I am the King of wishful thinking, the Grand Wizard of optimism, and I give Candide a run for his money when it comes to living in the belief that everything will turn out for the best. So it was in this vein that I chose to move myself, lock, stock and barrel, to Valencia last month. It was going to be great. Fallas, street parties, sunshine and a beautiful flat with home office in the lively neighbourhood of Ruzafa. I would write by day, party by night, meet new people and improve my Spanish (which wouldn't be difficult, in truthfulness).
And so it proved. For a whole two weeks. Then I went to Anguilla, a beautiful island in the East Caribbean for a peach of a press trip where I shared a beachside apartment with my roomie and new bessie, Laura Marfell-Williams of White Tiger PR. I flew back to London overnight last Saturday in a low-budget recreation of Plane, Trains and Automobiles, by boat to neighbouring St Maarten, flight to Charles de Gaulle, plane to Heathrow, lift to Victoria from my beloved Daddy (he's 86, you know, and still has his own teeth), overland to Gatwick and a few Bloody Marys in the business lounge (my pass was well-spent money, at least before coronavirus clipped my wings).
I managed to get the second last flight back to Valencia hours before the EU imposed a travel ban and arrived back just in time for La Cuarentena. On the Sunday night, the taxi drove back through eerily deserted streets that were lit by the illuminations for Fallas in stark counterpoint. On Monday, it really hit me. I am now on Day 11 of the lockdown but my God, it was a shock. Alone in a four-bed flat, eight flights of stairs up. And only allowed out to go to the corner Mercadona (think Tesco Express but with fish counter and bakery) or la farmacia.) Everything thing else is closed, police are on the streets questioning why you are out (and you'd better have a good excuse because the fine up to €30,000 or jail). So banged up 23.5 hours a day...
There is a loophole for unavoidable work. So for a few days I took a taxi to my cleaner's to use her wifi to try to catch up with graft (not in the criminal Hong Kong sense of the word, obv). Her and my landlady took pity upon me and vied for the right to put my wifi in their names with their documentation; the landlady won, and they installed yesterday. But more of that later; I am getting ahead of myself.
Back to the lockdown. This insouciant, devil-may-care to the lockdown almost got me nicked the other night. I lost track of time and suddenly realised it was 8pm, and dark. I rang my usual taxi firm but they said that, unless I had a justificante, a written form giving me permission to be out after dark, it was no dice. (The day before, I called a cab to take me and my cleaner to mine. When the driver saw her, he said, "I am sorry but only one passenger. You will have to call another taxi for your cleaner." I don't know what families do.)
Anyway, my cleaner took the phone off me, and delivered a Colombian broadside, saying "You are happy to take his money the rest of the time. He is a journalist and has no wifi. Of course he is allowed to come to use my wifi." They sent the taxi.
But the driver was nervous. I said, "Don't panic; all will be fine." At that moment, he turned onto a main road where there was gridlock. Up ahead was a police roadblock; they were stopping every car to check their reason for being out. When we got to the front, they simply waved us through. My guardian angel was watching over me. That was three days ago, and I have been on solitary ever since; I don't want to push my luck.
Last night, I slept for more than 12 hours and was still exhausted. I WhatsApped my cleaner to say I had symptoms. She said (I translate): “Stop being a drama queen, arsehole. You have a cough because you smoke. You sleep because there is nothing else to do. And you are bored because of your WiFi shit and lack of TV. Now get out of bed, go to the shop, buy food and eat something. I’ll be over on Friday but if you don’t do as I say, I am coming now to give you a slap.”
Nevertheless, feeling alone and scared, I went to the pharmacy and called in to the girl at the counter to say I had symptoms. She said, "Stop being so ridiculous and come in." So I did. I said I had a dry cough, a headache, and that I had slept for more than 12 hours, and was still tired. She looked at me with startlingly beautiful cobalt eyes from above her mask. She said, "I see you walking past here most days on your way to Mercadona. Often, you are smoking. That is why you have a cough. You have a headache because you are stuck indoors 23 hours or more per day. And you are tired because you have slept too much, are a little depressed and very bored. You don't have coronavirus. You have hypochondria." Clever girl then flogged me a month's supply of vitamin pastilles for €15. I assume she is on commission. Or that her parents own the pharmacy...
The staff at Mercadona have become the nearest thing I have to friends. People here do not stockpile, so the supply chain remains intact. They queue patiently when there are too many people, but keep several feet from one another. Inside, security tape, like chevrons on a motorway, ask that you maintain una distancia de seguridad from other shoppers at the checkouts. On the way in, my friend on security gives me disposable gloves and sprays my hands with sanitising gel. On my way out, a driver was spraying the streets with disinfectant.
Back at the ranch, my joy at having wifi installed was short-lived. I have a Magic Keyboard for my iMac. A small but essential part has gone missing in the move. Apple are not interested, telling me to find an Apple Store, despite having a warranty. It is the part that allows me to recharge my keyboard so I cannot use the iMac and despite me telling them that every store, bar, restaurant and business is closed.
The sad thing is, I love working. I love writing. I am privileged enough to earn money from it. (Though I lost two clients last week, saying they would review the situation after this craziness. That's a hit of £4k per month.) The sad thing is that what I don't love is money. I give most of my loot away to those for whom it means life or death, such as my adopted family in Cuba (above), whom I love dearly and speak to every single day without fail. Or on presents for my cleaner and her son, such as food. (She is too proud to accept money except for work...) And others. That is the true cost of coronavirus for them. It's heartbreaking. So if I owe you copy, please be assured I am acutely aware of this while in isolation with no work tools.
What this all means is that I am writing this on my iPhone. I hope you have found it interesting. It feels like a small version of those who wrote entire books on cigarette papers in prison. Tomorrow I shall channel Andy Dusfresne and buy a poster of Raquel Welch for my wall. I already have a rusty spoon...