Diary of the Plague Year: Day 19 3 April 2020: Being a ghost in your own life

On the radio Schubert. Composer of the Week R3. Playing: String Quartet in G major, D 887 from the last year of his life.

Song “None but the lonely heart” – from a poem by Goethe.

Oh God, the sheer delight of drinking good coffee on the garden steps. The outline of hills visible through bare trees of a late spring. A book of poetry. London seems as remote to me now as the Alexandria of C.P. Cavafy. And it is the body that remembers.

Another poem by C.P. Cavafy:

The Afternoon Sun

This room, how well I know it.
Now they’re renting it and the one next door
as commercial space. The whole house is now
offices for brokers, salesmen, entire firms.

Ah, this room, how familiar it is!

Here, near the door, stood the sofa,
a Turkish carpet just before it;
nearby was a shelf with two yellow vases;
on the right – no, facing it – was an armoire with a mirror.
The desk where he wrote stood in the middle,
along with three large, wicker chairs.
Beside the window lay the bed
where we made love so many times.

All of these poor old furnishings must still exist

Beside the window lay the bed;
the afternoon sunlight reached only half way across it …
That afternoon, at four o’clock, we parted,
just for a week … alas,
that week became forever.


C.P. Cavafy
Remember, Body …
Penguin Little Black Classics No.43



It is the strangest feeling to wander as a ghost in your own life. That afternoon as I walked past 208 I saw the movers were in. Flotsam and jetsam flowed into the back of a large van. The facade of the house was painted a tasteful magnolia and what had been a ramshackle collection of squatted flats was now the desirable residence, entire, for millionaires. I remember the look of sheer horror on my mother’s face at the peeling grey paint, dripping overflow with moss and ferns flourishing in cracks. I used to live here once, could I ….?

“Go on then Love, there’s nobody in.”

But he was wrong. Each floor was thronged and, turning a corner on the stairs, I half expected to walk into myself. Strange to be a ghost in your own life. Muffled by expensive wool carpets, designer wallpaper the house breathed money and comfort and my ghosts stirred uneasily, unused to such luxury.

We lived in the basement and first floor. I was alone that summer, Fia had gone back to Sweden, by train and boat as we did in those days. I was having cold baths every day, as we had yet to organise a heating system, and subsisting on porridge and spaghetti with butter. I positively looked forward to that spaghetti every evening; tossed in unsalted butter with a smidgen of salt crushed on top and flavoured with the sauce of hunger.

When I met Didier I was sitting on the back doorstep, soaking up the afternoon sun and admiring the weeds in the huge and overgrown garden. He introduced himself as our neighbour, obviously French but sounding as if he had been to an English public school. I was invited to visit that evening.

Their flat was directly above ours – bare floorboards with pale green walls. The dark London night with fronds of chestnut trees pressing against the windows created a brightly lit aquarium. Edith Piaf on the record player, P’tcaf (little black coffee) the black lab puppy clattered happily about. Newspaper was down. Didier appeared with coffee and Paul and Jeff (Jean Francois) came in to introduce themselves. It was a moment of mutual enchantment. Paul, a figure from the Commedia dell’Arte, all arms, legs and exaggerated poses, exuding a joyous innocence; Jeff, a small African carving, laughing inwardly, kissing my hand, the epitome of sardonic French charm.

I was asked to stay to dinner.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 19 3 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry C.P. Cavafy (1863 – 1933)

C.P. Cavafy


Days of 1909, 1910 and 1911

The son of a put-upon, dirt-poor sailor
(from some island in the Aegean),
He worked as a blacksmith’s apprentice. He had rags
for clothes, his pitiful working boots were in tatters,
his hands filthy with rust and oil.

In the evening, when the shop closed,
if there were something he especially wanted,
a necktie with a rather high price-tag,
a necktie to wear on Sundays,
or if he caught a glimpse of a nice blue shirt
in the shop window and hankered after it,
he’d sell his body for a shilling or two.

I wonder if Alexandria, in all its glory, in all the long
of its ancient days, had ever seen a youth more exquisite,
more perfect than this boy – who went utterly to waste.
For of course, no statue or portrait
was ever made. Stuck there in that grimy blacksmith’s
worn down by the wrack and strain of work,
and by the working man’s rough pleasures, the boy went
quickly to ruin.


Remember Body

Little Black Classics No. 43