What the World Needs Now is…

Today, I recieved a text from my GP informing me to make an appointment for my vaccination. Just this morning, a concerned friend living in Portsmouth had texted to ask when I was getting mine. Another friend who lives in Paris texted to say that she and her husband have had theirs. And my elderly neighbours emailed to say that they’ve been vaccinated and can’t wait to be free. 

Frankly, I have been rather non-chalant about the vaccinations, wasn’t in a hurry to get one because my turn will come with it comes. I am not at risk, don’t work in essential services, and am a WFH writer and editor. All safety boxes checked with a thick green tick. So why did I feel elated that I will be getting my first shot on Thurday morning? I am suddenly seeing a glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel. 

This is my fourth lockdown. I think. The family and I were locked down in Singapore from April 7th to May 4th. While we were still being locked down, the lockdown, named circuit breaker, was further extended until June 1st by the Singapore government. So we had some freedom before the girls and I left for London in July. We met up with some friends, said goodbye to family, and flew out of Changi early July, jubilant that a new chapter of our lives would begin again. This is one of the many perks of being a family constantly expatriating. Or is it? 

Moving countries during a pandemic is harrowing. Stuff you can tell your grandkids about later because pandemics are life changing and hit you when you least expect them. After a claustrophobic 14-hour flight in a not that empty cabin, we arrived to a London that had no checks despite the Home Office asking all passengers to fill in a COVID location form. We breezed through customs. 

The city in July of 2020 was beginning to open up. Singapore, too, had by then come out of their circuit breakers and phasing out of their lockdown one strong step by one strong step at a time.  The air was crisp with hope in London as the UK prepared for the summer. The mood was buoyant like it is now. We were buoyant too because optimism is infectious. But we still wore our masks outside the house and in the shops just because old habits die hard; mask-wearing was still not mandatory in the shops then. I received some accusatory glances and many Londoners generously made room for me on the pavement and supermarket aisles. One lady told me to step away from her and I didn’t think anything of it other than that it was her freedom to demand for social distancing. The supermarket was a rather small one and I am a good citizen, so I stepped aside and let her get on with it. We were allowed to go out for essentials while we quarantined. The girls and I took our 14-day quarantine seriously because it is serious stuff. We were staying at an Airbnb then and I left the apartment every other day to do our grocery shopping at the Marks & Spencers across the street. Once, I got tutted at for moving a man’s trolley out of the way to get a punnet of tomatoes. I had asked him to excuse me but he was hard of hearing so I gestured an excuse me and moved his trolley to make room for other people and myself. It was only tomatoes, no big deal, I know. So, I said thank you from behind my mask to a pair of raised eyebrows. 

Summer is always glorious in a country with more than four wet and damp seasons. Bodies were out in the parks tanning and picnicking, children were running free with the wind in their hair and the sun behind them, and people were generally having a great time despite a pandemic looming over them. I knew that if the English and Brits didn’t start to listen or if the gov didn’t do something quickly, the virus would spread like wild fire. And this freedom would slowly ebb away like the outgoing tide. But what does one listen to when the messages that the gov was sending were mixed and oh so confusing.

Summer raged on and school started in September as per the old normal. Europe was too far away to be affected by a Chinese virus, but the international schools were careful and followed the rules as people were still travelling back to London from everywhere. Then the curve got steeper and by the end of September going into October, Boris Johnson announced the necessity for a circuit breaker. I wonder where they got that idea from. But flight corridors were still allowed and many went on holidays over the Christmas break. Then the numbers went up more and that circuit breaker got extended again after Christmas because a variant from South Africa or was it Brazil had found their way into England. It is only just last week that schools have opened up again. We are in March 2021. It has been a year since the whole world was brought to its knees. 

I am not begging for a vaccine. But I am eager for one because it protects me and my family. Right now, my concerns are only extended to the people I love. And I hope that this is mirrored by the many people who are anti-vaccers, who are suspicious of what medicine can do and have done and continue to do, and those who don’t trust the government. Do it for the people you love. And, if we want borders to open up and for us to travel freely like in the old-normal, then we must do what we need to do in this new-normal. Don’t get me wrong, I am on the side of subversive always. But this time, I am being good. 

Okay, all said and done, human beings are the only beings that can help humanity. And remember, God helps those who help themselves. This is one rule in Christianity that I abide by by every stretch of my imagination. Give me that shot! 

*The author has since received her first shot.

On Marche à 2021

Carlo Crivelli, ‘Saint Michael’ c. 1476, tempera on poloar [altarpiece]

It’s two more weeks before the end of 2020. What a year! I won’t bore you with details you already know. But I bet you’re as excited as I am to bring on 2021.

We’re talking vaccines now, so people are hopeful for the new-normal to be just normal. But what is normal, hey? Again, I won’t bore you with my existential angst. The fact is that, and it’s good news, scientists tell us these vaccines, whether they are Pfizer or Moderna, are 95% efficient. YAY!!

England, Wales and Scotland will be facing their toughest lockdown ever once Christmas comes and goes.  This would be my third lockdown, believe it or not, and I haven’t even travelled since arriving in London on July 8th, 2020.  

But I welcome the lockdown because there is a new variant of the coronavirus in the U.K. And, I look forward to spending time at home with my family close by. And, I am curious to know how all the new restrictions will affect my mental health. 

Here’s what I’ll be doing safe at home:

  • Read ‘The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began’ by Stephen Greenblatt. The Guardian has called this book ‘dazzling’. I love the Renaissance for its magic, glitter, and sensuousness. Most of all, I love the Renaissance for its pursuit of beauty. 
  • Write ‘Looking for Pauline’ [working title]. I am exploring the hybrid memoir. The hybrid memoir is a literary concept and is said to be a text that occupies “liminal spaces”. [MacAdams, 2017]. There are many hybrid memoirs in the market that explore the human condition, bereavement, and trauma. This literary form provides authors with new opportunities for self-expression, often leading to self-transformation. Writing a hybrid memoir promises to be a healing journey. 
  • Teach ‘Telling Our Stories With Art(e)Facts’. I have been invited to write a new lesson plan for this workshop which will be offered online by SingLit Station. I have to integrate at least 3 digital platforms to teach secondary school students the craft of flash fiction prompted by art. The initial name for this workshop was ‘Painting A Story, something I’d curated back in 2015 combining art history and creative writing, which morphed into ‘Writing Stories from Artefacts’ when I was reading a M.A. in Art History. I was learning about how art is informed by history and how art interrogates history and narratives. I’ve been writing flash fiction informed by art works since then, and continue to do so, finding catharsis with each story. Every workshop is uniquely curated based on the needs and ages of the participants. So, as you can see, I have my work cut out for me.

On the last day of freedom in London (Tuesday 15, 2020), the Italian and I took a stroll in Trafalgar Square and booked ourselves in for an art walk at the National Gallery. It’s been a while since I went to a museum. The feeling was exhilarating. It was sensationally satisfying to be surrounded by great pieces from the Italian Renaissance, like da Vinci to Dutch Old Masters, like Van Dyck. 

I have a foot fetish, I’ll admit. Once upon a time when I could walk on stilts, I loved nothing more than shopping for stilettoes and even made a collection of these shoes. Old feet worn out by too much high heel walking, I have now retired them to being clad by platforms or flats. C’est ma vie! 

You’re looking at the shins and feet of St Michael, painted on poplar with tempera [a quick-dry paint made from colour pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder, like egg yolk] by Carlo Crivelli (c. 1476). Here St Michael is preparing to smite Satan. This painting formed the side panels of an altarpiece for San Domenico, a church in Ascoli Piceno. Isn’t it just exquisite that so much beauty can exist on a piece of wood?—look at the way the toes and depicted so realistically. Isn’t it just marvellous how well preserved it is for being more than 500 years old?—Museums are so important for more than just repositories artworks: its educational programmes, its research into conservation, its collection of artworks as documents of history. 

Alors, mes amies, it’s time to go! I wish one and all lots of festive cheer and on marche à 2021! Bring on 2021!