This week, I am delighted to present a few extracts of the semi-fictional diary of Peter Dale, a British writer living in Bogota, Colombia. In the ‘Quarantine Chronicles’, Peter writes a personal account of life in Bogota from the very first day of the COVID-19 lockdown. Day-by-day, he presents his own life, observations and reflections as the city and country adapt to very different circumstances. The diary has been read and enjoyed by a growing audience, in Colombia and around the world. As Peter has commented: “Physically we are separated by at least two metres, but mentally we are constantly colliding, constantly coinciding with the same or similar thoughts.”
I am also thrilled to publish a poem by Gill Scott: ‘Hayfield In 2020 Vision’. In keeping with this week’s nature theme, Gill uses colour to simultaneously describe the natural sights and sensations of the outdoors, but also to convey the time of the passing day itself. It is not just beautifully written, but intringuingly constructed.
Keep on writing!
Dan (Associate Editor)
Quarantine Chronicles (selection) by Peter Dale
You wake in the early, still-dark hours and look for signs of life – your own life, first. Yes, you’re still thinking, you’re still breathing, a bothersome headache lurking at the back of your head, the one that woke you up in the first place.
You listen next for your loved one or your loved ones. Yes, she’s there, sobbing but still there. You reach out a hand to comfort. Crying is better than dying. You lie still for some time, waiting for the light and the birdsong, waiting for your headache to stop. There is a dryness in your throat – is that one of the symptoms?
We two have survived the night, but what of the city? You listen hard for signs of life outside – nothing. No distant humming traffic, no barking dogs, no stubborn dregs of after-parties. Is it still alive, this Bogota? You have to believe that it is: eight million quiet, frightened souls, probably listening to the same silence. It’s finally broken by the far, nearer, nearer, far siren of an ambulance, blaring unnecessarily on the empty streets. You make mental plans for the day, starting with ‘empty bladder’. That could be one of the highlights (if you were only taking the piss) of your day.
The world is upside-down.
The typical cold, English behaviour of no physical contact (no kissing, hugging or shaking hands in greeting) was considered in most places to be anti-social. Now it’s a must.
The world is inside-out.
Once, old people, for their own sanity, were encouraged to look for any opportunity for social intercourse. My mother, aged 93, has carefully built up a network of friends and acquaintances (constantly renewed because they keep dying on her) and a busy agenda of activities. Now, she has to renounce this support system and is left like a toddler next to a freshly-collapsed tower of bricks she can’t put back together again.
The world is the wrong way around.
Everything is ‘up in the air’ except the planes we used to take us to and from our loved ones. Our plans are as useful as these planes.
The world is head-over-heels.
Loneliness used to be viewed as the twenty-first century killer. Now it’s the non-stop, twenty-four-seven presence of partners and children. Families have got used to being distant, digital and dysfunctional. Now proximity threatens these new dynamics, like a cat set amongst the pigeons, except that the pigeons can do nothing except smash their heads against the nearest window pane.
If the internet crashes, we’re all doomed.
The world is back-to-front.
Here in Colombia, the lawless, most remote regions of the country, where guerrilla groups still operate, and where there are no doctors, nurses, clinics or hospitals (and where there never have been), are probably the safest place to be. You can only hope that no-one goes to help them.
Sometime, sooner or later, there’s going to be a new beginning. It could be the dystopian, post-apocalypse vision of a single woman emerging from some underground bunker, her face, body and clothes soaked in sweat and filth. Contaminated dust and ash float in the air. It’s either too hot or too cold. And too quiet, since she is the only human as far as the eye can see. There will, finally, be hope, but it is a hope clouded by struggle and violence.
But let’s not go there. We’ve been there too many times before, in ‘escapist’ fiction or in our own worst nightmares. Let’s think instead of the little girl, Antonia, the four-year-old, who’s been cooped up with her parents and grandmother for the whole period of confinement. Over this time, she has grown as much as the space around her seems to have shrunk. The small flat where they live has been a kind of incubator, a hot house, where plants and little humans develop faster. Sometimes she has suffered, as tempers get heated, too, and momentarily she is forgotten, the half-understanding child amongst adults. But mostly she is the focus of attention and love. She has spent days with her mother and father, which wouldn’t have happened in normal circumstances. She has learned to read and write, to dance and to play some simple tunes on the flute. After these long months, she is more serious, more mature than before; her vocabulary has grown as much as her legs and arms. In short (is that the right term?), she has grown up; she is more grown-up.
When it’s the first day of tomorrow, Antonia will go back to her nursery school. Her uniform will not fit properly any more. It’s just as well that it was bought big in the first place. Her mother will kneel down in front of her and let down the hem of the smock. She will cup her child’s chin in her hand.
It’s only walking distance from the flat, but to her mother it will seem so far away. Her limbs and her confidence will have been atrophied by all that time in confinement. She will hold Antonia’s hand tightly because she will be both excited and afraid to let her return to the world from before, which won’t be the same as before, because all the people in it will be different.
They will reach the door of the ‘Happy Days’ kindergarten and Antonia will see her classmates David and Valentina. She will pull her hand away from her mother’s and will run towards her friends, without pausing to look back or say goodbye. Within minutes, they will be playing wordlessly together, their rules as always a mystery to the world outside the nursery gates.
This is not a normal diary day. You have decided to have a day off – and give other people a day off – from your daily story and imagine instead one of the many other stories that are developing all over Bogota.
Tomorrow, you will return to your own life, your own story and your own reality.
After three weeks of confinement, three weeks of looking out at the same streets, the same houses with their idle cars and mostly idle people, the same apartments, the same Andes mountains and the same imagined fields beyond, you have come to a simple, but complex conclusion: You have come to the realisation that you – all of us – are living in two places at the same time.
On the one hand, we are living a shared, global life where we are all in the same living room watching Netflix, in the same kitchen practising cooking skills we didn’t know we had, or didn’t know we had to have, and in the same bedrooms, dreaming the same fitful dreams, or sleeping the same nightmares.
We are all in the same country and it’s called Coronaland. It’s a country that has laws, pretty strict laws, in fact, but you could say that it has aspects of those social utopias that have been imagined over the years: people with time for leisure, with time to dedicate to their creative pursuits, and with time to interact and socialise with friends and family.
Coronaland is indeed a very special place, maybe not a utopia, but definitely like nowhere we’ve been before. Coronaland has no borders, despite covering thousands of square miles over many continents: in Coronaland, talking to a friend two streets away is the same as talking to someone in the places formerly known as France, India or Australia. In Coronaland, even our sense of time is a little hazy: no-one is really sure what day of the week it is.
We are citizens of a global state that is Coronaland, where we experience more or less the same freedoms, fears and frustrations, and we all use Coronaspeak, the lingua franca of self-isolation, lockdown, flattening curves, respirators, social distancing, PPEs, hazmats and the ‘roadmap to exit the restrictive measures’.
In one reality we are all together in one huge Coronaland, but in a parallel world we are all apart, shut up in our houses, our cities and our countries.
Everyone talks about ‘solidarity’, about being in the same boat together, but each country is acting out a blinkered NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) agenda where it’s us first and second, where countries like South Korea are to be envied or distrusted and others, with more deaths than us, are to be pitied or scorned.
We all inhabit Coronaland, but at the same time we live in MyLittleHome, a tiny separatist enclave in the autonomous area called MyLittleCity, itself part of MyLittleCountry, where our leaders, faced with a global pandemic, think and act locally. In MyLittleCountry, our experts and our ministers talk about our infections and our deaths.
It’s as if the ‘America First’ and the Brexit ‘We know best’ philosophies have spread to the rest of the world like some kind of… some kind of… now what would be the word for this? Ah, yes, like some kind of virus: let’s imagine some kind of really nasty virus that has infiltrated and infected the minds and souls of the whole world, or at least of its politicians.
You know, it sounds a bit far-fetched, doesn’t it?
Peter Dale, 2020
Peter was born in the North East of England and now lives in Bogota with his wife, Costanza. He is a founding member of the ‘Bogota Writers’. The group has published two collections of short stories, ‘Authors from Authors’ and ‘Voices of Bogota’, now in its second edition.
Hayfield In 2020 Vision by Gill Scott
Sun over Kinder, humped huge
And waiting for the first blush of shy pink
Then the full flush of rose red
As the light arrows into the narrow glass eye of Peep O’ Day.
Red ride the postal workers who
Doorstep drop parcels with a smile and a wave, a brisk retreat.
Each day we thank you.
Orange over Chunal
The 6 1
Takes the steep bends and dips
Into Little Hayfield, then
Down and right into the bus station
So quiet now. The drivers dare to fetch
The keyworkers who travel to hospitals and care homes,
The village shops that, ever-stocked, never stop supplying our food.
Gone are the fluorescent orange jackets of the school Walking Bus
Today the little walkers stay at home pasting painted rainbows of
Hope on windows.
No steady stream of children down Swallow House Lane
But staff still there to keep the school a special space of safety
And every Thursday evening, we stand tall and applaud you all.
Yellow daffodils now faded
As the ragged-leaved dandelions squeeze through gaps in grey stone walls,
Delicate fig buttercups bask in a sun-filled corner
As yellow archangel spreads greedily in the shade.
And here and there, clumped close to the ground,
The palest posy of primroses.
Soon, from out of sharp-shooting thorns, the bright yellow gorse flowers will grow.
Green for renewal, rebirth, restoration.
Lush emerald fields following the strong slopes of the hills
Hugging the sides of Mt Famine and South Head.
Bracken fronds swaying in the wind.
Lower lie the soft mosses draped over tangled trees on Elle Bank,
Back up to the tall conifers ranked like sombre sentinels
On the far slopes above the reservoir.
Then steeply drop to the river
Cooled by the overhanging leathery leaves of the rhododendron bushes.
Bottle green feathers glisten on the necks of the mallard ducks
As they idle down river to the village
Passing the stillness of pubs and cafes with shuttered windows and locked doors,
The silent cricket pitch a perfect swathe of green, newly mown
Ready and waiting.
Blue: be still, lift your eyes and let
The azure sky stretch over you
Like a gorgeous tent hung with clouds spun silver white
Drifting out and over Lantern Pike
To the towns and distant city,
Crossing the Cheshire Plain and touching the Welsh mountains.
Stand near the shaded wood by Park Hall:
Look down and see the bluebells, every year a brief bejeweled carpet.
Wait and wonder and maybe, just maybe, there will be a flash
Of the extravagant burning blue of the peacocks.
A fleeting moment of magnificence and magic.
Indigo are the wings of the evening jackdaws
As they complete their circle of the church tower.
And flitting are the shadows of the pipistrelle bats,
Dipping along the River Sett and darting up to
The high branches of the trees stretching to the pooling inkiness
Of the dusky sky
Where rides the full moon, a milky blue pearl.
Violet moors, smudged with cluster upon cluster of tiny purple bells,
Wave after wave of glorious heather
Surround the summer rambler from Twenty Trees, to the Shooting Cabin
And over Middle Moor.
Violet skies as the twilight turns to night,
Sinking down to the reservoir deepening into black.
The stars above are diamonds.
If we tread carefully
This dark night will be followed by a new day,
Bright with colour,
Radiant as a rainbow.
Gill Scott, 2020
If you’d like to see your writing appear in Write On! Showcase, please send your short stories, poetry or novel extracts to: firstname.lastname@example.org Or you can read more fiction, poetry, interviews and author advice in the latest issue of Write On! Available here
Coronaland has no borders, despite covering thousands of square miles over many continents: in Coronaland, talking to a friend two streets away is the same as talking to someone in the places formerly known as France, India or Australia.