Bruce Bentzman: Self-portrait self-isolating, Wales
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
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
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
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 www.Bentzman.com.
Enshrined Inside Me, his second
collection of essays, is now available to purchase.