New Perspectives from Covid, by Elizabeth Kay

It’s always useful to be able to see things from someone else’s point of view when you’re creating a character. I have tried to view the world from the standpoint of a devil hyena, a prehistoric bird and a flying carpet (not in the same book, mind you) and they’re easy because you’re starting from scratch. No one can tell you what priorities a phorusrhacos had, although like most predatory birds, it was probably food. And the feelings and priorities of a flying carpet are even more fun to imagine. This is an extract from Back to the Divide, in a carpet shop:

“Let me introduce myself,” said the rug, its voice emanating from different bits of its surface. “I’m brand new, and I’m the very latest design. Top of the range. My name is Nimblenap; Nimby for short."

Felix burst out laughing.

The rug rippled with displeasure. “What’s wrong with Nimby?”

“It’s an acronym,” said Felix. “Not In My Back Yard.”

“I can land just about anywhere,” said the carpet, offended. “From the smallest back yard to the most inaccessible mountain ledge.”

“Felix is from another world,” said Betony, not wishing to waste time in explanations.

Well shuttle my weft,” exclaimed the rug in an awe-struck voice. “What an honour it is to meet you.”

“Creep,” said the rush mat.

“Smarmy git,” said someone else.

“We’ll take the polite one,” said Felix, pointing at the cherry red rug.

But back to the real world for a moment. Covid has given me a whole new insight into my mother’s attitude to life. I’ve never taken her as the template for a character before, but I might now. Pre-Covid, hubby and I led an interesting life, based mainly around unusual holidays abroad – preparing for them being a major ingredient. What shoes did we need for climbing volcanoes in Nicaragua? Which field guide should we take to Madagascar? Was it worth getting a prescription face mask for snorkelling in Indonesia? (Yes, it most certainly was!) We entertained a lot at home, as I enjoy cooking for others, and we occasionally we went out to restaurants, the cinema, concerts, lectures, the theatre and the debating society to which we belong. We’re members of the RHS and the Wetland Trust, so there were visits to Wisley and Arundel too. Weekends away to visit friends or relatives. And nearly all this has stopped over the last year. 

My parents were not terribly sociable, and as all my father’s remaining relatives were in Poland and my mother hardly had any, that ruled out entertaining. In fact, my parents never once had anyone round for dinner, which they ate at 1pm come rain or shine.  Someone came round for high tea, very occasionally. They didn’t go out to the theatre or concerts or any countryside pursuits at all. My mother went to the shops, my father to the local art group, and that was it. They read, watched TV, and gardened, and none of these activities required paying any attention to their appearance. I never ever saw my mother wear make-up. My parents were the same age as everyone else’s grandparents, which may well have been a factor. They kept themselves and the house spotlessly clean, their hair short and their teeth regularly checked – but that was it. And all of a sudden, I’ve found myself in a very similar position. I go to the shops when I need something I can’t get delivered, I don’t entertain any more, I don’t go on holiday. There is nothing for which I need to get dressed up. I only went to the hairdresser once it was allowed when I couldn’t see through my hair any more and it was driving me round the bend. I don’t change my clothes as frequently. Underwear, obviously, but outerwear? Does it smell? No? It’ll do for another day then. And so gradually I find myself adopting my mother’s attitude to clothing, which I used to find incomprehensible. The main requirement is whether it’s comfortable. Then whether it’s quick and easy to put on and take off. After that, how easy it is to wash, and whether it needs ironing. I am wearing the same things over and over because it’s easy and I don’t really care what I look like. I don’t use the washing machine as much. Nor the tumble dryer, because I’m using garments that are dry after a couple of hours over a radiator. Hubby is a bit aspie, and wouldn’t notice if I were wearing a bin liner although he’d notice immediately if I used the subjunctive incorrectly. 

I am finally looking at the world from my mother’s point of view, which I suspect is one fairly common among the elderly. Why try to impress other people? It’s your own opinion of yourself that really matters. If we ever get back to something approaching normal I don’t expect to stay this way, but it’s been interesting interlude into the mind of someone who died thirty-five years ago.

Mum and dad, dressed to the nines as usual...


Eden Baylee said…
Hi Elizabeth,

Thanks for a very thoughtful post. Covid has certainly changed our way of thinking on so many things. That you were able to juxtapose your current situation with memories of how your mom lived is fascinating.

Right now, I can certainly relate with your mom's attitude about clothing. It's all about comfort and minimizing laundry!

Wendy H. Jones said…
What a fabulous post. I love the insight into your new perspective and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head regarding our current times . Thank you for being so honest.
Bob Newman said…
Aspie? Moi? Not only did I notice the bin-liner, I also complimented you on the clever way you'd altered it to fit properly. At least, that's what I thought - I'm not sure whether I got around to actually saying it.
Kirsten Bett said…
Nice comparison with your parents' life. I was just thinking the other day, shall I get a lounge suit when my only comfortable trousers had started to get holes in them. But I am also enjoying the quiet that comes with the lockdown. Maybe I am just becoming boring 😊
Reb MacRath said…
You've nailed it in so many ways. In my twenties, when the only life worth living seemed to be an adventuresome one on the run, I'd have been shocked to think that one day I'd find pleasures and rewards in lockdown. Plus freedom from giving a thought to how I dress when I shop or step out. My writing 'uniform' something I wear daily and launder once a week: sweat pants, a tee, and a hoodie. Freedom!
Umberto Tosi said…
Thanks for your insightful post! It prompted me to look back at my parents' habits and attitudes and realize that besides the Great Depression, their world views bore the marks of having lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic as children.

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