Blog 8 – Love in the Time of Covid

Hello dears. How are we all? Well, I hope. I am almost fully recovered although it has taken longer than I ever thought, we are on week 7 and I still sometimes struggle with breathing. But I am so much better than I was. I am back to work too which helps keep the focus.

When I feel full of oxygen and hope, I go the garden with husband who has become very handy lately. A proper Percy Thrower. He was getting tired of me asking him to fire up the chainsaw so he bought me a hedge trimmer online. Apart from thrice severing the lead I now have a very tidy box hedge. And a healthy yew bush. Anyway, enough of my topiary, how are you?

I suppose like me you are getting very good at face time and using distinct intonations when talking on the phone, which takes up so much oxygen, don’t you think? And never again in my life will I take Oxygen for granted. Never.

So today I thought I would write about love which I believe is as essential as oxygen and yet not as readily available. I spend my days in such quiet contemplation in this lockdown isolation and recently it is love and those in my heart that continue to come to mind. I can think of worse things to think of. So I don’t. Love love love. Here we go.

The other evening whilst pondering the kitchen skirting boards I had a video call with my Uncle Phil. He had upgraded to a smart phone and so pressed the little video recorder under my name and then there he was, in the kitchen with me, on a screen, in my hands. Phil! What a nice surprise. I wondered if he was wearing an ill fitting belt? Turns out he was wearing a guitar strap attached to a guitar which quickly changed our conversation from the ethics of furlough, to Pink Floyd. He then sang a song, Wish You Were Here. It was nice. Although I couldn’t see him as he played. Due to his stage fright I had to be placed on the floor. I got to see something that looked like Uncle Philip’s kitchen skirting boards. There seemed to be a theme developing.

I love my Uncle Philip. When I see him, I see my mum. Her blue eyes and soft mouth. They are from the Warburton clan, which is made up of gentle artistic wise people, who are passive and loving. Years ago, after my mum died, I couldn’t look at him without crying, he is so like her. He is so precious to me, Uncle Philip. Maybe because when I was very young he used to let me steer his green VW Beetle down lanes with tall hedges. He was probably my only older relative that never sent me away to look for four leaf clovers. I used to spend hours looking for four leaf clovers at the bottom of the hill not far from the kitchen door. I was always so keen to please. And I found loads – to my relatives’ surprise and I found them so quickly too! It only took me forty years to realise they were just trying to get me out of the house for some peace, no doubt. I honestly thought they wanted a four leaf clover. Anyway, they are out there, four leaf clovers, you just have to look really hard for them.

The Beetles, ACDC, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and motor bike chains in roasting tins coming out of Nana’s oven, more or less sums up my childhood memories of Uncle Philip. He was never that great at the guitar though, still isn’t. He was always kind though and he genuinely cared. I have him to thank for my musical taste and my love of old Volkswagens. At Christmas he was the only uncle who brought us all a present. Usually a video of something he found funny or an album. And then one Christmas he didn’t bother, again. Maybe that was when he considered us all grown up. I say all of us, because we were six and then later, seven children. We had a big table and a big aga and a big barn that had a big beam to run across with nothing underneath it but a big circular wood saw that would scream when it was fired it up and sawing wood. Loads of fields, tonnes of horses and a stream.

During this Covid lockdown, I reflect on those years of growing up. I consider my childhood as though it was a life time ago yet here I am, living the same life. And now that my parents are passed and our family home is someone’s boutique hotel, I sometimes query whether it actually was real or not. Because it’s not there any more; the home, the large table and the barn with the exposed beam for running across, twelve foot in the air. It is as though it has all gone away. And it has gone. All of it. And in its place are these little snap shots called memories of when days were so loving, I can almost taste their sweetness.

I ask Uncle Phil after his sing song, have you read my blog? I have, he said. What are you doing it for? Well, I tell him, I am trying to raise money for those people who are sad and lonely after their loved one dies, I have been inspired by my late friend Alison, do you remember her? Yes, I do remember her, he says. Well then. You should donate Uncle Phil, you really really should. Hahaha. Ok, he doesn’t say to me, I will give you loads of money to help raise enough dosh to make a registered charity. And we laugh some more and joke about his grey hair and then after he is gone from my screen in my hand, I reach for husband’s guitar and for the next forty minutes I am a really awful Taylor Swift. I sing the song Lover. I love it. You know Taylor Swift is a gifted songwriter.

But love, is a wondrous thing don’t you think. The love we have for family the love we have for friends, the love we have for lovers it is wonderful. And now we have time to think, we can think about all those we love, and all those we have lost. Those that are alive, those that stopped living. All those relationships that went wrong, the ones that didn’t even get off the ground. The dates we went on, the ones we declined and we think – well I do anyway – how different things might be now had I said OK, I will go on that walk with you, instead of, no way. What might have happened had I accepted that invitation? Would we want anything to be different from what we have today? I discuss this with husband as his guitar gently weeps. You know what we need, Mary? What I ask? We need a capo, he says. He isn’t wrong.

I speak to my sisters. My youngest sister is having a tough time – she is without a loving relationship and finds it difficult dealing with things on her own and she has a lot to deal with. How things might have been for her, had she just made a different decision than the one she made? I tell her, look as soon as this is all over we are going to take off in campervans and see the coast and be like Neil Oliver, understanding coastal conservation and the archeology of caves. Who is he she asks? We laugh.

We join in to the conversation brother Steven who appears in another little square and has recently had a serious fall so has two black eyes and a very swollen face. He is now in further isolation because he had to go to A&E for stitches to his forehead. He is surrounded by people in masks and plastic aprons but this doesn’t stop us from laughing and reminiscing about our childhood that now seems real, as its confirmed by those I shared it with. We remember the strangest of things. Like when we killed Uncle Johnny.

Our Father, had taken us all on a Mediterranean cruise on the QE2. His work with the dock board had earned him some quirks and he managed to get a corporate rate from Cunard. My mum who was very excited to be sailing in style bought a large red leather trunk in which she would pack all of our clothes and then, following this one trip, the red trunk would be used for housing Christmas decorations and kept in a cupboard under the stairs for the rest of its days.

The QE2 was a magnificent ship. An elegant leisure vessel, with teak decks, black funnels and too many steep stair cases where I would always find myself, lost. I was six. We would eat breakfast at a table adorned with sticky buns and crystal glasses atop white linen and were flanked by mustached waiters. I imagine we made a handsome sight, lots of children, two young parents and one red leather trunk in the cabin.  

The QE2 would be the first time I ever attended a funeral. I was six – although I had to pretend to be 4 so that my father got the full family discount. I used to complain daily to my mum as she tried to have me locked in the nursery – I am not four, I am six. No Mary, she would say, you have to be four. Just for this holiday and then when we get home you can be six again, ok?

On a daily basis we would all run to the ship’s theatre and scream with excitement to be entertained by the children’s entertainer whose stage name was Uncle Johnny. Uncle Johnny was a tall and lean man in his early sixties with a generous mop of grey hair, heavy jowls and a magic wand. He wore a velvet jacket of claret and black dress trousers and he would entertain us all twice a day, one matinee and once again before dinner at the large round table.

We would scream to him UNCLE JOHNNY from our theatre seats and my feet would swing above the diamond patterned carpet. Uncle JOHNNNYYYY! Uncle Johnny would perform magic tricks with cards and water jugs and pull flowers from his sleeves and at the end would get us all to chant his name whilst clapping before he performed the grande finale of pulling a white live rabbit from a black top hat. “Uncle Johnny” Clap clap clap, we would chant over and over and louder and louder. Uncle Johnny Clap clap clap! UNCLE JOHNNY ! UNCLE JOHNNY clap clap clap, clap clap clap. He was great.

He looked pretty exhausted most of the time did poor Uncle Johnny up there on stage under the warm lights, and his hurried march across the stage in black patent shoes was well trod.  He never underperformed, though. Never. Uncle JOHNNYYYYYY we would scream and scream throughout his performance. Mum and dad left us to it. They must have watched the clock all day for the Uncle Johnny Show when they could enjoy cocktails on the deck, without any kids.

And then suddenly, half way through the holiday, there was no Uncle Johnny Show. I was distraught. What do you mean Mum? No Uncle Johnny Show? I was a stubborn as a young child, I have been told, and apparently, I liked to get my own way. I imagine I kicked up such a fuss my mum felt compelled to take me to what would be Uncle Johnny’s true last performance. His burial at sea.

The deck was quiet and I remember clinging to a corner of fabric, sharp in my hand, it was probably my mother’s skirt. I held on to. The ship was not moving and there was a breeze blowing my hair into my eyes. A tall man dressed in black and wearing a white dog collar read mournfully from a red leather book – almost the same colour as Uncle Johnny’s dinner jacket, the one that had the flowers and row of small flags tucked up the sleeves. The vicar was stood in front of a long wooden box that was covered in the Union Jack flag that furled at the edges in the breeze. After a few minutes a sailor dressed in a neat and pressed uniform with white boots played some noises on a trumpet and then there were some very loud and short bangs, no doubt a gun salute. The coffin was then titled and slid over the side of the ship into the dark blue water beneath. Uncle Johnny’s final trick was that he slipped away from under the flag and the flag got to stay where it was, like magic, I thought. And then slowly, people started to move towards a lady dressed in black who had been near the coffin who was holding a very small hanky up to her nose. She wore an elegant black pillbox hat that didn’t blow away in the wind. My mum looked down at me, let’s go back to our cabin, she said. Who is that woman? I asked her pulling at her hand. I didn’t want to leave just yet, Uncle Johnny might have another trick to bounce back out of the water, I thought. That’s his wife, said my mum, his widow. Oh Wow Mum! Lets go and see Mrs Johnny! Please! Please. Please?

My mum was in no way a forceful parent, she was the most gentle and passive of parents – the good cop shall we say. But that morning after Uncle Johnny’s burial at sea, she pulled me up and away from Uncle Johnny’s widow so my arm hurt and my feet left the deck. It was no use. Uncle Johnny had gone and with him, the delight he brought to us all.

I spoke to a lovely widow yesterday. It was a week since I took her husband’s funeral service. It was a desperately sad day. With no thanks to Covid 19 social distancing restrictions, she had to sit alone during the service hugging only herself. We had a nice long chat on the phone about her husband and how much she loved him. She still loves him, even though he no longer lives. When this is all over Mary, she says, we can meet up and I can get to talk to other widows. Yes we can, I said, I have raised over £790 and £100 of that is from soap that I sell at the end of the driveway. That’s amazing she said, I just want to get out and meet people who are in the same boat as me. She tells me again how much she loved her husband and how there was no one like him. I believe her. Love is such a force.

Well that’s all from me folks. If you feel inclined to help the bereaved then help me raise some money for my charity The Alison Bereavement Society that would be wonderful. Thanks for your support and help but most of all, thank you for your love. All of it, as it comes through the airwaves unto me. I love you too.