too much of where I’d like to be. On a dance floor with some drinks inside of me. 

Next morning I go on another bloody walk and find that someone on the heath has dropped a load of little notes, all with what look like feel-good messages scrawled on them. When I bend down to look closely at one, which has landed right next to a fresh pile of horseshit, it reads, “SAY NO TO VACCINE. 5G NON RESPECT OF THE LIVING.” 

Back home I look at Twitter and try a gentle easing of my own lockdown by unmuting a few people. I haven’t been able to stand all the fatalism, and certainty, and anger, some of which some people seem to relish, and so I have enforced a strict policy of silencing, for my own sanity. I know how much fury I can stand, and it isn’t much. When I briefly relax the rules, it’s too soon. I close the doors again, and retreat back to the corner of Twitter I like. 

The account that speaks most vividly to me at the moment is one that just posts quotes from Samuel Beckett. They make me laugh as much as they always do, in a way that seems particularly suited to These Strange Times. Today it’s this from Waiting for Godot – “Estragon: I can’t go on like this. Vladimir: That’s what you think.” 

Next week: Pippa Bailey

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This article appears in the 27 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The peak