My alarm goes off at 4:30am, just like it did Before. I’m no longer the only person awake and online at that time; some people are suffering insomnia, some have lost all sense of date and time, others are enjoying a night out at Virtual Slimelight and others have deliberately got up early to go for a run before the masses descend.
Facebook is full of two topics: stay the fuck at home, and “here are some things to fill the void now you have nothing to do with with your days”. I cannot relate to either, though I certainly enjoy reading the latter more. The indignation at people going to the beach and standing too close to each other is understandable, but the aggressive tone rankles. I cannot stay the fuck at home. I can’t just stay home and work on my Greek and do Body Pump. The void left when nearly everything I enjoy was taken away has been more than filled. I have no time for virtual clubbing or quizzes or posting Facebook memes.
I catch the 158 bus to Stratford, just like Before. There’s about a quarter of the usual load, except on those occasions where it doesn’t turn up for half an hour. The front seats are cordoned off and a message rings out every few stops about how public transport is solely to help essential workers move around. The bus drivers have no PPE. 21 London transport workers have died of coronavirus. Eyes peer at me over useless surgical masks and plastic gloved hands grip the buses’ filthy poles then adjust the masks. Sometimes someone tries to sit next to me, presumably thinking their mask is a complete barrier to infection. I have taken to sitting on the outside seat and placing my bag pointedly on the seat next to me. I don’t doubt that the people on the 158 at 5am are essential workers but I certainly hope they don’t work in healthcare.
I get the urge to cough. It’s the beginning of hayfever season. I try to suppress the cough, and my face turns purple, and eventually a big splutter worms its way out, and everyone goes upstairs. Maybe that’s the only way to get people to keep their distance.
At Stratford the homeless people greet the 158 and ask me for money. I am starting to regret being generous because I think some of them recognise me and I can’t give them a tenner every day or I’ll be completely broke. I read that homeless people are all supposed to be given somewhere to stay but that memo doesn’t seem to have reached Stratford. I try not to think how many people they must come into contact with when they are begging and how much worse coronavirus will affect someone who sleeps on a cold pavement.
Work is getting increasingly surreal. No one measures the extent of a pandemic by the 999 call rate unless they take 999 calls, but sometimes you would be forgiven for thinking it was all over. There’s a huge lag on the figures you see on TV – the people dying or getting admitted to hospital have already been ill for 1-2 weeks, and then there’s a further lag in reporting the death. The biggest burden on the ambulance service was never people getting seriously ill. There’s a sizeable amount of people with hospital-worthy symptoms, and a noticeable increase in the number of dead people – but we’ve lost about the same amount of calls because people aren’t going out and having accidents or stabbing each other or getting drunk in public and other people who are sick would rather suffer at home than go to hospital and risk catching coronavirus. The biggest burden was always the people who were in the early stages of the disease and were panicking and wanted a test, or a cure. By and large, these people are no longer calling. Is that because they know there will be no test and no cure? Or because they are scared to go to hospital? Or because fewer people are getting sick? I don’t know. Two weeks ago, the call rate was so much higher, and my job was an utter nightmare. It isn’t the thought of people dying that upsets me but the thought of letting them down in their final moments. I remember sitting at my desk with my head in my hands listening as a woman gave her elderly father CPR, counting the pumps outloud as we tell them to. Instead of counting one-two-three-four like most people, she counted every single pump. Three hundred and twelve, three hundred and thirteen, three hundred and fourteen… I could see the ambulance was parked just out of sight of the house, while the crew put on the necessary PPE that they have to wear for every cardiac arrest now. The patient died. There was nothing to suggest he had coronavirus, all the signs pointed to a heart attack. I heard that woman counting in my head for days afterwards.
Most types of non-coronavirus related calls seem to be down. Road traffic accidents and stabbings are like golddust these days. People who have fallen over while running seem to be up, though, and so are domestic violence related calls. And people are taking their own lives. Instead of jumping under trains and taking overdoses, they appear to favour jumping from tall buildings at the moment. Maybe they wanted to go outdoors just for one last time. When people say “stay the fuck at home” they really should consider that staying the fuck at home isn’t that easy for everyone.
I generally don’t leave the building during the day, because there are queues at the supermarket and signs telling you where to stand and a million eyes on you, judging whether your shopping is really essential or whether your walk is really the first of the day. Most of the general public’s kind offerings were not suitable for vegans, or indeed anyone not wishing to develop diabetes and lose all their teeth. At first I lost weight rather spectacularly and my work trousers reached the point where I could remove them without even undoing the button. Un/fortunately my whinging about hunger was noted, vegan food started to appear and the button once again has a role in life.
My journey home takes me past the Olympic Park. The first Chase The Sun race should have happened there this week. Instead, the buildings stand empty and the stadium displays a giant message thanking the NHS. Every Thursday people come out on to their balconies and cheer for us. I’ve taken to timing my evening run to coincide with the applause. I like to think I’m running a race and they are cheering me on. (In a way I suppose they are). When Boris Johnson was in hospital, someone tried to instigate a similar “Clap for Boris” event, a notion which made me feel sick and insulted to the very core. I cheered up when I went for my run that night and did not hear a single peep. I look forward to that little bit of exercise all day, although by the time I get home I’m usually exhausted and suffering from hypochondria and have to force myself out. I’m always glad I did, though.
I take one day off per week. I don’t have to work so many hours – except I do really, because if I don’t, people will die. And let’s face it, I have fuck all else to do. And a new flat to save up for. And if I take too much time off I might have time to stop and think and that is always when the trouble starts.
I’ve already established a routine for my day off: I get up at the crack of dawn in an attempt to avoid the crowds, and then go and run 15 kilometres or more on the marshes. Unfortunately at my pace it is hard to fit 15 kilometres plus in while it is still the crack of dawn, indeed, by the time I finished last time it was almost the crack of lunchtime. Even the long run isn’t the comfort that it used to be. There are too many people. Everyone is on edge. Most people aren’t doing anything wrong on an individual level, but the sheer numbers out and about make a mockery of social distancing. Then a family come along side-by-side, invading my space, breathing my air, and I want to explode. There’s other little annoyances too, like knowing there isn’t a single public toilet on my route, and not even a toilet-tree away from prying eyes, having to queue for fifteen minutes to get a lousy bottle of Sainsbury’s mineral water – so long that my Garmin thought I had finished and saved my activity when I still had 5k to go. In fact, I find the most calming thing I can do is Les Mills Pump in the privacy of my own home. That subscription has kept me sane this last month.
When I get home I bath, catch up on my heavily rationed saved soap episodes (both EastEnders and Coronation Street have suspended filming) and take advantage of the fact that UberEats are offering free food to NHS workers. Despite the fact that I moaned about the lack of healthy vegan food at work, I promptly ordered a £13.50 ice cream concoction from Creams Cafe. In my defence most of the vegan places are shut and I didn’t think a curry after a long run was in my best interests. The ice cream made me feel a bit sick but I still finished the whole thing. I wish I could be in a pub with my running friends. I miss Rob trying to cajole me into doing things that are bad for my health, I miss Camilla complaining about getting up too early, I miss Linda’s selfies and trying to communicate in made-up sign language with Mike. I can’t wait to see them all again.
4pm is time for Coronavirus Daily, which features a bunch of Tory wankers talking about how they are going to make everything okay, pointing at a bunch of graphs and completely avoiding answering a bunch of questions from journalists on a video link. At first they used to say important things like “all the pubs are closing” and “we are opening a new hospital” but now it’s all just blah blah flatten the curve furloughing social distancing i’m sorry if I have killed a load of people but here’s a graph blah blah. At least we don’t have to look at Boris for a while.
Then I phone my mother, whom I am not going to see for at least three months, because she is a pensioner with no spleen and I am a potential infection vector and harbourer of untold germs. I am in bed by 8pm. I usually wake around 3am, not having nightmares but having cruel if somewhat bizarre dreams about Slimelight, pool parties, ex boyfriends (not that ex boyfriend) and any number of things that I hadn’t done for years and suddenly am not allowed to do because of the necessary proximity to other people’s contaminated, hazardous, forbidden, filthy bodies.
At 4:30am the alarm goes off. And I do it all again.