Episode 8 – Lockdown Babe

Brenda Conn

Brenda’s novel-writing aspiration started in her twenties and continues, as yet unfulfilled.  Some 80,000 words, from a novel begun in her forties, linger in print-outs, gathering dust, awaiting an ending that may never be written.  Now, when inspiration strikes, Brenda concentrates on short stories and poems – these have a much better chance of being finished.

Brenda describes herself as 99% Scottish, though Maths was never her forte.  Aberdeen has been her home, apart from a spell in Wales, since arriving at 18 to study English Literature at Aberdeen University.  Travels abroad have taken her to many fascinating, far-flung places, most recently, pre-Covid, Japan, Vietnam, and Peru, as well as regular trips to the USA to visit her son.

Brenda’s poetry has appeared in Poetry Now, Pushing Out the Boat, LTW publications Frost on the Tassie and Lemon Zest, and the newly published Doric Poetry Board anthology The Hail Clamjamfry.

This episode is mainly a monologue (spoken by the author) taking the part of a sixteen-year-old Corona-Virus orphan. Lockdown Babe as she calls herself looks back on her short life and the Corona-World she now inhabits. Boris Johnson (Voiced by Roger Meachem) punctuates Lockdown Babe’s musings with selected 2020 announcements from the early months of the pandemic.

Brenda then tells us a little about her writing and this story in particular. She also mentions the rich Scots dialect that she and others of her generation may have had to suppress. Related to this, an early poem of hers, Voices, is referred to and shown below. (Following Lockdown Babe)

After recommending just a couple of her favourite authors (Brenda has many favourites) she describes Camp 21 – a Second-World -War prisoner-camp near to Comrie. Once Covid 19 allows, this will be open to visitors who will find there – some intriguing Scottish History.

LockDown Babe

“Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday dear me…ee, Happy Birthday to me.”     I sing this, twice, under my breath, every time I wash my hands, as I was taught from time before memory.  No need – the tap sensor beeps when I’m done.  Today, however, is my birthday, so I sing, aloud, with as much joy as I can muster.  Off-key, flat, who cares? No-one’s listening.  

I was born on Monday 23 March, 2020 while Boris Johnson announced the beginning of Lockdown.  As the surgeon’s scapula pierced my mother’s belly, Boris began.

  • The coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced for decades – and this country is not alone.

Coronavirus was certainly the biggest threat that I had faced throughout my twenty-seven weeks since conception.  Surviving as a foetus had been a breeze until then. 

  • All over the world we are seeing the devastating impact of this invisible killer.

Covid-19 precipitated my untimely entry into the world and signalled my mother’s demise from it. Here in Aberdeen the devastating impact of this invisible killer certainly was being seen, and felt. Grandparents I never met mourned a daughter they could not see, kept alive to keep me alive, a baby they had not expected, would never hold.

  • …at present there are just no easy options. The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost. 

Just then, I was struggling to breathe. This was no easy option, lungs woefully unready for the challenge.  The way ahead proved hard indeed; has continued so ever since.   My lungs have never functioned fully, leaving me high-risk, permanently ‘shielded’.  The life I have is not the life that might have been.  

Many lives sadly were lost.  In what might have been my family, all.  First was that of my mother.  Life support ended when I exchanged an incubator for the warmth of her womb.  At times I wish I had remained in that familiar space, gone with her to whatever lies beyond.  Within weeks, my grandparents joined her.  Sometimes, I think heaven, hell…whatever might be preferable to this no-life.  Friendlier…maybe.  Just sometimes, when I’m down.

  • there will come a moment when no health service in the world could possibly cope 

 Calculating backwards, I assume I was a casualty of Freshers Week.  In Social History I read that casual sex was a thing back then. Imagine!  Was my father a new student, like my mother?  Eighteen, like her?  Her first?  Her only?  One of many?  Did she tell him about me?  Would he have wanted to know?  I have no answers to so many questions.  All I do know is that my existence was unrecorded until my mother’s admission to hospital with Covid-19, two weeks before my birth.  She had consulted no doctor, attended no antenatal screening.  Gestational diabetes and arrythmia went undiagnosed.  Covid hit her hard, and fast.  

If only my mother hadn’t hidden her pregnancy, from her parents, from everyone. If only she’d stayed away from friends, virus carriers, newly back from a ski trip abroad.  If only she had evaded infection, or escaped with a mild form of the illness.  If only, if only, if only.  So many alternative outcomes right to the last.  If only hospital staff had managed to save her, I might have known a mother’s love, a mother’s kisses, a mother’s touch.  

  • … the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households 

The only touch I have ever known has been professional, gloved, sanitised.  From incubator to ward, from hospital to the care system, my life has been ‘shielded’. I’ve never mixed with other children.  It’s always been just me, random carers, random houses, home-schooling.  Physical safety, internet security, forever paramount.  I meet kids on curated social media, in the virtual world, as avatars, never real faces, kept safe from pedos.  I’m Lockdown Babe, until now a cute piglet, after an old film I saw on Junior Media.  Avatar images stud my computer screen daily, a kaleidoscope of virtual friendship.  We play virtual reality games, watch virtual reality bands play digitally created music, hang out, virtually.   I should never feel lonely, but I do.  I do.  

  • I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.

From today, I am no longer an invisible, ‘cared for’ child.  I am a ‘shielded adult’, with adult choices, nominally independent, enrolled on tertiary online education modules, living in Esslemont House, a block of multi-generational accommodation in the deserted city centre.  I read about Esslemont in my Local History module.  It formed part of some sort of shop, a ‘department store’, way back, last century.  It’s converted to ‘shielded housing’ now, temperature-controlled, filtered air conditioning, UVA disinfection system, eco-sanitation, the lot.  Even on demand piped oxygen – brilliant for lungs like mine!  Simplified Living it’s called.  All courtesy of government Social Shielding Emergency funds.  

I have a studio apartment, a computer, with inbuilt camera, internet access, high speed fibre optic cabling.   Mini-freezer, microwave.  Provisions arrive through a robot-operated delivery-flap: Mondays, seven dinners, seven lunches of soup, seven breakfasts of fruit, all frozen; Wednesdays, sleepwear, bedding, overall, seven sets of underwear; Fridays, vitamins, meds, tampons, as needed.  Everything is biodegradeable, flushable, disposable; transformed to heating fuel on-site.  All deliveries are assembled, packed, sanitised, disposed of without ever being touched by human hand – except mine.    

  • If you don’t follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them

  I need never go cold or hungry.  I need never go outside.  I can never go outside.  That’s the rule.

  • We will beat the coronavirus and we will beat it together. 

Boris was wrong.  Early promise of a vaccine came to nothing; the virus moved faster than the science.   Lockdown is a way of life; safety a prison cell.  Coronavirus won.  We live with it, we die with it.  Alone, always alone.  Happy birthday, babe. 

Brenda Conn. (Copyright retained by the author)


Mine is a Scottish Voice

Sent to elocution lessons

At an early age.

Gies a hurl oan yer bike, Dad!

In translation

Lacked spontaneity.

It killed the joy

Of the wind in my face,

Perched on the crossbar

In your embrace.

Did you understand that?

When finally I asked,

Daddy, please may I have

A ride on your bicycle?

I’d gone off the idea.

Thanks to Zapslat for sound effects in Brenda’s tale. 

Martin Stephenson gave permission to use his song Rain as intro and exit, sung by Helen McCookerybook (permission also granted)

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