Caught by the River

In Quarantine: a diary (Day 4)

Tim Dee | 21st May 2021

Our quarantine correspondent Tim Dee celebrates a birthday in isolation.

Thursday 20th May

No new birds today. Hardly anything noticed outside. No peregrines. Two herring gulls over at lunch. Their strong departing grey making the sky’s own look feeble. With my face open upwards, I had a twenty minute fast-walking session through the palm hall and around the outside terrace, but I added nothing. My list has stalled at six. There was sleet in the air, too. Back in my room, I drew the golden velour drapes ­– funeral parlour issue – and sent the upright coffin of myself out to Zoom and Skype and Blue Jeans. The day thereafter grimaced away – so, the screen demands, even with loved ones, the rictus grin. It’s my sixtieth birthday. My mum calls early asking if it is. Yes, I say, do you remember the day? On 20th May 1961, I occurred in Blundell Sands, just outside Liverpool. There were mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers then on the Wirral. Sir Gawain hadn’t chopped the head off everything. I don’t remember, my mum says and asks me what I want for lunch on the day (at the end of next week?) that I will get to her in Minehead from here. The last resort I have called Minehead. And the Head Mine. 

There is no one obviously in charge here. No one describing the rationale for what is happening. Everyone I have seen is a messenger or a porter. Where is the boss? I don’t think I could ask to see the manager. I wonder if there even is one. You can feel the description of any task required being rubbed at or eroded every time it is passed from one worker to another. Send reinforcements could easily decay into send three and four-pence. My breakfast went astray like this yesterday. I hope someone at least enjoyed my posh coffee. Ah, Mr Tim, a guard said as I was escorted out of the lift at the end of my allotted walking slot. I think my surname has gone. 

I am teaching nature writing this week and accordingly have an urge to read anything but that. Kafka’s animals suddenly seem essential. I read The Burrow (in Michael Hofmann’s magnificent recent translation). I think it was his last unpublished – buried – work. The animal in occupation is a badger perhaps, though of course it is FK himself also, and all of us. It loves its burrow. I moved on to Poseidon, god of the sea, and in Kafka’s configuring an office-bound bureaucrat (‘The administration of all the waters was a huge task’):

He saw very little of the seas, only fleetingly on his hurried way up to Olympus, and he had never sailed them as such. He tended to say he was waiting for the world to end first, because there was bound to be a quiet moment when he had signed off on his last calculation and would be able to take himself on a little cruise somewhere.

My first pension payment should arrive in my bank account tomorrow.


More Tim tomorrow as well.