bruce and the
Bruce Bentzman: Self-portrait self-isolating, Wales 2020.

100. April in Cardiff

Spring was never coming. For months it seemed to always be a chilly rain. It was only with the lockdown that the sun returned to Cardiff, as if Nature, wanting to reduce the human population, was tempting people to gather out-of-doors and contract COVID-19. Beleaguered by an invisible threat, we languish in lockdown.

But to be honest, I am not languishing. My social life continues. I do not feel deprived of friends. It continues with emails, text messages and video calls, and every day I take a pen to paper to write a letter. For over a quarter of a century I have been hanging out in a virtual café of durable friends, Café Blue. Wednesday night was Quiz Night at The Packet, my pub down by Cardiff Bay. It still is Quiz Night, but managed by a conference video call. Coffee Club on Tuesday afternoons, cocktails and conversation with buddies on Friday nights, all continue via video conferencing.

It has also been a time for reading. There is the new reading chair in which to nestle, but I also can stretch out on either of my two red leather sofas. I read in bed. I read in the bath. And I also read while pacing.

It had been a dream for a long time to build a house with an ambulatory, like a cloister, where I could walk and read at the same time. From the door to the balcony at the southeast end of my living room to the end of the hall that reaches the door to my apartment is a distance of forty-five feet. This narrow track has become my ambulatory. In less than sixty roundtrips, I will have walked a mile, not that I have ever counted them. Still, I know I walked slightly more than three miles an hour and it should be the same whether I go in one direction or back and forth. I need only to check how long I have spent reading and pacing to estimate the distance.

There are walks beyond this one bedroom flat. Once a week, I venture out during the day to make some vitamin D and shop for groceries. Otherwise, I try to take some outside exercise every night, usually between midnight and four in the morning. I am a night owl.

Living in City Centre, in the very heart of Cardiff, at night I find it a ghost town and I am the last man on earth. The ghosts are rare. In the mile I walk, I will notice less than half a dozen pedestrians. We keep our distance, with not even a greeting, unless there is one who even now wants to beg me for change.

I pause at the George V pillar box on the far side of Saint John the Baptist Church to mail letters. This is sometimes the only motivation that gets me outside. I find it amusing to walk down the middle of deserted streets. Every once in awhile, I must move to the pavement for the rare taxi, inevitably empty, slowing as they pass in useless hope that I might engage them.

The shop windows are frozen in time. Waterstones displays among an exhibition of books an arrangement of white mugs each decorated with an initial letter. They are still spelling “Happy Mother’s Day”.

Chippy Lane, the name locals give Caroline Street, is lined with fast-food eateries open all night for rowdy clubbers and young folk on the make. It is empty to its far end. Nothing is open. No one is there. Every seagull is focused on me, some issuing a complaint, where is their meal!?

Standing under the Alliance sculpture in Hayes Place, a giant hoop and arrow erected in front of Cardiff Central Library, I stared at the arrow’s tip, 82 feet above. There, to my astonishment, at two o’clock in the morning on 26th April 2020, was the Big Dipper, Ursa Major, known in the UK as the Plough. Never before in my life have I seen the Big Dipper directly overhead. Most of my life was lived on a different curve of the planet. There it was. Using that constellation, I could find the North Star.

When the walk is over, I check my mailbox on the return. Avoiding the lift, a vector for the virus, I take to the staircase to reach the top floor. I have counted them. Eighty-eight steps, same as the number of keys on a standard piano.

It feels good to re-enter my flat. This is not a jail. I feel like the anchorite returning to his remote cave in a cliff, away from the vicissitudes of the fickle world. Or, with my three laptops connecting me to all that is known, it is a safe place like Doctor Who’s Tardis, a bulwark from all the cataclysmic turmoil of time and space. Either way, I am comfortable, even flourishing, during lockdown. So far, no symptoms of COVID-19.

Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions,
he would be pleased to hear from you. 

You can find his several books at Enshrined Inside Me, his second collection of essays, is now available to purchase.