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Alex Kane: 'What I'm holding on to most is the thoughts of, and time with, the children. Just in case'

There has been nothing like the coronavirus crisis in my lifetime, which is why I've decided to begin a personal diary again, writes Alex Kane

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Alex with son Indy

Alex with son Indy

Alex with son Indy

I've spent most of my late-teens/adult life, keeping a diary of one sort or another, mostly - and this won't surprise you - about politics. At the outset I used to write about very personal stuff, including my increasingly desperate efforts to overcome a crippling shyness when in the company of girls; accompanied by even more desperate efforts to get a girlfriend. Indeed, I remember concocting - and writing down in great detail - extraordinarily bizarre plans to engineer 'accidental' meetings with girls, followed by trips to a local cafe and then the blossoming of true love.

A few weeks before setting off for university I sat down and read those diaries and was so embarrassed (not least at the prospect of them being read by anyone else) that I took them to the garden and burned them. Forty-five years later - and blissfully happy with Kerri, Megan, Lilah and Indy - I'd love to be able to read them again. I'm pretty sure I'd still be mortified by the contents (they probably read like a stalker's manifesto now), but at least I'd have a record of how I felt and thought at the time. And, like so many other things in life, particularly with the benefit of hindsight, I'd see how what were once enormous challenges were, in the great scheme of things, trivial and part of the growing-up experiences for most of us.

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Alex Kane's daughter Lilah with her first home baked quiche

Alex Kane's daughter Lilah with her first home baked quiche

Alex Kane's daughter Lilah with her first home baked quiche

And that's why I decided to begin a personal diary again; as it became clear that the 'deadly virus from China' story, which emerged at the end of December, was going to become a once-in-a-lifetime story for all of us. There has been nothing like it in my lifetime. Indeed, there has probably been nothing like it since the 'Spanish Flu' pandemic a century ago. It's not even like a war or terrorist campaign, when there are clear sides and dangers for some, but not for all. It's not just a news story you can observe from the sidelines and switch off if you become bored. Covid-19 doesn't give a damn about borders, identities, ideologies, gender, age, location, background, income, race, religion or health. It doesn't take sides, have a stance or make demands. Everyone, everywhere, is a target.

It has become a platitude for politicians to say "we are all in this together". It's not that simple, though. It's actually about millions of individuals in families, all with their own personal, maybe unspoken fears. And many, many others are alone for one reason or another. If you're feeling scared right now in a family home, imagine what it's like when you can't hold and hug someone; when you can't share a cuppa on a sofa; when you can't garden together; when you can't fetch down the photo albums and relive old memories. The toll on mental health is going to be huge and will have an impact for years.

I want to record all of this. I want to leave a personal record of how one family coped with unexpected challenges and how we came through it. I don't, by the way, take anything for granted when it comes to survival.

I've no reason to think any of us are particularly vulnerable, yet I have been shaken by how so many people, with no 'underlying health issues', have died. I have been terrified by the sight of so many previously seemingly healthy people in their 30s and 40s struggling on a ventilator. As many of you know I'm an older dad with a younger partner and young children. I accepted that I would be lucky to see them get to their late teens/early 20s, yet comforted myself with the hope that I'd been round long enough to leave them with a mountain of happy memories and experiences to remember me by.

But what happens if I don't make it through? Worse, what happens if one of them doesn't make it through? What if some of their cousins, aunties, uncles, grandparents or school/university friends don't make it through? In the normal run of things young children (those below their mid-teens) never really have to think about death. Okay, they may have the 'Bambi's mother' moment when they are five or six, but for most of them that's about it. Today, we have to face the fact that death and serious illness is going to be, albeit for only a few months hopefully, commonplace. Which is why we have to talk about it. Those will be hugely difficult conversations, but we mustn't shy away from them.

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His youngest child Indy

His youngest child Indy

His youngest child Indy

All of this is going into the diary. Along with how the politicians reacted (I've been struck by how so many of them both look and sound scared - which is never a good thing). The reckless, monumental stupidity of people who think they can carry on as normal, even when they may be carrying the virus to friends and members of their family. The selfless courage of health staff who take for granted the sort of risks that most of us would walk ten miles to avoid. The black humour, particularly on social media. That look - and I see it on so many faces - as people try to keep the prospect of their own death, or those close to them, locked in the back of their minds: but now and then the fear flashes across like a bolt of lightning. And, of course, we're all thinking about the future in a way we've probably never done before.

Here's an extract from the diary:

When all of this is over - and it will be at some point - I wonder if it will change us? When the lockdown ends and we can return to doing what we did before, I wonder if we'll give serious thought to how we can do things differently? All of us will now realise that our very existence cannot simply be taken for granted.

Life is fragile. In the space of a few months we moved from an 'It'll be all right on the night' approach to life, to the set of one of those sci-fi end-of-the-world films from the 1950s (when billions lived in the shadow of the nuclear bomb). And there's nothing like a completely-unprepared-for brush with mortality to make people pause for reflection.

So yes, I think we will be thinking differently. About climate change. About how we share this planet with other species. About our debt of responsibility to nature. About how we care for the poor and needy. About our health services. About how we protect ourselves from increasingly deadly viruses (Covid-19 is actually the latest one in an increasingly long line). About how much we spend on armaments (none of which is any use to us right now). About how we achieve so much more when people and nations pool resources and work together. About how important a political line in the sand, or centuries' old political principle is when contrasted to a virus felling its way through both sides, all sides, of a dispute.

We are experiencing a whopping collective shock to the system and it's hard to believe that something positive won't flow from it.

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Alex's son Indy

Alex's son Indy

Alex's son Indy

What I'm holding on to most is the thoughts of, and time with, the children. Just in case. Lilah is being typically stoical: she was in tears when told there'd be no school or homework for months. But we've taught her to Skype, to make quiche (delicious), to discuss what's happening around her, to help in the garden and to teach Indy, to trampoline. Sadly, there'll never be a lockdown long enough to persuade her of the point, let alone value, of tidying her room. Indy doesn't really know what's going on around him. He spends most of his time in the garden (or distracting me from work) and there's every likelihood he'll be feral by the time this is over. Megan is worried, but measured and waiting to hear if she'll be able to take up her intern year working for Disney in Florida.

Kerri, as ever, is brilliant; carrying most of the load with the children while I try and write (I have an advantage because I've worked from home for years). We have had all of the very difficult 'what if' conversations, including with Megan, who is 21. Like everyone else, though, we're an everyday family dealing with the challenges of being together all day, every day. It's not all fun and we can all be tetchy, often for the most ridiculous of reasons: but when it comes to survival I can't think of a better group of people to be with right now.

To the rest of you, stay safe and stay strong. Hopefully you'll get to read the diary one day.

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Close together: Alex Kane and his daughter Lilah

Close together: Alex Kane and his daughter Lilah

Close together: Alex Kane and his daughter Lilah

Belfast Telegraph