What are you doing to pass the time and keep your grey cells occupied? Are you reading more? Have you taken up a new, or rediscovered an old, hobby? What would you recommend other readers to try? What are you finding hardest to cope with? SR wants to hear from you: simply email email@example.com
When not sitting in front of my computer, I'm trying to get as much fresh air as possible. Yesterday, the challenge was to spend an hour collecting fir cones in the garden – with help from a furry friend. – Ed
What am I doing?
Well, we also had to close our doors at Theatre Nemo – have been closed for week and half now. However, our members have many issues related to mental health and poverty, and are already very isolated in the community, so we have an online art group on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 1-3pm (FB: @theatrenemovisualartgroup).
I am also writing funding applications, as by the time we get by this, there will be so many people with poor mental health in need of real good all round support.
I am also dancing while I do my housework, keeping happy and in touch with friends.
Was listening this morning to a friend's laughter workshop online – can't help being positive after that!
Keep happy, keep positive… that will boost your immune system. I'm thinking of everything I have to be thankful for. I'm thinking of all the good times we will have when this is over.
That's how I spend my day.
Sending love to all SR readers.
I am in the 'don't leave home' group but I cycle to Findhorn, go sailing for a couple of hours and return home picking up litter on the cycle track. There is now not a piece of litter between Forres and Kinloss (on my side of the road), or on the back road, or on the cycle track to Findhorn. There is very little contact with people and there would be none at all if people would not offer to help me launch and recover my boat.
Read something you never got round to. Gibbon is a step too far perhaps – although the tomes are up there on the shelf – but Mary Beard's SPQR
, which I bought in hardback and found too heavy for bedtime reading, has finally been opened and is a great read. The other thing that passes the time is to paint in watercolour. I do paint watercolours as it is, but on site painting in Scotland means battling the midges. Look up some views online, download, print and work from those. Your own photographs would be best, of course.
How can I expect my teenage grandchildren to cope if, at 80+, I am finding it hell? And I have had an interesting career and travel to draw on. Tomorrow, a letter may come from the NHS to advise me that, as I fall into the ancient age group, I should lock myself up. I have always hated being categorised and I hate it even more now – well meaning though it might be.
So what wisdom do I have to share with SR readers?
Keep a shape on the day… if you don't, you will lose the shape of your mind. I get up at my usual time of 0700 and take a cup of tea and a poem for the day on the garden bench.
Use the garden (if you have one) as a gym. If you are a gardener that is an even bigger plus.
Will I write
the promised book? Probably not, although I have enough material in my head.
Will I read
the promised books? Yes, I am determined to and hope I may report positively to you when this is all over. One of the great consolations is that if I were to escape viruses for ever, I could never read even the tiniest proportion of what interests me.
The most notable impact the current pandemic has had on me is the undermining of my habitual self-isolation. My wife has been directed to work from home and my youngest son has been excluded from school. So now I have them both under my feet all day, disrupting my routines and disturbing my peace with their video conference calls, loud thrash metal sessions, and frequent journeys to and from the fridge. I'm seriously considering building a shed in my back garden, as far away from the house as possible.
To console myself I've been re-reading Albert Camus' The Plague
, his extended meditation on freedom, terror, love, and exile, and on the necessity of solidarity and bearing witness to one another's humanity in the midst of life's hellishness.
The story runs something like this: Before the arrival of the plague, we (the citizens of Oran) were largely preoccupied with matters of commerce and finding distractions to stop us from becoming bored with ourselves. When the plague arrived, it caught us off guard; the hospitals couldn't cope and we began to run out of coffins. With the good intention of securing our own safety and that of society generally, we imposed self-isolation on ourselves and enforced it on others. Public places were declared off-limits, streets were emptied, assemblies were criminalised.
However, our good intentions, expressed as social distancing, did as much harm as the epidemic itself. We became obsessed with cleanliness and other barriers designed to demarcate and maintain for ourselves sterile personal environments. But our social distancing began to erode our capacity to love and to experience pleasure. We fell instead into a state of terror and mutual distrust.
is often seen as an allegory for totalitarianism. It is that, but it is also an exploration of Europe's postwar obsession with the question of how it could arise and so quickly take hold among decent civilised people. Camus' answer is that it arises from a 'contagion' that’s already within us, as part of our shared human condition.
[E]ach of us has the plague within him; no-one, no-one on earth is free from it... [W]e must keep endless watch on ourselves lest in a careless moment we breathe in somebody's face and fasten the infection on him.
The 'plague' in Camus' novel is not totalitarianism as such but the propensity for evil that lurks inside each and every one of us. This propensity manifests itself in times of stress when we seek to protect ourselves through social distancing from others, who are in much the same boat as ourselves, but with whom we do not 'own' an identity. Social distancing fosters a climate of fear and distrust, from which can be cultivated a complete subservience to the state.
The totalitarianism inherent in identity politics begins with the imperative of 'looking after one's own'. From the top of the slippery slope of social distancing and safeguarding, we can swiftly descend into the victimisation and scapegoating of others. Quarantining and exterminating the unclean in death camps is only the final, logical solution to the problematic of safeguarding.
I'm not suggesting we're about to descend into an orgy of barbarity on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic. Far from it. We might be selfishly hoarding food and toilet rolls away from others, from the quite understandable fear of having to go without those things ourselves; we might be giving others a wide berth as we pass them with a scowl of distrust on our expeditions to the park (or, in my present situation, to the kitchen); but we're still a long way from fearfully denouncing one another as sacrificial lambs to appease the authorities or conniving in a systematic cull of 'them', the infected, to maintain a safe environment for 'us', the healthy. But as things get worse before they get better, it may nevertheless be prudent to 'keep watch on ourselves lest in a careless moment...'.
All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it's up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences. That may sound simple to the point of childishness; I can't judge if it's simple, but I know it's true.
As Camus insists, we'll get through this, just as we've survived countless other existential crises in human history. And it will not be epic deeds of heroism that gets us through it, but simple human decency and solidarity, which are the only weapons we have in our meagre arsenal.
So, maybe I'll put that shed on hold and walk instead beside my wife and son in Camusian solidarity, albeit maintaining a distance of no less than two metres between us.
This is a message from my friend J.K. in Spain, on 23 March:
Madrid's week-long quarantine is going to be continued, it seems, until 12 April at least! A quick quarantine brought South Korea's virus curve down to flat very, very quickly, so hope the same happens here. They expect the numbers to go up next week, but hopefully, the rise will flatten out after that. Very, very strict here.
Anyone out, even walking a dog, is stopped by police. If they are way out of their neighbourhood, they get a stiff fine. No two people can be in a car, or walking on the street. If you are going out for medicine or food, it is only one person, and must prove to police they are in their neighbourhood. Otherwise, no-one on the streets. Every evening, at 8pm, we clap for a few minutes outside (window/balcony/yard), and wave to neighbours. People are being very good about it.
Robert R Calder
When I first heard of Coronav Iris, I thought of planting it in a sunny position with a modicum of shade. That was in late January and after a general garden tidy up.
We have a slight problem with this deadly virus down here in Dumfriesshire. Unlike London and the Lothians, Shetland and Sheffield, our encounter with the virus has been scarce. Not that I am complacent. The buses are empty and cars seem to have only one passenger. Most shops are closed except M&S but even there the chicken has flown from the shelves. I have succumbed to the governmental order to keep six feet (is that two metres?) apart from other humans I encounter. I was nearly killed this morning stepping onto the road to give a wide berth to a pedestrian who acknowledged my slick movement with a smile and a nod, and a toot from the driver who nearly clipped me.
I still have my morning coffee. That's sacrosanct. And it's time to return to writing Murders at Blackwaterfoot
. Now there's a venue it would be easy to keep my distance, and I don't think they have a case yet. With the better weather now with us, I'll dig over the plot and add some compost. I think I've gone off planting irises this year.
A little girl was heard to say that one had to be brave to go to church.
'Why do you say that?' asked her father. ''Cos I heard my uncle
tell my aunt last week that there was a canon in the pulpit, that the choir
murdered the anthem, and that the organist drowned the choir.'
And to help pre-empt cabin fever, here is this week's faith lift:
When Jesus said: 'Take no thought for tomorrow…', the word does not mean 'don't think', but 'don't fret'. He was not condemning enabling planning, but warning against unhealthy disabling brooding.
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