One of my friends asked me whether I had written anything on my blogs about Covid-19. I said no, because I just don’t know what to say, at any level – I suspect that applies to a lot of us. With regard to my history blog: although I’ve co-written something on the 431/30 BCE ‘Plague of Athens’, I don’t think there are any helpful lessons from history, other than the points that labelling diseases often involves pushing the blame on to someone else (think ‘the French pox’) and that most ‘plagues’ involve the breakdown of social order somewhere down the line (think panic buying). With regard to my religion blog, sure, we’ve moved from ‘don’t dip your wafer in the chalice’ to ‘don’t take the chalice at all’ to ‘don’t come to church’ in a mere three Sundays, but that’s all sensible (although rather later in the pandemic than I’d have thought advisable). What feels to me a lot less sensible here is the ‘how can we possibly go without communion for a whole week?’ approach; come on, people, do you really want to help spread disease through your (mostly elderly, highly susceptible to disease) congregation?
But today something happened that made me cry, and I’ve been trying to reflect on what that means.
First, this is where I am on the pandemic generally. I like information; it makes me feel better to have it, even if it’s hardly comforting in itself. So ever since I heard about the worldometers site, giving the figures for cases and deaths in every country that has the disease, I’ve been hooked. The UK report comes out relatively late every day so I check back several times – OK, let’s be honest, far more than that – to see what has happened. I’m also interested in people’s stories of what it was like to have a confirmed case of the disease, because I want to know whether or not to be (more) worried, and finding out how it does/doesn’t start and progress is helpful and so far reassuring. You can see, then, that I’m not following all the advice about ignoring the news and social media; at least, not yet. With my husband, I am doing some serious physical distancing – we resist calling it ‘social’ distancing – not least because we have a 91-year old to protect. Here are Ralph and Maff demonstrating the correct distance.
Like everyone else, my life has been changed, although of course nowhere near to the extent that many people have experienced. I’m aware that I’m lucky, only feeling at second-hand the uncertainties about GCSE and A level exams being cancelled, schools now closed, working patterns changed and – most worrying of all for many family and friends – livelihoods threatened as jobs dry up and redundancies kick in. Not to mention what it must be like working in the health service, or indeed in retail, right now.
As a mere retiring/retired person, the changes I’ve seen so far have been relatively minor. But they add up. The simple structure of the week and of the month has shifted. No more Tuesday over-55s t’ai chi class. No more sessions helping people with computers at the library and no more trips into the care homes as they are now closed. No more going out to tea at the local tea-rooms. No more theatre and cinema trips. No more evenings having friends in to watch a movie together. No more inviting people round for supper. In terms of still being active academically, one conference (Madeira…) is already cancelled and another (Canada) is likely to go the same way.
In other ways, it’s still the same. I can write, and I am writing, but I find it really hard sometimes to concentrate. I can read novels and watch TV and movies. I can cook, and I can go into my garden and go for walks, and as infrequently as possible I can nip out for a look at the empty shelves in our supermarket. I made it to the weekly market today, and found eggs and bread – hooray! – but the stallholders were worried that the market will be closed down soon.
In all this uncertainty, one beacon of sanity was our most-weeks trip to one of our local National Trust sites, Greys Court. We love it, particularly the orchard/vegetable garden section. I was delighted a few days ago when the NT announced that, although its houses and catering facilities would be closing, the parks and gardens would remain open, and free of charge.
But when I checked the website for Greys Court, I found that this is an exception. Greys Court closes tomorrow – gardens and all. Today we went for our last trip in what may be a while. I was tearful before we arrived, and spent much of the time in sunglasses to disguise the fact that I was so weepy.
Why is this hitting me so hard? I think it’s largely what this place has come to mean to me. It hasn’t been easy at all over the past year or so, with my mother’s ups and downs, and my anger at my own powerlessness and uselessness in dealing with these. Greys Court has kept me sane, as I’ve watched the seasons change, the buds unfurl into leaves and blossom, the fruit and veg ripen, with the robins flitting around as if they own the place.
Maybe it’s just that it is an effort, a huge effort, to remain calm and act normally when the world seems to have gone mad, and for all of us there will be some tipping point at which we can’t put on a brave face any longer.
For now, though, it’s goodbye.