• Marie Bateson

The Worry Spiral

My phone died last night after an evening of overuse. I plugged it in next to my bed, laughing at how terrible it would be if we didn't have phones to reach out to people at this point in time. But at 3am, when I reached for my phone and it still didn't turn on, it was no longer so funny. I unplugged it and crossed our darkened flat to hunt for another charger in my husband's office.

These small hours of the morning always make me think of the witching hour that Roald Dahl describes so perfectly in The BFG:

“The witching hour, somebody had once whispered to her, was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world all to themselves.”

For me, the witching hours are between 3 and 5am. I always feel like I'm trespassing on an illicit and perhaps magical time, as though it was just as likely to stumble upon the faeries hosting some ancient pagan ritual in my living room as it was to stumble over Lego. Everything is so perfectly still and silent that it's eerie - you feel as though you're the only person on Earth.

After I'd nicked my husband's charger for my phone, I returned to bed, wide awake. The next couple of hours devolved into one of the worst worry spirals I've had in a long time. I started worrying about those who are genuinely at risk - like my friend's daughter who has cystic fibrosis - and then went on to worry about each and every family member, friend, and that nice lady I bumped into once at the supermarket. It was bleak.

I finally drifted off to sleep for a couple of hours before the kids came leaping into our bed full of energy. I really love perhaps the first ten seconds of their morning visits - they're all snuggly and warm and huggable. After ten seconds, the hugs morph into something akin to wrestling an octopus made entirely of sharp elbows as they insist with increasing volume that we GET OUT OF BED.

I reluctantly did and immediately went to look out the window, scanning the boardwalk for the usual dog walkers and runners. There were none. With a sinking feeling, I turned away from the beautiful beach and made a coffee. To be indoors on a day like today was so wrong. I kept returning to the balcony over the next couple of hours. Various chat groups informed me that the 'official' lockdown, with threats of fines or prison, wasn't going to start until Monday morning, but we were kind of already in lockdown in the sense that, if caught outside without a valid reason, the police could insist on us going back indoors.

I watched as a couple of police cars cruised up and down the boardwalk, stopping anyone who wasn't walking a dog. After the cops left, a few more people appeared. Perhaps they'd been doing the same as me, standing by their windows, waiting for the coast to clear... literally.

I looked up at the bright blue sky and thought of the kid from that movie, locked in the cupboard for the one rain-free hour of the year. "Right," I thought, "let's do this." I shouted at the kids to get their shoes on, grabbed a couple of bags barely filled with recycling and walked out of our front door, adrenalin pumping.

Kids can't resist touching EVERYTHING no matter how many times you tell them not to so I made them jam their hands in their pockets until we'd left our apartment complex and dropped off the rubbish. We stood next to the bins for a moment or two, the kids looking up at me expectantly. I hesitated, feeling like a total outlaw. With my "I was just putting out our rubbish" excuse gone, this was my last chance to turn back into our apartment complex without the police having a reason to stop us.

I looked across the road. There's a little path that runs from the road via a campground to a part of the beach that has no boardwalk or cafés. I figured once we'd made it past the campground, nobody could see us on that stretch of the beach aside from other people who were also breaking the rules. I took a deep breath, grabbed the kids' hands and we crossed that motherflipping road.

We meandered down towards the rather grotty section of the beach, yet to be cleaned of seaweed after the recent storms. While I felt it was worth it just to be outside, the kids really didn't understand why we were stomping through squishy piles of beach waste for no apparent reason. We clambered up a bank to a little trail behind the beach and spent the next couple of hours bestowing ridiculous names on the various weeds we encountered. Meet Dimblefluss, a highly poisonous variety of the Yellowspike family:

No, that's not a dandelion, don't be ridiculous.

It wasn't the joyous scampering and laughter we'd had on the beach the day before. The kids were already bored after a full day with no contact with anyone but us. At one point, Adella walked to the edge of the bank and gazed out of the water. Win soon joined her but I lingered back to take a photo. My heart physically hurt at the sight of them before that huge expanse of blue.

I knew this was the last time we'd be outdoors for far too long.

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