Half Life – 37 – soggy Tuesday
July 9th, 2021
Frantic knocking, moments after The Boys had shouted their goodbyes as they walked out the door, was the signal that a sports kit was to be saved from being forgotten. The shudder of the front door’s second slamming that morning reverberated around the house. Minutes later The Wife sped off, excited to be heading into London to meet her team face to face, rather than screen to screen, for the first time in months. JJ the dog, already comfortable in her favourite place in the hall, the day’s dribbling into The Wife’s slippers well under way, hardly looked up as I informed her it was the two of us alone together again for the day. Like those Halcyon days BC – before covid – the house had emptied in moments and the sudden silence echoed around the walls.
The cracking of the boiling kettle, accompanied by the whizzing coffee bean grinder, broke the soundless void. Rich, black, coffee, freshly ground from beans every morning, then gently pressed in a one-person cafetiere, is a daily treat. Like the choice of wine in the evenings, nothing is kept back for a later date or considered too good for a damp Tuesday morning. Small everyday luxuries have provided some compensation for everyday pains. Discovering my favourite coffee bean shop, tucked into a corner of Oxford’s Covered Market, delivers to the door meant not even lockdown, or chemo-generated incarcerations, have reduced me to drinking the sorry pre-ground offerings from our local Coop or Sainsbury’s. Inhaling the coffee’s richness, it drowned out the smell of JJ’s always needs to be washed dog bed which provides a constant background perfume to the kitchen.
The noiselessness of the house shifted from calming to oppressive, emphasising the hours stretching ahead. The opportunity to do all the things I used to do when left alone, before being prevented by those irritating people working from home or trying to concentrate on home-schooling, was too good to miss. Ignoring the nagging voices pointing me to the desk and the need to concentrate on editing another chapter of my novel, I set off on the first mission.
Provided they are all DAB radios, having one on in each room tuned to the same channel allows slow movement around the house without missing a beat as they play in sync. If there’s a test match in play, it’s the only way to ensure you don’t miss the five minutes in the day when something happens. Music can fill an empty house, and the station of choice this soggy Tuesday was Jack FM. It pulled me immediately into one of the pitfalls of having multiple radios playing at once; you get no choice other than to listen. In a row, they played three songs which draw the tears out of me. Lennon’s Imagine, reminding me every time of a friend who killed himself in our teens; Keene with Somewhere Only We Know, a version of which Older Boy sang at school for me; and Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol, the song The Wife and I sing to each other and played at our wedding. By the time the adverts took over, trying to sell me premixed concrete, my eyes were flowing so much even JJ pulled herself away from her guard post to see what was wrong. She licked the salty water off my hands, nuzzled me and, clearly considering her canine duties completed, headed back to her spot in the hall to continue with her slipper soaking.
Lunch, to distract me from the music as much as continue the self-indulgent home alone day, was a double portion of instant miso ramen pimped up with added sweetcorn, dried chilli flakes, and extra soy. Mid noodle-slurp, the half-full bottle of white wine, parked in the fridge door the previous evening, reminded me of its existence. The restraint of the night before enabling a perfect accompaniment to the Japanese noodles, and some cooling redress to the slight excess of chilli. Not needing it, but feeling it was a necessity, my hunt for a pudding was thwarted by a lack of appropriate sweet treats in the cupboard. Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers, the best biscuits in the world, were the winner out of the limited options available. Having two felt in keeping with the spirit of the day and helped with the mid-afternoon nap.
The day alone ended the way it started, with noise exploding through the front door as The Boys crashed into the house after school. Manic barking, impossible levels of tail wagging, and frantic running up and down the hall welcomed them, as JJ showed just how much we had failed to train her. Flowing from room to room they turn off all my radios, leaving shoes, filthy sports kit, school bags, and jackets scattered in their wake, while ignoring all questions relating to homework. As if coordinated to see just how crazy JJ could get, The Wife pulled in. Batting away the bouncing blob of blond dog, scrambling paws, and frantic tongue, she pulled her spare slippers out of their hiding place before taking the damp pair to join the sports kit in the washing machine. Shouted discussions about dinner and if we really had to have cabbage, what happened at school, the PlayStation, the trip into London, and what JJ and I got up to filled every space and every room. The Boys and The Wife couldn’t see it, but my tail was wagging too.