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3:AM in Lockdown 58: Kate Armstrong

I Run
By Kate Armstrong.


In these days I do not go to bed. I do not expect to rest. Instead when night comes I roll myself up in a blanket on the sofa, still in day-clothes, and I count the ambulance sirens in and out of the hospital which has always been at the end of the road and which now feels particularly close. Like so much in this new world my sleep is a makeshift activity. I merely doss down for a while, quiet but still alert, ready to move into action if there’s a need.

I rest instead during the days. There are hours when I work; and then hours when I scroll through Twitter like everybody else, feeling the anger and boredom and frustration at all these idiots burst and fizz in my brain until that too is too much. But, that done, I examine the paintwork on the ceiling, waiting for the patch of sunlight that crosses my flat to reach me, cross my body, continue to the far wall. I am checking through that time on the progress of my mind, tracing its wanderings, preparing for where it could go. I wrote to my psychiatrist when the lockdown first began. I can feel my brain falling apart, I said. I need you to tell me if it goes too far. She wrote back, reassuring: you will get through this. I know you will.

To get through this, when I am not resting, I run. Day by day I widen my circles like a fox marking its territory out. I run east past repurposed wharfs to where the Thames estuary begins to open towards the sea. I run through the financial quarters, check off the City churches which hunch and squat below office towers whose glassy scales reflect this Spring’s blue sky. I run north to Regent’s Park where I see two giraffes, taller than their fences, looking lost but unperturbed. In St James’s Park I count herons; I observe how each day the moorhens seem calmer on the lake, how the pelicans come closer to be fed. I hear the geese fly overhead, and I wonder whether they always sound like that or whether the slow whirr of their wings like a heart about to stop is a new sound which the virus has brought. In Hyde Park I watch, merely two metres away, as a man wrapped in a dirty sleeping bag feeds bread to a quartet of parakeets.

Everywhere I go London is still here, here but empty, as though this is moonlight I am running through and not the sun of midday.

Home again. Twitter again. The checking of our privilege goes round in circles: I read a woman who’s had the virus but who is chipper and thanks the NHS. I read a man say his mental health is deteriorating but at least he’s not physically alone. My brain is also deteriorating, and I am alone, but I count my job and a south-facing balcony so there are plenty worse off than me. It’s genuine this checking and comparison and gratitude. I often think that gratitude for what we have got is the only thing that will get us through.

For to be alone through these times is, I tell myself, a blessing, a meditation, a form of sensory retreat. I am, I tell myself, in a liminal time, between night and day, then and the future, illness and health, the urban and the wild. I wonder how busyness will return to the streets. I wonder when and how thickly the crowds will reform. I think of this as I measure the city under my running feet, and when at night I turn to sleep, still I am alert for what may yet be to come.


First posted: Saturday, May 9th, 2020.

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