Diary of a (not so) vulnerable 70-something
In the first of a new weekly coronavirus diary, actor, scriptwriter, raconteur and mild asthmatic George Layton surveys his new life.
It’s Saturday March 28. Saturday! The weekend! Lovely…
“Darling,” I mumble as I wake from an unusually deep sleep and snuggle up to my wife, Moya, “call the kids, see if they want to go for a walk and then maybe we’ll all have lunch together. Let’s go to Lemonia.”
Except… that didn’t happen. The above is fantasy. We’re in bloody lockdown aren’t we? And I’ve slept terribly. Nothing to do with lockdown; I’ve always been a lousy sleeper. I’ve never woken up from a deep sleep. I’m like a dog with one ear cocked. Which is more than I can say for the dog on the bed. No way is he stirring from his usual deep sleep. Woody, the family pooch is like a teenager you just can’t get up in the morning. If only I had a bladder like his!
You may have noticed that I said ‘dog on the bed’ not on our bed. More fantasy. My darling wife is not sleeping next to me since I’m in the spare room, where I have been self-isolating for weeks, long before the government started bombarding us with the word. Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, all is well in that department of the Layton marriage. We happily celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary last week. I may be in the vulnerable over-70’s section of the community, but there’s still life in the old dog yet.
No, my isolation was self-imposed due to a complex and very painful shoulder operation followed by a less complex but equally painful knee operation. God, how I’ve suffered. But I shouldn’t complain. It’s only fair that my wife has the king-size in the master bedroom while she’s getting over her two operations.
So, here we are: the first weekend after last Monday night’s lockdown edict. And the stark realisation hits me. Weekends are no more. After only four days of lock down – four days – everything has changed.
Actually, the change started on Friday. None of the usual ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ anticipation of the impending weekend. No moaning that we can’t get into our favourite restaurant because we left it too late to book. And on the plus side no ‘Why did you leave it ‘till Friday to book, why didn’t call earlier in the week?’
So how has the first week gone?
Monday March 23
8.30pm, the Boris dictat finally came. Formal lockdown. By 9.15pm my wife and I were arguing over what we should watch on television. Doesn’t bode well.
The first major consequence of the lockdown that directly affected me came while Boris was still speaking. The total kyboshing of our Monday to Friday no alcohol regime, which I had sanctimoniously and smugly been adhering to since 6pm. I weakened, a broken man.
“Sod this,” I announced defensively, aggressively, determinedly, pissed-offedly, choose any adverb you like. Make one up – I did. “I’m having a whisky!”
And I headed to the J&B, tripping over the dog in my haste.
Tuesday March 24
First official day of lockdown, and it looks gorgeous out there. Beautiful blue sky, very fresh, but sunny. Actually, it’s bloody cold, but at least our younger daughter, a hard-working and successful agent for emerging and established writer/performers whose live gigs have all been cancelled, can throw her two-year-old twins and their five-year-old brother out into the garden while she tries to boost the morale of her clients. She’s answering emails, answering telephone calls, while at the same time refereeing sibling squabbles in a game of tiny tennis between brothers. Meanwhile, the twin girl is swinging precariously on the bay tree singing Starman in tribute to her hero, David Bowie.
This first day of lock down, helped by the weather, has a novelty air to it. It takes me back to my miserable schooldays when I would always turn up on the first day of the school year full of good intentions. I would be a reformed character. The model student. I would pay attention, not chat in class, give my homework in on time, yada, yada. Within days I would get my first detention.
On this first day of lockdown I had a plan: I would start every morning with Pilates. I would sort my study out. Clear the shed. I would… oh what wouldn’t I be doing? I was full of good intentions.
I watched the news channels all day, getting increasingly depressed as I headed for my first figurative detention of the term.
The highlight of all this was calling my friend Barry Cryer to wish him happy birthday for yesterday. He told me his birthday parrot joke:
Barry (to parrot): Hello Polly, now are you self-isolating?
Parrot : I’m in a f****** cage, Barry – what do you think?
Wednesday March 25
Before yesterday’s lock down Moya and I had been social distancing for over a week and I have to tell you that there is hardly any difference.
Social distancing is deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading the Covid 19 virus.
In the Layton household, social distancing meant no restaurants, no films/theatre, no public transport, no tennis, no bowls (my new passion). Generally being very watchful. We did, however, allow ourselves to pop to the shops. And the biggest indulgence, visit the family, especially the grandchildren – at a distance of course.
And that, as far as I can see, is the only difference between total lock down and social distancing. No popping out to the shops. Now, we rely on our lovely kids to leave goodies on the doorstep. And that is the big lock down sacrifice – not seeing our children. Eclipsed by an even bigger loss – Kleenex at the ready, if you have any – not seeing our grandchildren.
Today we have our first big crisis – the internet goes down. If you’d asked me which is worse, not seeing the grandchildren or the internet going down – you know what the answer would be, don’t you? At least with the internet working we can Whatsapp the kids.
Total meltdown, both of us running around like headless chickens as I talked to my WiFi guy on the ‘phone. On his instructions we unplugged the router, we unplugged the booster, we unplugged the computer, we even unplugged the skybox. It was mayhem. Made worse by Moya yelling at me: “It’s that bloody Chinese Huawei router – I told you not to buy it!!” Of course, it had to be my fault.
Two hours later, all working perfectly. The network had gone down.
Never was I more relieved to hear the ping of an incoming email. It was from our provider, Three BroadBand:
Click here to see your latest bill
You couldn’t bloody write it, could you?
Thursday March 26
As mentioned, my daughter is a self-employed agent, and many of her clients’ gigs have been cancelled.
Her husband is a successful musician, also depending on live gigs – he was supposed to be on tour. Cancelled.
Our elder daughter is a producer for fashion shoots, many abroad. Cancelled. Like all freelancers and the self-employed throughout the country, they are sick with worry. As are Moya and I. What relief is Rishi Sunak bringing them?
As far as we can make out when we examine the detail – nothing. There are so many unfair anomalies. A depressing end to the day.
Friday March 27
Same old, same old. I do cursory Pilates. I go to the shed. I take a look. I close the door. I clear Woody’s calling cards off the lawn. Most productive thing I do all day.
Saturday March 28
Back to where we started. Le Non-Weekend. We coped. Particularly when with immaculate timing a letter comes (conveniently dated February!) from HSBC UK advising of increased charges.
Sunday March 29
An up and down day. Moya’s shoulder, almost six month’s after the operation, is killing her. The specialist told her before lock down that it’s frozen shoulder and will go. She is in stoic pain. We miss the kids. We go for a Woody walk in the woods, avoiding anybody within 20 metres.
On the ‘up’ side, I decide to use some old bananas to make banana bread in an effort not to waste food. Moya, remembering the state of the kitchen when I was in Celebrity MasterChef, goes into total decline. I follow the recipe, put in nuts, pieces of chocolate, out of date dates and it’s all ready to put in the hot oven. Moya points to a bunch of brown bananas nearby. I’ve forgotten to put them in.
I wonder what week two will bring?
George Layton’s career as an actor and writer spans almost six decades. He has appeared on stage in the West End and on Broadway; and has starred in, or written for, countless TV series.