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.

28 thoughts on “Some Coping Strategies for Mr Virus

  1. Wot, Joe – no plug for your superb cheesemonger from TEDDINGTON CHEESE, who’s played such an integral part in your virus survival plan?!


  2. Joe! While your virus avoidance strategies are commendably stringent, your attention to metre and scansion is deplorably sloppy. Smarten up that writers’ group please! You may be aetheists (not a philosophically consistent position of course) but that’s no reason to dishonour poetic forms. Keep well and, yes, keep up the outrageous posts…!


    1. Dear Merrily, Thank you for you comment with its clever pun. You are right to criticise and I am sorry we made so many mistakes. The poems were written by six people who wrote when it was their turn. And, for several of us, poetry writing was completely new. I did wonder whether or not I should publish our first efforts, but in the spirit of ‘lockdown’ ventures I went ahead – perhaps I should have waited. I am sure that in time we will improve by which time it will be back to our normal Thinking in each other’s houses. Love, Joe


      1. I’m glad you published those ‘poems’, Joe haha – gave me a chance to complain 🙂 And better out than in, as they say. Keep them at it…!


      2. I dunno Joe, our sonnet had the required 14 lines and conformed to the hitherto unknown free-form “Decameron” style of the 14C. Maybe a bit too laissez-faire for some but it took us well out of our comfort zone and clogged up WhatsApp for a week. What’s not to like?


      1. Intelligent minds diagnostic
        Never can scan an acrostic,
        Gluing the feet
        Or ungluing a beat
        Despite a big dollop of Bostik


        1. In these moments of crippling anxiety
          Science is the one true faith of society
          May it save us with reason
          And spare us delusion
          Dressed up as humbug and piety


  3. Dear Joe,

    I have identified a new career for you that’s bound to take off… manufacturing ‘lonely Joes’, hand crafted using fine Surrey wood!

    It will keep you busy, utilise your woodworking skills, be of great service and generate some income 😊.


  4. There is a surge in online purchases Joe, so a website could be established (with video of its many uses featuring Joe and the lonely Joe); and the post office is still open and delivering items… might be on to a winner.


  5. Joe,
    As you know, I am the biggest fan of your eccentric ways and bubbling mind and so am honoured that I have named your newest creation! It’s pure genius. Entertaining, Dramatic and useful. You don’t disappoint in keeping me amused even from this far away! Carolyn D ( see above) is correct. You should make a pretty penny, strike while the iron is still hot!
    Maybe make a microwaving mail slot next?
    All my love,
    Ali xx


    1. Dearest Ali, Thank you so much for you generous comments. I am also so glad that you found it amusing. Just as I said to Carolyn – please feel free to make the microwave mail sloth ourself. Much love, Joe


  6. Joe ! Trois mois !!! je t’ai cru ! Nous avons acheté ce matin Anais et mois 15 paquets de couches pour Amadis, 60 kg de nouilles pour nous, 30 bouteilles de Whisky Irlandais ( Irlandais, excuse) 120 tablettes de chocolat, 35 mètres de livres…Non ! c’est 3 semaines ! Continuez à bien prendre soin de vous, à confiner avec enthousiasme et intelligence. Je ne me suis jamais sentie vraiment citoyenne du monde comme maintenant. Mille baisers à vous. Annie


  7. Alas dear Joe, the usp is that you handmake the lonely Joe… we don’t have the skill or access to the Surrey branches to produce said item.

    I’m with Ali, and for each one made you could compose a limerick to the new owner to be enclosed with the purchase.


  8. Dear Joe,

    I loved your blog and the limericks! We are still swimming but my nephew has told me that even the ocean is dangerous! Not sure I believe that.




    1. Dear Robin, Thank you for your comment. Whatever the dangers of the sea, the dangers from meeting and chatting with other bathers is certain. Please take care. Love, Joe


  9. Dear Joe,

    Out here in more rural parts of the country I had developed the “two walking poles” approach to social distancing on my daily exercise walks. Being – as you know – so much shorter than you, my arm’s-length-plus-walking-pole creates an insufficient distance ‘twixt me and the next walker, so I insist on them also measuring out with their outstretched arm and stick. However, we are lucky here in that there is so much more space to put an appropriate margin between us. There is a new cameraderie of ‘pole waves’ from across a field or open space – a jaunty and cheery salute and twirl of the walking pole in greeting and acknowledgment of the other person having so carefully observed the ‘rules’.

    So in the different exercise environment in which I’m existing at present I see my stick as perhaps a means of (distant) connection as well as necessary walking support and social distance measurement. I messaged my family yesterday to suggest that the pole wave is a version of what we used to call the ‘Cedriarchal wave’ – my dear Dad (Cedric the Patriarch, genial and sociable to the end of his very long life) had a particular style of greeting people. This involved a whole-arm-above-the-head flick – a model for our present day greetings from afar. He was always ahead of his time!

    So you can see how much I enjoyed the concept of the Lonely Joe. And of course the creative limericking and poesy – marvellous! I am puzzling on the adaptations I might make to the microwaved newspaper, post and gloves as I don’t have the said kitchen appliance. So far I have been washing my (woollen) gloves every time I get home – luckily I have hunted out four pairs from various cupboards and drawers, so can have a pair in the wash, a couple of pairs drying and one ready to use.

    Keep blogging Joe – you are a tonic! Stay safe and well.
    JJ Fruitbat


  10. Dear Joe

    As a result of reading your blog I have just ordered a microwave! Is this a first? In fact at one stage I managed to order two which would have to be a first, but I have managed to cancel the second. We gave up our microwave about 10 plus years ago and have not missed it – till now!Wearing rubber gloves to read the newspaper has proved more immediate than waiting 36 hours for the virus to DIE – but the delay rather defeats the objective of daily news. The problem is that turning the pages with rubber gloves is a skill I have yet to learn. So thank you for this tip

    If anyone wants to do the same, here is a tip. Don’t order a turntable model (although a 32 cm diameter might do the Guardian without it tumble heating it). I am banking on a flatbed model being better ie the item to be heated stays still, and can be rectangular. You heard it here first on Joe’s Blog!

    Pip pip!



    1. Dear Ian, how very decisive of you. In the article I advised taking care to avoid micro-waving envelopes containing paper clips or staples. After this morning’s experience, add to that list bank cards; these burn, smell and are ruined. Love, Joe


  11. Joe, did you see the BBC News this evening? Latest research (Stanford I think,) reveals that droplets from a sneeze can travel 6m. I think you may need a longer stick.


    1. Dear Al, I have already commissioned some of the UK’s leading scientists and manufacturers to develop and produce a longer stick but it may take months. Love, Joe.


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