Monthly Archives: March 2020

Egg Poem

 “No eggs, you can get them at Lidl but only two”

Says the butcher, handing over bags of chops and mince.

He wonders why I’m not buying more.

No eggs in the supermarket

Someone heard there were eggs at M&S

At Blackfriars, someone’s mum in Lincolnshire had eggs.

We always have eggs.

Eggs in a Tupperware, blanketed in paper towel

Set on the wall on the patio.
Eggs in a box with a decoration drawn by a young friend

Pushed over the road in a doll’s carriage.

“There were no eggs”, my friend says, then

“Eggs from my mum

Eggs offered when I walked down the street”

Eggs at the wholesalers: we can buy them as a group.

Egg discussions in mobile chat groups

Along with stories of coping in a tiny flat

Being worried about health, work, pay, the future.


Standing in the backyard with applause bouncing off the tower block, watching Venus hanging in the air, clapping and yelling for people who can’t hear because they are inside tending the sick, sheltering the dying.

There are no eggs, they say.

We always have eggs.

Quarantine Poem

“Your meeting attendees are waiting!”
Maybe, everyone has been waiting
for my time and toil to be delivered
on time and seamlessly through video chat.
No need to heat the office or water the plants I brought back
stuffed into a bag on the side of my bicycle.
The letter from the school is printed in Comic Sans
which easier to read if you have a disability:
“A large amount of the learning will need to be carried out online so will therefore obviously need to be supervised by an adult at all times.”
And then,“Your meeting attendees are waiting!”
“Call for papers”
“Call for research grants on issues related to the current crisis”
“Join our live stream”
“Remote event!”
I am not a brain on a stick;
I am a body in a house.
The bodyhouse for a child who is here, hot in the sun
Wanting something, wanting nothing
Wanting to leave, wanting to be held tighter.
Tighter, against the fear, the knowledge
that a sunny day was never going to promise a day of adventure
that a trip outside the house was illicit
that your friends couldn’t be trusted, only images on the screen.
Fall into my arms.
Hold me.
Will it ever end?

In the Time of Corona 3: Silence

The foxes are yelling. The neighbours let out the bath water at the same time as me. But no cars. No planes. The lockdown is coming; the schools are closed now (but my daughter decided this morning that she couldn’t go to school. I could not have forced her, not with the safety of everyone else at school in mind) and soon we will be required by law to stay at home.

The silence has come. Eastenders has stopped filming. There is no Eurovision song contest. No plays performed, no orchestras filling halls with people rustling their sweet wrappers in the moment before the downbeat. This withdrawing is painful, and the silence in central London is both thrilling and terrifying. What fills that silence? Opportunistic crime? Internal mourning?

The silence is also the premonition of death. The very fact that London will soon be under lockdown is because the deaths have outpaced the models. The hospitals are full, and the doctors are struggling. I read the Imperial paper too, and I can see myself, my neighbourhood, on that curve.

Southwark has the most (recorded) cases in the country, and it looks from the numbers (as I understand) that the doubling of the case rate is happening within 48 hours. Mathematically speaking that is f**ing terrifying. I hope my math skills are poor and the reality is not that the healthcare system is already dangerously overloaded and about to collapse.

The silence is an oddity in this busy place. It seems almost shocking. I want to write that it bodes ill, because it does. Because being locked down without people, without song, without solidarity is dangerous. However, the silence is also a space for something else to grow. We stay away, stay in, stay quiet as a huge effort to spare those we love. Our neighours, our friends, our people.

And we hope. We hope that out of the silence will emerge a quieter life, an easier life. This is my hope, although so far I feel far from being able to achieve it.

In the Time of Corona 2: Sustaining

Today was the first day of teaching online, and between the many online meetings with students and those with research team members here, there, and everywhere I spent the entire day at my desk, facing my small screen!

Into my day, and my house, passed a number of people: a delivery person dropping off a package. The BT engineer who was tasked with fixing my jittery broadband, who alternated between crawling around under my desk and pulling out wires from the cabinet at the corner of the block. My friend, who is a builder and was finishing the tiling and carpentry in my kitchen. Into my house they come, still working (because still needing to be paid, and because the jobs were still on their docket). The engineer asked me at the door, before he came in, whether anyone in the house had the corona virus. No, I said. Well, as far as I know. That I didn’t say. He washed his hands before he left.

My friend finished his work swiftly, drank a cup of tea while I sputtered on Skype and then vanished with a wave. His wife is home, but his work can’t be done remotely. In usual times, he renovates fancy kitchens for clients in Kensington and Chelsea. This week, he’s mostly sorting out the jobs for friends that he usually fits in on evenings and weekends.

Picking up my daughter at school the head teacher is nervous. He is not a nervous man. There has been no information he said, on when they are to close. The school is half empty, with many staff at home, already unable to come to work because of failing immune systems or sick relatives. He’s worried about keeping them safe, about continued access to the right equipment and supplies to keep the school clean.

As my work shifts to being undertaken in different areas of an 11-inch optical screen, these men sustain the physical, digital and social infrastructure of my life. And in the current moment they put themselves at risk to do so. We think of caring work as women’s work, but sustaining infrastructure, caring for the physical environment and the strategic level of the social environment is also care. And right now those carers are at risk.

On the other side of the world, my brother is taking unpaid days off from work, to avoid being on building sites and in busy buildings in his immune-compromised state. Is he too a care worker? In his case, the risk seems too high, for this virus could kill.

Care, risk, sustaining. These acts, these jobs, these responsibilities and relationships seemed so easy to take for granted. Before.

In the Time of Corona 1

The sun in the early afternoon is very warm. BBC 3 is playing lieder music and dimly I can hear the toddlers who live next door fussing before their afternoon nap. Outside I see birds and some brazen field mice foraging on the bits I dropped in the garden. It is as if everything were normal. Abnormally normal.

And yet. A stillness hangs in the air. An airplane has just passed by, an ordinary thing here in Central London. And yet. Reading the news has informed me that airlines are massively cutting back their flights, so perhaps this ordinary tearing of the air will become more extraordinary.

The UK’s official government policy has not yet enforced the closures of schools nor workplaces. It is however informing individuals to self-isolate, and this, bit by bit, takes apart the fragile infrastructure of society. As privileged folks like me, with jobs done at a laptop start working at home, stop travelling, the numbers of people circulating around this busy city start to drop.

It would be tempting to think of this time of waiting, this gathering stillness as the defining experience of this time of viral spread.

And yet.

What is happening now is not the story of this crisis. This is not a narrative of this time, but of several other times. In one sense, what is happening now is the preparation for future viral times. Mutual Assistance groups are forming, loosely, gathering together the well-intentioned. The one I’m following seems largely to generate influence in the here and now by informing the well-intentioned about how much work their neighbours are already doing running food banks, community organizations and support networks – as well as linking up individuals who have been isolated and need someone to run to the pharmacy.

In truth though, these mutual aid networks are not for now. They are building capacity for the time when the real narrative of the pandemic begins: the time when many people are infected, and so many are sick that seeing doctors is impossible. When the privilege of being healthy also embeds the responsibility to care for others – and not by adding to a spreadsheet or getting a prescription but by feeding the hungry, washing the feverish, cleaning the floor. Add to this the terrifying realization that many people who are immuno-compromised may not be with us when we emerge on the other side.

The other time of the virus is far longer, encompassing both the recent past and the longer future. This time of the virus includes its origins in animals whose habitats were encroached upon and who became (like people too) enmeshed in a persistent logic of capitalism that has destroyed the regenerative capacities of the earth’s ecosystem, and perhaps the regenerative capacities of people too. I talked a little bit about this in an interview here – but in my hopeful moments I like to entertain the thought that the practice of a quieter, slower pace of work may begin to set the groundwork for the changes of practice that have been necessary for so long – to assuage the climate crisis and to create the capacity for a society capable of regeneration and survival.

There are darker ends to the narrative of course. A country destroyed. A country in mourning for people it failed to save. Individual sadness, anxiety and grief brought on by social separation. Further distress for the people least capable of sustaining it: people living in refugee camps, recent arrivals who don’t feel at home, people struggling to feed their children or who are experiencing violence at home.

And yet.

As the sun slants away and the animals flit in and out of view, I feel the change of times.