It was an extreme event that happened. It was a bomb, or a shot, or a thunderbolt. It was a giant’s axe – no, a cleaver – that came down and cleaved me in two, from the mid-point of my skull, downwards, and left me severed, one part lifeless, the other just twitching, in pain, barely alive.

And then Christmas came anyway. It comes back to me clearer than yesterday. More than twelve years have passed and I can still remember – I can see and smell and feel – that Christmas Day, imbued as it was, coloured as it was by the overarching pain of what had happened a few weeks before. And even these days, with all that’s going on, worldwide disruption, state of emergency, imminent lockdown of entire population – these days will never have the charge, the shudder, the vividness of that Christmas and the days before it and after it, because things come and things go in the world, wars, disasters, earthquakes, they come, they disrupt and shock, they go into the history books. They are elsewhere. They are far away, they concern other people, they are nothing to do with me, I can continue living in my usual way.

Trust me, I was a history teacher – if the World Wars, if the Black Death, if the employment of children as chimney sweeps, if any of that was immediate and personal we would all go around in a chronic state of hopeless distress and sorrow. A class of thirty children could not, at the end of the lesson, get up and put their chairs tidily under their desks (I wish) and go calmly (!) to Maths or PE if the bombing of Hiroshima was something that really touched them. I could not have gone coldly to the staffroom for my break time coffee and calmly discussed the need to order more exercise books, or the interesting pairing off of two of my colleagues.

I was a history teacher and now I am a retired old woman, and soon I might be a prisoner in my own home – not even my own home, in my view – so as to avoid the virus. We are told there’s a virus and we have to believe it, even though the evidence is not in front of our own eyes, only in newspapers and on the TV and radio. And, doubtless, all over the internet, but not there, in front of us, live. And it’s like they say: a million Chinese can die and it’s something to read in the paper, hear on the TV, and pass over. One person dies, a person you know slightly, a friend of a friend, say, or someone who lives along he street, and it’s something to pause over; you might send a card. Someone you know dies, one of your extended family, then yes, you are sorry, you are sad, it leaves a gap. But, that, that thing that happened in December 2006, that changed everything, me, my life, my whole existence. I’m remembering what it was like, I’m writing it down, some of it, writing it down and I could not if anyone was to ask, I could not explain what is the purpose of what I’m doing.

So, official guidance: everything has to shut down for the time being. I went to choir yesterday, my only outing most weeks; not more than half of the normal number of people was there, and the decision was taken to suspend meeting for the foreseeable future. And today the government have officially said the same thing: for the time being there is a prohibition against gatherings of people.

However. I get in my car and drive to the next street to pick up Jojo. I do this three mornings a week – pick him up from home and take him down to Hillsborough to his placement. Nearly every time I go in and spend the morning there, being a bit useful, helping a bit, with Jojo, or with the other service users. (Dreadful term I know, but what is a better one?) The manager meets me at the door – they have been spraying our hands on arrival for over a week now – and tells me she is sorry but now the guidance says I am only allowed to drop him off at the door and watch him be met and have his hands sprayed with sanitizer before he goes in. Are they protecting me, or their service users? I don’t know and maybe neither do they.

‘We may have to close altogether,’ she says. She sees the look on my face and says, ‘I know.’

They go on –the press and the media I mean – about this being the worst emergency since the flu epidemic of 1918. That old forgotten bit of history, tacked on the end of a documentary about the First World War. These days history-in-the-making is visiting us, us who believed that we had the right to safety and plenty and freedom. Well, freedom if you didn’t look too closely. A once in a century epidemic, a virus that can kill anyone – though mostly, they say, old people. Thanks.

People – Heidi’s Adam for example – are blustering hopefully that there’s nothing to worry about, it’s only like the flu, only people who are already ill with something serious have any cause to worry. Other people are anxious; children are scared; there is panic buying. We are being told, over and over, to wash our hands. Over and over. The shops are running out of hand-sanitizer; before this I didn’t even know there was such a thing. People are making their own, someone says, from vodka and vinegar.

People are stranded on cruise ships, people are stranded in foreign airports; people who have symptoms must not go out. Their families must not go out. What are the symptoms? Could be anything, varies from person to person – where’s a distinctive rash when you need one? Dry cough, temperature – or maybe you can be symptom-free but still infect other people. We are all in the dark, these days.

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