Jenni has been reading Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al
I have to be honest, Writedown 2020, a collection of lockdown accounts from writers in the Galloway Glens, was a difficult read for me.
Not because it is bad, quite the opposite. Each writer is beautifully in touch with both their own experience and the world around them, and expresses themselves with stunning combinations of memoir, anecdote, diary, and poetry.
Nor was it difficult because it is overwhelmingly sad. This is not page after page of building sorrow, loss upon loss piled until is suffocates the reader. Writedown contains melancholy, there is pain from these authors as there was pain for all of us across 2020 and the first ten months of quarantine, but it is not oppressive.
What is pervasive though, what made this such a difficult book for me, was the isolation. In one early chapter, an adult daughter is dropping off groceries to her mum and needs to use the toilet terribly. She frets over whether it was safe for her to enter her mum’s home and pee. She worries that a simple bodily function, a necessity of life and that caving to it might accidentally bring the virus to her loved one.
The daughter does enter the house, she touches nothing until she gets to the bathroom, and carefully wipes down every surface in the bathroom after she finishes, giggling through the door with her mum at the ridiculousness of the situation.
She leaves the house without touching her mum.
In years to come, I pray that the mum and daughter in this story continue to laugh at this moment, at the height of lockdown insanity, when going to the bathroom became dangerous. I hope that the children of the family laugh at the craziness of it for years to come when mum and grandmum decide to tell and re-tell it.
I hope that next time I read Writedown, it doesn’t make me cry, because it’s the missing hug at the end that does it for me. The fact that at the end of this silly little episode, mum doesn’t get to wrap her daughter up and tell her everything will be okay. Instead, mum is left alone in her home, while the daughter returns to “her own family where hugs abound.”
After months in quarantine, seeing no one but my housemates and my cat, I can feel the weight of missed hugs, both my own and others. The absence of back-slaps, shoulder nudges, high fives and handshakes, cheek kisses and warm hugs aches, and that is why Writedown was hard for me, because instead of transporting this reader out of our bleak reality, it nailed me to it, and I have remind myself to be grateful for that. To savor every second in this world, regardless of how isolated I feel these days.
Writedown is beautiful, at times painful, but always honest. It is a necessary record of an extraordinary year, and every contributor should be proud for the part they have taken in it.
5/5, but brace yourself.