I signed my Mum’s death certificate on 12th March 2020 in the Royal Stoke Hospital using the Registrar’s black ink fountain pen. This solemn, kind man was calm and professional. He also made me laugh when he said that Stokies were buying up all the toilet paper and the Carling Black Label in Tesco. Covid was kicking in and everyone was filling their shopping trolleys in a state of panic.
Later, with my dear friend David for support, I went to mum’s care home in Trentham to get her stuff. The manager had asked me to be as quick as possible as they were worried about me bringing the virus in from Spain. They had boxed up all mum’s belongings and left them in the hallway.
When I got there, I was deeply moved as seven of the local female care workers and one Romanian male care worker came up and hugged me warmly. Covid fears went out the window as they told me how much they would miss Rosemarie. She had died of a heart attack, aged 85, and there was no suggestion that the virus had played a part. Not for the first time in her life, Rosemarie Lovatt had bailed out at the right time.
On 13th March I headed to Wales to wait for the funeral. We spent some peaceful days walking on the beach and trying to keep warm by the fire. We had no internet or phone, so I called all mum’s friends as I wandered up and down the river bank, the nearest place with a signal.
Most of them were too old to come to say goodbye to her. Others were simply not alive any more.
In the end there were six of us at her sweet and joyful funeral. Four loyal friends, all high risk if they caught Covid, me and Chris. We belted out her favourite hymns, Onward Christian Soldiers and Fight the Good Fight in a deserted crematorium in the gentle Staffordshire countryside. Then we drove back to Wales on this glorious Spring day, with bright blue skies and daffodils to cheer us.
Along the roadside signs read ‘ Go Home Dickheads’ and ‘Tourists not Wanted’. In the village of Maentwrog, anyone who was non-resident was being asked to leave. I was lucky to be allowed to stay – as the girlfriend of Chris, who had resided there for 14 years, I was given a pass.
Through that glorious Spring I swerved between fear and rapture as the sun shone every day. We were fortunate to be there in half-empty North Wales. We went nowhere, saw no-one except for a few amiable neighbours who kept their distance when we saw them outdoors. It was understandable but sad. As the weeks went by my roadside chats grew longer and at times more emotional. I am happy to say that I made some new friends on those early morning walks.
I also realized that there were some people who I would never get on with. When I told one couple how worried I was about my daughter in Mexico, they looked at me coldly. I asked them to spare her a thought as she began a long and difficult journey to London. Their only concern was that she wasn’t coming to the village, bringing germs with her. They were adamant that she must quarantine, even though she was 250 miles away from them. They even warned about people being bussed to quarantine centres as described in The Daily Mail.
Safely back in Britain, quarantine she did, in Islington where she began her own strange summer. It was late May before I saw her briefly but happily in Bloomsbury Square. We sat on the grass and ate sandwiches from the nearby Waitrose with a view of The Brunswick Centre, our former home.
By June, still based in Wales we were ready for the beach and visited one close by where there were no other people. The weather was warm with cloudless skies. Swimming in the sea made me feel connected to myself more than ever.
On one heavenly day I fell asleep on the sand, awaking to wonder if I were actually in the Caribbean, or some far flung tropical place.
Swimming in the local lake was equally idyllic. But the rain set in later in June and the death of a much loved friend took us to London once more.
It was pretty weird there in Lockdown, but so reassuring to see my close friends and my daughter. Reckless as ever me and some of my mates hugged each other tight. My daughter stayed at a distance, determined that she would not be the one to kill me off with Covid.
After a dreamy holiday with kind friends in Devon I returned to Wales once more, on better terms with the place and its people. Things had relaxed a little by this point and we were allowed to entertain our neighbours in the garden. We lit fires in a drum and sat under the stars eating crisps and laughing with relief.
On 24th August, when my dad would have been 90, I buried some of his ashes under the apple tree, right opposite my caravan. I took the rest to Staffordshire and picked up my mum’s from the funeral directors. I now had matching velvet bags, one red, one blue, containing my parents remains.
My daughter and I met up at Moddershall Oaks, a swanky spa resort and the kind of place my mum and dad never visited, even though they had lived three miles away. In its pretty rural setting, the Spa attracted couples who wanted to show their love by wallowing in outdoor jacuzzis. There were hen parties and girls getaways, but I don’t think anyone else was there for the same reason as us.
On 27th August I mixed the two bags together on a bench outside our comfortable suite. I kept some of Dad’s back to take to the cricket ground, as he had requested. The rest we took to Trentham Gardens, where mum and dad had done much of their courting.
As we walked around the lake we could even glimpse a statue on the nearby hilltop, which they had danced around many years ago, before I was born.
We climbed over a fence off the main track and emptied the contents of our velvet bags into the undergrowth. I felt a rush of a strange emotion as I saw the ashes flutter away, happy to have reunited mum and dad in this significant setting.
After tea and Staffordshire oatcakes in the cafe we returned to our fancy hotel and I collected oak leaves and acorns from the woodland to mark the day.
I felt free to leave Britain and go to my dusty Spanish flat once more. I was determined not to spend the winter in Wales with another lockdown on the cards.
On September 13th, after three cancelled flights, I boarded the plane to Valencia. As we flew low over the glittering Pyrenees I was filled with wonder. The world was still there.
I have been in El Cabanyal longer than ever before. The sun shines nearly every day. I am lucky to have some good friends here. I write, read, paint and walk on the beach, filling my lungs with the sea air, grateful, grateful, grateful.
I drink coffee in outdoor cafes, walk the precious streets of enchanting tiled houses, trying to keep my mask firmly in place. I thank my lucky stars, cross my fingers and hope for the best.
Sometimes I think about Trundling with all its rich delights but right now it seems like something from another era, a strange pursuit. One day I am sure I will pack my Trundlebag again and set off to see new places and faces.
But as 2020 concludes, health, peace of mind and an end to Covid across the globe are all that matter.