I don’t know about you, but “lockdown” is beginning to irritate me. Not so much the state of house arrest to which the word alludes, but the word itself. The word “lockdown”, or the phrase “lock down”, does not appear in my battered seventh edition Chambers English Dictionary (1990), but it is in the revised 13th edition of 2016.
Lock’down n an act of confining prisoners to their cells, esp as a means of restoring order; any general cessation of activity, esp in response to a crisis.
I wonder if “lockdown” is a trans-Atlantic loan word. I associate it with these dreadful events that occur in the United States with dismal frequency when somebody goes berserk with a semi-automatic weapon. The police converge on the scene and put the residents in lockdown.
But here, we don’t traditionally lock people down; we lock people up. Isn’t it ironic that, while the Health Secretary is threatening to lock us all up for flouting the social distancing rules, the Home Secretary is minded to release a significant proportion of the prison population? Good luck to them I say. I suspect that many prison inmates are like many hospital patients: they ought not to be there. The prisoner leaps to lose his chains. I see them emerging, to the sublime chorus from Beethoven’s Fidelio:
O welche Lust, in freier Luft
Den Atem leicht zu heben!
Here, lockdown is often associated with a terrorist act. This may be why I associate lockdown with another irritating usage: “the floor”. After an atrocity, somebody is interviewed on Westminster Bridge. “I heard a noise like a car backfiring and instinctively I hit the floor.”
No you did not sir. Westminster Bridge does not have a floor. You got down on to the ground. A floor is definitely an internal entity. Outside, you may drop to the pavement; you may lie prone in the gutter; supine on the asphalt; prostrate on the tarmacadam. But you cannot be spread-eagled upon the floor. And you most certainly cannot “hit” the floor, unless you punch it, presumably out of a sense of frustration. Nor, come to think of it, can you “hit the deck”, unless you happen to be on a boat, or perhaps an antipodean verandah.
I know what you’re thinking: I need to get out more. But that’s the point: I’m in lockdown. Is it cabin fever? Am I stir crazy? “Coastie”. (My father ended the war in West Africa. RAF Coastal Command, Accra. People who were going a bit peculiar were said to be “coastie”.)
Of all the myriad business and social enterprises that are currently suffering, I haven’t heard any mention of the sex industry. Physical distancing and the sex industry seem hardly compatible. I expect the incidence of telephone sex has gone up. Sex workers must surely have taken a hit, but nobody seems to be mentioning it. Maybe it has all slipped under the radar, and the work proceeds apace, much as before. I don’t suppose the industry is much regulated by officialdom. And after all, both the professionals and their clients are used to living with a degree of risk. Whenever anybody asks me for an example of an oxymoron, I always say “safe sex”. Dating, I gather, goes on much as before. I think if Mr Hancock tried to put the lid on that he would be on a fool’s errand.
I’m still going for my daily exercise, which I trust remains legal, and keeping my distance. Yesterday I walked down a farm track two miles from where I live, turned into a beautiful glade, full of daffodils, entered the remains of an ancient broch, and stepped back three thousand years. I hardly saw a soul. Those I did see I hailed from a safe distance. People are cheerful. The only walkers who don’t seem to know about social distancing are canine. Thankfully the dogs are mostly cheerful too. I did have a run-in with a couple of nasty brutes the other day. I happened to be wearing a bright orange jumper and I have a notion the dogs didn’t take to it. Maybe they thought I was on an Orange Walk (let’s not go there). Of course, social distancing makes it more difficult for the owners to control their dogs, so maybe it would be better if the dogs were on a leash.
Which brings me to my third irritant: (this is like being on Room 101) – dog owners who can’t control their dogs. When I was in General Practice I lost count of the number of times I conducted a home visit and met the following scenario. I would ring the doorbell and a huge hound in the hallway would go berserk. The owner would enter into a prolonged diplomatic negotiation with the hound, explaining he had to be nice and welcoming for the doctor. Upon entering, I would be slobbered upon. I would be taken into the living room to see an elderly grandparent, dog still in attendance, and tremendously excited by this novel visitation. I would politely suggest that the dog be put into another room for the duration of the consultation. The owner would be puzzled by this. Why should a family member be excluded? But he would acquiesce. Another prolonged diplomatic negotiation would ensue, the dog would be removed, and the consultation would begin.
Then, incomprehensibly but inevitably, the dog would escape. Slobber slobber.
But I mustn’t let this enforced captivity turn me into a curmudgeon. Much else is happening in the world. The labour party has a new leader, a Japanese mathematician has apparently solved the abc problem with a 400 page proof only twelve people in the world can understand, and one of our neighbouring stars has just been devoured by a black hole. And of course, let us not forget, today, the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath.
It is not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.