Bleeding liberty

‘…raindrops on black twigs in March’ (Stevie Smith)

It’ll be obvious by now that I don’t have much to boast about, as my lumbering social media presence would attest. However, there’s one activity I indulge in every four months or so that earns me bragging rights (and boy! Have I exercised those rights…) I give blood. My haemoglobinous ambition is to reach the 100-donation mark, as I believe my father did, although I’m looking at his badge as I work at his desk, and can’t see there’s a donation count on it.

It’s not uncommon for me to drop into my brag the fact that my blood is of the rare variety: B-. It’s a sign of insecurity to keep listing reasons why one stands out from the herd. Mea culpa. In the absence of any real achievements, I trot out such distinguishing features and fear that as my age-graded invisibility cloak wraps itself around me, this habit will become increasingly desperate.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, then, and, as any out-of-borough trip is an excitement in these restricted times, my date with NHS Blood and Donation loomed large in the diary. As usual, I’d chosen a donation venue I’d never visited before, to make it all the more exciting. This time the session was at the William Booth College for Salvation Army training, a building I’d always wanted to see inside. Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, of red telephone box fame, the building’s red-brick, boxy memorial to William Booth dominates from its airy position overlooking Denmark Hill station in Camberwell. Luckily the bike ride back was perfect for this newly depleted donor, freewheeling more or less all the way home.

Most exciting of all, however, was the experience being indoors, but not at home, chatting to people I didn’t know, surrounded by more people sitting around relaxing. How long since I did that? Vaccination day at the end of January felt like a similar party. Granted, we’re all masked up, and there’s not much opportunity to hang around after you’ve had your drink and snack (I spun that out by plumping for the slow-eating popcorn option, in order to squeeze every drop of social interaction out of the experience; then, joy! I saw a man I knew from parkrun so was able to chat a little bit more). It was like being let off the leash. I was quite giddy with good cheer by the time I’d cycled back.

This week’s donation has, as usual, put paid to any real running achievements, so it’s all about jogging expeditions to keep my run streak going, more sleep, more eating and mood management as the end of the current Covid-19 lockdown draws near. The daffodils are all out, the weather is milder, walks and runs are less muddy, but there’s tension in the air. Next week there’ll be an announcement about licensed sports events (as I write this, the Cheltenham Racing Festival is on its first day of behind-closed-doors race meets, a year after being named and shamed as a ‘super-spreader’, when the festival organisers decided to go ahead with the event and let thousands of spectators in to jump up and down and shout in each others faces as their horses pounded past). Back then, most of us hoped the whole herd-immunity thing would turn Covid 19 into a nasty cold picked up while out shopping, down the pub or standing in unsuitable clothing watching throughbreds gallop….until shops, pubs and sports venues were summarily slammed shut.

We know so much better now, don’t we? Boris Johnson continues to tussle with his desire to be both Good Old Bozzer (a right tosser) and Captain Dates Not Rates Sensible, and now all the hospitality venues, hairdressers, gyms and non-essential retailers are in danger of a massive punch-up about whose business is getting the most favourable treatment in the run-up to unlock. Schools opened up on 8 March, and already whole classes being sent home to self-isolate following positive Covid tests. If the next stage of unlock (29 March) is contingent on the first stage being successful, it’s looking a little dodgy from this angle.

Rates not dates, but I continue to measure out my life in small, domestic pleasures and fill the desk diary with idiotically ambitious to do lists.

R asked me if there’s anything I would feel disappointed not to have done in these weeks of under-employment, given I have the time to write my radio play (stuck), improve my German (zum Stillstand gebracht, jede Nacht, trotzdem der Duolingo), yoga (still don’t trust myself with The Crow). I responded with a testy ‘How long have you got?’

I know I’m frittering. We all do. Lack of motivation, despite hours of spare time has felled many of my friends, apart from those who work as carers or for the NHS. So, if I can crow about letting my blood flow freely for the NHS while I consider how my life is spent, indulge me. It’s too galling to admit that, otherwise, I’m bleeding useless.

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