Tag Archives: Bristol


They had let her out on the morning of her graduation. Two years, four months, and five days after entering isolation and six months after widespread adoption of the vaccine. They’d lied about almost everything on the program including how long they needed her for. April hung on to the only things that she still believed were true: her blood had saved her friend and would vaccinate the globe. She’d spent most of her life isolated and now she was connected to almost everyone through millions on millions of injections of something synthesised from inside her.

She felt awkward and out of place in the Great Hall. It was the first set of ceremonies to be conducted back in the Wills Memorial since 2019, more than a decade ago, the first time that everyone felt safe converging in such numbers in a confined space. They had arranged a gown for her and let her change at the hospital before a taxi had picked her up to drive her into town. She had kept it from her parents, there would be time to call them later and she hadn’t wanted them to come straight away. She couldn’t really explain it but she’d completed her studies shut away, it was hers and hers alone and she wanted to keep them separate from her memories of her time in Bristol.

In the cab on the way over she had dropped a text to Aps, just a jokey thing commenting on the weather: beautiful day for a graduation. She knew they’d all had their ceremonies already as the scientists (even the pseudo ones like Leah) had been earlier in the week; she’d listened to them all chat about it on one of their regular video calls and been bombarded with photos afterwards, the usual shots of mortar boards thrown into the air, friends arm in arm, laughing families.

There was a shot of Aps that she loved, eyes glowing, facing down the camera with a broad smile. There was no trace of the shattered and wrecked girl that she’d seen in the HDU, no vestige of the months and months of rehabilitation she’d worked through, rebuilding her body, processing what had happened. They had clung to each other for the last two years, speaking every day, working through their memories of their shared experiences and talking about what they were facing now. April would read to her in the first few weeks of her recovery, dialling her up on video, and voicing over whatever she was studying. Later, as Aps got better, she took over the lead on their conversations and April was grateful for that; there were only so many ways to describe her day when every day was basically the same in isolation.

The pictures of Leah and Cora also brought her joy. Leah had grown her hair out, falling down across her shoulders. It was how she wore her hair growing up, she said, when they’d first moved to Italy. Her parents had flown over for her graduation and there were several shots of her and her dad pulling faces at the camera before a final one of the two of them, his arm across her shoulders, him looking at her with a quiet pride. Cora was mostly alone in her pictures but looked content and comfortable in herself. April knew she’d met someone in the last few months, they were taking it slow but it was making her happy. Cora had confided in her the day of her ceremony. She’d hesitated a little as she’d said that she would always love Rob but that she thought that it was finally time to move on.

April took a seat towards the back of the hall which was beginning to fill up. Everyone else gravitated towards the front, filling the rows with the best view. She didn’t mind. She didn’t really know anyone, they’d tried dialling her in on seminars but it had never properly worked trying to keep up with the flow of discussion in the room. They had usually forgotten she was there, a disembodied face on a propped up tablet. Towards the end she’d managed with just viewing the lectures and picking up one to one conversations with her tutor. She had hoped to meet him but couldn’t pick him out in the sea of faces and she felt still too uncertain to try and mingle in the crowd. It was only after she sat down that she realised how overwhelming it all was, like she was undergoing some sort of social bends, coming back up into a large group of people too quickly after so long on her own.

She took a deep breath and stood up. This was too much. She turned to leave.

In the doorway were three women. They weren’t wearing gowns and looked slightly breathless, flush in the cheeks, as if they’d just run up the gothic stairs on their way to the hall. One of them saw her and pointed. And then they were all running, all four, them to April and April to them. She felt arms around her for the first time in two years. They stayed like that for a long time.

“Why are you crying?” said Leah, finally. “You got a first.”

“Yeah,” agreed Cora. “It’s us that should be in tears. We didn’t have to study on our own for our degree and you still did better than us. I think the University’s a bit embarrassed about it to be honest, you’ve made them look bad.”

“They’ll spin it as evidence of the effectiveness of their distance learning programs,” said Leah. “And, I don’t know how to break this to you Cora but we are all kind of crying.”

“What are you doing here?” said April. “How did you know?”

“Really?” said Aps. “You think we wouldn’t figure out your cryptic little text. Absolutely classic April, can’t just come out with it and ask us to come.”

“I never was very good at asking people for help. Ask my therapist.”

“Which one?” said Leah. April laughed.

“Hey, now you’ve graduated you could be April’s new therapist,” said Aps.

“I really don’t think that’s going to work,” said April.

“You could be my lifetime study,” said Leah. “Don’t rule it out. I’ve already worked out our first session. Tonight. Classics night at the Kandi. Classics with an x, obviously, you haven’t missed that much. Indie dance therapy. I’m going to get it peer reviewed, imagine it will be bigger than CBT.”

“I never really got on with CBT,” said April. “But screaming Nirvana songs in your face under a strobe light I think I can get on board with.”

Cora gestured towards the front of the hall where some members of faculty and local dignitaries were taking their place on a stage underneath the building’s dome. Someone tapped a microphone and the four of them squeezed into seats on the back row, Cora and Leah flanking April and Aps in the middle.

Aps held April’s hand until her friend’s name was read out. She gave it a squeeze and let go and they all watched her walk to the front to receive her honours.

Alone but not lonely.


It was harder being out, separated, than being in, isolated. At least before they had shared experience to rally around, something that connected them. This shouldn’t have changed anything, not really, but it didn’t feel like that. Leah and Cora had been allowed to leave quarantine on day seven, neither of them testing positive, neither of them showing any symptoms. They’d both argued against it. None of them had spoken to Aps for two days, everyone repeatedly stone-walled with standard responses when they asked how she was: her condition is stable, we can’t give out more details except to immediate family, her condition is stable, she is getting the best care, her condition is stable, you can’t do anything for her, her condition is stable. April hadn’t been released but she didn’t know why. She was also asymptomatic and testing negative, they’d told her they wanted to run some more diagnostics.

Cora had suggested they go for a walk. They had seemed to swap imposed confinement for self-imposed confinement, the two of them not sure what to do while they waited for news. April had encouraged them to get out: I was built for this, you two flakes need your fresh air and nature and real world stuff, you’re useless living in your own heads. I’ll call you if they tell me anything. I promise. They had relented and set out on a circuit of the Downs, the nearest green space, still dotted with groups of people in the late afternoon sunshine. They didn’t speak much at first, just walked, neither taking the lead. That Spring the four of them had quite often picked their way down past the zoo and sat overlooking the suspension bridge, sometimes taking a bottle of wine, to watch the sky fade into greys and pinks at sunset. By unspoken agreement Leah and Cora retraced those steps and sat down a bank of grass overlooking the brick towers and curved iron chains of the old bridge.

Cora lay on her back, feeling the grass press into her neck, one hand over her eyes against the sun, the other twirling a daisy between her fingers. Leah sat cross-legged looking out at the view over the gorge. She was thinking about the time they’d tried to drag April across but she’d refused to move from the viewing platform by the first tower and watched the three of them traverse the narrow walkway. They’d signalled at each other across the divide when they reached the other side. She couldn’t remember it exactly but she thought they had attempted to spell something out with their hands; April had just blown them a kiss and asked them why they were doing YMCA when they got back.  She took a photo of the view on her phone and sent it to April and Aps as a message accompanied with a waving emoji.

Cora propped herself up on her elbows. “Have you heard anything?”

Leah shook her head. “Sorry, no, I was just taking a picture. Thought I’d send them something to try and cheer them up.”

“April refusing to come across with us?”

“Yeah,” said Leah. “What were we trying to signal to her from the other side? I’m not sure if I’ve remembered it right.”

“We were trying to spell out ‘loser’ but no-one could agree on how to do the ‘s’,” said Cora.

“I was hoping it was something more supportive than that but that sounds like us,” said Leah.

Cora rolled the stem of the daisy between her fingers, watching the petals spin, before she flicked it towards Leah. “It’s okay, she knows we love her. And besides didn’t she drink most of the wine while she was waiting for us to cross back? I think she knew what she was doing the whole time.”

“She usually does,” said Leah.

They sat in silence for a while before heading back to the house. As they approached they could see someone standing on their doorstep, he’d rung the bell a couple of times and as they turned into the pathway up to their front door he was bending down, leaving something by the matt on the floor.

“Isn’t that James?” said Leah to Cora, leaning in towards her as they walked. Without waiting for confirmation she called out. “Hey, James. It is James, right?”

He stood up and tugged at his fringe. Leah fully recognised him then. Aps had told them about this habit he had of smoothing his hair when he was nervous, as if he could tease his curls straight if he pulled them enough. It fell back into its unruly tangle.

“Hi, yeah I’m James. You’re Aps’ housemates, aren’t you? Maybe you can help me.”

“Did you just get out?” said Cora. He looked blankly at her. “Like us,” she added. “Did you just get out of ICU?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” he said. “I haven’t been in isolation. Has something happened?”

“You must have been in,” said Leah. “Standard protocol on a contact trace.”

James held up his hands, gestured that they should slow down. “Hold up, I’m not following. I just came round to drop Aps’ Medlet back.” He held up her old health tracker. “She left it at mine after… after, well after she stayed over. She said she’d call. I thought she was playing it cool, you know first few days, but then I didn’t hear anything and wasn’t sure where I stood. She tried to contact me a couple of days ago but I missed the calls and then she just sent me a weird message apologising.”

Leah moved past him and opened the front door. “You’d better come in. Aps is in ICU, she’s got the virus, and we’ve only just been released from quarantine. It was the day after she spent the night at yours. They must have contacted you.”

James shook his head and followed them into the house. He held up his wrist and showed them his own Medlet. “I’ve been green all week, nothing has changed. I found her tracker later that morning. It was still green too. I think they hold a three hour memory of your last reading so she must have been fine when she left mine.”

“Why didn’t you call her?” asked Cora. “When you found her Medlet?”

He looked away, down at the floor. “I’m sorry. I thought she’d call if she didn’t have a spare. I figured she’d have a back-up, everyone does. Listen, honestly, I’m not too good at starting things with people. I like her. I’d wanted everything to be perfect that night but I don’t know. She seemed a bit off in the morning. I felt a bit embarrassed about calling…”

“This doesn’t make sense,” said Leah. “She got tested at the police station and she was clean. Then she picks it up in the afternoon and they don’t isolate someone she literally slept with the night before.”

“The police station?” said James.

“They picked her up walking home from yours,” said Cora. “No Medlet so they took her in for a standard check. She was lucky she just got a caution.” She touched his arm. “Listen, that’s not your fault.”

“You could have called though,” said Leah. “Whatever, that doesn’t help us now. I think we should contact April, get her to tell them that something might have been missed, that they might have not done the contact tracing properly.” Cora nodded. James looked apprehensive, he had started running his fingers through his hair again.

Leah’s phone vibrated. April had replied to her message, the picture of the bridge, with an ‘x’ and a bottle of wine emoji.

“Yes, let’s ring her,” said Leah, making up her mind. “April will know what to do.”


To the station…

Fifteen minutes. That was if the traffic was good. Could be twenty. Leah looked at her phone again, checked the time, flicked open the Uber app. Still showing five minutes away which, based on the last ten minutes, was a lie. Say it was five minutes that meant a minimum of twenty until they could get to Aps. She thought about ringing the driver. April and Cora were over by the window, pulling back the curtain to keep an eye on the street. A black Tesla pulled up outside. The five minutes wasn’t a lie. The latest five minutes at least.

None of them really spoke in the car and the driver had taken this as his cue to turn his radio up, some rock station that April vaguely recognised as something she’d tried when 6 Music had been decommissioned. Some song none of them knew pushed them out onto the pavement outside the police station; a blast of pounding noise and someone singing about gambling. As the Uber door shut behind them and they were left with just the traffic noise on the street, a muffled don’t forget the joker shouted from the radio in the car behind them, Leah realised she had no idea what they were supposed to do.

In the moments after Aps had called it had all been clear. Our friend is in trouble: we go and help her. Nothing to contemplate, nothing to consider, no doubt. How do we get from here to her? The problem was as simple as that but now that problem had been solved, what now? None of them had dealt with this before. Leah was uncomfortably aware that the others were looking to her to guide them. What? Just because she called me? She wondered at that: why had she called me? But now wasn’t really the time. Leah led them inside, through a revolving door. If it wasn’t for the sign announcing The Bridewell Police Station it could have been any other office block, glass panelled walls demarcated into rectangles by red, steel strips. Beyond the initial door there was a decompression zone that was pretty common in large buildings, an expanse of space ended by a series of health screen machines that you had to proceed through to be allowed access further inside. Standard temperature check and cross reference to the national viral health register.

Leah cleared the health screens last. She should have expected it; her EU registered status always took longer to clear now in the UK, there were just more cross references back to the Italian database where her main health records sat. April and Cora were already at the enquiry window as she caught up.

“…we just want to make sure she’s okay,” Cora was saying to a dead pan police woman. She was ensconced behind a screen, mainly some sort of frosted glass that you couldn’t see through but with a clear window through which her head was visible. They were speaking through an intercom. She looked bored.

“What are they saying? Can we see her?” said Leah.

“No, you can’t see her,” replied the police woman, Inspector Martin from her name badge. “She’s still being processed under the terms of her arrest.”

“Can you at least tell us what she’s been arrested for?” said April. “It must be some kind of mistake.”

There was just a shake of a head in response and a gesture that they should all move to sit in the waiting area, a stretch of moulded plastic chairs bolted to the floor. There was a vending machine but most of the numbers displayed against its range of drinks had been scratched out. The three of them sat down. April got up again, walked up to the machine and looked at it.

“Anyone for a hot drink lottery?” she said. The others shook their heads. She swiped her contactless card and punched three numbers: two, two, three. Nothing. She tried again: one, one, two. This time the machine stirred, dropping a cup and filling it with a squirt of some unidentifiable black liquid topped off with hot water. It passed as black coffee and April cradled it back to join Cora and Leah.

“What do we do now?” said Cora.

“We wait, I guess,” said Leah.

“But we can’t do anything.”

“But we came. I think that’s all we could do,” said April. “We’ll be here when she gets released.”

“If she gets released,” said Cora.

“When,” said April. She blew across the top of her coffee and took a sip.

It was three hours before Aps was released, on a caution. In that time they discovered that 112 was definitely black coffee, 114 might have been a cappuccino, and 220 was the worst cup of tea that any of them had ever tasted. Talking about the drinks was the only thing that had distracted them from worrying about their friend. When she emerged, escorted by a woman dressed in blue scrubs, surgical mask hanging loose around her neck, she broke into a run and the four of us collided in the waiting area, Aps clinging to us in a desperate and grateful embrace.

“I lost my MedLet,” she said, repeatedly, as we held her. “I left it at James’s.”

None of them asked the questions they wanted to ask about that. They could all keep until later, for when it was safe to laugh about the whole thing, and start the enquiry about last night. They all bit their tongues about whether there had been any biting of tongues.

“What now?” said Cora. “Can we go?”

“Yes, it’s all sorted, I’m free to go.” Aps held up her wrist to show them a new MedLet, issued in the station, its warning light softly glowing green.

“Green equals clean,” said Leah.

“Green equals clean,” they all repeated.

Aps arrested

I had thought about walking the long way home in the early sunshine, taking an extended morning after walk of shame or stride of pride depending on your point of view. I wasn’t ashamed to be honest but it hadn’t been a night to take much satisfaction in either. The amble of ambivalence? Whatever. My desire for a shower trumped all.

I was half way back when they stopped me. Two police officers approached from Redland Park, I didn’t think much about it until they got a little closer and I realised they hadn’t shifted their gaze from me. They were wearing the mask attachments on their helmets, I’d only really seen that in footage of what they did during lockdown, patrolling. You didn’t see it on the streets; if they needed masks you were usually indoors.

“We need to take you back to the station, Miss Daniels,”

I’d read about the CCTV and ID bank upgrades but it still took me by surprise to be addressed by name. “I don’t understand…,” I started.

“We’re placing you under arrest under the Viral Health Act, 2024….” It was the guy that continued talking, reading out my rights, but I didn’t hear the words. I felt exposed, rubbed at my arm and wished that I hadn’t taken my jacket off. It was the other one, the woman, that placed a firm, gloved hand on my shoulder and began to escort me up the street. They didn’t say much and I was too shocked to make much sense, just repeatedly asking what I had done. “We’ll tell you more when you’re secured from the public, Miss Daniels.”

They had a car parked around the corner on Whiteladies Road. I sat in the back, a screen sealing them off from me. It must have been soundproof because I could see the guy talking into a walkie-talkie but I couldn’t hear him. She drove. No sirens, no flashing lights, just me sitting in silence as we passed the University. I thought there was a police station down near the Royal Infirmary so I assumed we were going there. I only knew where the Infirmary was because directions to the nearest hospital had been in the student welcome pack we’d all got, part of the viral awareness literature that had been pushed on us since we were at school but updated a bit now we were older. Mainly stuff about risks through fluid exchange, the old romantics. I was feeling a little calmer, the strange quiet in the back of the car had helped me gather my thoughts. It must be a mistake. Or something silly. It’ll be fine.

In the station they took me straight to a temporary ICU. I didn’t even know they had them but so many places had isolation units for emergencies now that it didn’t surprise me. Technically it wasn’t a cell and they didn’t seem to lock the door but someone stayed outside the whole time, I could see him through the porthole window. They told me that someone would attend to me soon and to make myself comfortable. I paced up and down for a bit and tried to think through what I needed to ask, what I was entitled to. Most of my police procedural knowledge was from that night me and the girls had watched those VSI re-runs and I was pretty sure screaming for my attorney wasn’t going to help. I didn’t have one, for a start, unless Jane Atkins, a girl I’d met in the first term who was studying law counted, and I had a nagging feeling they weren’t even called attorney’s in the UK. All the times someone had asked for a phone call on the show seemed to have worked though so maybe that was legit.

Eventually a woman came in, asked me a few health questions, and requested to take a blood test.

“Listen, you can refuse,” she said. “But then I just have to get a warrant processed as part of your arrest and we do the test anyway and all you’ve achieved is some time and pissing everyone off.”

I let her scratch into my arm, it didn’t seem like a big deal. She even managed a thin smile and a muttered ‘thank you’. As she was finishing up, blotting a small piece of cotton wool onto the place she’d made the incision, deftly taping it down, she moved her hand down my arm and tapped my bare wrist.

“You know why you’re here, right?” She tapped again and looked at me and I realised I wasn’t wearing my MedLet. The good parts of last night came back to me, the kissing parts, the undressing parts, the taking off my MedLet part.

“It’s just a mistake,” I said quickly. “I haven’t got any symptoms, I’m not hiding anything. I just stayed at a friend’s house last night, I must have taken it off to sleep and forgotten it. You can’t be serious?”

She smiled, glanced up at my slightly disheveled hair. “Well I hope your ‘friend’ was worth it because, unfortunately, failure to wear a health monitoring and tracking device is serious and can carry a big penalty. Let’s hope you’re not carrying. You might just get a caution if you’re clean.”

“What do we do now?” I said.

“I need some time to run the test diagnostic. In the meantime you wait here.”

My earlier calm had evaporated now and all I could think to lean on were some of the lines I’d rehearsed in my mind earlier. “Can I make a phone call?”. She nodded, said to use my own mobile but she’d wait while I just made one. I didn’t know who could help or what anyone was allowed to do. I called Leah and burst into tears when she picked up. She listened as I explained what had happened, forcing the words out through sobs and shortness of breath. There was no hesitation on the other end of the line.

“Hang on, Aps, we’re coming.”

Some Kandi talking

“Who’s this again?” Cora was lying back on the sofa, watching the reflected sunlight from April’s Medlet dart across the ceiling. The music was a dark, droning dirge filling the room. It felt like sinking into the warm honeyed embrace of every one night stand she’d ever had; seductive, noisy, edgy, maybe not that healthy but the kind of mistake you knew you were going to make again anyway. After Rob she’d made a few mistakes.

“It’s The Jesus & Mary Chain,” said April. “Happy When It Rains.”

Cora turned her hands in front of her face, moving them in slow circles in a gentle nod to April’s default dance move. “Another one of those songs? And, happy when it rains, really? Is that, like, your theme song?”

April leant down over Cora, her face looming closer and closer until it blocked out the rest of the room. She stopped about an inch from Cora’s face. “Embrace the darkness, my friend, embrace the darkness.” They both smiled. “Is that my mascara by the way?”

“Well, you have so much I figured you wouldn’t notice…,” replied Cora.

When the others arrived home a couple of hours later they were still in the lounge, Cora now sitting up cross legged, April sat on the floor in front of her, head back in her lap. Cora had braided a few strands of her hair, interlacing them with purple ribbon. April’s eyes were closed and she was softly mouthing the words to a song none of the others knew. I’m not like them, I can pretend.

“Well look at you two,” said Leah.

“April’s been educating me on all the miserable music that we were lucky enough to miss in the late 80s. Now I know why our parents fucked us up so badly,” laughed Cora.

“It’s miserable music you can dance to,” protested April, opening her eyes. “Not this one so much but all the other stuff. And you’re more than capable of being a fuck up on your own without blaming your parents.” Cora poked her tongue out in response.

“Is this Nirvana?” said Aps. She’d come in behind Leah, laden with shopping bags. “That guy that shot himself. You know, the one on the tee-shirt.”

“I’m sure that’s just how he’d like to be remembered,” said April. “Yes, it’s Nirvana. Kurt Cobain is your man. Icon of alienation and isolation.” She flicked off the music streaming on her phone, thumbs flying as she searched for something. She held up a picture of him, blonde hair falling round his face framing blue eyes, a pensive frown.

“He sounds more like he’s your man to be honest,” said Cora. “I like ’em a little sunnier. He’s hot though, I’ll give you that.”

Aps snatched up the phone to look more closely at the picture before rummaging back through one of the bags she’d carried in. She fished out a flyer which she passed over to April as she handed back the phone. “I knew I’d seen him today. I picked this up for you, April, thought it looked like your sort of thing. They were giving them out in the Union.”

The flyer was postcard sized and filled with a picture montage of bands April recognised. Pixies, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr, Stone Roses, Sisters, Mudhoney, Violent Femmes, Cure, Cult, Pulp, Oasis, Blur, the Stones, the Beatles. Kurt’s face was lost in there somewhere, the same shot that had appeared first on her phone. She had seen him today. Emblazoned across the top it read: Kandi Klub presents Club George. Down the bottom were details of the venue: The Thekla, Saturday nights, room limit 100. She shook her hair loose from Cora’s fingers and stood up. “We have to go. Seriously, we have to go to this.”

Cora, curious, plucked the flyer from her and examined it. “You sure they stick to that room limit? Someone told me about The Thekla. It’s that club on a boat, down in the harbour.”

“They have to stick to it,” said Aps. “They’d be shut down within a week if they mess around with that. They’ll have checks going in as well.”

“Come on Cora, it’ll be fun,” said Leah. “I mean, we won’t know any of the music but you can just pretend we’re partying in April’s head for a few hours.”

“So there’ll be dry ice and a strobe?” said Cora looking at April.

“You better believe it,” she replied.




This one is part of the overall set of stories about April and crew but as they’re in Bristol, even in the near future, it seemed only right to send them to the Kandi Klub. I don’t think it exists any more but perhaps someone will pick it up again one day.

RIP DJ George and thanks for the memories.

April, Cora and Aps

April moved seats so that she was as far from the door as possible. She wanted to give Cora some space; it wasn’t the first time that people had been uncomfortable around her.  She could hear voices in the hall, a soft Scottish accent lowered so that the words were inaudible. The other April speaking at a more natural volume but with a forced politeness, insisting that Cora came in and that there was nothing to be concerned about. I judge my own risk. April heard that.

April knew what Cora would be doing. Sure enough when they finally came through into the kitchen she was holding her phone, eyes moving from the screen to take in the room, and then back to the screen again. April’s arm was still exposed from where she’d shown her namesake her scars earlier but she wore her MedLet on her right wrist. She rolled up the sleeve and held up the black band, a pale green light emanating from a small face on its outer edge.

“Your phone would have lit up from the street, you know, if I was showing symptoms,” said April. She paused. “Hi, I’m April. But I think you alredy know that.”

Cora sighed and held up her hands. Still ensconced in their gloves.  “Look, I’m sorry. I just like to be careful. I know it’s not the best way to meet people.”

“I guess it’s more honest than those air kisses our parents told us about, right?” said April, smiling. “Listen, I wouldn’t ever put anyone at risk. I never skip a test. I wear my MedLet with pride. My CT is zero.” April knew that Cora would already know her contact trace number: your records showed your viral history and the number of people they thought you’d infected. If you’d had any of the strains it was very unusual to show a CT of zero. Some people liked to see their whole sequence of contacts but most stopped at the straight CT number because they didn’t want to know their CD rate: contact deaths. The official messaging was always the same: it’s not your fault as long as you followed the guidelines but it was hard not to feel culpable.

The other April had busied herself distributing the tea that they’d made just before Cora had arrived. She put two of the mugs on the table and took a sip of her own. Nobody else moved to drink theirs. There was an uncomfortable silence. April rolled her sleeves back down and muttered that she need to sort out her room, unpack. She left, circling Cora, allowing her to step further into the room so that there was always a distance between them.

The two of them left in the kitchen picked up some halting small-talk. Cora’s journey had been long but uneventful; they had both picked Bristol for science courses, April for Chemistry, Cora for Zoology; they had done similar A levels; neither of them had lived away from home before. Cora had no siblings. April did. They got on to nicknames and April let slip that her sisters had always called her ‘Aps’ for short and that maybe the house should do that, save the confusion with two of them having the same name. Cora nodded. She didn’t particularly want to be known as Cor. Only one person had ever called her that. Sensing that Cora had quietened again April – Aps – felt obliged to show that she wore a MedLet as well although she felt sure that she would have done her homework and known that she’d never been in isolation. She remembered something.

“You were never in ICU, were you?” Aps asked.

Cora lowered her gaze but Aps caught the momentary look of sadness in her eyes. “Not ICU, no, but I was in soft isolation once. Just a month. Precautionary, never had anything. Doesn’t go on your record. I don’t really like to talk about it, if that’s okay?”

“It’s not really okay, is it?” came a voice from the door. It was April.

“It’s not something I like to talk about.”

“But it’s okay to come in with all your I judge my own risk and your gloves and your suspicion? It’s okay to refuse to meet me at the door until you’ve run your checks, got the all clear from MedApp?” April saw the untouched tea on the table. “It’s okay to refuse the drink? Let me guess? You’ve got your own mug, haven’t you?”

Cora looked at the floor. “It’s not like that. I just…”

“Just want privacy the rest of us don’t get to have, is that it?” April was shaking her head. “Come on, I’ll leave it alone but at least tell me I was right about the mug.”

The air in the room seemed to have been sucked out. April was staring at Cora, Aps  had turned away, went to rinse the remnants of her tea out in the sink. Cora was slowly shaking in her chair, picking at her fingers until she suddenly peeled off the gloves and lay them on the table. She looked up at April, eyes pricked with tears but she didn’t break her gaze.

“I was in soft isolation because my boyfriend died. He picked it up. He should have been alright, he was healthy, no underlying conditions…” She punctuated each syllable of un-der-ly-ing-con-dit-ions by stabbing her finger into the table in time with her speech. “He should have been alright but he wasn’t. I was in isolation when they cremated him. Alone. He was alone. I was alone. So, now, you just leave me the fuck alone.”

April started to try to say something but Cora stopped her.

“And, yes, of course I’ve got my own fucking mug.”


April, too

I didn’t know what to expect at the time. We all just got the notice that the Uni had put us in a house share which was fine for me; I grew up with two sisters so I was used to having my space occupied. All the usual safe guarding stuff was in place, so they’d given us names, a picture, and a link to check medical records – just the relevant bits, they still redacted where something wasn’t infectious – and I’d had a quick look. I was curious but not really bothered. I’d known people that had spent time in the ICUs and it hadn’t changed how I’d been around them. I don’t know, sometimes I thought we were all over-reacting but I guess I didn’t really see the ugly side of it so I kept that to myself. There were strong views on both sides and my opinion didn’t much matter. I was more interested in the names, trying to imagine these new house mates, my mysterious new companions for the year ahead. Leah. Cora. My namesake, April. Mostly I was interested in April.

The dates on April’s ICU were in ’24 so she must have been mid teens when it happened. Pretty rough. I’d been lucky and never picked anything up in the window when you got treated as a high risk to everyone else. Ages 8 to 18 they reckoned. Like I say, I knew people that got isolated – one day they’d be in school, the next they wouldn’t. The first time it happened it was a big deal and we all made a real effort to keep connected – Paul Jacobson was the one I remembered. He was just one of the class, I didn’t really know him or his friends but overnight he became the most popular guy in the school. Those first few times, when it was a big deal, we really tried with the people put on ice – that was what we called it, isolation containment. No-one ever agreed on what the E stood for. I don’t know when we stopped trying so much but after a while it lost its novelty, was just something that happened. People got iced and until they thawed we sort of forgot about them.

The other two, Leah and Cora, didn’t have flags on their records. It showed as clean the same as mine. I was never that comfortable with the language, the inference being that, you know, if you’d isolated you were dirty, but everyone said it was just a reference to being virally clean. Just a medical thing, nothing else. There wasn’t much else to figure out about the three of them. Nobody connected up on social anymore before they met, it was one of the weird things that happened afterwards, the more people’s personal history was made public the less they wanted to share. I still had a private Insta and sometimes dipped back into Twitter but mostly to remind myself why I’d never really bothered with it: getting called out as the toxic generation in an endless echo chamber wasn’t my idea of being social. None of my pending housemates had any kind of footprint online, other than the legislated stuff. Nothing public anyway.

I moved in first. I was back from my year out travelling a little early, there was an alert in Melbourne about a possible recurrence of Covid-32 and the FO advice was to come home. It was okay. I was on the last leg of my trip and felt pretty lucky, I’d made it across most of South America and had a few good weeks in Australia before anything had happened. I knew some people the year before who’d got caught in the big 31 outbreak and got stuck in local lockdown for three months. No one our age could afford travel insurance anymore so they just ended up loading on debt before they’d even started their studying. I was back unscathed and at a loose end so had asked if I could move up to Bristol a week early, try and get a sense of the place. Mainly I just wanted to bag the best room. The house buttressed up against a row of Georgian terraces but it had obviously been built later. It started a new run of more modern houses, individually painted to mark them out as separate: ours was green, our neighbour pale blue, before the rest of the run exploded in pink and yellow. It overlooked the Downs and that alone made my decision to arrive first worthwhile as only two of the bedrooms had that outlook, the other two facing back onto an unloved stretch of concrete instead of a garden and the rear of flats in an adjoining road. I picked the front room on the top floor. It was small but it had the best view.

The day the others were due to arrive I had made an effort to clean the place up for them. Got a bottle of wine for the fridge, picked up some flowers from a shop in Clifton which I haphazardly arranged in a cheap vase someone had left in one of the cupboards, and I pushed the ancient Dyson round. I’d never seen one before. It wheezed a bit. Maybe that’s why people stopped using them, maybe they were all banged up in ICUs, maybe it wasn’t that government contract stuff. It did the job anyway, if the job was to displace dust from one location to another; I managed to make it look presentable as long as you didn’t get too close to the skirting boards. If anyone got that close to the floor they’d probably be drunk so I decided it would be okay.

When the door buzzer rang I jumped up without thinking, surprised myself how much I’d missed company in the last week, how much I was looking forward to meeting some new people. Our intercom had a camera and through the small lens I could see a mess of black hair, dark upturned eyes, lots of mascara. It was April. I buzzed her in.


All My Friends: Neil

I don’t function in the countryside. I’d felt myself tense up just driving over the Severn Bridge and seeing those rolling Welsh hills and valleys extend to the horizon. Well, I imagine there’d be rolling hills, great waves of grass spilling over itself, a dazzling emerald expanse, if I could have seen anything through the pissing rain that my one working wiper flapped ineffectually against. If there had been a way to cross the central reservation and hightail it back to a stale coffee and greasy fry up at Aust Services then I’d have done it. Why had Lizzie arranged this nostalgia freak show in the middle of nowhere? I’d just driven past Bristol and, presumably, several functioning bars, night clubs, cafes, shops, museums, galleries, hospitals, and hotels. Everything, in short, required for a decent night out. The order sometimes varies. Finishing in the hotel rather than the hospital is optimal. I’ve never been to Bristol. It could have been fun. I’d even drink cider if it meant avoiding the onward trek into the wilderness. Is cider a Bristol thing? Or is that pasties? I try not to venture further west than Reading for precisely these reasons: the avoidance of hold-in-one-hand meals wrapped in pastry and alcohol distilled from apples bobbing around in some straw-chewing farmer’s barrel in a barn. But right then, squinting into the deluge plastering itself onto my windscreen, imagining the verdant fields beyond, I would have happily killed a kitten for the chance to bite into some stodgy mincemeat and sup on warm, flat scrumpy rather than keep going.

My first impressions of the cottage were not good. I didn’t really have a benchmark as cottages were another thing I’d deliberately avoided in my life along with tents, horses, farms, summer walks in meadows, autumnal tramps through drifting leaves in the woods, bluebells, campfires, and botanical gardens. I was yet to see a green space I couldn’t mentally improve with concrete, a Starbucks, and wi-fi. There was a purple flower climbing its way up the walls and framing the door that had prompted much delight in the others but which just looked like a drop in centre for drunken, drowsy wasps to me. I’d spotted at least two of the little bastards furiously headbutting a window as soon as I’d stepped inside. Later I learned that this mysterious plant was called wisteria but not before mis-hearing Lizzie and spending a few confused minutes wondering why she was quite so enthusiastic about having contracted listeria. Cue, inevitably, general hysteria.

My first impressions of the others were not good either. This was the second time they’d all made a first impression on me and at least they were consistently disappointing. That first first time, back when nobody was reflexively sucking in their stomach every time someone pulled a camera and everybody’s imagination still outstripped their income, I’d only really been impressed with Richard. He’d always had a confidence about him which I’d mistaken as an acceptance of himself and being a grown up when the rest of us were still kids. It wasn’t until later that I realised he was just a bit of an arrogant arsehole with an inflated sense of entitlement. Therefore, given my track record on first impressions, I wasn’t reading too much into my initial deflation this time around but, seeing them, listening to what they’d done and filling in the blanks on what they hadn’t, I couldn’t help but see my own failures reflected back. I wasn’t the person they had known but I wasn’t sure I was quite the person I’d wanted to be either.

I’d gravitated to Jon as the evening progressed. It wasn’t like I’d planned it but it didn’t surprise me either. If he remembered that night I tried to kiss him then he didn’t bring it up and I could tell from the way his eyes still tracked Clare around the room that not only was he still playing for the wrong side but that he was also still playing out of his league. I think I wanted to tell him that he was important to me but I wasn’t good at sincerity at the best of times and least of all removed from my urban comforts. I don’t mean that I still had feelings for him but I wanted to tell him that his rebuffal was the turning point for me; it was when I realised who I was and felt good about it. The details are a little hazy – tequila will do that – but I do remember him not being a dick about it. Just a kind, gentle even, letting down and then we sat round listening to records until I crashed out on his floor. I don’t tell him any of this. We just talk about some songs like we used to.

As the night started to find its natural end my need for a smoke finally became more urgent than my aversion to being outside. I figured the wasps were probably asleep but I didn’t really want to find out if you could fight off a badger by stubbing it in the eye with a lighted cig. The insistent nicotine nudge was too persuasive. I convinced myself that the same farmer that I wouldn’t be buying cider from anytime soon had probably killed all the local badgers to stop them spreading TB or something. I accept I’m not going to be offered the gig when David Attenborough goes. I know more about Country & Western than I do about the country. What I mainly know is that I don’t like either of them.

I avoided being bitten in the ankle (or throat – maybe they can jump?) by any of the myriad of woodland creatures running rampant in my mind and settled down on the sofa. Jon was still up, playing Astral Weeks now, but I recognised his look, even after all this time. Van was going to give him solace that I couldn’t. If he could hear Richard and Clare shagging through the floor above then he wasn’t letting on. Luckily for him it didn’t seem to last all that long. I flicked on the TV, turned the volume right down, and flicked the channels until I found something to look at that reminded me of civilisation. I don’t even know what it was but it wasn’t green. Tomorrow I’d drive back to Bristol and spend the rest of the weekend in bars, night clubs, cafes, shops, museums, galleries, hospitals, and hotels. I fell asleep wondering why the hell you had to pay a toll on the Severn Bridge going west but grateful, at least, that I could escape home for free.

The weirdness flows between us

32. Freak Scene – Dinosaur Jr.

We showed off to each other back then. Goofing around, throwing ridiculous shapes on the dance floor, conjuring ludicrous puns that, over time, became impenetrable in-jokes, and just enjoying each other. Not, you know, in that way. Okay, sometimes in that way, but mostly it was entirely rated PG stuff; occasional moments of mild peril and sexual references. As Supergrass would later put it: we were young, we were free, we kept our teeth nice and clean. It’s unsurprising that my self penned follow up – I am middle aged, I have responsibilities, I have ground my teeth down to such an extent that I displaced my jaw – has never troubled the charts.

We were 16, going on 17, and weren’t skipping around a summer house in Austria on the brink of war trying to impress a young Nazi boy. But we were interested in the sound of music (boom, and indeed, tish). Specifically we were all starting to share a love of what you might generally term indie music; some gravitating from an earlier goth phase, others from heavy metal (an odd mix of US hair metal and New Wave Of British Heavy Metal), and some feeling the benefit of older siblings passing down people like The Smiths. Irrespective of how we got there we all arrived at a place where a shared love of Nirvana, Pixies, Muses, Dinosaur Jr, Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, Teenage Fanclub, and a host of others became something that both defined us and soundtracked our late teens and early 20s.

We, of course, was me and my friends. A small but perfectly formed gang; smart, funny, at ease with each other, if not always with ourselves. I’m probably romanticising it across the years. I’m sure there were times we had terribly dull conversations and just sat around fretting about our A levels but that’s not how I remember it. In my head now it was all either hilarious, wise cracking bon mots or very earnest, deep discussion about matters of great import. We knew we weren’t the cool kids but convinced ourselves that, because we knew that, it actually made us the cool kids anyway. We were cool because we weren’t cool but we knew it. Make sense ? Not really but it did at the time. Looking back I think we were pretty cool. If I was 16 again I would want to be friends with us.

And I would want to spend my nights at the Kandi Klub. I imagine that every major city in the UK, around the late 80s and early 90s, had its own version of the Kandi Klub: what might loosely be described as an indie rock nightclub. Somewhere for the people who felt a bit out of place everywhere else to go and feel slightly less out of place together. Later in my life I frequented Rock City in Nottingham and Sector 5 in Leicester but the Kandi Klub in Bristol was the place I called home. It was our weekly stage (literally so if it was being held in the Thekla) and where we played out our friendship.

History hasn’t recorded what anyone else thought of those kids that turned up every week and spent their time alternating between dancing very seriously – shuffling feet, head down nodding, fringes falling over eyes – and then appearing to take the piss out of it all – the star jumps, the hands on hips head shaking, the watusi. If it had I’d like to think it would mention how much fun they were having. Was it fun in that slightly self absorbed way that only teenagers can really pull off ? Yeah it was but we were slightly self absorbed teenagers so…

There’s a long, long list of songs that I associate with those regular trips to the Kandi, whether it was ensconced at The Studio or The Bierkeller or The Thekla, but the one that was guaranteed to get me on to the slightly sticky dancefloor was “Freak Scene”. It was probably one of those songs that used to get slipped in fairly early in the night, before DJ George got into the bigger “hits” from people like Nirvana and The Wonderstuff. There were a bunch of songs that occupied that part of the night that I latched on to and still love: stuff like the Violent Femmes’ “Add It Up”, Buffalo Tom’s “Velvet Roof”, Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing”, Pulp’s “Babies”, and probably a couple of Mudhoney tracks. As it was still early the dancefloor might be empty, or virtually empty, but we’d bounce out there regardless and throw ourselves into that aforementioned head down shuffle of a dance.

For the three and a half minutes of “Freak Scene” everything would fall away. There was the song, the sensation of moving, and that was it. Or almost it. I was self conscious enough, I expect, to be aware of the fact that I was dancing and always enjoyed the odd mixture of doing something that felt quite private in a public place* – it was effectively an outward expression of my internal relationship with the song. If you’d seen it you might, mistakenly, have seen it as a tall, spotty kid wearing a black tee shirt dotted with pieces of washing powder visibly picked out, shining, under the blue neon lights rather ponderously swishing his hair around. It wasn’t that. It was an outward expression of my internal relationship with the song. I admit some of that outward expression required that I slowly step from side to side and possibly clasp my hands behind my back. Don’t judge me.

You need places that feel like they’re yours when you’re that age, hovering uncertainly between being a child and an adult. Places and people. Territory that’s yours, where you’re free to work out who you might be. The Kandi Klub was part of my territory and if I had the chance to do it all again I’d be back there in a heartbeat with exactly the same people: my friends.


*this will be the only thing I did that “felt quite private in a public place” that I ‘fess up to here…