Covid on Slender Means

For single people living in a city the notion of ‘bubbles’ was always going to be imperfect. I had a few that overlapped, and I knew that my bubbling would burst at some point, it was just a question of when. I wore a mask, avoided most people most of the time, was careful for myself and for others who I know who might be particularly vulnerable. Bubbles, unless utterly sealed were a delaying tactic, though. After 10 months of bubbling there I was – I had it.

Matt had been going to London, but then, so had Rachel and she’s never caught it. Transport, though… transport, toilets, meal deals and perhaps non symptomatic carriers? Or just arseholes who didn’t mask up. Anyway he came to visit after a jaunt up there, and we sat meters apart in my living room, didn’t do anything more risky than that but it was enough. He went to visit his son James as well, afterwards. Both of them tested positive during the time I was asymptomatic and a bit in denial. I had a couple of days of being ‘normal’ (whatever that was for me, I was okay) and then a couple of days with a bit of a sore throat. Then it hit. 

I wasn’t going to bother getting a test, just ‘act as if’. At one point in a Facebook thread someone shamed me for not ‘doing my bit’ in terms of contributing to statistics so I did the test, it made me gag, and I clearly didn’t do it properly because I got a false negative as a result. Not only annoying the fuck out of me, but also skewing whatever the statistics are at this stage by a tiny factor. I’d been shamed by a stranger on the internet into getting a test I didn’t care about having and then getting a result that was clearly bollocks. I’m still angry. And not just at Stranger Lady but also with the wording of the email I got to tell me the test was negative. 

“Your coronavirus test result is negative. You did not have the virus when the test was done.
You only need to self-isolate if;

  • you get symptoms of coronavirus (you’ll need a new test)
  • you’re going into hospital (self-isolate until the date you go in)
  • someone you live with tests positive
  • you’ve been traced as a contact of someone who tested positive”

Obviously I had symptoms but the way it’s worded made me think that what if I was in work and had to ‘prove’ I was ill? The email doesn’t say your test was negative it says you did not have covid when you took the test. Soon after I got the email I was sent a survey about how I’d found the testing process and while I was too ill to fill it in at the time I vented later.

Hazel says that the passage I had where I had a lot of body pain and skin pain was my body’s natural interferon fighting the virus. During that time I began to have mild diarrhoea. Then I woke up one morning with shit soup gushing onto my bed. It stank and I was exhausted, but I had to drag the bedding to the washing machine and strip the cover off the topper, also soaked. What amazed me was how good pillow cases and sheets and duvet covers etc are as a barrier. I didn’t have to ditch any bedding, but I was so weak and I had to do something to re-make the bed. I literally did not have the strength to put a king sized duvet cover on a duvet. The cover lay on the duvet mountain on the floor. I’d made the monumental climb over the bed to tuck in a fitted sheet, but I was spent. Luckily Hazel was checking in on me. I discovered later that she was not just being friendly, she was monitoring me for hypoxia, because of course I hadn’t got a thermometer or an oximeter, I’d been overwhelmed by choice when I’d looked online and ended up with neither. Anyway we discussed bedding options and I pulled out the single duvet from its home in a bolster cover, and I’ve been sleeping under it ever since. I even bought a new cover for it since the one it usually has is so old my brother had given it to me decades ago when he was working at IKEA.

I write about this diarrhoea episode partly because it is one of the symptoms rarely talked about, probably because of internalised shame. I have IBS anyway but this was another level for me. 

I lived in a dream of audiobooks and when conscious enough I went online. My jam for the early part of the illness was Mrs Dalloway on a loop. Appropriate, I thought.

It was a fortnight of a kind of apartness that was further out than I’d experienced recently. Let’s say, even, since the time when I was first ill and my migraines were daily and medication didn’t touch them. After that I was in a ‘walking wounded’ state for years, and it was alienating but there’s something particular about being properly ill as well as not functioning. I wouldn’t say I was actively delirious, and I didn’t faint, like Matt did, but I was certainly ‘out of time’. Even with my Dosette box I found it really hard to take medication appropriately. I found myself afraid to take supplements I had in there, and other meds. I lived, really, on paracetamol, diazepam, sumatriptan and codeine. Water tasted disgusting and I wasn’t eating. I had various soft drinks – cordials, Coke, and a selection box of cans of live cultures – water kefir, kombucha and switchel. Of these I gravitated to the switchel, and ordered a whole case of it. Reading about it now, it seems to be a milder culture than the others, of apple cider vinegar, honey, and ginger.

The other bit thing about the Covid experience is fear. Your symptoms may or even will be different to someone else’s. Any one of them could land you in hospital. You might have to be intubated. You might die. You just don’t know. For the duration of the illness you can only play catch up with how to deal with what horror is the top layer that day. You are aware of the long covid issue, but it’s not uppermost in your mind, you are in an acute phase and you respond accordingly. 

I’d had a daily yoga practice for over a year, but didn’t do much yoga during that first fortnight. Times when I felt like it could help I’d do part of it, or do none of it, but lie on the floor with my knees over a bolster, a blanket on top of me, listening. That was enough.

A lot of what the yoga has done for me is to take down the daily stress – lots of other things as well, but just lying there listening for an hour or an hour and a half was still good work.

The other thing about the fear was in the context of my own life, where I’d been gaslighted enough with the oh yeah? ailment of fibromyalgia and the equally invisible (most of the time) chronic migraine. Even when I got the ADHD diagnosis one of the first people I told hectored me about it – “You can’t have ADHD. I teach kids with ADHD and you don’t have it.” Which was like a visceral punch. By the time I got the autism diagnosis I was way more leery of announcing it in a way that would invite an attack – and ironically I never normally see this woman around the place but there she was right after the diagnosis asking me how I was. Needless to say I kept that topic off the table, and yet I still managed to get a side swipe from someone I didn’t even know. I had a visitor from London who told me he’d mentioned my autism to someone whose response was to say “I hate these people who self diagnose, it’s like they want to be on trend”. This, after a six page diagnostic letter. FUCK HIM – whoever he may be.

So getting the negative diagnosis was horrible, but not as horrible as having covid coming out of my arse. When, after a fortnight, I phoned my doctor mainly to get a bumper pack of Imodium on prescription he told me two good things – one, I’d no longer be infectious, and two, I’d need to convalesce for another fortnight at least. I mean I live a convalescent lifestyle as it is, but it was good to hear from the horse’s mouth. He didn’t even ask me if I’d taken the test. The lateral flow test is apparently up to 70% inaccurate.

In the following fortnight I slowly started wanting food again, and found myself in a streak of ordering take aways that I’ve never experienced before, but it was necessary, since even standing for the, what, half a minute? that it takes to prepare dog food was giving me breathing issues and heinous back pain. I stuck to the schwitzel, thank God for that, and I rested. Having absorbed the inter war vibe of Mrs Dalloway I listened to the two Pat Barker trilogies, then the Kate Atkinson war books, and then to finish the season I listened to Muriel Spark’s Girls of Slender Means. 

I wrote this post in part as a response to a wave of posts with ‘advice’ for managing Covid at home. My friend Katy had Covid early on, and it was a different mutation to the one I had, and she is equally irritated by the bullshit stuff that’s out there – opinions can be quite harmful, and ‘copypasta’ can be lethal. Here’s Snopes on the latest viral version – do have a read, I hope you ‘enjoyed’ my story but this has actual science in it. Don’t try this shit at home.


Soon I will go to Harrow for the last time to my dads house to make a last pass for photographs before the house clearance company comes in. He lived there for his whole adult life and the entirety of mine until his death last year. Probate has been passed on the will and we can go ahead with the sale. My brother is stuck in Amsterdam for the time being so if it’s going to happen I have to do it. I’ve enlisted a friend, Matt, for the drive which will make the trip companionable, but it will be different than going with Roland. Because of the virus and our countries differing handling of it, if he were to visit this sick man of Europe with our death from Covid figures ten times that of our nearest European neighbours this week, he’d have to quarantine when he got back to Amsterdam.


In the small handful of previous visits I wasn’t focused on momentos, except to note that nearly everything in the house was damaged in some way. The first visit after his death the house was unbearably warm because dad had left all the heaters on to welcome him home. The radio I’d given him for his hospital stay the previous year was mumbling away in the kitchen. I sat in his chair and saw the room from his point of view. I took a photograph of the slippers he had left handy to slide his feet back in, their furry interiors hardened through use.

Then there was a visit we made to go through papers and I became blind to them, placing them in the wrong piles, not knowing whether what we were doing was at all a good use of our time. We scattered his ashes quietly together in the back garden. Roland thought I should take secateurs, which I will now, and cuttings from the rose bush in the front garden, too big to dig up. On that day he passed me a milk jug, having been through the mugs and found only one that was not chipped for himself. Carrying things is not my forte and without a car even the jug was a painful addition to my small backpack containing only a change of underwear and other necessary travel things. 

At some point I took a photograph of a space where a wall telephone had once hung. It revealed wallpaper my parents had put up when they moved into the house as young married people. This is an archeological strata from my childhood. This is not so much a specific Proustian prompt as a generalised sense memory – a euphoric recall – the smell of summer, a small person running in one door and out another, this jaunty wallpaper pattern can take me back to a time that is largely imaginative and constructed rather than specific and remembered. I was too young to know or care about the Kennedys, for instance, but that prelapsarian post war optimism that saw young adults choosing bright new modern things for their homes is tangible here. I remember my parents had a golden carpet in the living room and their furniture was resolutely new at a time when newness itself was a hopeful ideology.

The later taste that heralded the world of beige, magnolia and paint over wallpaper was yet to come, and even affected my dad’s otherwise nonconformist taste. Beige had nothing to do with people loving their interiors but was a pup sold to them by magazines at a time when people were buying and flipping and houses became properties rather than homes, and it was about creating an illusion of space and light and giving buyers less to parse when imagining themselves living in the space. Remove family photos, sellers were told. Declutter. That same beige trickled down to tenants in the era of rentiers. Easy to mark, but also easy to refresh at the end of a tenancy.

The ‘make over’ hadn’t been invented when my parents bought this wallpaper, and people decorated gradually, over weekends, and mostly did it themselves. They didn’t frame this as upcycling, it wasn’t cool as an activity, it was just DIY – you rolled up your sleeves and you worked.

I still remember the eau de nile milky green that the previous owner had had on all the woodwork probably since the 1930s. That mysterious complex colour which I like very much today, but which my parents must have been itching to be rid of at the time, evoking as it did the previous and perhaps first iteration of the habitation of the house, 1930s, inter-war not post war in style. 

Even though the wallpaper in the kitchen was at least a four colour separation, taking four times as long to print than a single colour, so perhaps not four times as expensive, but still more expensive than a plainer covering it didn’t have to cover vast expanses of wall, so they got bang for their buck, snagging it around cupboards and windows. They will have chosen the paper from one of those enormous heavy wallpaper books you could stand in the shop and flip through and even borrow. Their leaves not illustrations but cut offs from the actual wallpapers themselves. I remember their heft, the textures of the paper, the smell, some embossed, some plasticised and shiny, others matte. Bigger than any book flipping back and forward to pore over this pattern and compare it to that took the whole arm. Bigger than an encyclopaedia, bigger than a bible, a bespoke heavy binding holding together the promise of future spaces.

Lockdown Yoga Life

Who has two thumbs and a bunch of randomly collected together cushions and bits of neglected real yoga stuff?

Staged. They don’t usually hang out like this, as if in a family photograph.

I do.

Pictured L to R, ignoring the jelly mould collection, we have; a couple of cork bricks which I’m not using much but which are there if I want them, the grey things are blocks that are a dense foam, then at the back we have a proper yoga bolster lying on top of a bolster shaped cushion cover from Ikea filled with a single duvet. Perched on top of that is a meditation cushion called a zafu At the front two slim cushions from my sofa which have become essential kit, and inside the glasses case is an eye pillow. I’m enjoying the sunshine on my shut eyes, so not using that much now. Lent my yoga belt to someone a while ago and have always hated using one and now I know how to do stuff without it so I doubt I’ll bother re-buying that.

I’m on week – I don’t even know… ten? Is it ten weeks since I used a bus, sat in a room with people, didn’t know what Zoom was, didn’t care if I caught ‘a flu’, ate something in a cafe or went in a shop for no reason?

Whatever it is, it’s that. How have I passed my days? Well, as a chronic painiac very much the same as usual except in the way that I’ve segued from a couple of yoga classes a week to an hour of yin every day. For anyone who knows what it is like to actually have a daily practice of any kind – WOOO HOOO!!!! GET ME!

Anyway, so how did I do it? ekah where I usually go for classes shut down as suddenly as everything else did in the UK, and it took them a while to go online, but meanwhile De Nieuwe Yogaschool where I went while I was in Amsterdam had already moved online and was offering yin classes every single day except one when there was a restorative class, all of which offers what my brain and body needs.

Yin is a practice which gets to the parts other exercises and other yogas may never reach. You aren’t using your muscles much, so you’re not going to get ‘yoga body’ or ‘workout body’ from this practice. What you’re doing is getting into poses which you support with your props and then you stay in them for several minutes. The idea is that your body relaxes while also being appropriately uncomfortable. This may be an idea that is familiar to meditators as well as to other yoga practitioners and anyone who does a physical exercise that involves a level of endurance. That’s where the similarity doesn’t completely end but needs another bit of Venn diagram all to itself. As you let the props hold you you’re opening up the tissues that keeps the muscles contained and connects them to the skeleton and whatever other viscera they encounter. This is why you’re not engaging your muscles during the poses. The myofascia in the target area gets a chance to release because you’re ‘resting’ and telling your body it is safe to let go. This is obviously awesome for my fibromyalgia, it also helps with any tension that talks to my migraines, and, for bonus points, doing the practice every day I’m shedding any build up of stress and moving out of fight flight and freeze and into rest and digest.

DNYS’s offerings have mainly been at times when I’m happy to tune in but sometimes I’ve caught up with an older one, and while I have missed a handful of days I’ve also sometimes done two classes in a row. The other day there wasn’t a new class available and I didn’t feel like re-doing one of the available recorded ones so I practiced without. I know. Big leap. For me, there are a few things about doing a live class. In a studio you have complete accountability. It’s like going swimming, you’re in the pool, you can’t ‘just’ look at your phone or get a snack or feel the pull of tasks. At home those things are there but a live online class is a better approximation than you’d think. Sometimes if I’m listening to a live class I wander off and put my tea on in the middle, or answer the door, or feed the dog, but things get even more lax when it’s a recorded session. I’m more likely to think ‘I’m not doing that’ or not sustain a pose for as long even if during a live class my camera was off. Anyway, the day before yesterday I switched things right up. I didn’t go completely rogue. I’m not ready for silence, I like the encouragement. But what I did was play a Yoga Nidra I’m familiar with and use the pacing of that to change poses.

Thanks, yes I am a genius.

You can get a whole bunch of Yoga Nidras free here and you can get live lessons from the teacher I learned Yoga Nidra from, Helen Moss, here but  I went with  Tanis Fishman who I’ve been listening to at night for years  on YouTube.

During lockdown I’ve been weirdly well. Not catching the virus obviously helped, but so did not having to perform ‘being a person’, not having to travel, not having to socialise. A lot of neurodiverse people are pretty good with extended alone time, but of course I’m not completely alone, I’ve got the dog. That’s enough for me for the most part. I’ve had a few glancing conversations in the street, I’ve used Zoom and FaceTime but the structure I’ve created between dog walk and yoga and doing normal self management like food and so on in a spacious way has been good for me.

The UK has the highest death rate per capita in the world. I’m lucky as hell this is sustainable for me.

100 Days of Solitude

A few days pass and new information comes to light. Without infecting my mother to worry about I start to consider myself. I’m startled by a slight cough. What does this mean? Am I ill? What kind of ill am I? I don’t normally cough! I have all the symptoms of flu, but then I have fibromyalgia – not autoimmune, but there’s a flare up known as ‘fibro flu’ which is not catching but the clue is in the name – you feel like you have flu. Very very reluctantly I cancel my yoga booking for tonight. I don’t want to infect anyone else. And then again, I wonder, what would it look like if I was ill? I live alone, I have pre-existing conditions. Fuck. I start to take the notion of self-isolating more seriously. I have enough meds for a few weeks. I have a freezer and a bit of a Brexit cupboard, yes. Nothing fancy, but survival food. I can walk the dog earlier so I miss the school kids and their perfume soaked parents, so that’d be a win in any case. What else? What else?


There’s a lot of fear online, punctuated by some real beauty. Friends post quarantined Italians singing on their balconies. The anarchist bookshop Freedom Books has published a list of community aid groups. On the other hand I can’t even load the veggie box company’s website.

The cough is no worse, but I have my usual round of sinus pain, earache, headache, sore throat, laboured breathing – too hard to say if it’s just me being fibro or an infection, though it hasn’t got worse in three days, just the same. When I go into the hardware store so the dog can commune with Fiona and Peter who work there I hang back a few feet. Poppet is on her extendo-lead so this is very doable. Meanwhile my million dollar question is do I go in for what will now be the last physical class of my writing course on Tuesday? After Easter we are moving online. I could walk into town and back, bit much but I could do it to avoid the bus. It’s a small class in a one room college and we have a bathroom straight off the classroom and I always use it before and after class. It’s clean. Actually, I don’t mind cancelling, as I have done with other things, but not knowing whether to or not is stressful.

I take Poppet a walk around the block and decide that I must make my mind up about Tuesday. Walking is good for thinking. I hate to miss our last ever physical class, but neither want to be a vector nor do I want to catch this at all or early on. I decide upon cancelling. While I’m at it I cancel my reading in a couple of weeks time at Opening Lines. I delete my yoga classes from my calendar. My schedule is completely blank apart from my Abel & Cole veggie box delivery on Wednesday which I finally managed to order. Quite a few things marked as unavailable on the site but as long as the veggie boxes themselves are still available at least I won’t starve.

On Facebook I read;

With no tourists to feed rice crackers to the huge deer population in Japan’s Nara Park, herds have started entering the train station and moving into the city centre to eat flowers and shrubs in business areas no longer busy (J McCulloch)

The world keeps getting stranger. Trump tries to buy exclusive rights to possible vaccine against Coronavirus – like an evil character in a very bad film. (Belette Fente)

I’m in an informational sciency group about the COVID 19 thing and of course I am also in a number of autism groups. I was reading a post and comments about whether children off school should play together, and the discussion was extremely nerdy. I ASSUMED I was in an autistic discussion and suggested the sciency group for info – only to be told this is the sciency group! I excused myself saying that this is precisely the sort of convo ASC people have all the time, so it was an easy mistake to make.

Self isolating before the UK version of lockdown is not much different to my everyday, but social distancing is a much greyer scale and harder to manage in a town where on the one hand there has been panic buying, and on the other is still partying. I take the dog out and I can’t speed up or slow down or avoid, tethered to the oblivious creature. Some avoidance can be made of people ahead – walking towards me or standing talking in the street taking up the whole pavement – frustrating enough, but then people also take over from behind. Best I can do is turn my back. Home, this is the first time I’ve felt upset for myself – what is the point of any of this if everyone else is carrying on as normal? When I get back I’m on the sofa with Facebook – up pops a notification of someone going ‘live’. I usually ignore those, but it’s De Nieuwe Yogaschool, where I went in Amsterdam. I click to watch. They’re in shutdown as everyone is there, and though they are speaking Dutch I follow a guided meditation and enjoy watching their calm lovely faces. The crack in the brittle day fills with something soft. They are offering free online classes for the duration.

The next day Matt visits. It’s sunny and we sit in the garden.

In the evening I tune in to De Nieuwe Yoga School’s live Yin class via Facebook. Such a balm.

In the morning I think I’ll get the jump on the crowds by heading for the Buddhist garden early. I know they open at seven, a good two or even three hours before our usual walk time. There are a couple of people in the street on the way there, their gates are half open, with notices about classes having migrated online for the duration tied to them. The garden is empty and calm, but when we leave the street traffic has picked up. 

My schedule fills up again, albeit all online. The tumbleweed of my empty calendar becomes less eternal and more like a brief pause before it fills up again. There are scheduled classes from De Nieuwe Yogaschool, the Buddhists have put their drop in classes online, and there’s a Dharma meeting I’m going to on Zoom. I find myself clicking every time a friend uses Facebook Live, which was something I’d never have done before. I have my usual FaceTimes with Hazel, and I’ve had phone calls, which I don’t normally. Everything is upside down. I find myself rather longing for a proper lockdown because although I won’t start really going without for some time on the supplies I have indoors my online supermarket has no new delivery slots.

As some wag on twitter said a little while ago, before this, probably when Trump got in “It’s like the fall of Rome but with WIFI”. Now it really is, or maybe more like Pompeii. Anyway, things have changed. COVID 19 protocols are starting to come into place finally in the UK, with pubs and gyms and so on now mandated to shut. I’ve had a flurry of activity and interaction with and exposure to more people than usual. It’s a bit like preparing to go away except it’s the opposite. Vivienne, who lives locally, and can’t quite settle yet wants to go into town so I ask her to take a pair of jeans back to Jaeger for me, and she picks up some sinus meds and dog chews for me, too. Mutual aid groups spring up, and a couple of students from my street volunteer to help me out – get shopping, walk the dog. I FaceTime more than usual and go to one last yoga class at Ekah.

My life begins to take a new, similar, but different, shape. Every morning I go through my usual paces – dog, meds, breakfast, back to bed, write, look at Facebook, but now as I’m there a notification pops up – De Nieuwe Yogaschool is Live. In sharp contrast to the stress and distress around me here is Sijbrand in silent meditation. His face is open and calm. He speaks, when he does, at the beginning and end, in Dutch, but although it’s not exactly the same as meditating with someone it’s still ‘live’ and ‘real’. A community of meditators click hearts and say good morning from wherever they are and express their gratitude, as well they, and I, might. He is there to ‘hold the space’. Now and then, in the silence, I see another heart float up the screen. We are here. We are still, in this moment, and if not in this moment then this one coming up? No? Yes? Here we still are, staying still. Being with what is.

Some people are properly panicking. I have my moments. I order a shopping  trolly walker with a seat for the likely long, in duration if not bodies, queues for shopping later on. I accept that my medications may run out. I will appraise what I’ve got, make adjustments. I probably won’t be going to the doctor’s appointment I have in a couple of weeks, but it may be possible to have a phone appointment and get some of the most essential meds doubled up? I don’t know. But I can’t control the outcome so there’s no point in worrying.

I’m distracted, and can’t meditate along with Sijbrand but I leave him on my screen while I do other things – I play Scrabble on my phone, drink coffee, write, and all the time he’s there, meditating with his calm, open face. In a way this is no different than a normal meditation session – in the privacy of your own mind you think about things, let yourself be distracted by trains of thought and then come back and then come back again. He is there. I am here. The only difference is that my fidgety mind doesn’t have to obey normal formalities and I can do other things while he sits. It’s wrong of me, but there you are. And there he is. And maybe I have a moment of stillness because of him, which is right.

Downstairs neighbour is over 70 and has been told to self isolate. He and a friend came up to ask if I’d share my WIFI which I’m happy to do. He is deaf and usually listens to Radio 4 from 5am and today instead of being mildly irritated, which I sometimes am, I now find the sound bleed actively comforting. A sign of life.

What I can say is I’m grateful to be here in Brighton in my home with my dog. I have a list of niggles with my landlord, but now I don’t want workmen coming in. Good social distancing is way more important than the list of things that need fixed, and what was, a week or two ago, urgent and important is now set aside as almost infinitely deferrable.

All sorts of things have gone upside down. Some time ago I’d been mistakenly added to a conversation Hazel’s having on messenger with her friend Vanessa who is in Spain. For a long time I’d felt like an interloper, as if I was lurking and left out at the same time. I labelled the conversation WHY CAN’T I LEAVE? which I thought was for my own eyes only and Hazel swapped to personal chats for both of us, and the group chat went quiet. This morning Vanessa said “Cos we re locked in .. how are you both ? Xx” and that felt beautiful.

Finally we are actually in some sort of official version of lockdown. The lovely students who have been shopping for me and walking the dog text in the morning to say they can’t help any more, and I gratefully reply – thank you, you’ve been amazing.

I can now walk the dog in relative safety. I emerge the next morning with the her leading the way. Even after such a short time my idea of what time is has reverted to a childhood version of itself. With the dual diagnosis I can’t know how ‘normal’ this is – the ADHD brain can only do ‘now’ or ‘not now’ and the autistic brain likes a timetable. Luckily nothing is normal so my lack of being in the world properly is now moot. The dog takes me to the Buddhist garden. There are a few people in the street, not keeping as much distance as I’d like, but nevertheless apparently roughly aware. I hang back at the top of the road while a couple cross in front of me, and the woman looks gratefully at me, understanding what I’m doing. Oddly, this distancing seems to make us mute. Once through the gates of the Buddhists I feel safe. Not only are these ‘my people’ in a general sort of sense, but I know that here we will have true mindfulness. It’s sunny, and the garden is lovely. There is one other person to pass and she has a mug, obviously lives there, and keeps her distance quietly. The walk home takes us past shops – all closed apart from the chemist. On the main road there are more people, but not much traffic, and again, very quiet. As we turn into my road the pavement is more narrow. With the slow and aged dog I can’t avoid people who won’t avoid me, and when they come too close I turn my back on them. I was doing this before I self isolated, but now, at least, they will understand my meaning.

But by day two of the ‘less than Spain, more than the Netherlands’ lockdown the Buddhists have decided to shut their gates. Poppet is no respecter of shut gates so it takes a while to get her to agree we’re not going in. We head for the park and discover that while regular people may or may not respect social distancing dog walkers seem to have it down. The park is nearly as chilled as the Buddhist’s garden, and while it’s busier – mainly with dog walkers – it’s friendly, and it’s nearly  as quiet. The cafe, nursery, tennis courts, and play area are all shut. We smile but rarely pass words – mainly ‘good morning’ if anything, which is normal. We hold back while others pass and pass as others hold back. Interlopers barge through. Dog walkers remain vigilant about their dogs as they always are, and about maintaining safe distance. Is this because we are a kind of community even when we don’t know each other or is it because we are always practicing some sort of awareness when we are managing our charges?

As we leave the park we see a lady we know from dog walks. She has her own dog and another with her – two rescued greyhounds. We keep our distance and ask how each other is – and polite small talk feels valuable to me. Since I live a version of this life normally, perhaps not speaking to anyone but Poppet from one end of the day to the other, I know that this anodyne minimalist speech has value. I don’t need much of it, but it is good that it exists. As we walk home I back off into the driveway to the school while a walker passes me. He says ‘good luck’ and I say it back. This is a new formulation to me, but okay, I mean I get it.

In the morning one of Poppet’s borrowers, Raj, WhatsApps to ask if he can come and walk her this morning. I am hugely relieved. He takes her down the front and makes a short video of her making an extremely small effort to greet dogs that are several meters away. When he gets back I ask how come he isn’t working. He says he had bought a new dental practice and had just completed when the restrictions started. He is taking two months off and his boredom is more than welcome to me. I hadn’t realised what a huge strain the past couple of days walks had been. While the dog is out I download an update on my computer which I hope will sort out a virus that’s become insistent, interrupting my FaceTimes and my yoga. I strip the bed and load the washing machine. I reheat the leek and potato soup I made yesterday. I am still astounded that Abel and Cole sent me a turnip in my veggie box. A turnip! Who eats those? A box full of potatoes I could handle, but this is sheep food. Only eaten by humans with haggis. Not for pleasure. I’m exhausted. I’m eking out my meds. I forego paracetamol which I usually take regularly. Let me lean on it later in the day.

Some people use something called The Spoon Theory to talk about available energy. I prefer ‘usable hours’. I have used my usable hours. They are between 10 and 12 in the morning, fuelled by the one coffee I can drink a day without getting jittery. The rest of the day I am energetically on my knees. Oddly, since all this kicked off I’ve watched very little television, but yesterday I did and I will again today. Yesterday I watched a couple of episodes of Freud on Netflix which was not what I expected it to be, but it was in German, so that was good, and also, who cares if it’s some sort of Sherlock/Dr Who/amped up version of whatever we think Freud is? It’s fine, it really is. Today, however, I find something I think I will like better about a woman who runs away from her Jewish Orthodox family and starts over in Berlin. That sounds good to me so I give it a bash. It’s hours till I can rest in the arms of the yoga that’s keeping me going.

I’m discovering I actually like the turnip. Yesterday I made a coleslaw that it featured heavily in, and was very nice. Today I’m roasting root veg so it’s going in that. When I’ve eaten the roasts I will then make a soup of them. I got a fright seeing the turnip in my box, but the real worry is that they no longer allow you to ‘tailor your box’ so there were things in it I can’t eat as well as things I wouldn’t order, so although they might have been a good constant through this time I can’t live on ‘never send’ things even though the turnip was a surprise success.

Love in the time of COVID 19

On the internet, as so often I am, there is talk of little else but coronavirus. Today on Facebook one friend has announced he and his family can’t go home to Munich from the USA because of an embargo on flights to Europe, another is flying from Sydney to New Zealand to see her mother and considering the precautions she might take, another is concerned about her asthmatic husband, and yet another, who is immunocompromised has been accused of being ‘obsessed’ by a ‘friend’ who presumably isn’t.

There’s been panic buying in the style of a Zombie Apocalypse, but at the same time someone reported seeing a cashier sneeze into her hand and carry on handling products.

We care too much and we care too little. Or maybe we just care wrongly. Why didn’t her line manager send her home? What is this obsession with toilet roll? I learned that the Germans call this sort of panic hoarding hamsterkauft which is about the size of it. Do these people not still have their Brexit cupboards? I do! Having spent my teens in a Mormon household (you’re supposed to keep a year’s worth of supplies, we never did, but we had some) and obsessed with the first iteration of Survivors on the TV, and having been chronically ill for years I have ‘store cupboard’ down to a fine art. And yes, I’ve long had more toilet rolls than most people deem necessary. Meanwhile many autistic friends are declaring in one way or another “My time has come!” in the light of the notion of self exclusion.

Italy is in lock down, the South East of England could easily be next. My mum in Edinburgh is scheduled to have an operation, and I’ve spent the past few days weighing up the pros and cons of trains versus flight versus not going. BA have sent an email saying that they are being flexible about cancellations over this time. I don’t know what to do for the best. I usually don’t get viruses, I’ve the constitution of an ox, for someone so ill, but what if I become a carrier? Nobody needs Typhoid Mary when they are recovering from an operation, particularly when they have asthma.

It’s a time when we can’t trust politicians to care and scientific opinion is scant, filtered, and divided. Phil Lucas, sometime stand up comedian, and general wit posted “It seems the advice being given to avoid Coronavirus is to do all things you’d be doing anyway if you were brought up properly.”

I visit my friend Annette, we eschew kissing, but at the last moment my body lunges forward for a hug, in a weird long moment where we both seem not to know what to do  the style of an unexpected awkwardness. Did I do wrong? Neither of us is ill, but who knows?

A neighbour knocks on my door “Can I borrow a tenner? I’ve got the virus!” She announces. Jesus. Well, she probably doesn’t, she won’t have been tested, and she always looks ill, whether she is or not. I give her short shrift along with a tenner.

I shut the door and wash my hands. 

Screenshot 2020-03-12 at 11.34.12

Gardening on Mars

Here I am on the mainland. 

My brother meets me at Schiphol, we take a train, and from Centraal we walk. A delicious decompression after the rushing and penning of flight and the relentless administrations of travel.

Roland points out buildings and waves in directions and weaves in narratives while I partition the rest of my brain for the fording of crammed cycle lanes.

Here I am in the Jordaan. Literally translated this jordaan means ‘garden’ and the roads and canal spurs slant away from the main thoroughfare along what were ditches when this was farmed fenland serving the nascent city before this became a crammed area of unplanned back to backs. A nearby spire rises from among the flat plane of four and five storied buildings. Roland warns me that the church towers tend to look the same, and not to rely on them for orienteering.


Amsterdam, so mercantile, time is money and time is tide, shipping and  docking, stocking and selling. Long after the mechanism of trade has passed, its residue is everywhere. The city is a clock.

Here, in the web of canals we are defended from the hum of cars. Overnight the only sound is the Westerkerks’ gentle bells on the hour, and half to the hour.  Anne Frank found those same bells comforting ‘especially at night’. Her house is now invisible from the street, coddled within a museum made of glass.

In my bath I listen to Daphne du Maurier – Frenchman’s Creek. The mistress of the house has arrived in the West Country from London and she’s talking with a manservant about her intention not to be at home to visitors. People who travel are always fugitives one says to the other and they talk about themselves in these terms.

Joyce comes to fetch me for a day out. We’ve never met before, we’ve talked only online, so we’re ready to have some conversations that are both familiar and new.

ASC diagnosis is the new ‘coming out’ story. How did I get mine and what are the worst things about it? We wander through a market, her mission being socks. We stop in a cafe and run into some friends of hers and I create and speak my first Dutch sentence. One of her friends tells me that he does not speak English but gets lessons, I tell him “Ik kijk Nederlandse TV”, which I do.

I get a membership to De Nieuwe Yogaschool a couple of straats and grachts away. I like my commute.

“I’m here for Yin.” I say again. And I am. Very much so. I set myself up with bolster, blanket and cushions, and sit.

Isobel screams to be let in. The British Shorthair has the run of the place, but she must realise that there are times when, nice as it might be to have a cat in the class, she’s not welcome. 


When my trip is nearly done, my mind starts to fragment. Here I am now, here later, preparing to leave, imagining travel tomorrow, looking forward to being home; with that dog, with those friends and on that yoga mat.

We take a boat trip to see an exhibition of light installations on the canals ALL THE LIGHT YOU SEE IS FROM THE PAST declares one. I feel aligned here.

Roland comes to the airport with me and we find Special Assistance and what will be the first in my relay of minders. Although I journeyed here going back will not be exactly the same in reverse. I’ve got an off peak mid morning flight and have made it as easy for myself as possible, but of course, it isn’t. Gatwick’s Special Assistance lounge is freely entered and left. You get a device which will beep when your next minder is ready to take you to departures. It looks like something that a suicide bomber might wear, with exposed wiring, but it does the job. You take it and can sit and wander at will. At Schipol you have to ask to go to the toilet and I was given someone to go. with. me. I shook her off. It freaked me out. I made my ablutions and found coffee.

Home, and I step into the new year. A week later Joyce posts a video of the bells of Westerkerk playing Life On Mars for Bowie which catches me by the heart. I need to double check it’s the same sweet bells that marked my visit, but, of course, I know that they are. 

Emotional Sandwich

After a day of feeling out of sorts, eating garbage, and watching TV, I gathered my wits and changed into yoga pants and left the house. It had been an emotional week, and I needed the re-set.

The trip was well planned for pacing. Rest then travel, then rest then funeral, then rest then travel and then rest again. It worked, but I still crashed afterwards a bit. That was okay as well. Given enough space around and in between events things can be managed, but the cumulative effect is probably always going to be more than the sum of its parts. And there’s a wall of  insistent paperwork and phone calls that I’m not best adapted to deal with, waiting for me at home; the continuing saga of my damp bedroom and some other bullshit everyday things that try my executive function and make me want to abandon ship. This is where the yoga is really good, for me, because it isn’t just physical, it helps me keep the sick feeling of overwhelm from peaking.

Liverpool was a kind of sandwich event. Joe’d just got a new place, peaceful, quiet, a safe space for me. We spent a couple of days; hanging out, him going to work, me doing my usual version of nothing. My brother Roland arrived. We went to Chester by cab, which felt fancy, but was very practical. We hadn’t been very close with Jean, my aunt, but of course, it was emotional for all the reasons funerals are. We belonged there, with our cousins, and I was a pall bearer for the first and likely last time.

What was that like? It was like a sort of short formal ceremony of it’s own, or even a brief unfamiliar dance. It was Diana’s idea. And it seemed both radical and radically appropriate. We met the others at the crematorium, and the funeral directors directed us – shortest to tallest. I was at the back –  in front of me Jean’s god daughter, then her granddaughter and on the other side, her niece, her niece’s wife, and her own daughter, Diana. This, in itself, was moving enough.

Passing the coffin waist height, backing up to face her feet first towards the building, shouldering, then going forward, into the building, down the aisle, and then back to waist height, onto that little unassuming apron where she would briefly rest.

Then we sat for the short service there, and a longer one at her church. Over sandwiches and tea I could see my cousins tiring. Afterwards, as Roland and I waited outside for the Uber, a woman randomly high fived him – a man in a kilt is an instant celebrity.

The next day Joe drove us to Crosby beach to visit Anthony Gormley’s Another Place, which is an installation of 100 casts of the artists body; standing, with little detail, the seams from casting left unfinished along with residue of the casting process, the usually erased connection to runners and risers.

The figures stand straight, like petrified Cybermen staring out to sea. They are spaced out, some far back on the almost flat beach – some are waist deep in water, some waist deep in sand.

They’ve been there since 2005 so I’ve been thinking about them for 14 years before seeing them, and the way the iron has changed during that time gives the installation a patina of mortality, with rust and molluscs.

In this wide space you could think about the nearby shipyards and the lives and deaths of those who worked there, you can think about the Morecambe bay cockle pickers, you can think about emigration, isolation, connectedness. You could think about your own soft body and these softening bodies. No thought is right or wrong, they are just the thoughts you are having while you are there with them, standing silent and still. There’s space for you to think your own thoughts or whatever they brings to mind.

There’s lots of physical space there on the beach, as well as the mental space that’s available, for instance, when you have a particular kind of relationship with another person, or even with your own mind, for thoughts to come in and for them to leave, with comment and dialogue or without. You might be standing looking, walking around, talking to your companions, walking your dog, but these figures don’t insist on a resolution of thought.  

In the car Roland and Joe talk about cooking utensils. 


The Landscape of my Everyday Mind

I’m half way through writing thirty paragraphs in thirty days. My friend Terri set it up on Facebook. It’s mostly academics – this (this being a fortnight borrowed from the back of August and the next fortnight, the first two of September) is their good time of year to write, or perhaps better to call it ‘least worst’. They still have things to do, contrary to the popular view of teachers lolling around all summer. Not marking, but conferences and planning, and things of their own. Terri’s in Australia, but she’s framed the project in quite a GMT, or rather BST centric way – well, for me, anyway, starting the posts late at night so that they are there when I wake up, but rarely has anyone added to the thread yet. I would have all day to get it together, but rather than let things slide and feeling a bit nagged all day, and maybe dropping out because I’ve ended up doing other things and maybe getting too tired or ill to write when I’ve come to think about it, I’ve been posting more or less first thing. This means I’m writing before I’m fully awake, and it’s turned out to be a very interesting practice. A lot of meditators meditate at this time of day – getting the practice done and getting the jump on the discursive mind.

Natalie Goldberg, the zen author, was advised by her teacher make her writing her practice, and a lot of her writing output is about how she did that, so we get an insight to her writing process and her Zen practice. Zen seems a bit exotic to me, but it’s not surprising it’s big in the West Coast of America, since the cultural influence from Japan is there. When I finally got around to learning meditation it was at a sangha started by an English man who had spent 20 years in India, so it was broadly Theravada. If you’re going to practice in a sangha (community) then it will be denominational in some way, just because you have to have a framework. The most non-denominational Buddhists are probably the Insight lot. Largely because of the internet we don’t have to get all our information from whoever is local, though, we’ve access to  a huge selection of world class teachers. When I finally made it to the cushion I’d just moved to the top of Hackney Road, and found myself just round the corner from what was then called the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. My life had entirely fallen apart. My health had crashed, my career was over, I had no framework for living like this. The London Buddhist Centre had lunchtime drop-in classes for £1. For the first few years I mainly practiced lying down. Within six weeks of going two or three times a week I noticed a difference in the landscape of my everyday mind.


If you took the advice of the Dali Lama – and why wouldn’t you? He seems lovely – you’d just go to your local church and be done with it. Thing is, though, not only might your local church not be a church, it also might not give you what you need. I did plenty spiritual questing as a kid and later as a teen, and never got anything much out of the various protestant churches apart from a feeling of exclusion. I’m not someone who often feels part of a thing, but at least with the Buddhists I learned skills. And I didn’t have to believe in a god or an afterlife or suspend my disbelief thereof.

Have you ever been asked to explain yourself? I have. I mean, it’s mostly a question asked of children who are clearly culpable if not guilty of something. Explain yourself! Well, I try, despite it being a fugitive condition. Here I am writing away and you can certainly read something into it, I’m not not telling, but it is a string of things that I’ve plucked from the ether. They may be true but do they explain? Other things are also true, and they’d certainly give a different slant to matters. But for me, right now, as I write, I am present, and that is all I can offer. My provisional existence meeting yours in groundlessness.

Here I am at 4am. I get up early usually, but not this early. It’s been a disturbed night, with neighbours shouting. I moved rooms to sleep on the sofa, where the dog was happily snoring away with a heated blanket. I couldn’t settle there, either, so took some pain killers and came back to my bed, and the internet. I used to do something called ‘split sleep’ a lot. It was popular in the time of Pepys. Rather than the afternoon siesta, London would go to bed of an evening and then get up for a while in the small hours. This was a time for prayer, for sex, and even apparently for visiting neighbours. For me, it was partly a function or dysfunction of pain and managing, or rather metabolising, Londons noise. Now I’ve moved away it’s unusual for me to be awake in the night. I’m anxious in an existential sort of way, but I know that nothing very bad will happen. I may sleep again I may not. At least it’s quiet again now.

In real time life has its own rhythms and the thing that throws you is ‘events’. I have been rehearsing the impending mortality of my dog for some time in the vain hope that when the words really started being spoken I’d be prepared in some way. I have no idea if this strategy had any real use, but today I had a conversation with a vet that contained the words ‘end of life care’. He said that her arthritis is now so bad that the in-joint injections are unlikely to work, and he said that although it won’t kill her, there would come a day when I’d have to choose to have her put down. Dog’s a damn tank. So I knew this was a likely scenario but hearing it is hard. Very vivid, and not in a good way. She might have a year of life worth having, and there are things we can do to optimise her pleasure in life. But there we are.

And then back to something more prosaic, literally. The daily writing, quite literally, my usual habit. In the group we’ve been very much in the habit of liking but not commenting. A ‘like’ being read as an acknowledgement that you’re seen. I’ve had various documents open and have been writing the next one I feel like doing, so they aren’t even sequential. You get a bit of a feel for what someone’s up to, and some things are fairly well cooked and some are first drafts. Mine are crossposted so my own Facebook friends can see them, and I think because they are so short there’s no critique, and people are mainly responding to content, so I feel quietly acknowledged for having done my paragraph in the group, while my friends chatter away, and both are good.

Growing and Changing

Obviously, the construction of the self varies across cultures. What’s in it for us, when we stop and think about it? There’s plenty of material to be found wherever you look, and sometimes it catches you unawares. Like, you’re looking at something from outside your own culture for some other reason and suddenly you realise what you’re looking at sneaks up on you and shows you something you didn’t know about yourself.

Like, I was so angry about Brexit I started learning German for real as a sort of long running personal protest vote. I’m still not great at it, but it’s come along. It’s nearly as good as my shonky French, now.

For the past couple of years I’ve done this thing called Filmuary. It was started by a Facebook friend and what you do is you watch a film every day for the month. It really helps you get through what can otherwise be one of the hardest months of the year. The first year I did it just watching films was enough of a change of scenery. I’m a box set watcher by nature. More literary. Anyway, so that was good and I enjoyed it. This year, however, I did something a bit different. I’d noticed that some people watched thematically and it occurred to me to watch a film for every member state of the European Union. With us still in, that came, pleasingly, to twenty eight.

Did it change me? I think it did. It’s hard to say how. My approach was very random. I discovered immediately that Netflix would be useless for this project and I leant heavily on Amazon Prime, and added Mubi and BFI  to my package for the duration. It took me a long time to realise that the word ‘film’ has become contested and colonised by the American language even though I’m on the UK site. If you search, for instance ‘Austrian films’ you’ll get touristic films about Austria. You have to use the word ‘movies’ if you want their films. I find this offensive but feel immediately powerless. If I’d been happy to watch horror, porn, and heavily biased war films I could have done it without paying extra. I happily paid extra, but didn’t impose a lot of other criteria apart from it having to appeal to me that day. I used the director as the determinator of nationality. A lot of European films are not heavily bordered in terms of location, directors, and actors, and they frequently feature more than one language. I get sick of the stories anglophone countries tell themselves and drank in the heterogeneity.

There was a Nazi hunter who becomes friends with his prey’s son over an awkward and intimate road trip, a girl who learns about intimacy watching David Attenborough films with her dying dad, and whose first time having sex is unlike any I’ve ever seen before, a documentary about people migrating for work, a woman working in a detention centre who falls in love with a man seeking asylum, a man whose lost dog ends up on the wrong side of the border in Cyprus – films where borders are present, meaningful, problematic, invisible, insurmountable, inconsequential – films of transformation, and films about love, but no films selling romance as the hot ticket to the rest of your life. And the only one in English was my UK film. While I was cheered on in my quest by the other members of the group they were sharing images, links, and reviews of their films, too, and the British film I watched was one someone had posted about called Seven Green Bottles, a 1975 public information drama about wayward boys who steal a car. In terms of choosing this was a pick I wasn’t going to spend any real time over. It’s a short, half an hour, so I could get it done and dusted. Of course, as a sometime Londonist I was quite drawn in by some peculiar details – it is as if the twinned Trellick and Balfron towers, in Notting Hill and Poplar respectively could be portals of some sort, since the car chase starts off going up the West Way, and then suddenly reappears along Wapping Wall, so I was drawn in despite myself.

Another thing that I do is read, well, listen on Audible, all of an author’s output in order. I’m a completist. This, again, is a thing that not only gives you an insight to the author and their themes, vocabulary, and changing interests or sustained interests over time, but is also very immersive. And, of course, your choice of reading or listening reveals your own recurring obsessions and pleasures.

Last year I listened to all of Haruki Murakami in order. Young people love his earlier books but I couldn’t wait for the longer, more spacious work to begin. He sustains his interest in music, driving, pasta, magical beings, and teenage girls (those very liminal creatures) wells, caves, sex, death, and transgression, repeating tropes with a musical confidence.

At one point I looked at his Wikipedia entry and discovered something I hadn’t noticed, for good cultural reasons. Westerners are famously egotistic, we have a whole culture built around the heroic individual, but in Japan writing about the self or a protagonist who isn’t going to be part of a family saga is so unusual it has its own name, the ‘I novel’ and Murakami writes this way. The ‘I Novel’ has its own entry, and says that from the beginning the I novel was confessional and tended to reveal the narrator’s dark side. Murakami’s delivery is so deadpan that when, for instance, a girl leaves the narrator in a well without a ladder and might or might not bring it back the narrator describes his fear and thirst in much the same way as he describes making pasta. And that’s the way he describes sex, as well. He writes about it but it isn’t sexy, it’s procedural. It would probably, however, be fair to call him an unreliable narrator, not because he protests too much but because he protests so little.

In meditation we work with ‘the gap’ – the space between thoughts, and residing in the gap we treat all the thoughts equally, as manifestations from our mind that have no intrinsic value. As with the push and pull of praise and blame there’s very little that comes from the mind that requires attention. This is practice and practice is ‘for’ something. We call that something neuroplasticity now, and meditator’s insula thickens demonstrably, but of course, you can’t see it, you can only experience what it starts to feel like when, in real life, you start taking the space to respond rather than react.


That’s just the beginning. Working with acceptance isn’t just a Buddhist thing, but I did a lot of it in a Buddhist context. It’s not a one time thing, though. It’s more like a tightrope walk, but for the rest of your life. That makes it sound quite dramatic, but if you literally had to walk a tightrope for the rest of your life you’d probably get pretty good at it. You’d discover that times when you were distracted by your own things, physical or mental, and times when, for instance, there was weather, you’d have a bit more to do, but you’d learn to accept that as well, and those times would keep the practice alive. I was driven to meditation, and people who are suffering tend to take it pretty seriously. ‘Spiritual bypassing’ is a problem for some, but maybe less so for people who are suffering.

We have our ways of being, and they are socially constructed and historically specific. Sometimes people think they want to change and do something big to make that happen. Sometimes that changes them and sometimes it reinforces and justifies their not changing. For me, the things that have made a difference have often been about doing less, being stiller, and paying attention to smaller and smaller things. This does not look like the grand gesture, the flounce, no one admires or despises it. It’s just for you.

Passage of Time

After a long stay in hospital last summer, this summer began with my dad’s death.

Last year he fell in the street and was thought to have had a heart attack and a stroke. Joe drove me to see him in the cottage hospital on the fringes of the London suburbs. It was like visiting someone in prison, the level of security getting into the intensive care unit. I was glad of the lift because, well, because of all the reasons, but hospitals have way too much signage, often contradictory, and no one needs that after ploughing through London, and, for me, it was a small hell of orienteering in itself. Joe sat in the refectory with a newspaper after seeing me safely through the locked doors.

Dad looked pretty dinked up. He was mute and drugged and tubed up, his face crusted with blood. I held his hand and told him he was safe and that I would go to the house and check everything was okay.

We – my brother and I – spent the next few weeks tag teaming visiting and doing stuff to make the house safer. Roland did more than I did, and I did what I could, while also roping in friends and friends of friends.

More recently, I’d had a really useful conversation with my friend Nic’s aunty Dilys. She told me that the 80s were unlike all the other decades except early childhood because the body changes year on year instead of maybe decade on decade. So, when under similar circumstances to the previous hospitalisation, the consultant told me, on the day he was admitted, that he might not last the night, it was less shocking than it might have been. She asked me if he’d like a chaplain, and I told her that if there was someone who was prepared to say kind words but not to talk about God then they could go ahead, but otherwise no. My dad was never ever religious. And he had spent his childhood in an orphanage where I’m sure there was more than enough God talk, and not in a good way, so I didn’t think the idea was nice, reassuring, or neutral, but possibly, if he could hear and process words (doubtful, as his brain had been starved of oxygen) more likely to be frightening, or, at best, annoying, and not comforting at all.

I’d been first to get there – out of my brother and myself – the last time round, but this time Roland said he’d get a flight in the morning. By the time he’d landed at Gatwick, though, I’d had a call to say Dad had just died, and caught him at the airport, so instead of having to go in and through London he caught the train to Brighton and we spent a gentle day together. We talked about Dad and we didn’t, and we walked down the front and stared at the sea, and we had fish and chips for tea, which resonated with Dad-ness, for me.

The next day Joe, who’d been staying in London, circled down to Brighton to pick us up. We’d been told we could begin the death admin that day. Neither of us had done it before, and just to double check they’d be ready for us I phoned the hospital to say we were on our way. Oh no, they told us, you can’t do it today, the coroner hasn’t decided to sign off on it yet.

We stood in my living room at a bit of a loss, but Roland suspected Dad might have left the heating on, so we went up anyway. When being driven it’s hard to tell if you’re in an altered state, and a lot of the drive was motorway which has a hypnotic quality of it’s own, but we reached the fringes of the suburbs a long time before finding the house. One of the stand out moments of the day, for me, was seeing a blonde woman wearing her hair in a perfect timeless chignon, standing in the back of a flatbed truck in a driveway. Meaningless, of course, but salient, like something from a dream.

The house was boiling and stifling. We opened windows and turned off heaters. We wandered around, we sat in miniature fugue states, staring at things and at nothing. I sat in Dad’s chair, for the first time seeing the room from his point of view – the photographs of friends and relatives, yes, but mostly of dogs – mine and his girlfriends. Roland found the will where Dad had said it would be. Joe found a recent end of year bank statement on the floor. Roland hesitated.

“If you need a laugh before you open that go look on the landing” I said, and he did, and he did. And it broke his impasse, and he opened the will. Last year we’d moved the teddies from between the bannisters, just as part of a general tidy, and since then Dad had created a sort of teddy pyramid on the landing. Joe said it was worthy of Hamleys.

By a bizarre unrelated coincidence Joe had Dad’s solicitor’s number in his phone, so Roland spoke to them briefly. We had made a start. This was good enough.

In the weeks that followed we had Dad cremated in a ‘non attendance’ arrangement. It had felt extraneous to us to have an actual funeral, and when the ashes were returned to us we scattered them that day in Dad’s garden. Even though the house will be sold it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. Although I have no fondness for the endless miles of suburbs I do understand an attachment to a locality. We’d joked about scattering his ashes everywhere he’d rear ended someone and claimed it was their fault (Roland’s idea) and fantasised about burying them in his slippers under a rose bush on Belmont Circle (mine), but in the event it felt right to scatter them alone together in a little grassy dell at the bottom of the overgrown garden. It was the centre of his psychogeography, and for me, there was an added fission, as a fan of rivers, and a Londonist, knowing that the back of the garden was laid over part of the course of the Wealdstone Brook. I like to think of him mostly becoming his garden, and perhaps bits of him eventually making their way through the leaky concrete tunnel through Kenton, though Wembley, through Kilburn, to the large forgiveness of the Thames.