The days are flying by, but my reading is as slow as ever

Monday April 27th

There’s a curious phenomenon about this lockdown. The time just seems to fly by.  No, it doesn’t seem to fly by – it does fly by. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.   

You’d think with the constrictions of lockdown the days would drag. For me, curiously, it doesn’t.

On the other hand, my younger daughter home-schooling a near 6-year old, looking after 2-year old twins and constantly cleaning up whilst trying to run her business, might not agree.  

For her, and other mums and dads in her situation, one day of lockdown must feel like a week.

I reckon it’s my age group.  I’m hearing the same from my fellow vulnerable –lock-downers.

“Sorry, Georgie, can’t talk, online yoga’s just starting…”

“Can I call you back, I’ve got to get my seedlings in…”

“Not a good time, darling – I’m at a crucial stage with my sourdough!”

And all the above were men including the, “Not a good time, darling”

Time flies for us because, pre-lockdown, the working week had a different pattern: you’d start with that Monday morning feeling, drag yourself through Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, desperately willing Friday to come.

At last the weekend! And before you knew it, that depressing Monday morning feeling again…

But that Monday morning feeling is no more.  

With lockdown, Monday, Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday, it doesn’t matter what day it is. Not when you’ve got daily yoga, seedlings to sow, bread to bake… 

Oh, apologies, must rush, I’ve got my virtual bridge lesson. Where does the time go…?

Tuesday

I am reading an email from a friend who lives in Hong Kong: “…we’re incredibly lucky living here in Hkg…”

What? Incredibly lucky? I’ve been to Hong Kong. It is so densely populated, I’d have thought that social distancing would be an impossibility.

“here in Hkg – only 1,038 infections and 4 deaths. Can you believe it?” No, I bloody well can’t!  

“…people are staying home voluntarily, there’s no official lockdown. Land borders and passenger ports are closed…”

Seems eminently sensible.

“…monitored quarantine, if you come in by air. Very few flights, but everyone tested.”

That’s what we should have been doing from the start.

  “If negative, it’s GPS-tagged home quarantine for 2 weeks…”

Absolute common sense.

“…if positive, instant hospitalisation!”

Only 4 deaths in Hong Kong, albeit 4 too many.  

And while we’re at it: 116 in South Africa (with armed soldiers patrolling, admittedly), 143 in Greece, 1,218 in India.

27,510 deaths in the UK. What are we doing wrong? Well, not cancelling the Cheltenham Festival for a start. Not monitoring travellers coming into the country. Slow in testing. Slow in track and trace.

I know, hindsight is a wonderful thing. But so is intelligent thinking, to say nothing of common sense.

Makes you wonder what we’re doing right?

Wednesday

As the father of 4 children, grandfather of 3 and another grandchild on the way, courtesy of our younger son and his much-loved girlfriend, I know only too well the happiness and relief everyone experiences at the safe delivery of a healthy new addition to the family.

Congratulations Carrie Symonds on becoming a mum for the first time.  

And to Prime Minister Boris on the welcome arrival of another baby to add to his collection.

Thursday

Sad news from Los Angeles today. Jill Gascoigne has passed away.

In 1984, Jill and I were in the same production of Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London. Jill played Aladdin and I played, well…Aladdin! If this sounds odd, let me tell you it absolutely was.

I am at home on a Saturday afternoon in January 1984. It’s around 1.30pm and I get a telephone call from my dear friend Roy Kinnear. How much we miss him.

He explains that Jill Gascoigne, who’s playing Aladdin, is ill. The matinee and evening shows are sold out and they’re going to be doing Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp with just the lamp!

George: “What’s that to do with me?” I knew where this was going.

Roy: “Erm…well, Richard and I…”

Richard O’Sullivan, one of my oldest friends

Roy (cont): “And Lynsey…”

 Lynsey de Paul, another friend and neighbour. Also now missed.

Roy: “And Paul…”

‘Paul’ is Paul Elliott, the producer. The Panto King.  

I had just directed Aladdin for Paul at the Theatre Royal, Bath, with Francis Matthews as a delightfully vulgar Widow Twanky and a deliciously over the top Abanazer in the shape of John Nettles. To rave reviews, I might add! So I sort of knew the lines.

Roy (cont): “We thought you might like to step in…”

George: “Are you bonkers?”

Before you could say ‘He’s behind you’, I was driving to the Shaftesbury Theatre, going over the lines with my elder son.

Within 40 minutes, I was on stage in yellow dungarees and rosy rouged cheeks, being given a hero’s welcome by a packed house, who had been told that George Layton would be playing Aladdin that afternoon, when he could get there!

I did the two shows and I loved every minute! And I especially loved the malt whiskey Jill sent me by way of a thank you.

I’m still waiting for the Panto King to pay me, mind you…

Friday

I have miraculously managed to combine an acting career with a writing career. I say ‘miraculously’ for 2 reasons:

1. I am gregarious by nature. I don’t like being on my own, which doesn’t sit comfortably with a self-isolating profession like writing. Possibly, this is why I am coping reasonably well with lockdown.

2. I am a chronic procrastinator. I even procrastinate when it comes to procrastinating.

I will volunteer for anything to avoid putting pen to paper – that’s how I used to write – now switching on the computer. I will offer to make the bed, clear the kitchen, hoover the house. I’ll do the shopping and if I’ve forgotten anything, I’m delighted to go straight back. If anybody needs an airport run, I’m your man!

I’ve got this reputation for being so helpful, so generous with my time. In truth, it’s procrastination masquerading as kindness.

The trouble with lockdown is that my procrastinatory options are becoming limited. I can’t go shopping. I can’t offer to pick up our grandson from school. I can’t go and help with the twins…  

Come on, George! This isn’t going to get Friday’s Layton on Lockdown written. I suppose I could go and clear out that damned shed…

When I say that I’d rather do anything than write, I do have my limits!

Saturday

I’m reading a fascinating book. No, I’ve started reading a fascinating book. I began it over two weeks ago and I’m on page 31.

I know, shocking. I must be the slowest reader in the world. If slow reading were an Olympic sport, I would be a multiple gold medal winner.

There are various reasons. I’ve got a grasshopper mind. I cannot sit down for a couple of hours, relax and read a book.  I’m up. I’m down. I make a cup of tea. I ask Moya if she’d like a cup of tea.

“What?”  

“I’m making a cuppa. Would you like…?”

“No. Ssh, I’m reading!”

But the main reason I’m so slow is that I have a peculiar, irritating habit. I have to read each page twice. No reason, I just do. So technically I have read 62 pages.

The book I’m slowly reading is Legacy by Thomas Harding. The story of the rise and fall of the J. Lyons catering company. I really recommend it. It is gripping, even after 31/62 pages.

But it is 540 pages long. That’s 1,080 pages for me.

I’m going to have to do a Matt Hancock. Set myself a daily target. 50 pages a day. I can do that! And if I get behind, I could always download the audio and listen instead of reading…

No! That would be cheating. Like counting home testing kits in your daily target before they’ve been carried out.

Sunday

I love the radio. I fall asleep to the radio. I wake up to the radio. I listen in the bath, in the kitchen, in the car.  

And, until relatively recently, I rarely listened to music. It was always the spoken word. 

That changed with the arrival of our first grandson. He loves music.  

In the car it’s: 

“GG, BBC Radio 6 please. “Louder!  Louder!”

At home it’s: 

“Alexa, play Queen.”

“Alexa play The Beatles.”

“Alexa, play Move it, Move it.”

I tell him: 

“You’ve got music in your bones.”

“Music in my bones, GG!”

“Yes, ‘cos of your dad.” His dad’s a hugely talented musician. So, somewhat late in life, I now listen to music. And I love it!

Hey, it’s 3 o’clock! Time for Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on Radio 6!  

Follow George Layton on Twitter: @thegeorgelayton