So, here we are in the second weekend of lockdown – and it’s pretty much the same as last week. Things are jogging along here at Blake Hall, and as I peer out of the window at the wet cold world – actually a snowy world today – there is no incentive to go outside at all. Between the last lockdown and this one, I had a strong suspicion that our freedom was short-lived so hustled my pants and managed to get me and Miss F dentist appointments, optician appointments, and took the cat to the vets for her overdue annual jabs. Very pleased I did as we went back into lockdown just after Christmas and getting non-essential check-ups is impossible again.
Miss F had to have new glasses as her eyesight has changed again. Poor girl, it seems so unfair that she inherited such bad vision from somewhere. But we managed to get her new glasses in that brief window of opportunity during December so at least she has the correct prescription now. I need reading glasses for close work and because I’m so heavy on them and my eyesight isn’t that bad – I only use 1:25 magnification – I tend to buy a whole batch from Poundland and have them all over the house, at work, and in different handbags.
So, I trot in for my appointment and sit there in my mask whilst the optician puts that big contraption on my face and gets me to read the board on the wall at the far end of the office. Mightily surprised when I was able to read the email address of the board’s manufacturer at the very bottom of the board, she pronounced that my distance vision was remarkable, beyond remarkable actually. Then she tested my close vision. Uh oh. Not so good. But I know this and have got used to the inconvenience of having to find my glasses every time I want to read a text, or the cooking instructions on the back of a packet. Although, to be fair I usually thrust it at Miss F with a cry of – “Oh for heaven’s sake, read this for me!”
“What glasses are you using now?” The optician asked. I fished a pair of my £1 specials out of my bag and showed them to her. Her mouth pursed.
“Are they no good for me?” I asked, concerned by her silent accusing scrutiny of them.
“Well, they’re okay I suppose,” she grudgingly admitted.
“They’re 1:25 strength,” I tell her. “What should I have?”
“So, these are all right then?”
“Well, for a cheap pair, I suppose so. But you really need to have a better pair than that for long term use. You can have a free pair on the NHS with your credit voucher.”
I shrugged – after all, free is free and I tend never to turn down anything if it’s free. So, she wrote out a prescription and I went out into the reception to choose the frames. It turned out that to keep within the “freeness” part of the deal I had to choose from a certain range which comprised of about ten frames – three of which were for children, and five of which were for men so way too big for my small face. I tried on the two that were available for me, and picked the least awful pair, which, to be fair weren’t bad. They wrote the number down on the form and promised to call me when they ready to be collected.
“Don’t forget,” I told them. “Phone me on my landline or text me. Don’t try and leave a voicemail on my mobile like before. It will let you leave a message, but it won’t tell me you’ve left one, and I have no way of retrieving messages even if I do think to check my missed calls log.”
“We won’t,” they promised. “It’s down on your contact form.”
So, I came home and waited. Three weeks passed and I heard nothing, but they had warned me that their turnaround was slow what with the current situation, so I didn’t think anything of it. Then there was the busyness of Christmas, the lodger leaving, and going back into lockdown, so I forgot about it to be honest, until Wednesday, when I get a rather curt call from the optician saying that my glasses had been sitting there awaiting collection for ages and they had tried unsuccessfully to contact me.
“Did you phone my mobile?”
“And I suppose you left a voicemail?”
“Well, why did you do that? I told you I can’t retrieve voicemails. You even wrote it down on my contact form.”
“Oh, well, you need to come and collect the glasses now.”
“It’s not exactly essential, and we are in lockdown. Can I not wait until things are a bit settled?”
“No, because there’s an NHS credit attached to them, they must be collected immediately.”
“Okay, I’ll see about popping in when…”
“No, you have to make an appointment.”
So, I made an appointment for 2pm on Thursday, and for the first time since the beginning of the month ventured into the outside.
It was bitterly cold and pouring with a nasty rain that was desperately trying to turn into snow. And it was like a GHOST TOWN out there. Seriously, it was like Armageddon had occurred. Empty streets. Closed shops and restaurants. I barely saw anyone, and the few people who scurried by were masked and gloved and huddled into great coats. Not making eye contact or even looking at me, they hurried by as if the virus were floating in the air and the longer you were out, the more chance there was of it settling on you.
All around was abandoned plant and heavy machinery and almost every road was closed off with signs warning of construction and closure. Now, I can see the sense of carrying out vital road maintenance during the lockdown. There is very little traffic and hardly any pedestrians about to get in the way. But ALL the roads? All at the same time? And where were the workmen? Hurrying across town to the optician I passed site after site, all eerily deserted, the large yellow diggers just abandoned crazily across the road. Was it a simultaneous lunchbreak? Or had everyone decided it was too wet to work? Or had the zombies got them?
I get to the optician, and catch the only assistant guiltily sliding a book under the counter. She was all alone there, she explained. I sympathised with her – and I may have casually mentioned I was an author and given her my details. She made me try the glasses on to check they fitted, and then I came home.
On the way, as I was already out, I decided to pop to the convenience store at the bottom of our road to grab a few essentials. The dishwasher had been whining about needing salt, we were running low on matches, firelighters, and polish – yes, I polish during a lockdown. Don’t judge me, we have a fire most nights and that makes the place very dusty.
There weren’t many people in the store and again everyone was masked and keeping their distance – except one man. Openly strutting about with no mask on, he didn’t even have one of those yellow lanyard things the NHS issue to show you’re exempt from wearing a mask. As this is Britain, no one said anything, but he was given the stink-eye from everyone he passed, and eyes were rolled at one another over the tops of masks The staff did nothing. So, either they seriously don’t care about the rules, or they knew him and knew he had an exemption.
Now, wearing masks is unpleasant, I get it. None of us like it, and I also understand there are a few – a very few – individuals who are physically incapable of wearing a mask for the ten minutes they are in a shop. But why don’t they wear visors? Okay, they may not be as effective as a mask, but they are better than nothing. Surely, if you have such compromised lungs you can’t wear a mask then you seriously don’t want to run the risk of catching the virus because you would be dangerously ill from it – so why not do everything you can to protect yourself and wear a visor. I can’t think of any medical condition that prevents its sufferer from wearing one, except extreme agoraphobia perhaps. And if you were so agoraphobic a clear visor sent you into a panic, then you wouldn’t be out of the house and in a shop in the first place.
I made it home – to be greeted by Miss F as if we were living in the world of Mad Max and I’d made it back safely from a death-defying trip across the Badlands to get essential supplies. For the rest of the day, I tried out my new glasses. I have to be honest and say they are of the same quality as my £1 bargains I get from Poundland. In fact, they leave a really nasty groove over the top of my nose and give me a slight headache from wearing them.
It’s been a week of pet incidents. Firstly, our baby tortoise Napoleon was determined to prove he was not such a baby anymore and attempted a jailbreak out of his enclosure. Luckily, Miss F caught him before he managed to climb over the side and fall to his possible death and definite injury from the top of the chest of drawers his box is on. Stopping to snap the obligatory photo on her phone, the mesh lid of his box was placed firmly on and is staying on now. He doesn’t like it. He glares at it and huffs in annoyance, but it’s for his own good – so tough. I couldn’t believe he managed to scramble all the way up onto the top of his hide – it’s quite a climb for such a little chap.
Thursday evening, I got a pack of four chicken drumsticks out to defrost before I went to bed and put them on the side. I know, I know, you’re supposed to defrost things in the fridge, but seriously my fridge is so cold it would take a week to defrost fully and there would still be ice crystals in the middle. At night, my kitchen is cold enough to let the meat defrost slowly, and I’ve been doing it for years and never poisoned anyone yet.
Anyone, I suddenly woke up at about 5am convinced I’d forgotten to put them in the microwave to keep them out of the way. Sleepy and confused, I persuaded myself I must have, and went back to sleep. When I finally came downstairs a few hours later, it was to find the cat standing in the middle of the kitchen floor with a look of absolute guilt on her face.
“I did a thing.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
She glanced up at the counter. I looked. The bowl with the chicken in was upside down and the bag had been dragged out. Groaning, I switched on the light and had a closer look. She’d managed to rip a small corner of the bag open and expose a tiny piece of the skin of one of the legs. Then she’d either had a pang of conscience, or heard me coming, or the leg was still too frozen to get her teeth into, or she decided that raw cold chicken was not that nice after all, because that was as far as she’d got.
Carefully, I opened the bag and removed the piece she’d nosed. Sod germs, I thought. She hadn’t touched any of the other three and I was going to be cooking them thoroughly. Rummaging around in the bottom of the freezer, I found a bag with a single drumstick in and put that to defrost ready for dinner that night. Sometimes, the packs come with uneven numbers and I always bag up the single one – for just such emergencies as this. For the rest of the day, the cat kept making a fuss over me, as if she knew what she’d done and felt guilty. It was my fault though I guess, leaving such a tempting thing out for her to investigate.
During the week, a fellow author contacted me on Instagram to tell me the very sad story of a lovely Australian author she knows who has been given the worst news that anyone can ever get – that her cancer has metastasised, and she is down to mere weeks at best. This would devastate even the strongest of us, but what Aiki Flinthart decided to do was to finally realise her dream of seeing one of her stories in a collection with those of the finest names in the genres of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. So, she contacted every big-name author she could think of with her request, and to her delight, many responded offering her a unique story to include in her collection. With the clock ticking, the book has been prepared and is now ready for pre-order from Amazon with a publication date of the 31st of January – it will also be available from many other on-line book sellers.
A stunning collection including stories from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Jasper Fforde, Garth Nix, Robert Silverberg, Juliet Marillier, and many others – this is an amazing chance to own a very special book, and help a young woman see her dream come true before her life is cruelly cut short. Plus, all proceeds from the book will be going to help fund a mentoring programme for young writers in Aiki’s home state of Queensland.
The book is called Relics, Wrecks and Ruins – and can be found on Amazon for pre-order, or will be available from Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and many other online book retailers. Why not check out Aiki’s website to learn more about this brave and inspirational Warrior Woman who refused to let cancer stop her from achieving her dream.
These are truly difficult times for us all, and I hope that wherever you are, you are coping with all that life is throwing your way. Remember, to stay smart and stay safe.
See you next week for a catch up.