OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.
Can you believe it? Ninety-nine. When I started the Oysterhood diary, the lockdown had no levels, no advanced versions, and it was supposed to last twenty-one days … Well!
I have been thinking that maybe it is time to stop. No one, but really no one will understand my greatest conundrum about continuing. I have this thing about numbers. And then there is this thing about words, and about numbers becoming words. (And for me personally, it has nothing to do with style manuals – I respect those when I work with them professionally.) It is a matter of personal stylistic OCD, I suppose.
I have always been good at maths. I love working with numbers when they are among themselves. But I really don’t like numbers interfering with words – unless … they become words among words. That is why I always spell them out. It could never be “Day 99” in my diary. But what I am considering is: do I want “Day One Hundred and Twenty-Eight”? I just can’t have “Day 128”. Nope. Not even when my favourite number features in it … But maybe it is time to stop counting all together? Yes, it is all very strange, and no one will understand. But, if for some weird reason you do, welcome to my world!
And in my world last night, there was a hot, long bath with arnica oil, pink wine and the recording of a discussion between Howard Phillips and Finuala Dowling that was facilitated by the UCT Summer School. Phillips is the author of In a Time of Plague: Memories of the ‘Spanish’ Flu Epidemic of 1918 in South Africa. That book left a deep impression on me, and the conversation I watched on YouTube was additionally illuminating.
The key insight that struck me was how our mobility contributed to the devastating consequences of the flu back then. You look at a map of the worst hit regions and compare it with a map of the railroads of the time and the two are nearly identical. Scarily so. That thing about hotspots and intra- and inter-provincial travel – we need to really think about it before we move as much as a kilometre away from home. The slogan we have been hearing – you move, the virus moves – is not an empty threat. And looking at the maps of 1918 and remembering all the stories of contemporary travel I keep hearing about all the time, despite restrictions and lockdown, I wonder how safe it is to move. I also feel guilty about going to the wine farm a while back, even if it wasn’t that far away from home and the safety protocols on the farm were well thought-through. Now that it is (most likely) allowed, I can roughly imagine travelling intra-provincially, even for leisure, but under strict conditions that I don’t know entirely how to specify and execute for myself yet. But I know that a lot of consideration and care would have to go into any such decision. If only testing was easily and widely available … I would really like to know that, if I move, the virus is not moving with me. Without efficient, accessible testing, travelling feels like gambling. (And yes, I did see that video of the queue in front of our nearest casino on the day of its reopening – insane! Simply insane.)
There is also the question of need versus want. And all the things that one simply cannot predict or plan for.
Having said all of that, I can also report that I went to Noordhoek today in the afternoon. It was mainly for a professional reason to pick up the hardcopy of a manuscript I will be working on, but in the process I did manage to have an outdoor wave and masked chat with a dear friend, and on the way back stopped near the official Silvermine entrance and took a few photographs (also of Topolino finally in the ‘wild’). It was a gorgeous day and it was good to get out of my space after my first Zoom meeting this morning that I left with a gigantic headache, despite the discussion producing wonderful literary results which will be announced soon(ish) and will delight many writers in this country.
I also had to go to the post office again and my usual pet shop had an incredible promotion that allowed me to stock up on cat food and flea repellent and save a lot of money. And because the shop is located just opposite Exclusive Books Cavendish, I dashed in and got myself a copy of Becoming Men, one of the promising titles on the Homebru list. How wonderful to see Theatre Road on display as part of the EB Homebru promotion!
One of the reasons Thembi and Sindiwe wanted to have the book published last year was so that Thembi’s parents could still be around to witness it. Sadly, Thembi’s father passed away last week. But he did live to see his multi-talented, inspiring daughter’s biography being published, and there is a certain kind of calm attached to this tiny thought among the storm of emotions that follow a death.
At EB, it was nice to be able to wave at one of the vets The Cats visit (the one whom Glinka mistreated so badly a few years ago that she got herself a prominent warning on her computer file – it flashes red whenever the file is opened … and she is soooo small!). He is an avid reader and we always talk books when I see him. It is his week off and he was at EB stocking up on books to read. Good man, our vet!
All in all, I was out a lot today and I feel drained. But I hope that I won’t have to go anywhere apart from walks and walk drives in the next long while. A full bag of delicious homemade food from my dear friend accompanied the manuscript I had to get from her. My fridge is now smiling. And the Foodbarn Deli in Noordhoek had only one other customer in it today when I popped in, but their freezer was full of their usual delicious food. I brought a few items home. Their Thai chicken curry is divine. I had it for dinner.
And there is now a cheesecake in my kitchen (at least the remaining few slices) and I can hopefully just stay put for a while again. Negotiating the world outside my home is difficult and mentally exhausting, but it all went well and felt as safe as it could possibly feel.
The peak might not be the peak, just a very long flat mountain, but the views it offers right now are only cause for severe vertigo: over nine thousand new infections today, over one hundred deaths.
I had a bad night last night and, when I couldn’t get back to sleep, I eventually put on the light and read and looked up ‘stuff’ on social media. The first thing I saw was a tweet by a woman I don’t know, but we follow each other on Twitter and I know that she reads a lot and writes engagingly about books on her blog. Her husband died in a motorcycle accident yesterday, she tweeted. Devastating. You can never prepare for something like this. I feel for her and her family. Nearly three thousand families lost their loved ones to Covid-19 in South Africa alone. It might be easier to imagine the devastation of one accidental death than hundreds and thousands of deaths caused by a pandemic worldwide, but each one of these individuals had someone waiting for them to come home, and they didn’t.
All of us are shrouded by layers of grief that we are going to have to learn to live with – somehow.
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home.
“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”
No need for numbers any more after ninety-nine! Please keep writing.
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