It is a newly acknowledged truth that any mature man with an underlying condition must self isolate to continue his life. If he is just continuing to do what he was enjoying before he might be advised to get a life. The only truly major change from my daily routine, and indeed, for my fellow isolator, my son Julien, is the disappearance of real sport. My sporting participation has long been of the couch potato variety albeit including the inter activity of wagering on the outcome of contests. Julien would venture forth to join the crowds at horse racing and football when not with me in his armchair. He has continued competing in chess by playing rivals on line which does not drive him to scream and cheer the way a winning horse, or a Liverpool goal does. Chess is actually known to be as vicious as boxing without the blood and noise, but observing him playing on line you would think he is preparing his tax returns.
My internet communicating has changed markedly. I expected the lockdown would lead to, if not a flood, at least a regular stream of personal exchanges with old friends. Before March I would hear from a few contacts every week by email, mainly stimulated by a weekly closed blog from me. They were largely fellow travellers on the anti Brexit side of what you may remember was a big item up to January 31, but the lockdown has appeared to either stun them into silence or turn them into manic seekers of silver linings on Twitter and Facebook. One nephew of my late wife posts an endless stream of quizzes which should not strain the knowledge of the average 12 year old child. An ex secretary from my days in booze marketing offers views of the countryside and homilies along the lines “ whoever thinks he/she has everything may be missing what really matters”.
Seeking more meaty on line exchanges has pitfalls and not expanded my roster of friends. I have fallen out with an American second cousin who venerates Trump. I fell out with his father over “the illegal invasion of Iraq”. We were not reconciled, at his father’s request, until six years later when cancer was ending his life. I feel my own time will be up well before his son and I call a truce over important issues such as racism, misogyny, gun control and conspiracy theories about how Covid-19 has developed. It is a sign of what many may experience when seeking intelligent debate on what the world is coming to. The playing field needs to be level. I know the US very well- I doubt if my second cousin knows where England is.
Instead of friendly, reassuring news from friends the contents of the in box is now a constantly repeated stream of offers from retailers. Supermarkets, frozen meals, frozen meat, many wine merchants, department stores, hearing aid specialists, knee support innovators, catalogues of potential Chinese brides who can cook (when travel returns), Linkedin references to the many companies who have glanced at my profile. Of course I receive my daily films news, articles from the London and New York Reviews of books, and advice from medical sources about keeping fit, my spirits up and staying away from people especially doctors or nurses.
The medical contacts are either surreal or like performing in a charade. A telephone chat with a trauma and orthopaedic doctor, led to advice to swallow many paracetamols until early 2021 when my left knee could become similar to a man a quarter my age. It appears my inability to walk more than 200 yards would only be a serious problem if I were gasping for air at every step when I would be placed in the hands of a lung specialist. It looks like I could have one of the newest knees in the graveyard. My oncology professor calls monthly to tell me I must cut down on caffeine , alcohol and pornography (I made the last one up, but if only) and drink ten pints of water a day (getting up only three times a night does not satisfy him). He knows about my dehydration because a nurse dressed like a spaceman steps monthly one yard into my study through the door /window to extract blood. The trip for my treatment is now to a Tesco car park near Horsham where a bus is parked for nice nurses to provide something strong (not gin) intravenously with no other client within three yards. They serve tea and biscuits but I bring my home made sandwiches and bottled water. I read a book through this two hour session and clap the nurses at the end. Whilst I was there they cheered delightedly when boxes of PPE arrived.
Reading parts of many books has become a ritual which includes dipping into my late wife’s library. A bit of Austen, a touch of Bronte, a chapter of Dickens or Virginia Woolf, and a host of choices from her Virago collection. The art books transport me to every top gallery and museum in the world. This reminds me of the many experts, scientific and other, who give us advice on TV from their homes where some have bookshelves arranged to look as though they have been studying hard and others look as though they were bought wholesale from a closing reference library specially for the interview. I have started to inspect their wallpaper with a view to some alterations when I dare to let a proficient decorator in the house.
The challenge of making changes in a converted 17th century barn is not quite on par with avoiding a deadly virus but is not to be approached light heartedly. The last decorator employed, around a decade ago, moved in for a month and became so much part of the scene he could work around a bedroom’s windows whilst my wife was still in bed. I shall go into more detail about the quirks of my home, another time. Two photos provided might indicate the needs for serious consideration before altering a place with no straight lines, made of ancient materials, filled with old stuff and inhabited by two creaking men untalented in managing anything except meals and how to access films on streaming services.
I am especially concerned that the lockdown has produced many “experts” and too much advice on how we should react to personal situations. As one psychiatrist said to another after lovemaking: “Darling that was wonderful for you, how was it for me?”