(Pretentious, moi?) Limited opportunity to rush about means greater opportunity to listen to the thoughts bubbling to the surface in one’s head, and these are just a few, in no particular order, that have surfaced recently.
1. Loo paper – why the obsession? For millennia we never had any, loads of us (e.g. in India) still don’t use it, and have people forgotten, or never known, that babies used to wear towelling nappies that were washed? I’m happy to report that robust friends in Australia, should the worst come to the worst, are planning to use the leaves off their lemon tree and then compost them. Or why not improvise and try the sponge on a stick arrangement favoured by the Romans?
2. It was indeed a moving moment last Thursday when everyone came to their doors and windows to clap the NHS. How many of them, I wonder, voted Tory at the last election . . .
3. There is now no excuse not to tackle domestic tasks that in normal circumstances one can plead lack of time for. My niece has been arranging her pan lids, I myself have washed a jumper that was due several more months at the bottom of the laundry basket, and – oh, the shame for a dame – I’ve even removed the little gritty bits of grime from round the the knobs of the washing machine with a mini pointed sponge on a stick (a theme seems to be emerging here) expressly purchased for the task from Lakeland.
4. The ultimate proof of our appallingly atomised and casualised society was laid bare in an item on the radio last week, when a woman expressed concerns about her elderly mother with dementia, who lives at some distance and is looked after at home by a rota of carers paid for from the mother’s Personal Independence Payments. How long before these carers go down with coronavirus and can longer work, which seems highly likely as they have no protective clothing? Their employer is responsible for providing this; their employer is the elderly woman. You see the problem. This is entirely the wrong sort of handwashing.
5. Why am I not surprised that sundry members of the Government have gone down with coronavirus? It was only last week that a Minister claimed on Radio 4 that MPs were indeed keeping two metres apart, as evidenced by the line down the middle of the chamber, apparently forgetting about all the backbenchers breathing down his neck.
6. One of the long-delayed domestic tasks we’ve undertaken is sorting through decades’ worth of our own photos and several boxes we’ve inherited from previous generations. It was a delight to recover the children’s photos, but many others just induced profound melancholy: unclaimed, unidentified sepia great-aunts, and more recent friends and relatives, whose futures we know but they didn’t, smiling happily.
7. One of the happier consequences of social distancing is rediscovering the phone. Suddenly a terse exchange of emails or texts is not enough. I want to hear the voices of friends and get lost in a long, gossipy, inconsequential conversation.
8. I’ve been trying to do the right thing by my neighbour, a resilient, but terminally-ill 82-year-old. Whenever one of us ventures to the shops we ask her if she wants anything. She seems to be well- supplied with food and other essentials, so all she ever wants is Dettol in all its guises: wipes, surface spray and old-fashioned tins. We haven’t found any yet.
9. For anyone determined to look on the bright side, no matter how bleak their own experience of lockdown, I recommend Helen Dunmore’s novel The Siege, about the siege of Leningrad. At least we don’t have a Russian winter and starvation to cope with.
10. Nevertheless, it’s occurred to me that the pandemic has confirmed our retreat towards the conditions that most people have endured throughout most of history and billions still do, characterised by fear, instability and want. The sunlit uplands of the welfare state and its safety net turn out to have been just a blip, not the consolidated gains of the march of progress.