Apart from our daily walks, for the next three months we will be confined to our home. Our leaders have declared war against the Coronavirus and at the moment it feels like he – in French, virus is masculine! – has the upper hand. In the outside world, the virus is wreaking havoc, bringing with it fear and anxiety. In our inside world Rohan and I stay close together and do what we can to understand what is going on, to maintain our home and to minimise risk.
Each day we are inundated with advice, warnings and news of more horrors. The government and other leaders have been telling us how to behave. Messages on the web have been doing much the same but in addition and in the spirit of the blitz, wonderfully irreverent jokes, songs and videos also abound. Everywhere, people are responding to the epidemic in their own ways; this blog tells of just three of my own coping strategies.
Both Rohan and I greatly enjoy reading our newspapers and our morning now starts with their decontamination. The Guardian and Le Monde are delivered early and, before breakfast, each in turn is ‘cooked’ for 3½ minutes in our kitchen microwave set to 1000 watts (full power); no virus should survive that! After their treatment the papers come out warm, parched dry and crackly and, in some places spotted with brown scorch marks. Knowing that the pages are virus-free makes reading that much more relaxing!
A similar procedure is used for our gloves when we get back from our walks and for freshly delivered letters. The mail can, however, pose risks; staples or paper clips become very hot when microwaved and any attached paper can catch fire – so beware !
As well as reading the paper, the messaging service WhatsApp keeps Rohan in close contact with her reading group and, by the same means, me with a poetry-writing group launched the day of the ‘lockdown’. Nine years ago a group of us – local friends – formed what was referred to then as the Men’s Thinking Club [see Greyhares blog, “What Men Think“, 31 Oct 2013]. There are now six Thinkers who, by virtue of our membership criteria, are all men, politically left-of-centre and agnostic or atheist. In normal times we would meet in each other’s houses every two months or so to discuss topics such as ‘When should one lie?’ ‘Should I love myself?’ and ‘What are friends for? Now, using WhatsApp, we take it in turns to add a line each day to a limerick and initially, also two lines to a more serious poem in simplified sonnet form. The first limerick, which was finished in the required five days went:
A budding poet from Kew
Not inspired but more deja vu
Looked forward to tea
With Proust’s aunt Leonie
Now that’s what I call temps perdu
While the limerick stream is continuing, there have been problems with the sonnet and here is our first:
God smiles down upon these thinking men
Who have thought and thought and thought again.
Though not believing in that God,
That He should smile thus — mighty odd!
Might be then just a figment vague
Brought on by atheist uncertainty
Or just a careless joke, that He
Should smile, while ailing Earth shudders with anxiety.
Such ambiguity must make us ponder:
Is God another La Gioconda?
More an anaconda some would say
Who wraps and squeezes life away.
Smirk on, Oh God, if you be truly there,
Whilst we as unbelievers hope to shirk despair.
The third idiosyncratic strategy deals with a challenge we face when out walking. We are told to keep two metres away from others but that can prove difficult. It feels as though passing walkers, joggers and cyclists just don’t understand; for them, encroaching – sometimes even chatting – is the norm. To manage this threat, I carry with me a sturdy, 1.2 metre long, stick (see illustration). With the stick held at the end of my outstretched, 80 cm arm, I have a 2-metre reach and can easily indicate to passers-by that they are coming too close. But there is more. When I walk, with each step I place the tip on the ground with a loud tap at about 70 cm out from the side of my leading foot. Seeing my flamboyant gestures, those approaching or rushing by from behind automatically give me a wide berth. I don’t have to say anything; the message given by holding my outstretched stick – named by my daughter-in-law as a ‘lonely Joe’ – is understood to mean “Keep your distance”.
While these three strategies are important, they are a tiny part of our lives as we are caught up in the most terrible of circumstances. Who knows what will happen next? For my part, I am planning on keeping this blog going.
For helping write this blog I would like to thank Ali, Al, Neil, Rohan and Vivien.
The illustration shows a photo of my gloved hand holding a long stick (a ‘Lonely Joe’). The stick is 1.2 metres long so, with my outstretched arm, the distance from my head to the tip is over 2.0 metres.