05 Apr Thanks, F*@#ing Covid.
First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 5.4.21
I’ve been thinking about those little German weather houses shaped like an Alpine chalet that people used to have on their walls. Depending on the weather, either a woman (when it’s sunny and dry) or a man (rainy and damp) pops out of their side-by-side doors to let you know if it is a good day for pegging out the washing or, conversely, if you need to take your brolly with you to the shops.
I want to say there was one at my great-aunt Ruth’s, but memory is unreliable. It may have been at another relative’s house entirely. Because when I picture it now, there was a lot going on already in Ruth’s front hallway and I find it hard to imagine why she – a woman of taste – would have added a decorative weather house to her already bountiful furnishings.
Because I am certain about other things in Ruth’s front hall. There was a telephone which sat on the kind of table we referred to then as “a telephone table” and beside it was a seat – more padded than a dining chair, less sumptuous than the kind for the living room – on which she could sit for long, comfortable conversations with whoever phoned. Room for an ashtray and teacup, or an evening gin. Having a particular place in your house for making and taking phone calls seems outlandish now. Still, back then, when the phone rang, at least you knew where to find it.
I am absolutely certain that above Ruth’s telephone table there was a cuckoo clock that had belonged to her mother. When my brother and I came to stay, great-grandma’s clock would be wound up so we could hear it cuckoo at 15 minute intervals. Once the novelty had worn off (an hour or so would do it) our great-uncle would fiddle with its workings to keep the bird quiet and still.
Maybe I’ve turned the cuckoo clock into a weather house in some part of my brain, which will be the part that has been wishing for something like that – an outward sign to tell me when the pressure is going up or down.
You know how it is – you get so caught up in Getting Stuff Done you don’t notice rain clouds until it’s too late to get the sheets in. Could’ve looked out the window but honestly a chap in lederhosen popping out his door would have helped. A weather house for your stress levels, helping you assess what sort of day it is.
This most recent Alert Level change – my city at Level 3, the rest of Aotearoa at Level 2 – was a tough one. Tougher than the Valentine’s Day short, sharp “stay home, save lives” the week before. I can tell you that now in a retrospect, but I couldn’t see it at the time.
I’m a massive fan of doing things for the collective good. I would have assiduously kept my blackout curtains closed during the Blitz, and I will be lining up for a Covid-19 vaccine when it’s my turn – not just because of my own underlying health issues, but because with more of us vaccinated, all of us will do well.
So you put on the bravest face you can find, right? Plus you don’t want to sound all wah-wah sad-face about your personal circumstances. Other people are doing it tough – often tougher – and we need to keep each other’s spirits up.
But at some point – and people in Canterbury will know this better than anyone – there are cracks in your resilient front, and pretending you are okay when you’re not starts to feel like you’re pretending to be someone else.
I noticed my hands were permanently clenched, that on more than one morning I had a cry in the shower, and that my memory – not just about weather houses – was unreliable.
A work friend told me she liked something I’d written a year ago, just now published. I had no memory of writing it. I’ve read it now, and it sounds like me but I don’t remember working on it in 2020’s Level 4. She says, yes, and she’s never sure what day it is. Sometimes the year escapes her, and she laughs, “Thank you, Covid!”
Other casualties of Covid: I keep a paper diary and I am using a lot of Twink. (Paper tape, actually – never say I don’t move with the times.) I look at bookings for work which used to make me (a freelancer, self-employed) feel secure about the future, but now I think, Really? Will that happen? Diary, I am not sure I believe you.
My brain has behaved like this – living on the edge of tears, the inability to focus or record memories or to imagine the future and trust plans – before, and I realise this presents a bit like grief. For which my best advice is to be gentle with yourself. The little man has popped out of the weather house and there will be rain. Grab your coat.