Lockdown diary

I’m not quite sure how many days it’s been. Many. More than a year for sure. The country isn’t under strict lockdown anymore, but with so many falling ill and vaccines still a way away, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

My partner and I both work from home. We’re very lucky – many can’t. My team are amazing, and we get along great (a rarity in offices let me tell you). We chat and laugh and send each other GIFs to keep the morale up. When you’re busy it’s easy to forget that you’re stuck at home. After work there’s cooking and chores, followed by Netflix or Minecraft. Now that winter is settling in, I think reading in bed is in order. I want to order all the Grisha books after binging Shadow and Bone on Netflix. I loved, loved, loved it. The alternating storylines weaved together expertly, and the characterisation and dialogue were just superb!

But back to lockdown. We don’t go out much. Well, he sometimes goes to the shops or runs errands. I’ve had a few doctor’s appointments and a very spontaneous tattoo booking (a sudden madness). We’ve eaten at outdoor restaurants twice and scoffed hot fish and chips in the car a few times, just to see the ocean. Mostly, we’ve stayed at home. We celebrated three birthdays indoors and will probably celebrate a fourth too. We even had a cat party to celebrate one year with our foster cat.

Read my survival tips for lockdown tips here.

A highlight: the camphor forest picnic at Vergelegen. We had a little isolated table in the middle of the historic camphor forest, with no one else around. It was absolute bliss to be in nature, and have the opportunity to tear our masks off and just enjoy a glorious meal in safety. The farm is beautiful and surprising – one minute you’re admiring ancient oak trees and the next you’re walking through a huge forest of sunflowers.

Lowlights: Nightmare-inducing trips to Karl Bremer and Tygerberg Hospitals. (If you ever need a reason to stay home, its the huge pressure these hospitals are under.)

The forest picnic at Vergelegen

I’ve been writing, albeit slowly and sporadically. Lockdown has been hard on me creatively. I have the blessing of all this extra time, but my brain can’t quite shift from OMG-what-is-happening-we’re-all-going-to-die mode. Still, I am using the time to think about writing, specifically how I can push my stories further to achieve that delicious, all-encompassing quality great books have (like The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson). My lounge is strewn with notebooks full of ideas. I am determined to finish the two books I’m juggling this year, and I have high hopes for them both.

Emotionally, it’s been up and down. I spoke to one of my dad’s cousins, who is a psychoanalyst, about my complicated grief dreams, and how I’ve been feeling. After our first session I was able to spend eight straight hours writing. My dad’s cousins have been wonderful. When my parents were alive, we didn’t really see or reach out to the rest of the family often, and it’s been nice to speak to them again. I also discovered some more about my family’s heritage, this time about my great-great grandmother, who was mixed race. I had no idea. It’s been wonderful to gain something about my family after all the tragedy and I’m hungry to learn more. There is a rich history there of migrants sailing the seas in search of a better life (my great grandfather’s ancestors fled Ireland), and we suspect in the case of my great-great grandmother, ancestors forcibly taken from their own countries to work in the Cape.

When I was young my father used to tell my bedtime stories about “Super Leonard”, and all the adventures he had, both on land and at sea. How wonderful would it be to be able to tell the story of my own ancestors one day? Or write the love story of how my great grandparents met in the Cape. I want to discover as much as I can. Dust off their stories. This excitement I feel makes me hopeful for a future beyond the pandemic. I have plans and dreams, and projects and books I want to complete.

Right now, the world seems incomprehensible. Vaccine hoarding, a rise in the alt-right, violence, violence and more violence. I refuse to let these forces crush my hopes. I want to unearth the stories of the people no one thought mattered, and remember and celebrate them, even if it’s only for me. Because people matter. You matter. I matter. My parents mattered. Their parents mattered. All the 54,735 South Africans who passed away from Covid mattered. We should never forget that.

If you are reading this, please, please don’t take chances with other people’s lives. When we were at Vergelegen, a man in a group shouted “Why are you all wearing your masks outside, take them off, go on.” I can’t forget his voice, and how forceful it was. One boozy day in the Winelands is not worth closing the book on someone’s story before it’s even finished.

How To Survive Lockdown

We can all agree that 2020 was an annus horribilis of note – for many reasons, not least of which was a global pandemic that’s forced most of us to stay home.

The Wild Child and I have been in lockdown since February last year – almost a year. We went out to eat once (never again) and took a safe-as-we-could-manage roadtrip to Jeffrey’s Bay to end the year off, just before the beaches were closed, so even there we had to stay indoors.

I’m sure you’ve discovered by now that lockdown isn’t all pyjama parties and funny Zoom backgrounds. It can be lonely, and boring, and repetitive.

I thought I’d share what I’ve learned over the past year to make the best out of my time at home.

Bake

When we entered hard lockdown in March, there was a lot of panic around going to grocery shops. As a result, I stocked up on baking ingredients and started making my own bread, rolls and flatbreads. This quickly led to forays into cinnamon buns, meringues, cakes, brownies and other delicious things. We now know more about the virus and how to stay safe when shopping, but I’ve kept up the practice. I might not be making as much bread, but I love the quiet focus involved in baking. You have to get every measurement exactly right or else the results will flop. Constant vigilance!

And nothing beats starting the day with a slice of chocolate cake and a cup of coffee.

Start a garden

I have a little flower bed in the back yard that was pretty bare when I moved in (I won’t mention the grass).  Being a novice gardener, my idea of randomly planting my favourite flowers and plants (hydrangeas, roses, pansies, blueberries, strawberries) was an unmitigated disaster. Everything died. This is because certain plants are best for certain soils and levels of sun exposure and other factors I remain clueless about. After one too many failed attempts, I created dedicated flower boxes for plants that actually live together, and edible plants and herbs that I regularly harvest for meals. As for the flowerbed – I bought several packets of wildflower seeds and tossed them in to see what would happen. The result is a wild mess of beautiful flowers that constantly change and I couldn’t be happier.

My favourite place is my little reading nook in the garden, which is the best spot to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Make an event out of silly things

When you’re at home, there is not much to look forward to and weekends can be quite boring. After countless weekends spent reading, binging reality TV and staring at my phone, I came up with the idea of Theme Days, like Batman Day, Anime Day, The Backyard Putt Putt Date Day, Competitive Gaming Day, the Birds of Prey movie Day, and Agatha Christie Day.

On my birthday we watched all the Batman films, from 1966 onwards. It was the best.

Bonus tip: The Velvet Cake Company delivers, so make sure your special day is complete with a slice of rainbow or carrot cake.

Find an online community

When my latest novel was published early last year, I was pretty disappointed that I couldn’t go on tour to publicise it. Luckily, I remembered the huge book community on Instagram and re-activated my account. I may not have been able to go on an actual book tour, but the #SeaStarSummer Intsa tour was just as fun, and I made a lot of new friends in the process. Plus I have an excuse to take more cat pics.

Get to know your cats

This goes without saying.

Get everything delivered

Even though its safe, the idea of walking into a mall fills me with dread. So for the last year, I’ve been getting everything delivered. I order my groceries through the Checkers Sixty app, my special once-in-a-blue-moon treats from The Velvet Cake Company and Woolworths, my medication from Dischem, must-read books from Google Books and Takealot, and my collectable figurines from Raru.

I have a special designated area at the front door for deliveries and shoes, so the rest of the house remains a “safe” zone. Really, its just an added precaution to make myself feel like I’m doing everything I can. I still wipe down my groceries… it’s all about feeling safe.

What are your top tips for surviving lockdown?