16 Jun

The Magic Passageway

When lockdown started, we were very grateful for the magic passageway.

On reflection, I suppose the stranger thing is how ungrateful we had been for it before. I always wanted a secret door behind a bookcase, and the familiarity of the magic passageway made it seem banal by comparison. It had always been there, and there didn’t seem to be any reason for it. A secret door had to have something exciting behind it, or why would you make it secret? It wouldn’t just lead to the corner of Emma’s parents’ airing cupboard.

Emma was keen for a full-size snooker table, plus the slidey scoreboards and ideally a pair of bright white gloves to wear when handling the balls, so I suppose I was at least a little closer to having what I wanted.

Still, lockdown came, and with the school year unexpectedly cut short and only our parents and Joe Wicks for company otherwise, we made all the use we could of the magic passageway. Easy enough for me, who only had to squirm through the little hatch to the eaves in my loft-conversion bedroom; a challenge for Emma, whose parents (one working from home and endlessly distracted, one furloughed and discovering parenting for the first time) may have taken her crawling into the airing cupboard as a sign that she was not coping well with isolation. So mostly we exchanged toys and sweets and notes, the last of which was strictly pointless when we could message each other any time we wanted, but felt wonderful nonetheless. And sometimes, when granted an opportunity by conference calls, exercise, the big shop or the middle of the night, we met up.

‘Isn’t this kind of against the rules?’ Emma whispered one four a.m.

We hadn’t talked about it before. We hadn’t talked about any of it when we met up: we did all our poor-taste jokes and anxiety on our phones, and kept the magic passageway for other subjects.

‘We haven’t gone outside,’ I said. ‘If we haven’t gone outside it’s OK.’

‘But you’re not at home. You’re at my house.’

‘Only in the cupboard. And it’s just like a corridor, anyway. It’s just like we’re in the same house.’

Emma thought about it for a bit, rolling her miniature cue ball around the palm of her hand. ‘But,’ she said, ‘my mum and dad don’t know about it, and your mum doesn’t. They’d know if they lived in the same house. It’s not the same.’

‘It’s not our fault if they don’t know about it. And there’s only six of us.’

‘And some people live in blocks of flats,’ Emma continued, ‘so they wouldn’t have to go outside to see each other, and they do just have to go down a corridor. But they’re not allowed to visit each other.’

‘But-‘

‘And then what if dad got poorly and then I got poorly and then you got poorly and then your mum got poorly and then your grandma-‘

The cue ball rolled off her palm and hit the bare floorboards with a thud, softer than the full-size version she coveted would have made, but still loud enough that we each held our breath. I could have scrambled back through the passageway and tumbled out into the eaves, of course, but that would have left Emma to come up with some explanation for being in the airing cupboard in the small hours. A few of the worse kids at school had started experimenting with pilfered cigarettes a few weeks before lockdown; maybe they would think she had snuck off to smoke.

Silence continued. Of course it did. Who gets up at four in the morning because they hear one thump? And who suspects that their daughter, bordering on irritatingly precocious, would choose to smoke directly into the family’s clean linen instead of out the window?

But then it continued a while longer, and even after I picked up the cue ball from where it had settled against my leg and passed it back to Emma, it continued still. Suddenly I felt very sleepy.

‘I should go back to bed,’ I said. Emma yawned wide enough to swallow a full-size snooker ball, in theatrical agreement. ‘Night Ems,’ I said. She waved, still yawning, and I crept back through the passage, out of the eaves, and into bed, still a little dusty.

We didn’t meet up again after that. Not properly. Even when the rules changed, even when it was all over. We would still pass notes and swap books, and sometimes I would reach through and borrow a towel when I couldn’t be bothered to dig a fresh one out of the chest in my parents’ bedroom, but otherwise, we shrank back into an ordinary friendship, and then grew apart. Later, at seventeen, when Emma’s parents sold up, prematurely downsizing, I thought we ought to meet up in the airing cupboard one last time, although by that time there were better places to sneak off to in the night. But I didn’t fit. I could get a head or an arm through, but no more. I wedged in an old board to stop up the passageway, wary of new arrivals in what the estate agent called ‘a perfect home for a new or growing family’, and forgot all about it.

08 Jun 21:58

You buy one copy of ‘The Last Day’…

06 Jun 13:52

According to the local Facebook groups, covering your face to protest is a sign that you’re a violent extremist, and not covering your face to protest is a sign that you’re an irresponsible virus-spreader.

01 Jun 16:05

I was skeptical about moving to YouTube Music but you can’t argue with that algorithm.

01 Jun 15:04

Lovely to see the government’s moving tribute to the reopening of IKEA.

31 May 18:35

May I?

29 May 17:58

In case you were wondering whether subliminal messaging works, this afternoon I had ‘Steal My Sunshine’ in my head for twenty minutes before realising it was because I’d used LEN in an Excel formula.

24 May

Go throw yourself into the sea

A few days ago, when the sun was out, I was walking back from the park, hat on head, sunglasses on face, engulfed in sunblock fumes and feeling just a little bit like I was on holiday, which is a treat of a feeling at the moment. As I got to the corner of our road and stepped into the full sun, tipping over instantly from a little warm to overheating, sweaty mess, a voice in my Henry Hoover screamed loud enough to make actual noise: ‘I WANT TO GO AND JUMP IN THE SEA’.

As someone whose default setting is to stay home, the basic fact of lockdown hasn’t been much hardship to me: less an oppressive restriction, more an unhealthy indulgence of my instincts. But suddenly I was absolutely screaming sick of it, selfishly furious that the tiny round bastard was stopping me from jumping in the sea.

A minute or two later, it occurred to me that I don’t live anywhere near the sea, wouldn’t have travelled to the seaside that day anyway, and am always furious not to be able to jump into the sea when the temperature reaches butter-softening. I remain entirely in the dark about how much the lockdown is bothering me.

Photograph of a directional signpost reading:
Go throw yourself into the sea
Mene Mene 2005
Photo by SafarFiertze
23 May 12:18

Dreamed last night the news said there had been no coronavirus deaths recorded anywhere in the world for a week, but I was unable to properly take this news in, because I had shit myself.