When the idea was first mooted that septuagenarians be put under house arrest, the former home secretary David Blunkett came on the Jeremy Vine show and said that under such a regime he would be worried he would go gaga. (“And since I’m here, Jeremy, may I say the music you play is really terrible!” There is nothing so entertaining as an ex-politician let off the leash.) It is evident that politicians are turning their attention to a lockdown exit strategy, not just because the economy has taken a hit, but because they realise people are champing at the bit. The pay-off between people’s health and people’s wealth is not straightforward; what use a sound body if you are both destitute and bonkers?
That must be a concern; you only need to look at the appalling surge in domestic abuse. But I’m not sure the effect of lockdown on mental health has been much researched. We might get some surprises. I can think of a few special groups worthy of study, to wit…
Compulsive hand washers: people who occupy the bathroom for hours on end are well known to drive the rest of their family to distraction. Perhaps the encouragement to go right ahead, rather than fuelling the habit, would result in a paradoxical reversal of behaviour. You can take this hygiene thing too far, like President Trump. Disinfectantwise, I guess he was only thinking on his feet. Winging it.
Social media addicts: teenagers addicted to their devices, finding them to be the sole means of communication with their friends, might develop an irresistible desire to down tools, escape, and have a face-to-face conversation in real time. What a revelation that might turn out to be.
Solipsists: these supremely narcissistic egoists who believe their own existence to be the only absolute certainty (cogito ergo sum), faced, in their isolation, with the proof that after all they are quite right, might feel a shudder of horror at the prospect of universal loneliness, and go out in search of a soul that is other.
Sophists: their specious reasoning will be seen for what it is, because everything is pared down to a condition of complete simplicity and people can see clearly the things that matter – to be fed, watered, clothed, shod, sheltered, valued, blessed, and loved.
Recluses: (I count myself an associate of this society, if not a fully-fledged member with paid up dues: after all, to join would be somewhat self-defeating)… will perhaps drop the urge to echo Greta Garbo’s famous line, I vaunt to be alone, and when the ban is lifted, we will rush out and join the local golf club, church guild, acapella, bell ringers, Rotary, Probus, Mandarin for beginners, bridge club, Scrabble club, and Toast Masters.
Celibates: might go out on a date. They won’t even use Tinder.
Monastics: might abjure the vow of silence and congregate for a chinwag.
Secret solitary drinkers: might hasten down to the pub for a game of dominoes. They might resist that extra drink squeezed in between rounds, even though they are “chappin’”.
On-line gamblers: might also congregate in the pub for a game of Shove Ha’penny.
Desert Island Discs Castaways: sick to death of Bohemian Rhapsody, the one they saved from the waves, will build a boat.
All well and good. Still, when this thing is over, if it ever is, I do hope we don’t toss the baby out with the bath water, and can manage to retain some of the rediscovered lost wonders of the world. Pollution in Hope Street Glasgow is down 50%. I’ve always loved the name Hope Street. I wish to walk in Hope. I wish it to be Conscience’ Tree-lined Boulevard. Here in the country, 36 miles to the north of Hope, I wake to the sound of birdsong. In the morning I write, and in the afternoon I can walk down my lane and in a hundred yards be in open country. No traffic. No jets. There is stillness, and silence. I have discovered a very beautiful walk to a remote lochan where, in this remarkable spell of spring weather, I can sit with hare and deer and watch a huge heron swoop effortlessly across the rushes. I hear the first cuckoo of spring. Writing ideas come, unbidden. On the way back, I can wave to a farmer in the distance, working the fields. He is putting bread on my table. Who would you rather have beside you at a time like this, a farmer or a hedge fund manager?
Back home, I write down my literary ideas before I forget them. I am currently writing a tome. I have written 47,000 words in the last three weeks. It has been a gift.