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Column: Life in Solitary

Published on: 20 Apr, 2020
Updated on: 23 Jul, 2020

By Tony Edwards

A fortnightly, light-hearted personal view of life during the coronavirus lockdown from a small study, somewhere in the Borough of Guildford…

[Don’t] Hold The Front Page
I’ve started to show symptoms of a growing neurosis while living in lock-down. The most recent involves speed-reading the front page of my morning newspaper, without touching it, while it’s still on the front doormat. I then kneel, prayer-like, beside it, carefully remove both front and back pages and rush them, at arm’s length, to the waste bin before scrubbing my hands and hoping the rest of the pages are clear of Covid-19 which, I’m assured, can live on paper for 24 hours. To be absolutely safe I suppose I should really place The Daily Mail in quarantine until the following morning when it would cease to be a potential danger. But it would also cease to be a “news” paper, in the accepted sense, so I’ve decided to take the risk and live dangerously.

Lock-Down Locks
I’m worried about my hair too. The pre-isolation problem was that it was falling out but the lock-down issue is the speed with which it’s growing. I was due for a haircut on March 25th but, a month later, my hair is reverting to a look I haven’t seen since the late 1960s when all the hippest young people in San Francisco wore flowers in their hair. When the hairdressers finally open their doors again, there’ll no doubt be at least a three-month online queue for an appointment. The good news is that old geezers like me may qualify for priority access or maybe a stylist delivered to our door.

Isolation, An Expert View
Former SAS officer and mercenary Simon Mann knows a thing or two about isolation, having spent 18 months in solitary confinement in Equatorial Guinea after a failed coup d’etat. I’ve been reading his book, Cry Havoc in which he describes his terrible isolation and the ongoing fear of not knowing when they might execute him. He got through the fear and isolation, he says, by routinely exercising every day [in chains] and learning, by heart, some of the poems by A E Housman after he’d been permitted the volume. I’m not a great fan of Housman so I’ve settled for Walter de la Mare, starting with The Listeners. That’s all about isolation too.

Chasing Happiness
I can sympathise with children everywhere who dream of heading for the nearest park to play with siblings and friends in the late spring sunshine. Books and computer games can be poor substitutes for running riot and letting off steam. But can these be the same children who, just a matter of weeks ago, were glued to their computer screens and had to be dragged, screaming, into the great outdoors for some fresh air? As American poet Walt Whitman put it; “Happiness is not in another place but this place…not in another hour but this hour.”

The Plague & ‘Sociable Proximity’
And talking of words from the past which resonate with today’s lockdown life, may I present you with a quote from the famous diarist Samuel Pepys, referring to the enforced “Social Distancing” which accompanied the 17th-century Great Plague: “Abiding by the newly forged laws of ‘Safe Sociable Proximity’, I invited His Lordship to stand outside my front door at midday, wherefrom he would discourse with me as I leaned out, a safe distance away, from my upper chamber window.” There was some confusion about what constituted a safe distance. Some said it was four “rods”(about 20ft), others insisted it was eight “perches” (about 16ft). I think they settled at several “chains” (each chain about 21ft).

Speedy Deliveries
My weekly Ocado delivery was more than an hour early this week due to now almost zero traffic on roads and motorways, according to the van driver, who also noted that these days, nobody is ever out when he calls. Every cloud …

Old Friends
Faced with a new abundance of free time and with the help of the internet, many of us have been locating former friends from the distant past with whom we had lost all contact, according to media reports. I can relate to that having heard from two old colleagues I haven’t seen or heard from for more than 30 years. It was good to exchange stories and photographs, update each other on our changing fortunes, and to laugh about old times. And, as might be expected, we assured each other that we would stay in touch and, maybe, meet up sometime when “all this” is over. But, of course, we won’t. The past is another country and, sadly, the reason why we lost touch in the first place was probably because we no longer had very much in common.

Cutting Issue
Does a trip to the petrol station for fuel for the lawn-mower constitute an “essential journey”? Apparently not, it seems. So what’s going to happen to Britain’s manicured lawns this year if we run out of petrol for our machines? Looks like both my lawn, and my hair, will be totally out of control by May.

An Unentertaining Future
Even after the lockdown is lifted, entertainment as we know it, theatre, cinema, concerts, ballet, football matches, etc, will remain a danger area because of the close proximity of audiences. And it’s clear that the Government will lift restrictions for these venues only after we have a vaccine to combat the virus, which could be two years away; the usual period for clinical trials with particular reference to side-effects. [NICE guidelines] Which poses the question of what all the actors, musicians, sportsmen and women, etc will do with themselves. Unfortunately, video “shows” are a poor substitute and don’t seem to be working. We’ve seen how dull, drab and unfunny Have I Got News For You? can be with no social interaction, resulting in video banter that falls completely flat.

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test 4 Responses to Column: Life in Solitary

  1. Harry Eve Reply

    April 20, 2020 at 9:00 am

    “Cutting Issue” can be turned into an opportunity to switch to wildlife gardening and discover the added interest that it can bring. (See SWT’s How to grow a wild patch.)

    TV programmes such as HIGNFY [Have I got News for You] are also suffering from the limited range of topics available in the serious news broadcasts and the nature of the show does not suit the current circumstances.

    The different nature of The Mash Report was clearly easier to adapt but the news items are the same. It is interesting to see how they are all trying to adapt the way they operate and at least they still have “The Donald” and certain other politicians to provide the material for some entertainment (where would we be without them to criticise?).

  2. John Lomas Reply

    April 20, 2020 at 9:24 am

    While enjoying this glimpse of another’s method of making light of our situation. We should not let humour get in the way of teaching our younger readers the true meanings of real measurements.

    Some of these measurements are still used for official purposes.

    A chain is a distance between the stumps for a cricket match. Being 22 yds long, it is made up of 100 links, each link being 8 inches long and the necessary overlap when linking chains causes the nominal length to be 7.92″ (22yds +792″)

    The Chain is also equal to four rods, poles or perches.

    10 chains is a furlong (a distance used in multiples for horse racing) and 8 furlongs make a mile

    The acre is 10 square chains.

    Nowadays our children have to have special lessons to learn about base mathematics. because all they absorb initially is base 10.

    We had the bases seen above and we also had base 12 (pence in a shilling) base 16(ounces in a lb) base 14 (lbs in a Stone) base 20 (shillings in a £).

  3. Maria Rayner Reply

    April 20, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    Great observations.

    However, I take issue with Tony Edward’s opinion of HIGNFY. I’m finding it quite amusing, if only for the absurdity and the increasing unruliness of Ian Hislop’s hair.

    Keep up the good work Dragons. Your articles on Matrix moved me to donate.

  4. Juliet Hills Reply

    April 20, 2020 at 6:42 pm

    Don’t you ‘ave no scissors? I cut me own ‘air.

    Who was that masked man? A free TV guide to anyone who can name that programme we all saw in the 1960s.

    And aren’t you watching Star Trek? A recent plot line was “Kirk obsessed by blood sucking cloud” – who could resist?

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