IMAGEWrites: Lucy White has the quarantine birthday we all deserve: safe, sound & unremarkable
12th Apr 2020
On her birthday, Lucy White reflects on memories of far-distant glasses clinking in a busy bar. And the fingerprints of a loving touch, which will her on to stay inside to save lives
The day starts with the sound of ominous scampering. Sleep-groggy, I decide it’s a rodent accidentally dropped by a low-flying owl and running amok in the sliver between the ceiling and flat roof. I sink my head below the duvet, in case the uninvited guest slips through an imaginary hole in the ceiling and plops on to my head. Happy birthday to me.
This year it’s just me, my boyfriend, four walls and possibly one mouse.
Birthdays in my fourth decade have included watching The Sound of Music with girlfriends at the Stella Cinema; suites at Sheen Falls Lodge and Park Hotel Kenmare; watching the ballet at Boston Opera House and – the pièce de résistance – milking my 40th for at least a fortnight, hosting a 1920s-themed party in Dublin before a family affair in London, including a bucket-list-stay at Claridge’s. This year it’s just me, my boyfriend, four walls and possibly one mouse.
Signs and messengers
Then a succession of WhatsApp pings. A builder’s tea eventually enters my field of vision, as does an electronic card from my boyfriend because there are no shops open selling nice ones. I appreciate the effort of the black and white photo collage. Mail-ordered gifts appear on the bed, including a very fetching Aubrey Beardsley kimono from Tate Britain’s online shop (the Beardsley exhibition having been postponed due to the virus), then the familiar rip of brown cardboard: a parcel from my oldest friend with whom we vowed to buy each other books every birthday and Christmas until death do us part.
Before I have time to type a thank-you text, a pair of goldfinches bat against the window. “It’s a sign!” I cry, referring to the childhood address of my book-giving friend (Goldfinch Close) and her previously gifting me Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Himself goes further. “If that was my mam, now, she’d say they were sent as messengers,” he says. I put my usual pragmatism aside and nod, sagely.
Mother Nature taking control
We are all Twitchers now. Our world has shrunk to a two-kilometre radius and so we I-spy the local corvids, blue tits, pied wagtails, wood pigeons, song thrushes and sparrows. In a welcome twist, the infamously bolshy Howth seagulls have largely scarpered. Coronavirus means no takeaway fish’n’chips, which means no tourists, which means no street-level scraps to plunder.
The pair of herring gulls that screech and nest on the nearby rooftop every summer are still around, but less so. Instead, the hum of bumblebees, whose furry flights occasionally send me fleeing inside, away from a potential fracas. I am nonetheless happy to see an increase in these endangered pollinators on whom our survival depends. Mother Nature is taking control.
And then a flash of russet – a vixen, whose banshee-cries have interrupted my sleep this week. Oddly, foxes are the one things keeping me, an insomniac, awake since I was furloughed. No longer managing a small team, juggling deadlines and commissions, my mind has never been more still against the wider, actual and existential threat of C-19. I am neither fighting or flighting. I just am.
While I have readily surrendered to a vanity-free lockdown – the slow creep of natural roots, the rogue eyebrow hairs, the parade of “loungewear” – today I declare a sense of occasion with a full face of makeup, taking extra care to blow-dry my bob and slip into the Beardsley kimono. Spanish flu chic.
I count my lucky stars that we will make our own lean ends meet, and make a mental note to email our estate agent about June’s proposed rent increase
I sip a glass of prosecco alone while himself juggles a birthday fry-up and phone calls from work. His public service role in business development has pivoted to C-19 liaison officer, connecting local community groups with vulnerable people who have, for instance, found themselves unable to go grocery shopping. I count my lucky stars that we will make our own lean ends meet, and make a mental note to email our estate agent about June’s proposed rent increase. We have the State on our side now.
Later, my pencil scratches against a notepad long-pilfered from a hotel ago, revising a Skype timetable that keeps changing due to a friend’s baby schedule. We get there in the end and the afternoon passes with back-to-back banter with overseas family and friends, my septuagenarian parents’ proud assertions of self-isolation undermined by their frequent trips to the supermarket and B&Q for “essential” items (“we needed a trellis for the garden, it was Click and Collect!”). I notice my voice has become louder and my laughter readier as I sup luxuriantly on a gin spiked with rosewater that himself forgot to drop into the raspberry jam.
He’s baking me not only a Victoria sponge for the first time ever but his first ever cake. “Did you not do home economics at school?” I ask. “No, the lads didn’t, the girls did,” he sniffs, adjusting his novelty apron of a busty flamenco dancer. He clatters around the kitchen – no food processor in our postage-stamp of a kitchen, the batter must be made by hand – while I video call a friend on lockdown in Boston. We discuss Trump’s approach to the national emergency. “We’re just hoping we’ve given enough rope to hang himself on,” she sighs, of the upcoming presidential election, noting that the Dems-led response in Massachusetts was ahead of many other States – and compliments him-indoors on his busty apron.
Tomorrow I will return to feral – a transition that came surprisingly easy – and wonder how I’ll feel when the world eventually returns to “normal” and have to start wearing a bra again.
It’s now too late to start preparing dinner and we’ve missed our slot to call a local restaurant that’s cooking pre-ordered meals for collection. Delivery pizzas it is, fancying a break from the cycle of cooking and washing up. We acknowledge that our usual daily constitutional is now an afterthought and the idea of “dressing for dinner” is as anachronistic as my painted face. Tomorrow I will return to feral – a transition that came surprisingly easy – and wonder how I’ll feel when the world eventually returns to “normal” and have to start wearing a bra again.
we have short memories, and right now, the strongest ones involve the sound of far-distant glasses clinking in a busy bar, a shrill dance floor, the glug from a carafe
I settle into bed reading the first few pages of my new Anne Enright novel, which has me immediately pootling around her Ardeevin of the 1980s. “A more innocent time,” we often say of the past, forgetting that the past had its own troubles, too. Historically, we have short memories, and right now, the strongest ones involve the sound of far-distant glasses clinking in a busy bar, a shrill dance floor, the glug from a carafe in your favourite restaurant, a guffaw in a crowd. That and the fingerprints of a loving touch, which wills us on to stay inside to save lives.
It’s not the birthday of dreams but it’s the birthday we all deserve: safe, sound and unremarkable. We should all be so lucky over the coming weeks.
Illustration by Laura Kenny
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