Hester and Toria

Toria 1995 – Credit: Daphne Tomkins

Hester Thomas in conversation with

Toria is the daughter of Hester’s close friend, Daphne. She is a speech and language therapist working in a London-based NHS trust. Toria lives near Milton Keynes with her husband Adam and six-year-old son Will.

Notes from a broad

Towards the end of 2019, and in light of the recent actions of Extinction Rebellion, my family  discussed the environmental plight of our planet – all caused by humans. My daughter said, ‘What we need is a pandemic that wipes out millions globally.’ ‘But not us,’ I added hastily, touching wood.

The gym closed with lockdown. Although the government talked of only a few weeks of disruption, I took the long view: ‘It’ll be interesting to see who is still here in a year’s time.’  And I wondered: what if I’m not?

I am in awe of those people who stepped forward during lockdown and beyond: the medics and hospital workers, the refuse cleaners, the bus and train drivers, the supermarket staff, the delivery people. Toria is my partner on this project. Employed by the NHS, her first thought was to return to the hospital wards. That didn’t work out but nevertheless her initial response was to care for others. My own thought was to race home, pull up the drawbridge and lower the portcullis.

Lockdown gave me time. I slowed down and saw the world around me in greater detail, full technicolour and with all the accompanying sounds as I have never done before. This was a gift of immense proportions. Toria gained time too – with her husband and son. She loved it, describing their lives as harmonious. She also found a different pace of life and came to a new understanding of simple pleasures.

I took my absent daughter’s dressing gown from her bedroom door to wash it. Instinctively, I held it to my face and breathed her scent. My chest heaved with loss and I put the gown back, knowing this was the closest I’d be to her for many weeks.

I knew I loved my family and friends. What I didn’t know was how much my personality depends on them. It bounces off them and with them. It is flexed, exercised, expressed and enjoyed. I am defined by them and diminished without them.

Thus far, the gym class members are all alive. But Steve, the instructor, caught Covid-19 in March. Mid-summer he walked 400 meters from his house to where we’d invited him for a socially distanced picnic. He arrived out of breath.

Steve is not going back to the gym and neither am I. He’s quit. I’ve resigned; I didn’t think the Covid-19 safety standards were high enough.

I miss my old life, but I do not want any of us to return to exactly what we had. Here’s the opportunity for major change: we need to put the environment first hoping that it’s not too late. We need to pay all those low-paid, often zero hours contract, key-workers a decent wage. We all need a new way of being: less materialistic, more caring, egalitarian, simpler, better. We will need strong, visionary leaders to achieve this.

And maybe, in the long term, more of us will survive.

Hester Thomas

Leave a Reply