For ex-teacher Nick Hayes lockdown was no hardship. He found his voice and wrote a book…
World War One was a tough gig. As a former English teacher, I would suggest there was only one thing tougher than the Somme and Verdun. That was ploughing through the incessant horror of World War poetry with a group of year nines… in the heat of July… last thing on a Friday. Even the ladies of Langton were ground down and mauled into submission by Owen and Sassoon.
It reminds me of lockdown. There is only one thing tougher than lockdown. That is ploughing through the incessant horror of “how I coped with lockdown” stories.
“ It was with the help of some B celeb doing star jumps; it was making a half ton of banana bread for the kids of key workers at Westmeads; it was sea swimming each day off the Tankerton slopes; or walking the dog 14 miles until Clowes Wood was like a second home. . .]
Everyone brings their story to the socially distanced pub visit or mumbles something through their mask as they buy more gin from the supermarket.
But in my terrible arrogance and unstoppable self-importance, my lockdown story is different. Imagine if Wilfred Owen had not told of mud and trench foot but of candy floss and unicorns. My story is not fanciful, it is true enough. But it is a tale of wonder too. Wonder at how something awful brought something brilliant, how once there was chaos then a hope was born, where once there was disaster there was triumph and where once I looked out in despair at the midnight sea, I turned back to the land in the arms of a mermaid.
It’s a short tale, in all honesty. But, I would suggest, all the more beautiful because of that. I recently moved to Tankerton Road after many years in Chestfield. It wasn’t an upgrade to one of those palaces on the Castle side. It was the other side. The side that Lady Bracknell would describe as less fashionable. A familiar tale of marital breakdown, but one more colourful tale of bipolar disintegration, hospitalisation, unemployment and social services. Most painfully, the kids were held in trust by the ex.
Then came lockdown. For me, it was just an extension of the social lockdown in which I had been living. Bipolar antics had brought bans from pubs on Harbour Street and elsewhere, bans from WhatsApp groups and I was sent to Coventry by the mums of Whitstable. Nice work. Isolation was my daily bread.
When national lockdown arrived it was no hardship. On the contrary, it was liberating. It meant that I could completely justify sitting at my keyboard from six to midday. I could cast myself as a creative, not a crocked layabout. Creatively, I could draw on the hilarious mismanagement in Whitehall and reflect on the human tragedy and grotesque comedy of events. When everyone was losing their voice, I discovered an opportunity. No longer able to meet or socialise, relegated to Zoom or Skype, many felt silenced or lost: I felt empowered and uplifted. This was my time. My work was broadcast on Radio Kent and on podcasts. Even my children started taking an interest in the loon on the hill.
And so it grew. It essentially started at lockdown and ended in August. It is a collection of creative reflections, largely original monologues, under the title of Locked Unlocked. Impossibly talented local artist Paul Elliott put together the cover, local publisher Lin White did the hard graft and my brother even supplied an illustration. It is the product of teamwork. The virus made the biggest contribution.
It’s deserving of your dismissal. If you want to leave behind those lockdown tales of torture and suffering, then maybe this account is not for you. Except: it’s a tale of passion, not Passchendaele. In the course of writing this book I found light in the dark, a cure from the carnage and love out of the sea. I finally left my teaching life and embraced my creative side. I stepped out of my conventional world and walked, unboundaried, out on the Street. Where once there was medication, there is now the medicine of metaphor. I’d lost all those that I love. But, as the first reviews appear online, I meet with kids and those who care. You don’t have to believe in miracles, but there is no power like that of the imagination and no joy like that of a heart that loves.
Check out the book on Amazon.co.uk. It’s sold with the words ‘How lockdown set me free…’
Find your voice, and – if you’re shackled – you might set yourself free.
Cover art by Paul Elliot: http://www.elliottworld.co.uk/
This article was first published on Whitstable Views