Front Window #2: Notes from the First Few Days of Quarantine

Sunday 22 March 2020

There was no church on Sunday.

At the end of our road, there are two churches. A Baptist church and a Celestial Church of Christ. The latter has a huge congregation. They wear these pristine white costumes and hats that make them look like bakers for Jesus. Their kids always play football after the service in a disused sports ground opposite our building.

Given this usual hive of activity, it was so surreal to open the front window and hear nothing; to look out and see no bakers.

The streets were so empty and still. They are seldom this quiet, even in the dead of night.

I spent the day going through my Dad’s old Beatles records, starting with The White Album. It set a train of thought off that turned into an essay for elsewhere.

Already, every song feels like it’s about quarantine. “Dear Prudence” was like a siren song sung by the coronavirus itself, tempting us out into the park on a day that was perversely beautiful for the apocalypse.

We resisted the urge to go outside. My girlfriend started rearranging furniture in the afternoon instead, kicking up dust and setting off my allergies. I would wheeze through the night for the rest of the week but it was worth it. The flat felt fresh. It immediately mitigated the pressure of being enclosed within the overly familiar.

As the dust clouds loomed, I spent most of the day hiding in our bedroom working on my next book. It is very much in its early stages. I have the trajectory more or less figured out, I just need to write it. However, I’ve also discovered various gaps in my knowledge, and you know what that means — buying books.

At the moment, I’m reading a lot of Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, and Juliet Mitchell. It’s intriguing — and perhaps surprising — to read these women so adamantly defending Freud’s legacy. Whereas the likes of Shulasmith Firestone and Germaine Greer would quite vehemently write against him, to read these other women makes the anti-Freudian feminists feel like they are shadowboxing. Every takedown is a misreading — but of course it is. Nevertheless, it makes Freud’s legacy all the more complicated than history’s intellectual victors would have you believe. Freud was repeatedly mistaken in his writings and concepts, no doubt, but it seems the real failure was that the female Freudians have been so thoroughly written out of history.

This is taking a nascent argument within my book into interesting new depths. Freud himself was Oedipus, in ways he was not aware of, but as in Sophocles’ plays, his daughter Anna (and others — Klein especially) seem to take on the role of Antigone, escorting the beaten man through the wilderness and developing his legacy in ways that are intellectually loyal but theoretically less orthodox. As such, their loyalty makes for a far more interesting transgression than the loudness of his critics.

As a result of this current train of thought, this old tweet feels more and more accurate by the day. It’s likely to be a chapter title.

The other (unsurprising) travesty is that the contributions these women made have been diminished by the sheer volume of the male Freudians, who are been given more credit simply for repeating their earlier discoveries. It has become a very fruitful area of inquiry and one that will likely keep me occupied for much of this lockdown.

Monday 23 March 2020

On Monday I still had to go into work… Or out to work… I picked up a colleague and we drove smoothly through rush hour London without the rush, up to Hampstead Heath where we were scheduled to take a series of photographs as part of some undisclosed architectural project that had the potential to impact on one of London’s many protected viewpoints.

We were anxious to be working under the current conditions and had set out a few restrictions for ourselves. She would handle all the camera equipment today. Usually, I prep lens and other things whilst she takes pictures so that we can take all the photographs we need smoothly and efficiently. Today I was to be the driver and little else. We didn’t want to contaminate anything unnecessarily.

Few other people out that day seemed to share in our anxiety. The Heath was busy. Perhaps not as busy as it was on your average Monday but you certainly wouldn’t have thought there was a pandemic going on.

At one point we were accosted by some stupid woman. We’d taken a series of photographs looking out over the London skyline. She was sat in the foreground of our picture with about ten friends. She waved at us and asked us to delete any photographs she was in. We said we were just trying to do our jobs and we weren’t interested in her. She wasn’t in them anyway. She persisted and asked to see. We said no. We informed her we had every right to take the photographs we had taken, and were doing so precisely to protect this space and its view for others enjoyment. She asked why we didn’t take the photograph somewhere else instead. She was oddly hostile. We told her we needed to take the photographs from the exact spot where we were positioned, above a survey pin in the pavement, placed there by the council. She persisted still, taking our names and the name of the company we worked for and generally being a jobsworth, as we slowly and tactfully revealed to her that he really didn’t know what she was talking about. The temptation was to say, “We’re working — you should be social distancing. Back off.” I doubt that would have gone down very well.

I don’t know why it annoyed me quite so much as it did. She was very irritating but it’s not like these questions and interruptions were unusual for us. I think I had a very low tolerance for stupid that day. Other people’s and my own. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be outside.

Elsewhere in the park, we passed two men trying to negotiate an exchange. One man really wanted to tissue. The other man felt obliged to give one to him, as you would, as if he’d just asked him for the time, but you could see he was struggling to fulfil what would otherwise be a basic act of decency. He didn’t want to do it. It was as if the crisis wasn’t quite over the threshold yet that allowed his Englishness to be sidestepped. The very agony of the situation was already incredibly English. He was stuck in a feedback loop of Englishness and it looked like his head might explore.

That was amusing. Less amusing was the gaggles of meatheads in the outdoor gyms, going on about how the virus would cull the unworthy, as they slathered their hands over those germ farms.

I’d never been a germaphobe previously but I was suddenly desperate for a mask and gloves. I felt vulnerable. We were scheduled to go out again the next day but I didn’t want to.

That night, Boris Johnson made the lockdown official. Frankly, I was relieved. As far as I was concerned, at least in stupid London, the crackdown was necessary. People had no idea what was coming or what had already happened elsewhere.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

I woke to the uncanny sound of birdsong. I didn’t know where I was. It seemed to echo and feedback on itself. I slid back the bedroom door to see my girlfriend sat on the floor by the open window, answering emails, the sparse birdsong of the real world competing with a dawn chorus emanating from her laptop.

London was on lockdown and she was working from home but this did not apply to the builders down the road. Their banging and clanging continued. She was playing birdsong to try and drown them out. It felt like an odd premonition of what our lives would be like in a few weeks or months when the lockdown applied to everyone and the outside became a toxic space.

We still went outside. I had records to post. As successive nations go under lockdown, I’ve noticed that I have been receiving a flurry of Discogs orders from each one. I had two records to post out that day and so we went down to the post office. It’s a busy branch and everyone was queued up outside, two metres apart. It was an odd sight, like a Yeezy fashion show celebrating the British working class. All pyjamas and jogging bottoms, posting parcels or trying to pay their electric bill.

On the way home, we did a few lengths on the abandoned running track. Four lanes, one hundred metres in length, the spongey ground oddly full of potholes. I was newly aware that every building around us was full of people. I’d never felt so surveilled before.

We went home for the last time. We haven’t left since.

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