Out of interest, what are we calling the pandemic today? Wuhan Flu? The Chinese Virus? Or just Covid-19, in line with the UK government’s promise to China that we wouldn’t be nasty to them and call a spade an infected bat. Or maybe they didn’t promise at all, they just don’t want China to be mentioned in case some numpties somewhere, fresh from burning down the supposedly virus-transmitting 5G masts, turn their attention to Stoke-on-Trent and attack the Wedgwood factory.
As for the signs of the virus, we all know them by now, engraved as they are on our frontal lobes. And then there’s the symptoms of lockdown stress including high blood pressure, sweating and faster breathing, so cruelly similar to Covid-19 itself. But has anyone out there mentioned house signs?
Thought not. I mean, why would they? But bear with me, this is the Isle of Oxney, where we try and stay away from anything approaching normality.
Located as we are on what was once an island, the village has grown without straying too far from its nucleus. Over the years, houses have been built between existing buildings with outlying edifices lurking at the ends of various tracks and twittens that branch out from the main hub. From above it probably doesn’t look too unlike the coronavirus with spike proteins shooting out from its central sphere, which is ironic really.
Not for us the urban sprawl that necessitates houses being neatly alternately numbered, standing out loud and proud, waiting to be found. Because of infill, only about half of ours bear numbers, the rest being identified solely by their names which, on the main thoroughfares, is done so with house signs. Many a confused courier has been rescued by a passing dog walker or horserider who has patiently explained that the number four they’re looking for isn’t next to number two, it’s actually six houses away, separated by those with no number, just a pesky name.
But it’s those myriad tracks and twittens leading to hidden houses that cause the most problems. Even though they have names and sometimes numbers, there isn’t a sign in sight so nobody knows they are there and that’s just how their occupants like it.
For many years BC (Before Coronavirus, do keep up), these residents have relied on others to direct couriers to their rural hideaways. But with online supermarket delivery slots becoming as rare as hen’s teeth, coupled with the realisation that a courier spending too long looking for a house might be seduced into delivering elsewhere by an unscrupulous passerby, hastily produced signs are rapidly appearing at the beginning of their tracks.
The result is reminiscent of Blue Peter on a bad day. There are rectangles torn from cardboard boxes with names in black marker scrawled confidently large to begin with but becoming smaller and thinner as space obviously runs out; the backs of metal doors from redundant woodburners daubed with white paint that gradually runs to create a fuzzy nameplate; pieces of card illegibly scribbled with pencil and, the pièce de résistance, squares cut from brown paper bags with just arrows marked on them, stuck to bushes at the end of driveways to indicate that there is indeed a house up there but it’s anybody’s guess as to which one it actually is.
But at least we all now know where anyone self isolating is hiding themselves and can act accordingly: there was a rumour that someone living at the end of a remote twitten had succumbed to the virus, so we slaughtered a sheep and drained its blood, readying ourselves to daub the sign of a cross onto his front door. But it turned out he just had a massive hangover, a result of his attempt to self medicate his way out of the effects of living in lockdown with six children.
In the meantime, if you’re up for a bit of daubing and need the requisite materials, you know where to find me. Up the track that’s got the brown paper bag arrows stuck on the hedge.