A Very Big Ask

With respect to the corona pandemic, Matt Hancock came on the Marr Show on the Ides of March and gloomed everybody up about the extraordinary powers the Government are minded to adopt over the next couple of weeks.  He admitted it was A Very Big Ask, but it is likely that people over seventy (the blanket term adopted was “the elderly”), even if well, will be asked to self-isolate by staying at home for four months.  If I were over 70 and living in England, I would immediately want to know if I were going to be permitted to go out for a walk.  I addressed Mr Marr through my TV: “Ask the Health Secretary if the septuagenarians can go out for a walk!”  But Mr Marr didn’t ask.  So I checked out self-isolation on the official NHS Covid-19 website:

Do not leave the house, for example to go for a walk.

Why not?  I, for example, live in the country.  I can step out of my house and go for a stroll in the Trossachs National Park and never meet a soul.  Or I can step into my car and drive to any number of remote locations.  I do not understand why the government are threatening to put “the elderly” under house arrest.  They didn’t even do that during the Great Plague of London.  On August 12th, 1665, Pepys wrote in his diary:

The people die so, that now it seems they are fain to carry the dead to be buried by daylight, the nights not sufficing to do it in.  And my Lord Mayor commands people to be within at 9 at night, all (as they say) that the sick may have liberty to go abroad for ayre.

In times of national, or international, crises, people want to come together.  My father told me that during the war, the churches were full.  He crossed the Atlantic in a troop ship and during Sunday morning service on deck the assembly sang For those in peril on the seas with great fervour.  It is the irony of the Covid-19 crisis that we may need to face it largely in isolation.  Of course human beings are remarkably good at finding unique solutions to unique problems.  The sight of the Italians coming out on to their balconies for some community singing was very touching.  Quintessentially Italian – it could have come straight out of a Puccini opera.  Actually the snatch of song I heard sounded more like Verdi.  Music is very important in troubled times.  I went along to the RSNO in Glasgow on Saturday night, not knowing if the concert of Stravinsky and Beethoven might be cancelled at the last moment.  It went ahead, though the audience was sparse.  Sunwook Kim played the Emperor concerto, standing in at short notice for an indisposed Fazil Say.  I’m sure we all benefited from Mr Kim’s beautiful rendition of the Adagio un poco mosso.  At the end, Maestro Sondergard gave a short, spontaneous, and heartfelt speech thanking us all for coming and urging us to stay healthy in the hope that we might all shortly meet again.

Well I fervently hope so.  Of course there’s always Radio 3.  If I’d timed my recent visit to NZ a little later I see that I would have had to be quarantined for fourteen days on arrival, but at least I would have had the solace of the RNZ concert programme, which is extremely good, and dominated by the big NZ orchestras, soloists and chamber ensembles.  There is an astonishingly big pool of talent.  Recently it all came under threat when the concert station was threatened with loss of its radio frequency and absorption into another radio station, while the freed-up frequency was to be given over to a radio station targeting young people.  There was a public outcry and fortunately the idea has been dropped.  For the moment.  But it is surely a warning shot, and people who care about culture need to remain on the highest alert.

Here, people are encouraging the use of social media in order to temper the sense of isolation.  It wouldn’t work for me.  Je suis l’étranger.  Albert Camus, the author of La Peste, would well have understood the absurdity of the existential crisis we face.  How to come together, when we are so far apart?  I don’t know; but I don’t at all fancy the idea of giving, to this particular Westminster government, “extraordinary” powers.

It’s a lovely morning here in West Stirlingshire, and I’m going out for a walk.


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