“It’s a bit chilly,” I said as I snuggled up to my partner in bed last night. But she didn’t answer. Was she asleep? No, she wasn’t there at all, I was talking to myself. “Oh my God it’s started!” I said, “I’m finally going mad!”
For a writer, self-isolation comes easy, but somehow when it’s enforced, or likely to be enforced if the news is anything to go by, it’s pretty tough to take. For the past two months as I’ve been working hard with the publishers on the proof of my book (more news on which in due course!) I’ve lived almost entirely alone, turning down social invitations and only venturing out to buy essentials (wine and tobacco) and rudimentaries (food and toilet roll). I haven’t darkened a pub door in weeks, I haven’t digested a single restaurant menu and I haven’t once checked the guide to see what’s on at the cinema. I’ve stayed away from social venues, I’ve closed my door on friends and I’ve had contact solely with the characters at my fingertips. And I’ve managed all of this with ease and willingness, with professional assiduity and with joyful indulgence.
But yesterday’s news changed all of that, because this thing I once thought was a slowboat from China sailed rapidly into my living-room and looked all set to anchor me. And I worry about it a lot. I worry of course for the elderly, I grieve for the families of those who’ve already contracted or died from the disease, but more than anything I worry for my mental health. It’s selfish I know, but mental health after all starts with the word “me”.
And along with the worry comes the guilt; for the way I’ve laughingly dismissed the doomsters and the gloomsters, for how I’ve chuckled at some of the Whatsapps doing their rounds, and how I spent last weekend grumbling about pitiful panic-buyers; no aspirin no soap no handwash no bog roll and no football to boot. Yet surely the panic-buying is ludicrous, the empty shelves pitiful and the media’s role in the toilet roll debacle unforgiveable. I hate the way I’ve found myself eyeing other people’s trollies and wondering how the hell could a family eat or even afford so much crap? And I mean what specifically is it with toilet roll? Have we been led to believe a common symptom of Covid 19 is a dose of the shits? I might be mistaken but I thought it was a persistent dry cough and fever, not following through? Or is it that if we all fall down dead we want to do so without the ignominy of skidmarks in our undies?
See there I go again, laughing and joking when I should seriously be thinking of solutions. Because this is real, this is very real indeed, and the thought of it never going away, my never going out again, is driving me mad. And the thought of this thing being a dress rehearsal for when the planet stops messing and really does destroy us back, is scary.
But is it up to me, to us, to go to war with this thing? Yes I subscribe to the notion of helping the elderly, doing my bit for the community, and I’ve actually volunteered my services to the NHS already, but when all said and done it’s up to the governments, those we elect, those to whom we look for protection, to fight the enemy on the beaches. I’m not taking a cheap shot at the British government per se, to be frank I feel they’ve handled this unprecedented phenomenon pretty sensibly so far, but I can’t help wondering where they’re going to find the money to help the NHS, to bail out the businesses and to feed the starving come the day the shelves remain unstocked because even the delivery drivers have to work from home?
Cancelling HS2 is not the daftest solution. In fact as far as I’m concerned, this project was always a nonsense and a criminal cost to the economy and more importantly the environment. Given we’re now being asked to work from home, we’re told we must not leave the house unless absolutely necessary, and that this is just a dress rehearsal for when the planet really does destroy us back, spending billions on the rail network is an absolute folly. If anything, Covid19 will make a lot of people re-evaluate their working lives and question whether they even need to leave the house. And given sea and river levels are rising faster than you can fill a kitchen sink, and soon the quickest way of getting from Manchester to London will be by boat, what’s the point of railways? So instead of wasting billions do the sensible thing, pour the money that’s set aside for follies into things that really matter.
And what really matters to me is my mental health. I’m being deliberately hyperbolic, but I think we should all think about the wider implications of there being no aspirin no soap no handwash no bog roll and no football to boot. For me, it’s all very well prescribing drugs to keep me sane, but come the day I’m forced to batten down the hatches I fear I’ll do much worse than circle my living-room or lie in bed talking to myself. It’s my door I want to go out of, not my mind.