‘Soap, Lemons, Paracetamol’, by Rhidian Brook

Posted on 04/05/2020

How We Live Now is a series of pieces about these uncertain times, in the spirit of what the Guardian recently called ‘thoughtful, nuanced portrayals of life under altered circumstances’. Lucy Mangan was referring to Meg Rosoff’s classic novel How I Live Now, the inspiration for our title.


‘Soap, Lemons, Paracetamol’
by Rhidian Brook


Wake, breathe, thank your God for breath.

Clean your teeth (is that a cough?).

Gargle with salt. The way your mother’s father did.

Take your tea extra hot.

Keep fear at bay, and write a list.

Take back control

With soap, lemons, paracetamol.


Check the news but keep it short,

Radio for facts

The birds for true report.

What next? Oh yes. Exercise.

Stand up straight,

Stretch out your arms.

Lie on your back

And fill your sacs.

Stocks are low. So

Get on your knees

And pray, facing Sainsbury’s.

Butter. Apples. Chocolate. Cheese.


Nearly noon so little done,

Feel inessential,

Feeling numb.

How stuck indoors

Our deeds of love.

Ambition grounded,

Hopes on hold.

Read that book, watch that film,

Do your taxes, paint the shed.

Don’t think about what all this means,

Keep death at bay with games and memes.

Ignore the pressure to achieve,

Stare out the window,

See that leaf

Watch it blow across the yard.

Syrup. Wine. Sugar. Lard.




Great events are best left

Unexplained when in the fire.

It needs distance to see

The Truth, cooling with time.

Two metres? Take two years.

Let’s not pretend.

Leave snap judgements

To the tweets of sages

And Job’s friends.

Be still. Know you’re not God.

From dust you’re made,

From dust you’re raised.

Bread. Flour. Marmalade.


Late afternoon

The toll comes in

Want to hear the score again?

Worse than China, better than Spain.

God. Stop playing

This awful game.

Some say it’s war,

But that’s unfair to us and them,

When what we fight

Has no face, no shame,

It’s just data doing its thing.

Dad, what did you do during the plague?

I stayed indoors, got little done

And watched the wind

Blow through leaves and lives.

Milk. Pepper. Salad. Limes.


Fail to focus.

Want to cry.

Feel low, feel late.

Please stop saying this is great

When weeks ago the talk was mean.

Now in the night the sirens scream

And the virus sneaks

Into our dreams.

It’s getting hot in here.

Is that the fever?

Open the latch,

Lift the lever.

Offer thanks and praise

To the ones

Who’ve no time to reminisce or play.

Or self-improve,

Or say good bye.

A crash course

In metaphysics for them.

Dusted in days.

They’re done too soon,

Their last question sighs: why?

Wheat. Barley. Corn. Rye.


So order your affairs and

Complete the list.

Wash your hands

And call your mum,

That friend, that son.

Tell them what you always knew:

This life’s a gift,

That Love is real,

Its touch is true,

The only thing that gets us through.

This is the moment, this one now,

So take three deep breaths

And fill your soul.

If there’s a God

Then make that call.

Soap. Lemons. Paracetamol.




You can read others in our response-to-crisis series – from novelists to historians, from pictures to poetry – at the How We Live Now main page.