Sunday, 15 March 2020

Social Distancing

As I am in a high-risk category, over 60 and having recently had surgery on my lungs, we have been paying close attention to the health advice on Covid-19. In recent days we have stocked up and now we have enough basic supplies in the house to last us for a week or so. It was a disturbing experience to go to the local Tesco supermarket and find the shelves empty of staples such as bread, meat, potatoes and vegetables. We didn’t witness any fights over the last tin of beans or jar of chutney. But people were very stressed and fearful. Thankfully, the next day the store was fully stocked as usual.

T is working from home. She is delighted not to have the long drive to and from work anymore. I took early retirement a decade ago, so this is my norm. As we live in the country, surrounded by fields and farms, we normally have to make an effort to meet people. Over the past week, we’ve been minimising our contacts. For others, of course, this is not so easy.

Staying at home hasn't been a great ordeal for us so far. We have plenty of things to be getting on with. I began to prune the back hedge. It hadn’t been cut for three years, due to the last operation which opened my chest. So the hedge had grown by about six feet. After an hour of lopping my arms and shoulders were aching, but there was still plenty of hedge to cut. T has a new greenhouse to fill with seeds and plants.

Going forward, all of the main things we were intending to do this month have been cancelled anyway. I had been booked to read my poetry in Galway. And T had planned to visit her elderly mother, who is now isolating at home and getting her food delivered.

As we are doing plenty of reading and writing, we have time to ponder. I’ve been working on my poetry manuscript for a while. It is now in its fifth iteration, with a new set of poems in a new order under a new title. Unfortunately, I continue to collect rejections from publishers. Roger Robinson, the recent winner of the TS Eliot prize, said that early in his career he was told not to worry too much until he got over 30 rejections. I believe William Golding got over 40 rejections for ‘Lord of the Flies’. By these measures, I still have some way to go.

Another issue to ponder is the underlying reason for the UK being so different in its approach to the Covid-19 pandemic to most other countries. Surely they are all looking at the same scientific evidence about the disease. So the reason for the difference in strategy must be political. Perhaps it is because the NHS is under-prepared for the scale of the outbreak. This would not be unexpected after a decade of underfunding and understaffing. Matt Hancock’s recent appeal for ventilators would seem to give some credence to this theory. Furthermore, the decision to test only those who are already seriously ill means that the size of the outbreak in the UK is being massively underreported.

There is also the issue of confidence in the leadership during this crisis. Boris Johnson has long admired Winston Churchill. And here is a situation of great challenge and adversity that requires a Churchillian response. But, however much he might try, Johnson exudes all the gravitas of a marshmallow. He seems to be inveterately shallow and evasive. I’d trust him to be in charge of a TV panel-game, but little else.

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