For more than a week my only company has been the school rabbit. She is incorrigibly unreasonable. She responds seemingly arbitrarily to my consistent instructions, makes frequent and brazen attempts to access out-of-bounds areas, for sport, and she unearths the seeds I plant. As I write, she is taking numerous poos in the planter I spent many hours sanding, painting and building. Just there and nowhere else. No other toilet interests her. Mockery. Sometimes, I don’t know whether to cook her or converse with her (joke).
Her name is Winter. For the past year, she has enjoyed the company of her sister, Bobbi, and the fawning affection of just about every child in the school. She, like me, is not used to this level of solitude. I give her carrots, she gives me companionship. It’s the simplest transaction in the most complex of times.
Hermitry can do strange things to a person. There is a potentially apocryphal and certainly embellished story about the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, undone to such an extent by the flogging of a horse that he ran to the beast, flung his arms around its neck and wept for the beating to stop. Isolation had resensitised Nietzsche, made him more cognizant of injustice and suffering, less willing to accept it.
I found myself on the precipice of my own horse-hugging moment last night, willingly rewatching the movie I Am Legend. I began to imagine myself as Will Smith’s protagonist Robert Neville, replete with peerless knowledge of virology and epidemiology and 0 per cent body fat achieved through the kind of methodical exercise routine that it seems to me everyone is suddenly pretending they have always followed.
The trials of coronavirus lockdown
I am not alone here. Everyone seems to think they are Robert Neville. When I do venture outside and leave Winter to her own devices, I have lost count of the number of joggers I have seen retching at the sides of roads, insistent that they run for an hour each day as advised/requested/instructed despite not having laced a pair of trainers or seen the inside walls of a gym in half a decade or more.
I am not quite as alone as I make out, of course. After spending the past two weeks at school with a few other staff, I am now working remotely for a while, filling my day with phone calls, emails and the now ubiquitous Zoom. My Dad facetimes me every day and, having given up explaining that the entire point of this enterprise is that I see his face, I speak earnestly to his forehead. Three days ago, when I asked if he was staying sane, he enthused about the lockdown, telling me he was grateful for it, that he felt safe at home. If you knew my Dad, you’ll know why this sent me looking for the nearest horse.
Finally, and most difficult of all, my wife and I talk throughout the day. I have not seen her for five weeks, which is longer than we have been apart since we met. It shouldn’t have been this way, of course. In September, we found out she was pregnant. In the February half term, we bought our first house. When lockdown became inevitable, she looked to shield just as the advice to do so came from a prime minister who, just a few days before, had been boasting about shaking hands and not-quite-urging others to do the same. Her mother, vulnerable herself and with whom we had been staying while we got the house ready, needed to shield, too. The thought of going to work and coming home, bringing something lethal into the house, was not something I could countenance.
I moved into the new house alone. At that point, neither of us realised how long this might go on for. So I sanded. I painted. I cleaned. I built. I clapped. When the rabbit hutch came home, it was bittersweet. We knew what it meant. It goes without saying that I wish I had felt the kicks, seen the movements, attended the scans, but the most difficult thing has been not being there to reassure, to comfort, to plan and plot for a future of permitted proximity. I cannot imagine how she felt when they said there was a chance I would not be allowed in the birthing room. We are plodding along, hoping for the best. I am now more than seven days into a complete isolation that I hope means we are reunited before our son comes bursting into this strange world. It would be wonderful to meet him together. For now, I’ll continue to master the art of cunicular care.
I should be clear that I wanted to go to work. I felt, and feel, that it is my responsibility to do so. I care deeply about our school community, about our pupils, their parents and our staff. Indeed, in our contingency planning at the beginning of March, we had always planned to offer childcare for key workers. Our staff have been incredible, volunteering to come in and look after the children of those people who, like us, are the marshals on the route out of here. In reality, very few parents have taken us up on the offer. There have been days when it’s been just one boy in Reception. His father is a bus driver. I am proud to look after his son, and can’t wait to look after mine
Lawrence Foley is executive principal at Bobby Moore Academy in London's Olympic Park. He tweets as @LawrenceEFoley