23 March, in the year of our Lord 2021
Up, observing at my ablucions my hands and arms scratched mightily from my taking of a saw and some seckateers to a great heeby in my garden by the Lane, which had grown to a thicket, and cut it bare, I hope not too much, and tore at ivey and some brambles that had also grew there, which I did yesterday. At breakfast the sun lighted up all the dust in the house, from the side, as it does at this time of the year, and set my mind to the prospect of cleansing for the spring, though it is cold and it did not enspire me to do it. Today is another which I am to forego without wine or beer, or any other spirit or strong water, it being wholely the second such since I resolved that I would do it, of which I am very proud.
After some business despatched, by coach to the Exchange, where they have advantag’d themselfs of Lock Up to change all the order of the things upon their shelfs, which vexed me for the time it took to find Banjos food, which was Ocean Delites and some Dreamys, though not the cheese ones, which he will not eat. Thence home, where read a little of the gazette, wherein salutery news from Foreyne Parts, that in many of the countrys of Evrope the plague is resurgent, in Italy, and in France, Flanders and the provinces of Germany too, though the tables are turned for once, with the success of the Vaxine here, which, thanks be to God, I am to receive tomorrow at the precise time of eighteen minutes past four a-clock. If I am not required to give it, as it seems I am not, I may as well have it.
After a dinner of crumpitts with some butter and a little Marmyte, which I found Banjo likes as much as a Dreamy when I smeared a tiny dab on his nose, I set to attempt my filling of a form I have been sent, where were some questions that confounded me, so purposed advice. Within his chirurgerie found the Physician on a step-stool, hanging some new portraits on his wall.
‘These’ll brighten the place up, eh, Pepys?’ says he, trying to wear a masque, hold tacks in his mouth and talk at the same time. ‘While they wait, people may chance their hand at selfe-diagnosis.’
The pictures I viewed with not a little dystaste, for they shew all manner of hideose deformations: the vesickular disfigurement of the small pox rampant; the monstrous swellyngs of the lepper; ears eat off by a malignant ulcer or the Wolfe, and an orbit consumed by a cancre so the eye was gone; the crustaceous lesions of weeping scabes, of faces lit by the scarlette fire of erisypalies or with Yellow Cruste unchecked, and the groins of a corpse all a-leak from the black buboes of the former Plague.
‘Well, they’re colourful, I will say that,’ say I. ‘What is the one with the jowls and the big purple nose?’
‘Gangrene of the penis,’ says he. ‘What can I do for you, or are you just here to waste my time as usual?’
‘I have been trying to fill in my form for the Census,’ say I.
‘It should not be a difficult task. Have you not done it on the Line?’
‘It will not accept 1633 as the year of my birth, so I am obliged to complete it by quill,’ say I. ‘I do not understand the question about “orientation”.’
‘It could hardly be simpler,’ says he. ‘In plain language, they are asking if you bat for the other team.’
I look blank. ‘I am not a member of any team, let alone for orienteering.’
‘To put it in ordinary language,’ essays he again, ‘do you count Dorothy among your friends?’
Blank again. ‘We had a mayde of that name. And there was the vintner’s daughter. But we are not friends.’
‘I cannot put it much clearer, Pepys,’ snaps he, irritablie. ‘What is your inclination?’
‘My inclination is to leave it blank!’ retort I. ‘Or put what Mr. Jones said to put.’
‘Which is — ?’
From his vantidge point up his ladder the Physician dipped his head to look over his spectacles and through the window panes to the lane beyond.
‘If you wish further advice you could ask our friend across the road,’ says he. ‘Pass me that one on your way out. The close-up of scrofulous pus.’
In the street stood a small figure of familiar stature, dressed as red riding Hood and staring up at the For Sale board on the butchershoppe — onlie now there was a crude board nailed across it saying, ‘SOLD’.
‘Oh, Mr. Pips,’ exclayms he. ‘I did not see you there.’
‘The premices are sold, then,’ say I. ‘I had not noticed.’
He bit his lower lip and looked at me with a great concern.
‘They are sold to me,’ says he. ‘I have bought them with the money I won at St. Pauls.’ At which he heaved a great sad sigh and his shoulders fell, slumping him it seemed a good three inches.
‘You are to tell me I have made a poor investment, are you not?’ says he, doalfully. ‘It is my dream, but now I am besieged by doubt.’
‘’Twas ever thus,’ say I. ‘But I myself have no doubts. You shall make of this a fine business! A business that will grow, and spread throughout the land! I see corsets instead of brisket, robes instead of ribs, skirts instead of skirt!’
‘Culottes instead of cutlets?’ says he, brightening.
‘That’s the spirit!’ say I, and then, advantaging the moment, ‘While you are here, may I make bold and ask a question you may think impertinent? It is for my own sake, nothing more.’
‘I shall do my best,’ says he, with a hint of waryness.
‘On the census form, what did you put for question 26?’
At which blushed he a crimson shade, the second time I had seen such a tint on a face that morning.
‘Well, it is a bit confydencial,’ says he. ‘But since you ask…north-east facing.’
I clearly look perplexed for he explaynes weakly, ‘It is all to do with — ’ and as he peters out he makes in the air a vague and meaningless spinny movement with a forefinger ‘ — proclivites. You know.’
But I still do not.
After, tried to write my Journall for this last week, but the pickings are lean for it seems I do less and less, and these spring days have the dogged monotonny of the prison cell and the exercise yard, each longer than the last in more ways than one. God forbid it, but I am tempted to insert a fiction into my account of them, I do so little!
Returned to the gazette, but the Home News therein compensates with no less grim cheer than the Foreyne, and Lord! how it despairs me to see so many things as delinquent now as ever they were: pertaneing to the Constabulary, a murder, alleged by one of their owne, to which [they] added a grievous excess of force to some women on the Common that protested it, it coming into my mind that my late wife, or even my sister Pall, would be as unsafe in the City now as ever they were; of such things as a meanness in discourse in the place of kindness, so that from football fields to the family of the King come insults fashioned on the colour of a persons skin; of dissembling, as people suppose it, by the Gouvernement as to its Contracks for the plague; and of the tally of those dead of the Covey, which is more than 120000, yet in the midst of it, with all the things that might be on his mind, the First Lord thinks it a fine notion to stoke our countrys Ordnance and shake his fist at the globe. When I was young I thought the world would grow up with me: that if I were to become a better man, it would be in a better world. But for all we have our magick screens, and more knowledge than we ever hoped, and ev’ry resource to improve our common lot, knowledge is not wisdom, and for all the span I have lived of my life, it rues me still that the course of history is not a straight line to betterment, which constant is the crueller to realise in inconstant times like these.
After supper, attended to the waste that I must put out to re-cicle, which event is so invariable I cannot believe how soon it comes again to punctuate the week. Today is the Anniversery of the Lock Up of the country against the plague: this time last spring the weather was fine, and all were a-banter with a gallows humour. The plague would take some, but we would work from home and learn to bake cakes, for we thought it done ’ere Whitsunday. But a year hath made it real. A year in which, thanks be to God, I saw my father through, and dodged a second wave, and measured out my life with wheelie bins.
By and by from the shadows cast by the street lamps comes the cry of a hatted figure, well wrapped in muffler, scarf and wollen gloves, walking slowly and ringing a handbell.
‘Cold front approaching! Cold front approaching! Wintry spell by Friday! Cold front approaching!’
‘Evening, Mr. Schafernacker.’
‘Oh! Evening, Mr. Pepys,’ says he, affabubbly.
‘Can you at least not bring some cheer?’
‘Band of cloud and rain pushing south-eastwards, Mr. Pepys,’ says he, not unsympathetickally. He fishes inside his coat to hand me a leaflet. ‘Can I interest you in one of my yellow weather warnings?’
‘I would like fewer of them,’ grumble I, ‘if you can kindly manage that. No doubt you will tell me it is all down to la Ninja.’
‘It is all down to the great Stream in the sky, Mr Pepys,’ shrugs he, adding with the air of a Fatalist, ‘It is meandering.’
With which cryptique remark he himselfe meandered off, down the lane with his bell, his cry diminishing with distance in the dark: ‘Cold front approaching! Cold front approaching! Low pressure in cha-a-arge!’
For solace, took a large draught of port, and completing my Census wrote ‘other way up’ upside-down in the troublesome box.
And so to bed, where comes a tiny miaow, and Banjo to my bed, where he jumps on it, and curls himself beside me, and purrs when I scratch his ears, and worries not at all for any thing. And I snuff out the candle. And pressed together, my cat and I, we fall asleep, and in the morning he is still there.