Friday, 1 May 2020

Journal Of The Plague Year - Was That A Month?

Was that really the month of April? Truly that must have been the strangest month for everyone on the planet for longer than any of us can remember. The lockdown began, you might recall, on March 23rd, which means that, at time of writing, we've been staying at home for six weeks now.

To an extent it's been less strange for Hev and me than it must be for many people, as we are used to working at home together (having moved out of my studio at the end of 2018, it's become normal for us). And having lost my school and comedy work, I've spent the lockdown in exactly the same way I spent December and January, namely writing and drawing a graphic novel. But so many other things have been different.

We, like everyone, have missed going out, and socialising. The visiting of towns, galleries, museums, shops, and just new and varied places, has been the biggest thing we've noticed. We count our blessings that, in the first two and a half months of the year, we managed three visits to London (all with my work, and Hev accompanying me), as well as regular jaunts to our usual haunts. Added to which I had my busiest period of travel in the 6 weeks running up to lockdown, taking me to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the North, South East and West of England, so my travel batteries remain well stocked. (Sadly, the work trips I've subsequently cancelled to Hannover, Scotland, Ireland and the rest of the country, look like the sort of thing that'll be last on the list of things to return to normal. Can't see me on a plane again this year, and there's even talk of not travelling more than 50 miles for work, even if schools will be able to have visiting artists in, so I'm looking at re-devising what I do for a living).

Socialising has been spearheaded and masterminded by Felicity, who's organised a couple of excellent quiz nights by Zoom (above). Though, you have to say, it's not like a proper party. The tinny sound, the inability to chat with just one or two people amid the hubbub of the rest of the crowd, is something that technology has yet to master.

Walking has been interesting. Hev and I have walked, if not more, than in a far different way from how we normally would. Obviously I'd be on my feet working in schools all day, and you don't realise how much walking you do on a shopping and town-going day, but traipsing about for four or five hours in Bath, Bristol, Cardiff or wherever would be quite usual. Now that walking is restricted to "going for a walk" starting from home, but we've managed to make that quite the novel experience.

We've discovered bits of Clevedon we've not seen in all of the thirty years we've lived here, and have explored paths and walkways we'd never had the excuse to find before. Finding routes, and times of day, that avoid joggers and cyclists, has been the challenge, and we are so so lucky to live in a place with such an abundance of nearby countryside, and relatively low density of population, that this can be done. I'm constantly feeling sympathy for those in cities and busy towns where such luxury isn't possible.

Talking of which, whisper it, but our neighbours have done a moonlight flit. The upstairs neighbours have been struggling with a two year old and a baby in a tiny flat and, a week last Tuesday night, they suddenly disappeared. They have parents in the Midlands who, inevitably, have a bigger house with a garden, so nobody can blame them for preferring that as a place to sit out the lockdown.

And I furloughed myself, ooh missus. Thanks to the initiative of my accountants (Dart), without whom I wouldn't have known how to pursue things, I'm officially on furlough and have received my first payment from HMRC. Being a limited company, which I thought left me ineligible for these government rescue packages, I'm unable to claim for my turnover or dividends, but am able to claim a proportion of my salary as an employee. A very great boost I must say. On top of which I have to extend my great thanks to the three or four art organisations who've been able to pay me half-fees for cancelled visits (most haven't been able to, and one, tragically, has gone out of business - Artrix). And to the two or three schools and a book festival, who have already booked me provisionally for 2021. My diary for 14 months hence has never been fuller.

Other highpoints of the "can it really be" six weeks were doing the Dean Friedman live show with the Socks, doing an online interview with Steve, and, blimey, is that it? We've walked, we've worked, I've foraged (for the record, 7.30 in the morning is the best time to go to Tesco, and M&S at Cribbs Causeway is pretty quiet every time, though I've avoided it at weekends), and we've watched a lot of TV.

We've watched a couple of the National Theatre Live productions (One Man Two Guvnors and Twelfth Night), which of course need pausing for the 8pm Thursday night clapping (which varies in volume, but still keeps up in our area). We've watched more films than we ever would, most of which we've forgotten, and we keep pegs in the cliff face of time with our work, Hev having made a video of herself talking about one of her historic characters (which will be emerging soon), and me churning out page after page of the new book, Prince Of Denmark Street.

On which subject, I'd better get back to work. 34 pages drawn, 84 still to do. Best get busy.

Happy isolating everyone.

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who et al, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries & art centres. email for details. Follow Kev on Facebook, Twitter. Promo video here

My debut graphic novel Findlay Macbeth, available on Amazon now:

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