No ordinary quiet

It’s quiet. All day and every day. Unless the radio or tv is on or there’s music playing. There’s scarcely any traffic, which makes walks along the foreshore a pleasure. Across the harbour lies the forbidden city, the empty cafes, the abandoned offices. Native birds are venturing further afield, though in this seaside suburb, it’s still mostly gulls, shags and terns.

I’ve swapped stylish ankle boots on pavements for sensible walking shoes on the sand. Instead of the wash of commuters emerging from the main railway station each morning, I see the tangle of seaweed, shells and driftwood washed up high on the beach after a night of high winds and rain. Instead of the bus timetable, I’ve got to know the times of the tides, and when the sun goes down so as to plan my walks to see the sun set over the hills on clear nights.

Today on my walk I saw neighbours I hadn’t seen for several weeks. They waved to catch my attention. We moved closer, stopping at invisible lines in the sand two metres apart, and talked from a theoretically safe distance. Until now, we’d only been in touch via our new online group where neighbours exchange tips on places that will deliver fish or produce, wine or coffee to our homes so we can avoid the queues of people we don’t know at the supermarkets.

It’s quiet in the mornings when I wake. But the day is punctuated by news reports, the eight o’clock news on the radio; the one o’clock update of the numbers of the stricken from the health ministry; often an address by the prime minister, whose leadership and bold decisions we rely on; and the six o’clock television news which mostly has nothing new to report. During the day too, alerts and vibrations from devices signal a welcome new message from friends, family or workmates. There are many; phone calls too from sisters I would seldom normally hear from, and video chats with friends or work meetings. But still it’s quiet in the spaces in between. 

Tuesday was especially quiet. I was tired, bed beckoned, but it was a work day. I didn’t feel up to messaging or calling anyone, and unusually no one messaged or called me. It seemed we were all in the doldrums, not quite half way through the four-week lockdown, over the novelty, but not yet on the home straight. It was also just one day away from a full moon that was closer to us than any other this year.

Some days I hear the Saturday thrum of a lawn mower, the whirr of a hedge trimmer, the bounce of the basketball over the side fence and the strum of a guitar from across the back that say there are people around. We have to stay home but we’re grateful to be well and that no one close to us is ill or has died. We count ourselves lucky as a country that so few people have, yet sad that only nursing staff, not family, could be with them.

It’s quiet in the evening with no dinners or concerts or movies to dress up and go out for. I’ve got a plentiful supply of red wine: merlot, syrah and pinot noir. Alcohol-free week nights are no more and the extra-large blocks of chocolate bought as emergency rations have become a regular after-dinner treat. I’m not alone in this. It’s how many of us are filling in the blanks of our confinement at home along with Netflix, jigsaws, and so much baking that the stores have run out of flour. We’ve got no patience for those who skirt the restrictions that will keep us well, but we miss the human contact, the hugs, the sharing and companionship of others. 

The quiet thread of the working day at home is welcome though, the easy commute from kitchen table to computer desk each morning is easy, and the background chatter and clatter of a noisy office is absent. In the first week at home, each day’s email brought news of indefinite postponements, of no more writing classes or Pilates group, of cancellations of plans for weekend walks and winter evenings of symphony, chamber music and opera. None of us now expect a return to that kind of life any time soon.

Only the very old have experienced anything like this before; it’s being compared with the great upheavals of the previous generations, the World Wars, the Great Depression, and the 1918 influenza epidemic. We can’t quite see what lies ahead; we wonder what will change for good. It’s quiet around us and our thoughts are loud. The sound of rain when it comes is a welcome companion through the night, but sunny days lift our spirits as we tend the garden, or sit and read, in the ever-present quiet.

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