Diary of a Booker Winner (in waiting) – 16

May 24th 2020

FA Cup Final Weekend

Weather: Improving

Beaches: Worryingly populated

R Rate: Not being mentioned as frequently

Politics: Seemingly reverting to its bear-baiting default

Phrase of the week: “It appears to be a classic non-denial denial”

Song title from The Clash brought to mind: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Dominic had gone to Durham and now all hell was breaking out. Were the journalists and paparazzi hounding him outside his home respecting social distancing? Was irony the one true reliability in life?  And could the resumption of the Bundesliga played in front of virtually empty stadiums populated by cardboard cut-out spectators live on BT Sport compensate in any way for a lack of Wembley Stadium, Abide With Me and all the nostalgia and emotion of a historic national sporting occasion?

Strange times and so many distortions.

In other news: I owe all readers an apology – there was no diary last week. I beg forgiveness and can offer only paltry excuse – I’d been commissioned to submit a story to Write On magazine and that had taken a generous portion of my focus. (I know, I told you it was a rather lame excuse.) But by way of partial (and hopeful) recompense in case you missed it I’ll include it here.

Time to Mind the Gap?

Gwen had learned a lot about gardening over the locked-down last six weeks – it wasn’t as boring as she’d always assumed. Or as one-dimensional. Indeed, it was proving sharply insightful – profound even. A pastime reflective and indicative of life.

Today had been a good example. She’d placed a slightly stale but still plush Cherry Bakewell on the bird table positioned mid-lawn in the back garden of the ex-council house her mother had scrimped so long and hard to buy. And which Gwen had inherited when her mother had died suddenly – 2 months before her fondly-anticipated retirement.

After placing the cake Gwen had returned indoors and pulled up a kitchen stool to watch her newly appreciated friends enjoy their treat. Two tiny sparrows were already delicately nibbling around its edges – eager, at peace and grateful.

Then suddenly a large magpie had arrived via a shadowy swoop. Instantly scaring the smaller birds away and discourteously (with a single greedy, brutal and savage jab) claiming then consuming the delicate fruit.

The sparrows had fluttered nervously as they witnessed the assault, huddled together now – marginalised on the garden fence. Mourning the cherry’s loss but still trusting they’d have a second chance at the icing.  

They’d been disappointed. Worse injustice had followed. A devilish dark crow had landed next. Large. Intense. Omnipotent. It had scowled and prowled and completely cleared the lawn. Then, surveying the scene and eyeing the prize, it had done just as it could simply because it could. It had callously widened its craw and unapologetically grasped the whole cake. Clasped it tight. Then with a beady-eyed smirk it had flown. Disappeared over the garden shed. Taking its booty to be devoured elsewhere. There’d be no shared enjoying now. All that was once so pleasantly promised had been heartlessly snatched away.

The agitated sparrows had continued to chatter woefully whilst staring at the emptied tin foil cup. Still pitifully hopeful of scraps. Crumbs from the table.


The morning bulletins on the BBC had been depressing. Deprivation effects survival. It wasn’t rocket science or even anything new but the latest Covid death stats had provided another stark reminder – we were not all equal. (Not post creation at least.) And that had been a dispiriting thought.

Gwen was not unaware that such affirmations and reminder were dangerous to mental health. That if she were to linger on such revelation – to ponder the facts and study the figures – then she could easily slip into a state of angered melancholy. Which was understandable. It was easy to be bitter. Easier still to be outraged. Just as it was important to remember and right to protest.

But was now the time?

Gwen had recently been wondering about the after-life. Vivid dreams were an unexpected feature of self-isolation and lockdown. With no interruptive alarm clocks necessary the unconscious mind was allowed more time to roam. And upon waking there was the optional luxury of another hour or two free-rein allocated to the imagining.

Gwen had perused many possible and fantastic scenarios as she’d lain in bed listening to the dawn through mid-morn chorus. She was fully aware it was probably fair to conclude that come the end where we had lived would have largely dictated how long we had lived. That wasn’t a happy thought. But then she’d thought on and another thought had come. What if there was a better life waiting? Maybe faith would be rewarded and the tables tremendously turned? Gwen had smiled as she’d imagined what might lay in wait upon arrival at the Pearly Gate. 

“Hi Gwen, welcome, yes I know you suffered but that’s Barking and Dagenham for you and in any case that’s all over now. And it’s my pleasure to inform you that you’ve had a result – you didn’t suffer for anywhere near as long as the average resident of Kensington. They’re still at it down there while you’re enjoying yourself up here. You’ve won. You’ve beaten them to the prize. They have many more months and years of all that earthly nonsense to endure. The last laugh is undeniably yours. Congratulations! Now relax, kick back and enjoy!”

It could happen…


Then Gwen had stretched and wondered some more and concluded that in the precarious meantime “Here and now” we surely had only one simple task – to continue to be kind to ourselves. We had to get through this latest period of trial as best we could. We had to try not to let any garishly visible gap widen our distaste for life or diminish any of its possibility.

Gwen turned her pillow and pondered on. We could always flip the coin and see the positive she decided – some gaps had narrowed already – we’d formed groups and reached out. We’d been video zooming and Microsoft teaming. We’d been calling cousins to check in. We’d reconnected with old friends. We’d seen generations chuckle and bond over technical issues. The youth have done their best to protect and inform the old. Microphones had been unmuted and cameras successfully turned on. We’d smiled and grown proud. 

Gwen’s cogs were fully whirring – she was riding a veritable thought rollercoaster. She was realising that we’d rectified and repaired other gaps too. We’d stood on doorsteps, battered saucepans and waved to neighbours on Thursday nights. We’d begun to better understand and appreciate the true concept of community. We’d continue to smile and chat when this was all over. Any suspicions would have eased. We were in this life together. We knew that now. We’d felt the warmth of shared experience. We now recognised and accepted we were stronger and safer when pulling together. 

Gwen pondered on. Comprehending that where necessary we’d also admirably adapted to and embraced the new need for appropriate gapping. We’d respected space by widening certain gaps – my trolley will not cut-up yours. You’ll walk on one side of the pavement and I’ll walk the other. We’ll happily take the paths less travelled.  And we’ll smile in appreciation. Offer a nod to mutual understanding.

And there was so much more to consider too – maybe some traditional gaps were already narrowing? Why not imagine? Why not give it some John Lennon? Perhaps the experience of a seriously ill public-school educated Prime Minister being tended to by poorly paid but thoroughly dedicated and professional public sector workers would have lasting repercussions? Realisation can come in many ways – it needn’t all be on the road to Damascus – why mightn’t an intensive care experience ignite an enlightenment? Maybe proud (and honourable) legacies could be forged in these darkest of times? Maybe opportunity for genuine greatness was always presented to the powerful if only it could be recognised then grasped? Maybe soundbite talk of “One Nation” could be transformed into truth…

Who knew.

But whatever the case, the extra time for thought induced as a consequence of virus avoidance had been welcome and her meanderings had now led Gwen back to that one most pertinent ponder – should we mind the gap? Should we highlight it? Fight it and determinedly strive to narrow it? The answer seemed clear – of course we should. Perhaps not right now but definitely then.  And Gwen was newly convinced that when all this was over, we’d emerge as strengthened survivors – renewed, re-enthused, re-invigorated, re-educated and less prepared to accept such gap. Maybe change would finally seem like a genuine possibility. After all, together we’d successfully adapted to one new normal so why not resolve to forge another?


When Gwen went to boil the kettle again to fill her flask again to be prepared again for the next bout of mind-numbing but lockdown-deflecting afternoon TV again, she looked out of her kitchen window again. A Robin had arrived. Its proud breast not too dissimilar in colour to that of the cherry so unceremoniously taken. It stood prominent amidst what now appeared a far greater community of sparrows. A trusted and determined leader. Or so you could easily imagine. Now that you had the time. It seemed to look directly toward Gwen. Caught her eye then jerked its head as if to provide affirmation. It was holding its ground and a flock was gathering. There was hope. Gwen nodded back. She was newly determined that the next cake would be meticulously divided and justly shared.

H. B. O'Neill

H. B. O’Neill is a London born writer inspired by the City and its myriad opportunity for comedy, pain, drama and adventure. He is a prize-winning poet and short story writer, a screenwriter, playwright and author. His much-anticipated novel According to Mark is due to be published soon.

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