This is a letter in two parts, BC and DC. Before and During, but not yet After, Covid-19.
Heather and I spent Christmas 2019 in Hamburg for a lovely few days with the ever welcoming extended Kopp family. We did some emergency grandparenting when Jo and Ben were marooned in Copenhagen due to Storm Ciara. We lost our gas supply for a few days at the end of January due to water in Richmond’s natural gas pipes. Ziggy held a tarantula with One World Animals.
So far, so normal, right? Right?
In February we made it to Chile with fellow traveller Coryn and tour leader Jo. In Valparaiso we freestyled it and met Loro Coiron and now have some of his work. We saw the El Tatio geysers at sunrise, the Milky Way in the Atacama Desert and a puma in Patagonia. As we disembarked at Heathrow an abusive drunk was escorted off our plane and I thought that might be the single most disruptive event in our year. Hah. Yeah.
We arrived home to hear Boris say on the 12th of March, “I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” Uh? And still, on the following weekend, we went to Ziggy’s 3rd birthday party with dozens of other people.
And then, lockdown and grim nightly statistics broadcast. Like most, we were a bit in shock, maybe a bit scared and very uncertain. The rhythm of our weeks had included preparing, doing and recovering from grandchild care. Gone. Museums, galleries, theatre. Gone. An Italian ex-colleague succumbed. For us, the worst was knowing our kids were trying to hold down fulltime jobs whilst working from home, with their kids at home – and us unable to help. I’m sure this is familiar to many of you.
Despite the sadness, we resolved not to waste the crisis. Elmo loved us being around. The to-do list shrunk remorselessly: decorating, lighting, plumbing and more. We lent our car to the NHS via Karshare. After years of only reading on aeroplanes I binge read all of Aurelio Zen and have continued reading. Heather has knitted pullovers, kitten blankets and hats and more hats. A university colleague arranged an intercontinental Zoom amongst nearly a dozen of our graduating class, most of whom I’d not seen since 1976. We spent a day with Linda Young, a distant relative. So some good has come out of the pandemic.
Heather had a special 70th birthday conducted over a Facebook Portal. Good as her celebration was, once in that format is enough. Our surprise stay in a country house has turned into not so much of a surprise voucher for next year. We loved Jo and Ben’s grand Fortnum & Mason hamper. And Kate and Pedro pulled together a special 20 minute video with clips from her friends.
The lockdown was necessary and tedious but the saving grace was the weather – sunny and warm from late March until well into September. We ate most meals outside, We had our 40th wedding anniversary on the 20th of September. On the day we had pizza and champagne in the garden with Jo, Ben, Wilfie and Margie; followed by a walk around Kew Gardens. The following week, after the weather had broken, we celebrated it by heading off to Battersea Park Childrens Zoo with Kate, Pedro and Ziggy.
We’ve always been central London focussed for our excursions. We used public transport to frequent the attractions of one of the world’s great cities. With the pandemic and the advice to avoid public transport we now head away from the city. We’ve joined the National Trust and English Heritage, as oh so many of our age group do, and get in the car. We’ve already been to Polesden Lacey, Petworth and Stonehenge.
As we’re spending more time driving, we’ve replaced our reliable but boring Honda Jazz with somewhat spiffier Alfa Romeo Giulia. It makes me smile, a lot, even on a wet Friday rush hour on the North Circular. Worryingly Clarkson agrees.
Loves of my life? I lost one; I lost Dame Diana Rigg. No teenage boy exposed to The Avengers will ever forget her. And whilst not a love, a good friend has left – Valentina Lallai, our Italian tutor lodger, has returned to Oristano after six years with us. The house feels a bit emptier and Elmo has lost a fan. We wish her the very best of luck and hope to visit. And thanks to John Flowers Jr for giving us a last opportunity to speak with his father, Sr, with whom we worked at FAO in Rome in 1976-8.
More positively, we’ve vicariously enjoyed watching Ziggy with his new best friend, Dusty the kitten; we hope to meet him soon. As Ziggy said to his mother, “When I was at nursery I missed you… but I missed Dusty more.” And our Elmo grows ever more affectionate as he greys. No, greying has had not made me more affectionate.
“Lockdown” may be the word of the year, but “that’s not unusual in a person of your age” is my phrase of the year. And I’m not all that keen on it.
We’re ok. Our kids and partners are doing well; their kids are doing well. Here’s hoping you had a good year, under the circumstances. And that your next year is better.
As usual, we’ll try and distribute this as paperlessly as possible and donate the savings to charity.
Heather and John