‘So many knobs,’ I say, sighing into my mug.
‘I beg your pardon?’ Aelfnod splutters on his tea.
‘Door knobs, cupboard knobs, handles, things for opening lids with, taps, letter-boxes. You know. Things that need extra bleaching just now.’
‘Ah.’ Aelfnod settles back and a dreamy look crosses his face as he contemplates the joys of housework, clearly feeling that I have all the fun. ‘I was worried there for a minute.’
Aelfnod, despite the fact that we have differing views on dust, is a kindred spirit.
He knows when to talk and when to be quiet. He knows when a shared pot of tea in silence is the only thing that makes sense. He understands what it’s like to need space and time to re-boot your mind with something completely disconnected from everything else that’s going on.
In my case, it’s by being alone – driving with the radio on loud, tapping into whatever the music triggers, or being on a train with my brain rocking down new tracks or on a station platform, anonymous among all the commuters rushing pointlessly about – observing, listening and invigorated (if sometimes also cross, cold and late).
For Aelfnod, his reset process appears to be rummaging through the cookery books. (If it’s not him – then who else is reordering them so I can never find the one I want?)
Life has all been a bit trying over the last week. We’re on lockdown, working from home and all of a sudden the only people I’m allowed to be with seem noisier and messier than usual and I can only get out of the house once a day.
Nerves are being trodden on like cowpats round a water trough.
Mingled with personal anxiety caused by coronavirus, the day-job is absorbed in mitigating its impact. So it’s impossible to tune out from the crisis. The most creative decisions of the day are what to cook with what’s in store and when to go for my one walk. All in all, my reset time and my creative time seems to have seeped away and I’ve been feeling grumpy.
It really does come to something when I’m missing a five a.m. start and squeezing past strangers at Clapham Junction.
In case you didn’t know, Aelfnod is one of my invisible household elves. And the thing about invisible household elves is that they’re not exactly real (shh don’t tell them that), so they don’t turn up for a chat unless I want them to. But they often come to mind when I’m being domestic and self-reflective.
So this afternoon, after some vigorous bleaching of the aforesaid knobs, handles etc, and despite the fact that I ought to be getting to grips with a novel plot, I decided to get a grip on my own plot and turned to Aelfnod for his views on being in lock-down which already feels like it’s been going on for a year when it’s only been a few days.
‘Does it bother you?’ I say.
Aelfnod shrugs and holds out his doll’s tea-cup for more tea. ‘It’s a bit dusty and the airing cupboard is full of out-of-control laundry fairies but this is a nice home.’
‘I know, but I’m used to being pretty much able to go out when I want to do what I want and see what I want.’
‘Then you’re luckier than many. And the things you really like best are indoorsy things anyway – writing, reading, cooking, sewing, painting – and you haven’t done the last two for years. Perhaps now’s the time to start again.’
‘I thought you didn’t like mess.’
‘I don’t like you slamming doors because you’ve got to the point where you’re getting on your own nerves.’
‘I only slammed one door,’ I say huffily.
‘Only because the other one gets caught on the carpet.’ Aelfnod takes another sip of tea and frowns. I feel that in another decade, he’d be puffing a pipe in an admonishing manner. ‘Look on the positive,’ he says. ‘All the news does is focus on the negative. You know that.’
‘It’s true,’ I admit. ‘It’s just that people…’
‘Ah people. None of us know why humans think they’re the most intelligent creatures on earth. You buy stuff you don’t need, rush to go to places which are no nicer than where you’re from, complain when there’s too much to do, complain when there’s nothing to do, never really know what you want. You always look at stuff the wrong way. Instead of looking at the fear, look for the bit of hope. You being stuck indoors right now might save a life. Maybe a life you’ll never know about.’
‘You’re right. And I keep thinking of Anne Frank and knowing I’ve nothing to complain about. And I don’t live alone and I do love the people I’m with.’
‘Exactly. Plus you might discover something. Think about it – what have you noticed?’
I sit back and consider. After a pause I say, ‘There’s less traffic so it’s quieter, I can hear the birds better and the air seems clearer.’
‘It’s good to be mindful of food, supplies, travel, little freedoms and not take them for granted. You appreciate nature more when you treasure time outside. Everyone is sharing pictures of buds, and sparrows and even mini-beasts which we might not have noticed before.’
‘Community groups are springing up all over the place. People are falling over themselves to shop or get prescriptions for isolated neighbours, even ones they don’t know. Someone posted a desperate message in our local group and within two hours, the group – without anyone leaving home – had tracked down his family and got him help.’
‘There you go. What else?’
I’m starting to cheer up. ‘And if it weren’t for modern technology I couldn’t meet with the rest of my family by video every day so I don’t have to worry so much.’
‘Oh yes,’ says Aelfnod, with a disapproving frown. ‘I’ve listened into your conversations. They’re not very intelligent. Far too much giggling.’
‘Well sorry,’ I say. ‘There’s only so much news to share when you’re all stuck indoors and there’s one thing on everyone’s mind. You can only discuss what everyone is having for dinner for so long. It’s more fun to do something silly. But now I think of it, it’s not just connecting with family. It’s everyone. Colleagues, friends, Facebook contacts, all sorts of people who can’t meet in person have found ways to do it via the internet.’
‘Online book clubs, book readings, virtual gigs and poetry slams, interactive quizzes. In fact if I joined in everything I could, I’d never do anything else.’
‘Sounds better than anything on TV.’
I’m feeling a lot brighter. ‘And museums and art galleries and theatres are providing links to all sorts of exhibitions and plays you couldn’t easily see otherwise.’
Aelfnod sits up straight. ‘Is Midsummer Night’s Dream one of them? I’d love to see that. My ancestor’s one of the main characters.’
‘Yes but how will you get online?’
‘Tsk. What a silly question,’ Aelfnod dunks a cookie-crumb in his tea and gives me a grin. ‘I do it all the time. Why else do you think your phone is always fully charged at night and flat as a goblin’s flip-flop in the morning?
If you want to read about how I first met Aelfnod check out Weird and Peculiar Tales a collection of short stories by Paula Harmon and Val Portelli. It’s on special offer until 2nd April 2020.
If you want to know about the household elves’ view of me (well one of them anyway) you might want to read An Interview with the Laundry Fairy
If you want to know about any of the links mentioned above check these out:
From Clapping to Kindness: Five Reasons to be Hopeful
Community Support Links in the UK
Watch Royal Shakespeare Company Shows from home
The Guardian: 10 of the world’s best museum and art gallery tours
Good Housekeeping: best virtual tours
How to visit Paris catacombs and Disney theme park rides online
Words copyright 2020 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.