Coleslaw shall not live on carrots alone

It’s all going a bit pear-shaped. Or rather carrot-shaped. I’m getting weekly Government food boxes at the moment, though they keep texting me to inform me that I have said I no longer require them – which I haven’t – and so they will no longer arrive – which they continue to do. I get them because I am shielding and have no other human being (sob!) that I could bring myself to ask to do supermarket shopping for me. The neighbours all have their own problems, and many of them are shielding too.

I am grateful for the food boxes, though possibly not for the reasons the Government imagines. I look forward to Fridays all week because that is the day when Something Happens. Throughout the rest of the week Nothing Happens.

The food box is one-size-fits-all, I suspect, ie I get enough for a family of three. Every week, 2kg of potatoes, plus rice, plus pasta. Well, I like potatoes, in moderation. Every week, a monster bag of carrots. I must admit, I don’t like carrots, but I have been doing my best, because the carrots are free, and waste not, want not. I made a couple of hot-pots every week, eating one third, freezing two thirds, eating another third…until I could not face even opening one  of the little plastic tubs. They gave me wind. This was because of the tin of baked beans that went into each.

I coincided with my neighbour at the bins. She is a little deaf but we mimed and shouted a kind of conversation whilst remaining socially distanced. “Make coleslaw with them,” she said, as if it was obvious. Well, she’s a school teacher and I’m not. I imagined grating that giant bag of carrots – enough grated carrot to fill a kitchen. And then what? No onion, no cabbage, no – anything you could make coleslaw out of. Coleslaw shall not live on carrots alone, as Jesus might have have said, had coleslaw existed in those days.

Also in my box – every week, more or less – a bottle of Lynx men’s shower gel – a black bottle with an impenetrable top and writing so tiny I couldn’t read it. Until I finally wrenched it open, I wasn’t even sure what it was. Something esoteric to do with shaving, perhaps. I’ve tried it out – it smells gruff and medical – the way you’d imagine a man would want to smell – but I’d rather smell of pine disinfectant than sweat. Shower gel every week (my sister suggested I open a shop) but no toothpaste. I suppose if I ran out I could use baking powder. You can use baking powder, can’t you?

Handfuls of teabags kind of scattered randomly throughout, each tea bag in it’s own little paper packet, so you have to undo them all, but then – what else would I be doing? It’s therapy.

Tomato soup and tinned tomatoes. Two tins of each, per week. Tomato pasta sauce, two jars of each, per week. Sadly, though I gather tomato soup is the most popular kind, I simply cannot force it into my mouth. I can get the spoon half way there, then the smell makes me retch. So much tomato. Tomato soup can be made palatable by putting it in a hot-pot. But I am all hot-potted out. Which reminds me of that rather lovely older Scottish chap in Primeval – that series about dinosaurs and monsters falling through a rift in time. Eventually he left the series and the reason he gave was that he was “All Oh-My-Godded Out”. Oh My God, it’s a miniature pterodactyl! – Oh My God, it’s a super-sized flesh-eating futuristic super-killer!” Etcetera.

Six oranges. I wish I liked oranges, because they’re so good for you. I like the taste, but not the dribbly, squelchy texture. I bought an old-fashioned lemon-squeezer on Ebay (that thing you impale the fruit on is called a reamer, did you know? Ex always used to be talking about reamers) and now I squeeze all six oranges and drink the juice, an Orange Vampire.

I could go on. I am grateful for the boxes, for as long as they continue to arrive. Like the curate’s egg, they are good in parts, and those parts that are not good are a great boon to my mental health, providing me with amusement when there is absolutely no other amusement to be had. I tell a lie – this morning I went out with the secateurs and cut back some of the brambles.

It occurred to me the other day that, given the Underlying Health Condition, etc etc, I cannot safely un-shield, ie emerge from lockdown, apart from my weekly engine-boosting circuit in the car, until there is a vaccine – and there might never be a vaccine. Even if there is a vaccine – I did the math – I keep forgetting how old I am – by the time there is one, and I can get my paws on it, I may well be seventy. I cannot imagine being seventy. I cannot imagine being under house arrest until I am seventy, though equipped to survive, after a fashion, being solitary by nature.

Some days it feels like the ending of “2001” – that bit where he goes through the whatever – all those tedious lights, some kind of wormhole – and ends up in an olive-and-other-shades-of-green mansion of incredible dullness, being studied by unseen aliens – or possibly not, who knows? – whilst growing older and older (and older and older) and eventually dying, whilst reaching out to that blasted monolith yet again! What was that all about? Does anybody know? Does anybody care any more?

And some days it feels like all my Christmases have come at once. Sitting out in the sun on my plastic garden chair, an unread paperback and a mug of bitter-tasting Government coffee on the pile of paving-stones beside me; looking down the garden at a lawn somebody else has just mown for me; looking at the ratty old roses, now visible where the brambles have been thinned out; listening to the birds – so many birds – and the silence, otherwise; imagining what the world would be like if entirely emptied of human beings, if I was the only one left…

At those moments I am mercifully thinking of nothing, at one with the sunshine, thankful and at peace. At last my torment is over. The outside world is leaving me alone.

Alice down the rabbit-hole

Up till now I haven’t felt like writing anything. Other people seem to have “dropped off” (the radar, hopefully, as opposed to the perch) too. Also, my readers seem to have mostly vanished. That little world-map they give you? – is blank. That graph? One reader every few days – presumably having tripped and fallen into one of my old posts from somewhere more interesting or relevant. Like Alice down the rabbit-hole.

What is there to write about? It all seems so big, so irretrievable, so – final. Could this be the end of the world? I wouldn’t mind betting that when the End of the World finally does come, nobody will recognise it. And yet we have the wars, and rumours of wars; we have fires breaking out all over the place; we have the melting ice, the poisoned seas; we have the President of the United States suggesting people might inject themselves with disinfectant or “shine light inside their body” and now – full set, really – we have a Very Excellent Sort of Plague. No, when it ends it will be with a whimper. Everyone will be kidding themselves, right up to the last nanosecond, that it’s just a Bit of a Blip and things will go back to normal soon.

However, assuming this is not quite Armageddon, we have to manage it – and not only on a national and international level. Each one of us has to fashion a “new normal” that works for them and doesn’t endanger their neighbours.

I am supposed to be shielding, not, as you may have assumed, through old age, but because of this pesky “underlying health condition” which means my immune system is (probably) rubbish. I say probably because what I’ve got is rare and everybody seems to be hazarding guesses, rather, as to what might happen to me next – or eventually. Will she expire early, will she live out her natural lifespan, mildly but not too inconveniently symptomatic? Will she be more or less OK providing she manages to sidestep the odd, um, killer virus?

It has taken me four weeks of fruitless/answerless emailing to finally receive my “shielding” letter in the post. No Government food parcels as yet, but I suppose there’s still a faint hope. I do feel somewhat embittered about this. It’s bad enough having an illness that makes you feel wobbly and vaguely hung-over most days, without the built-in Invisibility Cloak. What is it about me, that people kind of skim over me? All my life – oy, here I am, mate, just under your nose! Grr…

However – yes, there is a however – today I took one small step towards my “new normal”. I got in my car (having looked both ways in case the neighbours were watching from behind their net curtains) and drove it as far as the roundabout above the next village, then drove it home. The roads were more or less deserted but all the while I was expecting policemen to leap out from behind the bushes, insist that I wind down my windows, and – blowing in gusts of virus-laden breath – question me as to why I had dared to leave my house at all. More than a touch paranoid by this time, obviously.

I have been inside my house and garden since two weeks before lockdown. I self-isolated, knowing I needed to, in spite of the Invisibility Cloak. I have not even walked up the road to post a letter. Meanwhile, my car was slowly dying, nose slightly downwards, on the driveway. It’s tyres began to look unhappy – squashed into the same position. It wouldn’t start. One AA man and a lecture on “How Not To Flood A Car Engine” later, I knew to start it once a week and run it for half an hour, still nose downwards on the driveway.

Then I realised that it wasn’t just the car. By the time I have my next (rearranged) hospital appointment in November, I may well have forgotten how to drive. You don’t want your first terrified time behind the wheel in seven months to be the one where you have to negotiate an hour-long, steering-wheel gripping obstacle course of traffic, traffic-lights and multi-lane roundabouts. I needed to maintain me as well as the motor. So today, with the windows tightly wound up, a green bandanna round my neck in case sudden masking should be required, a bottle of veterinary hand-steriliser and a big pack of antiseptic hand-wipes, I set forth.

It was like a small cloud lifting. I hadn’t realised how depressed I had got until I saw (through my tightly wound-up windows) that the sky was blue, the clouds white etc. Spring had sprung, in my absence. Last time I saw the fields they were brown – now they are acid yellow, with a crop of oil-seed rape. The same roads are there, with the same patches and potholes that I remember. There are people – not many, but the occasional one. Strange, upright creatures – how have I never properly looked at them before? Fancy – things that walk on two legs! I had thought – dear Lord, I had imagined I was the only one left.

From Behind The Garage

This lunchtime I took my coffee and a book out behind the garage. It’s the only place my neighbours can’t spy on me, gazing down from their newly reinstated decking. Behind the garage, on my faded green plastic chair, surrounded by weeds I no longer have the energy or inclination to pull out, I read another couple of chapters of At Mrs Lippincote’s. Slower reader, nowadays – and after all, what’s the hurry?

I look at the Triffid assortment and think “You are alive, at least, and I don’t intend to spoil your day in the sunshine. Go right ahead, Mr Nightshade. Keep right on, Mr Thistle. Burgeon, Miss – whatever you are. Let us veg out together. I have always applied this principle to animals/bugs etc; now I have extended it to weeds. I have become – St Francis – ish.

I am supposed to be “shielding” because I have one of the health conditions on The List that makes me, technically, Extremely Vulnerable. Unfortunately although my condition is clearly listed on The List I am not in receipt of The Letter from NHS Digital (the idiot arm of the National Health Service). Apparently thousands of people have been overlooked.

Without The Letter I am invisible – not entitled to help from one of the army of kind NHS Volunteers – things like collecting prescriptions, phoning to see if you are all right – or the Food Parcels. I would have so appreciated Food Parcels – psychologically as much as practically – especially as I have had to mortgage everything sourcing any old tins of cat food and bags of cat litter from anywhere, and at amazingly huge prices.

You see, they don’t think, when they have these pandemics, that not everyone is going to have the standard 1.5 pet household. They just ration everything, willy-nilly, to only two or three. Two or three bundles of cat food would last me a couple of days. Am I supposed to watch the little moggies starve? However, it’s all right at the moment – and I haven’t told them they might be out pursuing rats and sparrows soon, in case they worry.

I count my blessings. I am alive – neither my “underlying condition” nor Coronavirus have killed me yet. I have a garage full of cat food, a garden full of weeds, and the sun is shining. I am also making a quilt. I find the monotony of sewing together all those tiny squares with tiny, neat stitches, immeasurably soothing. It connects me to the past, and to other women. I imagine them in remote Alaskan log-cabins, or sitting outside their doorways watching people strolling past on cobbled streets; or curled up in cane chairs in quiet, rainy conservatories deep in the green heart of England.

I forgot N’s birthday. One day seems so much like another, doesn’t it? In any case, if I had got a card, I probably would have been tempted to plod up to the Rusty Post Box to post it – through that sea of little droplets coughed and sneezed out by others. And really, I shouldn’t even do that – even though I haven’t been sent The Letter instructing me to “shield”. Officially, I suppose, one could still go wild and – go for a little walk once a day. But I don’t. I don’t like the idea of those ventilators.

Poor Boris is really, really ill. I do worry about him, since I feel at this time we really need him to be “with us”. Him and The Queen. English Sister wrote at one point that she didn’t much care what happened to Boris, as he was “an arse”. But that of course was before he got taken into intensive care. Also, there is no one of any character to replace him – just a lot of grey chaps in grey suits, standing there looking dubious at the Daily Briefing. Which, by the way, will be starting soon. Not that it will produce anything new. More people dead. More brave doctors and nurses praised. More admonitions to Stay Home, Protect The NHS, Save Lives from people who have unimaginable amounts of money, and huge back gardens to retreat to. Bet they aren’t having to hide Behind The Garage, amid the Triffids.

Stay safe, all of you.

Little Red Friends

I remember sitting at the kitchen table in my parents house, in hysterics, which wasn’t unusual. Maybe I was about fifteen. Bit of a meltdown, but this one was worse than usual. My mother was there – perched on the table edge – and she said something like “You’ll have to calm down, or you’ll end up going mad.” I remember sobbing, “And what would you do, if I went mad?”

“I’d look after you,” she said.

That was what they call nowadays a “seminal moment”.  I think. Maybe I’m getting seminal mixed up with semen, but whatever, it was one of those. My future life flashed before my eyes. The sobbing and the howling didn’t stop, but inside, the part of me that stands backs and takes notes on what “my” body and mind are doing, replied to her loud and clear – and in absolute silence.

“You will never look after me. The minute you manage to turn me back into a child, a patient or a victim, I’m lost.”

From that moment on I fought the long, dirty fight against my own inhabitants. I didn’t ask for help. To be honest, there was never exactly a tsunami of earnest/dangerous “helpers” to be fended off! I did such a good job of boring and confusing them – and people are so easily misdirected. In another life, maybe, I was a conjurer.

I was unassailable, but all the time balanced on a knife’s edge. Waiting for that momentary lapse in concentration, the teetering, the screaming descent, the ending up on the wrong side of the knife. Oh that wall of silver, that bright cliff face. I was always afraid of heights in the real world, and these – I think – are probably the heights in question.

Anyway, I am locked in now – or rather we are – me and my little red friends. We have been together for a long time.  Almost but not quite friends. We have studied each other’s games and can largely guess what the next move will be.

No doubt we will emerge together, blinking in unaccustomed sunlight, whenever this situation ends. Most of us will return to normal. The traffic will start up again, the noise; it will be easy to just go to the supermarket and buy some food. Remember that? People will forget that other people are surrounded by a cloud of infectious gubbins. They will forget to wear their masks, and eventually leave them home altogether. They will stop to chat in the street.

But by then me and my little red friends will have been locked in together for that few weeks too long. It doesn’t take long, really, for the transformation to happen. To much of me will have been lost to them. Too many of them will have mutated into me. And at last, we will have learned all there is to learn from one another.

Robinsonia Crusoe

“Imagine you’re in prison,” I suggested, transatlantically, to my unhappy sister, knowing at once that it was the wrong choice of image. But too late, so I ploughed on. “Think of yourself in your small cell, with bars at the windows – after the first shock you’d look for things to do, little routines. You might make friends with a spider or – a rat – or something. You might, um, invent an exercise routine that required – very little room – and get really, really fit. You might turn flagstones into hopscotch – there’s bound to be a bit of chalk sort of lying about, isn’t there? Maybe you could make a chess set out of – um – tiny bit of paper – and – ”

“But I don’t play chess.”

“No, neither do I. But if we did – ”

“But you wouldn’t be there to play it with me, would you? Even if you played chess. Because I’d probably be sharing a cell with the female equivalent of Jack The Ripper.”

Afterward, I realised a better metaphor would have been the desert island. “You are Robinsonia Crusoe, and you have been shipwrecked – or possibly set ashore by brigands – I’ve never read the actual book – on a Beautiful Desert Island. That’s just what three months, or possibly months and months more, forbidden to leave the house because of some piddling little plague is like. And what would you do on your – um – Canadian desert island? After the first shock you’d look for things to do, little routines. You might teach yourself to swim underwater, in those warm, clear, tropical seas. You might observe the glossy turtles and their midnight mating rituals. Make copious notes, publish a paper someday. You might make a set of drums out of coconut shells (having eaten the delicious fruit and drunk all that lovely milk first). You might – ”

We were discussing coping strategies. She has a few strategies, but not very highly developed. I have a few strategies, but am somewhat exaggerating their effectiveness. Tell the truth, I’m probably as unhappy as she is. What presses her depression-buttons is being stuck indoors, unable to get away from The House where she had to watch her husband die, rather horribly, not all that long ago.

What presses my depression buttons is a phobia, or neurosis. It’s being afraid of running out of things, of “not having enough”, of scratching around, in increasing desperation, for the things I have less or less of. I tell myself it was probably Mum’s fault – something to do with breast-feeding, all those years ago! In normal circumstances I work round this neurotic fault line and pretend, even to myself, that it isn’t there. I buy two of everything. I store stuff. I have visions of the far-too-many cats starving to death before my eyes, and having to watch, and having to decide whether to starve myself to death at the same time, rather than watch, and …

Well, so now you know. It’s daft, but now I’m not supposed to go out because of the “underlying health condition” (not that I’ve had the NHS letter, which according to the “conditions” list, I should have qualified for – which is also winding me up) so the  permitted expedition to the supermarket, with its straggling “spaced” queues and trolley-disinfecting stations is a risk not really worth taking. But worst of all, there are no slots at all left for online supermarket ordering. The whole system has – temporarily, one hopes – ground to a halt. It’s not that I need anything at the moment. It’s that I couldn’t get anything – I’m in an alleyway with no exit to it, pursued by gun-toting cops. At this point, panic begins to set in. The starved cat, starved human fantasies start up –

So, that’s my demon, or at least, the particular demon this situation is feeding. I suspect everyone, over this whole silly little hillside at the edge of the sea; over this whole country; over this whole shut-in world, is coming face to face with their own.

Nevertheless, one is coping, as Her Majesty would say. (Poor old Charlie – even he’s got it.) One is Soldiering On. I’m trying to take my own prison cell/desert island advice and have started on a range of projects. They are very long term projects, and so hopefully will outlast the current crisis. I think it’s important not to be focusing on the short term, somehow. I like the idea of continuity, beyond this. The idea is to have more projects on the go than you could do in one day. But you imagine you might do a bit of them each day, and in imagining you give yourself things to look forward to.

So, this is what I am doing, or about to do:

Patchwork quilt, English paper-piecing method, hand-sewn, tiny stitches. So far I’ve designed my basic block, and made one up. Was greatly helped by some Over 50s Life Assurance bumf through the door – exactly the right weight of paper for the templates.

Reading. At the moment, At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor (not the one with the eyebrows and Richard Burton – the other one) for, I think, the third time. It’s one of those rare books you keep finding something new in. Next, I think, Villette.

Also, Dickens’ Hard Times. About 20 years ago, grasped by a sudden obsession, and being better off then, I bought the complete set of Dickens. Cheapish paperbacks, of course, not leather-bound, gold-embossed, marbled boards, etc. A parallel reading project – Dickens plus something else.

Origami cranes – one a day, for no other reason than I have a batch of origami paper to use up, and I can only make cranes. Maybe I could string them, and hang the strings up in the front window pour encourager les autres.

Writing – I have four exercise books full of unused flash fiction ideas.

Really complicated dishcloths – all those knitting patterns I looked at and thought – what the – ? I tackled the first repeat of “Crocus Buds” today (not quite as horrendous as “Shapely Diamond” at the back of the book). I actually got it right, but then momentarily lost concentration watching politics at the same time, dropped a stitch and couldn’t retrieve the situation. Pulled it all off the needle. Cast on another 45 stitches –

And so on. And so forth.

A journal of… whatever this is

I keep wanting to write “A Journal Of The Plague Year”, which I gather is a novel by Daniel Defoe – though it has the appearance of a historical account – of the coming of the Great Plague to the city of London. The Plague came in 1665 but “Journal Of The Plague Year” was published in 1722. Defoe was only five – six at most – in 1665, which is why people tend to categorise it as something other than an eyewitness account.

Well, what is this? Strange times are upon us. I did rather hope for excitement (a gal’s gotta get her thrills where she can) but what has actually happened is, so far, depressing. Or maybe I’m depressed.

I have discovered it’s one thing to isolate yourself from your fellow humans out of choice, another thing to have to do it. And it’s all happening so quickly. The Home rang and told English Sister and Me not to visit our mother for a while. Mostly she’s in bed when we go anyway – way past lunchtime and her breakfast egg-on-toast congealing on the table beside her, her meds undrunk, her tea cold. Not only does she no longer recognise us, she has given up the  pretence of recognising us – that fluty ‘anxious hostess’ voice she used to put on when we walked in – that’s gone. She stays lying down. She might open one eye, then close it again, shutting us out.

All the same, when your Mum’s ninety, and you are forced to abandon her for the duration, you do begin to wonder… will we see her again? Canadian sister is now trapped in Canada, more or less. By next year, when she might manage to get over – who knows whether Mum will still be there, opening one sullen eye.

Canadian Sister seems to be coping with sudden isolation better than me, which is a surprise, since until the virus hit she wasn’t doing so well, what with widowhood and all. She has been doing an art degree course at University, but it looks like this is going to be cancelled, temporarily. She was getting support from her local Seniors group, but that has closed down because of It. Yet she seems happier at the moment. She is waiting for a new armchair to be delivered. She is looking forward to starting work on a rug-making kit. It’s as if now nothing can be expected of her in the way of Adjusting and Moving On, she has breathed a mental sigh of relief, and relaxed.

I expected to be thriving in my increased isolation – after all, this new “life” is not that much different from the old one.  I have no symptoms (long may it stay that way) but decided to “retire” from the rudimentary social life I had, on account of my age and dodgy immune system, and of course to protect elderly friends from me. Not only can I not visit Mum, I can’t visit Godmother either – Godmother is ninety-one. It occurred to me this morning that I love Godmother, and am more afraid of her dying than Mum, maybe because she has all her marbles.

Mum was a bit not there during our childhood – well, for most of her life – and we all three found mother-substitutes. Canadian Sister became attached to her mother-in-law – who unfortunately died a few weeks ago – English Sister spends – or used to spend – she can’t any more – a lot of time with her partner’s elderly Mum and Dad – and I had Nan, and then Godmother. It occurred to me this morning that you don’t actually, physically, feel the love you have for somebody until you are physically cut off from them. Somebody (else) I loved once described it as an invisible rope, or umbilical cord, from your centre to theirs. It doesn’t hurt until you pull apart.

I am struggling to get up speed, as it were. There are a lot of things I could be getting on with – like Canadian Sister and her rug kit – or English Sister who, plague or no plague, got the train up to London to see a Picasso exhibition today. So as not to waste the tickets, which she’d booked months ago. I did do two lots of washing, took delivery of my Tesco order (the man now signs the machine for you, so he’s the only one to handle it) and experimented with a double-layered cloth mask.

Masks are largely useless anyway, but I haven’t been able to get hold of any – all sold out – and I do have to brave the hospital for a blood test shortly. Hours, probably, of waiting in a cramped row of hard chairs, with a motley collection of sick people, coughing! So I printed a likely-looking Japanese pattern for a washable, cotton one on the internet, cut one out and sewed it up. It actually fits, but whether I will have the nerve to wear it in public is another thing. I made it in a neutral, medical pale blue rather than the lurid prints that seem to be popular in Japan. Also, it’s a bit like breathing smog.

Tomorrow I ought to make another one or two, and edit a story, and write the first draft of a new one. Whether I will or not…

 

Featured image: Picasso, 1905: Au Lapin Agile (Arlequin tenant un verre)

Things are [Utterly Messed Up]

Plague-wise and every-other-wise, things are going from bad to worse. This no longer surprises or depresses me. My father used to quote some music-hall comedian – I haven’t been able to find it on Google – hopefully I didn’t just imagine it! I’ll expunge the B word in case innocent kiddies are reading, however unlikely that may be, since they all hang out on Insta or PeeWee or Grommit, or whatever:

“Life were [utterly messed up] when I came into it and no doubt it will be
[utterly messed up] when I go.”

I placed my Tesco order. They have no delivery slots until Saturday. Everybody putting in massive orders for quilted toilet paper, I suppose. Toilet paper has become the staff of life, more precious than bread, milk or cheese.

I have enough to live on, if I have to self-isolate. I have a cat-food mountain, for the mountain of cats. They chomp and slurp their way through ten tins a day. I also have a cat in the bath. She’s a bit off – sneezing, etc – more likely cat flu than some hypothetical cat-coronavirus – and the bath is cool. If I hoist her out, she relocates instantly to the wash-hand basin. If I decide to clean my teeth or – yes – wash my hands yet again and slather on the magic stinky pink stuff the vet introduced me to (Hibiscrub) I have to remove a miserable, moulting, watery-eyed moggie first.

It is rumoured that within the next week to ten days, ‘the elderly’ and vulnerable will be advised to self-isolate regardless. I do not regard myself as one of ‘the elderly’ but technically I suppose I do fit into both the age and dodgy immune system category, so I suppose that’ll be me, and the cat-mountain, cut off from society.

In some ways I don’t mind. My whole life, since I tunnelled out of the work-prison, seems to have been an attempt to avoid other human beings. When I’m alone I have some dignity. Forced to mix with other people I turn into this kind of clown-figure. I never know quite what I am going to say next or what new risible/embarrassing mistake I am likely to make. So, though I can get ‘cabin fever’ like everyone else, and appreciate the need to mingle occasionally for the benefit one’s mental health, I don’t feel compelled to.

My biggest problem will be my disabled friend, who lives an inconveniently short distance from me. She climbs the walls if she can’t interact with at least nine or ten people per day, preferably at great length, in person. Her health is also ‘compromised’ and she catches everything. Then, next time I have to take her anywhere in my car, she gives it to me. So what do I do, if she asks me for a lift to the hospital? What do I do if she’s running out of groceries because ‘they’ won’t allow her to use a computer? I suppose you just have to ‘play it by ear’. I don’t like playing things by ear, but you have to, sometimes.

Then there’s my own appointments – blood tests, specialist – coming up soon. Do I stay at home, hiding from germs, or do I venture forth and swim around in a sea of illnesses and infections at two separate hospitals, trying not to breathe in? Playing it by ear, again.

Part of me, though, is attracted to the drama of it. Part of me is angry and terminally bored and longs for the romance of some great disaster – a plague, a crashing stock-market, global meltdown or whatever. How weird is that?

I’ve been reading up about the village of Eyam, in Nottinghamshire. In the 17th Century, the Plague was sweeping through Britain. The disease came to Eyam and the villagers, lead by their vicar, decided to isolate themselves in their village to protect neighbouring villages. On the outskirts of the village there was a Boundary stone. The villagers left money in the holes in the stone, and people from the surrounding area left provisions there, to keep them going. The Earl of Devonshire also helped support them. In the course of  fourteen months, 260 out of 800 isolated villagers would die. People agreed to bury their own dead, close to their own homes, rather than in consecrated ground.

People may be a pain, but some of them are noble too.