Thomas, age 91, Dymchurch
- What do your days and weeks look like during lockdown?
I come into the garden, do a bit of clipping down, watch the wildlife. I have always loved animals. I was 6 years old when we got the dairy farm. I would get up at 5am to milk the 26 mixed herd and got my own cow aged 11. I got to know them all – they talk with their eyes, you know, fluttering their eyelashes at you. I always had a way with animals – my ferret went down a rabbit hole and bought up a fox cub when I was 8 years old. I got the cub coming indoors – it loved chocolate! I’d take it up to bed with my little black fluffy kitten that I found in the cowshed crying its eyes out. I’d go to bed with a little kitten on top of the bedcovers and a fox cub under them. That little fox would come out for walks on a piece of string. I’d let him off and he always came back.
There is a fox that comes into my garden now. I used to feed him down at the bottom of the garden but that’s getting a bit difficult for me to get to. I started feeding him closer to the house so I can watch him. Then three squirrels come and visit me inside the house every evening between 5pm and 8pm. They love chocolate too – I was three parts through an Easter Egg and had put it down by my feet in the lounge. The squirrels didn’t even look at the nuts I put out for them – they were like arrows for that egg, ran off with the whole box, got it outside and ate the lot! Not long ago I found a baby badger in the kitchen at the cat food and now mum and the two young ones are regular visitors. Then there are the birds, the bees, the butterflies.
- How different is this from your pre-lockdown life?
Lockdown has been an empty life altogether. It’s worse than the war was because we are all locked in apart. It’s alright when you have family and children about to keep you occupied. Much of the day I find I am just sitting on my own, watching TV. I do like the wildlife programmes, David Attenborough, Springwatch – I know just as much as that Chris Packham! But before lockdown I would get out. Ann, my friend, would take me to the garden centre, or Dungeness bird sanctuary. I would go to the camera shop – I have been taking stills and movies of wildlife since 1965. I don’t know if the shop is still open now.
- Who to you speak to most, and how often?
I don’t speak to many people really. I chat to a neighbour sometimes. I speak to my friend Ann and Serita, my CARM befriender calls too. I am looking forward to her visits again.
My nephew and his wife come once a week, bringing some nice food, and making sure I am OK. My wife was the one who did the cooking, but I can boil an egg, make cheese on toast, and make a summer pudding, so I am eating alright.
- Have there been any funny/memorable/surprising moments?
There hasn’t been a lot to laugh about. The squirrels and other animals are fun to watch, but there are a lot of hours in the day and I have found myself reliving old memories, some of which are painful. My niece came down from Manchester to see me and another relative one day. It was a long way to come for her but gave me such a boost.
- Have there been difficult moments?
Yes, there have. My wife died three years ago so I am by myself now. I met Wendy on New Year’s Eve at a dance over 60 years ago. I loved dancing. I used to dance the quickstep, the foxtrot, and particularly loved the jive. It was a funny thing – my old dance partner from years earlier was Lil, and she married Wendy’s brother! So, my nephew who visits me now is Lil’s son. Wendy and I never had children of our own, but we had our garden, our animals, our wildlife, our flowers. It is lonely on my own. Scary memories of the war come back to me at night sometimes – the planes flying over, the bombs dropping, that whistling noise that made the animals scream. We were all under the table, my mum, brother and grandmother and me. When the bomb hit it felt like the ground was rising and you were being buried. This is better than that. They were such awful things… but we came together then to cope.
- Have you learned anything about yourself, or others?
I have learned that I am lucky, very lucky. There are other people far worse off than me, from what I have seen on the telly. My nephew sorts out all my shopping on his computer. He has been very good.
- Have you experienced anything like this in your lifetime?
No, not really. In the war everyone got together and chatted. Everyone knew everyone in our little village and outsiders stood out. When I was 12 years old and saw a man in a brown suit carrying a little black suitcase, it was obvious he was a spy. I told the army and they went and caught him. I remember he was limping and was using a tree branch as a stick. He had a little monocle and smiled at me when I passed him in the woods.
- What are you worried about/looking forward to most about lockdown ending?
I think it will be much the same for me as it is now. I am looking forward to seeing Ann and Serita and being able to go out again. Though I’m not sure where I will go, and how to get there, with all the restrictions.