things I am doing and things I am not doing

I am not writing a novel. I feel like the wave of “lockdown is the perfect time to realise your grand creative vision!!” takes has crested now, but for the avoidance of doubt: I am barely able to concentrate for long enough spans to do the writing I’m already contracted to do. Taking on extra, unpaid, speculative work right now feels completely out of reach.

I am doing a lot of crochet. I am not good at crochet, nor do I particularly need a large and lumpy blanket made out of the wool I found in a basket I got from a friend’s “take our stuff, we’re leaving town” party four years ago. But doing something with your hands while you watch television is reassuring, and seeing it grow by a few squares every evening is pleasing. Maybe I’ll just unravel it all and start again when it gets too unwieldy.

I am not cleaning any more than I usually do. I’m excluding the necessary disinfection of stuff acquired from The Outside in this, of course, but I haven’t suddenly become someone who wants to vacuum every day or organise the kitchen junk drawer. I probably never will.

I am wearing this skirt a lot. I recommend something similar if you can get hold of it: long, voluminous, soft and with deep pockets, it’s really the perfect quarantine garment. It swishes as you walk in a pleasing fashion, it’s loose and comfortable for all the time spent sitting down, it’s smart enough for if you stand up during a video call, and it also makes me feel slightly like I might leave the house to join an early twentieth century suffragette march any time.

I am not looking at Twitter very much. I’m probably an ambient part of the reason why it’s not a very nice platform to be on anymore, because I just log in when I have something to promote or a snarky comment I want to make, hit send and then log out again. It’s very antisocial of me, but in my defence every time I do any scrolling at all in the first five seconds I see about eight tweets that are inaccurate or enraging or both and I just can’t be doing with that.

I am making sourdough. I have been doing that fairly regularly since 2018 — Simon the starter has not been killed off my by appalling neglect yet — and I’m not terrible at it. The shortage of flour is starting to make me feel anxious, though. What am I going to feed Simon if I can’t get any more?? These are the thoughts I spend a lot of time on these days.

I am not catching up on great television boxsets I missed the first time round. I have scrolled through a lot of lists suggesting that I should watch The Sopranos from the start or reappraise Mad Men or something, and all I can think while I do this is: where would I find the time? Like most people lucky enough to be able to work from home, my husband and I are finding that everything about our jobs is more time consuming during quarantine. We’ve been managing to squeeze in one or two 30 minute episodes of Yes, Minister a night while we eat dinner, and that’s it.

I am rereading Wolf Hall. Two aspects have struck me especially hard this time round. Firstly, Thomas Cromwell is really an extremely productive person and I did not appreciate this enough the first time. How does he run a country, coddle a king, reform a church, bring up a family and grow a personal fortune at the same time, all without access to much more than quills, parchment and messengers? I’m sure there’s an academic monograph I could read about this. Secondly, Thomas More is the absolute worst and I don’t know what Erasmus ever saw in him.

I am not maintaining a strict routine. I get up early or late depending on what I have on, we eat meals at variable yet convenient times, I try and do yoga most days but don’t berate myself if I can’t manage it. The one thing I am doing without fail is the shoulder exercises my physiotherapist gave me to correct my terrible posture when I saw him on what I think of as The Last Friday. Pleasingly, that was Friday 13 March — the last time I left the peninsula we live on and the last time I had non virtual contact with someone who wasn’t my husband, my dog, or a delivery person. Doing the stretches feels like a small pledge toward a possible future, a superstitious ritual that will mean we can one day travel to appointments for reasons as frivolous as slouching again.

I am mostly cheerful. I have moments where I feel glum or angry, but it mostly goes away when I remember why I’m trapped in the house and how I can’t control when I get to leave anyway. Failing that, I eat something delicious and look out the window at the oak tree opposite our house for a while. That usually does it.

You can still find me working in all my usual places on the internet. I do daily podcast recommendations at The Listener, I write weekly podcast industry reports for Hot Pod, I make a fortnightly podcast about detective fiction called Shedunnit and I’m sometimes (but not often) on Twitter. My book, The Way to the Sea, came out in paperback on 5 March. If you’d like to read it you can get a copy here or through your nearest independent bookshop that is doing mail orders.

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