Missing the Hugs
‘Put your arms around me like a circle round the sun’ goes the line from the blues classic Stealin’, except there’s not a lot of that going on at the moment, and we’re all the worse for it.
The Zoom meet-ups are all very well – it’s lovely to see friends, catch up, raise a glass etc. (though not so lovely when it all freezes – who knows what ludicrous expression you might be set in when the ether packs up?), but there’s no substitute for being able to give them a hug. You need to feel their warmth and solidity, a genuine squeeze.
If you do manage to get together alfresco, instead of rushing up and giving them an extra long hug, as you want to do after all this time, you’re confined to what feels like rather a desultory greeting to someone you you’ve been desperate to see – they might as well be a total stranger at a party.
Even my granddaughter seems to be feeling this lack. Despite getting endless cuddles from her parents, she’s keen to spread the love. She has soft toys she cuddles, of course, but she really likes apples, so they have to submit to her rapturous embrace, and when she opened a book the other day to find the page dominated by her favourite colour, purple, she gave that a cuddle as well.
This feeling that something is missing really does confirm how far we’ve evolved from being the nation of the robust handshake to being a nation of huggers. Apparently, though, there was a time, before the wet blanket of Victorian decorum settled over us, when the British were notorious for displays of emotion.
The evidence that a hug was pretty much the default greeting until a few months ago came when my niece called while friends were visiting. She spontaneously kissed them both on the cheek, then checked herself, saying ‘I have met you before, haven’t I?’ Thankfully she had.
For me, the power of the hug really came to the fore when I went to hear the flamboyant child psychotherapist Camilla Batmanghelidjh speak at a lunchtime event at work a few years ago – before her trailblazing Kids Company charity, which helped some of the most vulnerable and traumatised children in the country, folded. Its unorthodox methods and failure to do the required bean counting did for it in the end. In an inspiring session she described some of what she and her team did to get through to these damaged souls, and it included plenty of hugs alongside the drama, dance, painting, story telling, etc. that enabled them to express some of their raging emotions.
At the end of her talk, she asked if there were any questions. A hand shot up, belonging to a well-tailored youth who looked to be about twelve, but who was probably a recent graduate in the fast stream. He didn’t have a question as such, he said, but could he have a hug? Two minutes later, half the room was in the queue for a Camilla cuddle.
Presumably this closer contact will be the last bastion of lockdown to fall – and I can’t wait. I’m with metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell on this one:
The grave’s a fine and private place
But none, I think, do there embrace