Francesca and Bob

Francesca Baker in conversation with
Bob Baker

Bob is 65 and lives in Ashford, Kent with his wife and two daughters, of whom Francesca is the eldest. He has worked on the railway for 46 years, and is a track chargeman – building bridges, laying track, and fixing crossings.

Note 1: March-May

At the beginning I didn’t know who to believe. Then I started reading about there being no cure, and people started dying. This is real.

Things have changed. We bleach everything in sight. My daughters aren’t going out and me and my wife aren’t seeing friends. I can’t see my son and his wife, which is hard. But I’ve always been family focused and quite a homebody, so I’m happy with our company.

I work on the railway, so am still working and outdoors with people. It’s not easy to keep a distance when you’re working in a gang of blokes. We can’t keep two metres apart when putting in a wheel timber or lugging sleepers around. And the masks are hot and difficult.

I’m not panicking. I’ve never been in this situation. It’s not something any of us has dealt with before, is it?

Note 2: May-July

It’s quickly become normal. At work we wear our face masks; at the supermarket we queue. But I do really miss things like popping to a cafe with my wife when we’re out shopping. And I miss seeing friends for quizzes, I’m looking forward to that again.

What have I learned? I’m not one for self reflection, but the experience has made me confront mortality again, as you’re wont to at my age. I’m technically vulnerable because of my diabetes and don’t want to catch it and die, basically.

My youngest daughter’s trip of a lifetime to South America got cut short, and she’s just come home and got a job in Waitrose. My son also gave up work to make sure that he protects his wife who is shielding. I’m proud of them both.

But mainly I like being at home with my family, and I’m glad they’re around during what are very strange times indeed.

Note 3: July-August

As frustrating as wearing a mask is, it has now become second nature. Because there’s a whole group of us working together on the track, it can be hard to keep two metres apart, but we try. 

My wife’s mother died a few weeks ago, and the struggle of not being able to see her until right at the end hit the whole family hard. Grief at any time is horrible – during a pandemic it’s particularly challenging. She has been brilliant though, putting in long hours clearing the house, and breaking down for a cry when she needs to. 

Her family are from Malta and we usually go once or twice a year, so I am desperate to get back there. I miss it a lot and need a break. I am also missing doing regular quizzes with our friends, and it doesn’t look like they will be happening for a while. 

With the recent easing it has been good to see my son again, as we went a long time without seeing him and his wife. What have I admired? I always admire my wife and children. They’re strong and resilient.

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