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
My job is hardly cheerful at the best of times but, at the moment, it is utterly bleak. I am a civil funeral celebrant and, while crematoria are still able to hold funeral services, I am able to work. But it is virtually unrecognisable from the job I started doing over 10 years ago.
Of course, everyone understands the reasons why only the immediate family is allowed to be present at the funeral service, but it is so difficult to watch them have to say goodbye to someone special in a virtually empty chapel, with no opportunity for hugs from friends and other family members, and no chance to reminisce and share memories of happier times at the subsequent wake. They must go home – and they have to drive themselves, most funeral directors are now no longer using limousines – and grieve alone, without that essential network of support which can make saying goodbye at least a little easier.
Some of my celebrant colleagues report of crematoria with a handful of chairs set out the requisite two metres apart, which really reinforces that terrible feeling of being alone. Some have even reported pews cordoned off with black and yellow tape, making the place look like some sort of crime scene. I have not yet faced any of that. The mourners, family only, are, at the moment, allowed to sit together on the pews. But how long that will last, I have no idea.
I am not able to visit families before the service, to talk about the life of the deceased, so all communication is by phone, text and email. The first time I meet the family will be at the service, and I cannot greet them other than with a nod of the head. The death of someone we love is always so hard to bear, but in these extraordinarily difficult circumstances, it is an even heavier burden which people must carry, essentially, on their own.
Well, in the absence of Rose, my long-time and wonderful cleaning lady, I find myself undertaking some of the the housework which in the past I've taken for granted. Ironing, for example, is something which I haven't attempted in I don't remember how many years. The iron itself is up-to-date, which meant I had to work out how to use it – but in the end succeeded: my shirts have been ironed, if not very professionally. Hoovering proved to be quite another matter. I couldn't believe how heavy the sweeper actually was. Getting it up the stairs was quite an effort. In the end though, perseverance prevailed, and, carpets hoovered, I was able to sit down, rest, and pat myself on the back over a job more or less done. However, I see problems looming in the future. How does one dismantle and empty the hoover?
Much more time-consuming has been another job I'd never have undertaken except in the current circumstances. A jar of honey in one of the kitchen cupboards had made the shelf sticky. I decided to wipe it clean and began removing the rest of the contents. This involved lifting out quite a number of packets and tins. Glancing casually at the 'best before' on one of them, I registered it said 'October 2017'. Checking several others, the story was the same: best befores were over and over again decidedly ancient. I began opening more of the kitchen cupboards, all of them, it turned out, full of bags and packages and bottles, opened or unopened, but equally old.
What to do? Particularly now, there was not the faintest chance I'd dare to use anything long past its best before date. Throwing away food in any form is always disconcerting, but what was the alternative? Into the rubbish bags it all had to go. At least the half-empty shelves of most of my kitchen cupboards now have a shiny, pristine look. Another job well done.
I have had a bit more time to read the Scottish Review than usual because I have been stuck in the house longer than most and have tidied all my cupboards – Mr B has been quarantined for two weeks before everyone else because of viral pneumonia. Normally, I have to admit I race through the contributions – especially if I have made one and am worried I shouldn't have said what I did! But having more time, I was impressed by the quality and thoughtfulness of all the contributions (possibly because I hadn't made one this time!). In particular, the piece by the Seaton family
was one of the clearest and most helpful descriptions of the coronavirus situation.
As someone who is technically a 'carer' of someone who has had a variety of life threatening medical experiences, I found Brian Cooney's
piece particularly moving. I would like to share with him that Mr B was medically on 'Death Row' in 1992, but like Brian, the expertise of the medical profession has kept him going since then with a reasonable quality of life. I hope Brian has equal luck. We are all now urged to thank the NHS for their devotion to their work – some of us have been thanking them for a long time before the current emergency.
As a wee lad from Govan, but now just two weeks away from my 89th birthday and living in Cork, I have enjoyed reading the letters from Scottish Review readers as to how they are coping with self-isolation during the current virus pandemic. The one thread I notice running through them is that of humour and strength of character. Good for them.
Many books are going to be read and the 2021 birthrate will hit record numbers. But what of myself in Cork, a city in lockdown? I am currently reading essays and reviews by George Orwell and Letters from America by Alastair Cooke. However, my main preoccupation is adapting my autobiography, No Love Here – A Priest's Journey, into a film. I am on page 81 of the first draft and expect the total number of pages to come to about 140. Aware that 'no-one is a judge in their own case', I still think my proposed film has Oscar potential. I also listen to Classic FM in the afternoons, while reading. If any reader is interested, my website is: www.5harmonyrow.com – the address of the Govan tenement where I was born in April 1931. Some years later, Alex Ferguson was born two streets away along the Govan road. I wish you all God's blessing.
I enjoyed Sandy Gunn's
post very much. Since I submitted mine, I came down with a temperature and a dry cough. Ah, the signs were there. Since then I've cut the lawn, finished writing my book, clapped on the doorstep at 8pm and walked the dog at midnight. Even when the collie and I meet absolutely no-one at that hour, I kept an ear and eye out for an approaching police car, feeling unnecessarily guilty. Only a taxi passed by.
This morning, out came the thermometer and under the tongue it went. Indeed, a route this thermometer has taken over many decades. The result: normal. The sneezing stopped and the dry cough is now very intermittent. Now I'm not a doctor, paramedic or nurse, but I'd say I had a common or garden winter cold. Quite normal for this time of year, of course. I informed my daughter about my recovery. Dr Laura Caldwell told me the thermometer I used was not reliable. No doctor would use a thermometer like ours these days. So I'm back to square one, as I feel a little warm around the gills. Perhaps 24 hours is not long enough to declare the all clear. I'll sit by the window and watch the moss grow.
Herewith an interesting and true story (well, almost). My grandfather was a painter and was prepared to tackle any job. So he agreed to the Polish Government's request to paint the border between Poland and Russia (this was just after the Great War).
With his can of white paint, he set out. All was going well until he came to a small house. He could see that if he continued the line of the border, he would split the house in two. He knew that would be ridiculous – having to leave your lounge and going through a customs post to get to the bathroom – so he wisely decided to paint solidly around the house and fix it definitely in one country; but which? He resolved to ask the owners. He knocked at the door. After a long wait, it creaked open and a little old lady appeared.
'Excuse me,' said my grandfather, 'but what country would you rather be in; Russia or Poland?'
The little old lady thought for a while whilst my grandfather patiently waited.
'I don't know,' she finally replied, 'I'll consult with my husband.'
She retreated back into the house. After ages, she returned. 'My husband says, Poland.'
No problem. My grandfather painted around the house so that it all settled nicely in Poland. He then continued on and finished the border and received a nice bonus from the pleased Polish Government.
Several years later, he returned on holiday. He had got to like Poland and had always meant to spend some time in it amongst its friendly people. In his wanderings, he came across the small house he had painted round all those years ago. I wonder, he thought, why did they want to be in Poland rather than Russia? He went up to the door and knocked. The same little old lady came to it after an eternity of time.
'Excuse me,' said my grandfather, 'but why did you want to be in Poland rather than Russia?'
The little old lady looked at him. 'I don't know,' she stated, 'I'll have to ask my husband.'
It took a long time again but, at last, she returned. 'My husband says he couldn't stand any more of those Russian winters.'
(the writer from Glasgow! – Ed)
If you would like to contribute to the Cafe, please email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org