Making the most of it
Updated: Apr 14, 2020
The most formative event in my parents' lives was, as best I can work it out, not World War 2 but the Great Depression. Even in comparatively rich Australia, after the great crash of 1929 they witnessed abject poverty, together with despair and hopelessness among people who had no control over their destinies or their disastrous circumstances. The memory never left them. I'm writing this in the early days of the Trump Virus catastrophe, and I have a feeling we are going through a similar experience right now. So my advice to everybody is: keep a record. Take photographs, write a diary, anything that will help you in 25 years from now to answer the question: what was it like during the Covid-19 epidemic (rather as my daughters ask me what life was like in the 1960s).
What has struck me forcefully is that people are cleverly finding ways to make it more bearable. Take today for example. Our beloved next-door neighbours Freddy and James, with whom we've raised many a glass over the years, suggested that we meet up at noon for an apero, the French equivalent of a quick drink. Where? And how? After all, we're all in lockdown. The answer turned out to be that they would raise their glasses on their side of the fence that separates us and we could do the same on our side, two metres apart natch. So we did, and a warm and pleasant interlude it turned out to be. You can see above Freddy's Bloody Mary being thrust at the camera on our side of the wall while James looks on thoughtfully.
Others are making the best of a difficult situation. My daughter Anouchka, a London shrink, tells me she has never been busier. She has a book to finish, newspaper articles to write and a swelling crowd of patients to see. She has always worked from home, so no change there. She solves the problem of social distancing by seeing her patients on Skype or FaceTime. The patients still face the same anxieties and problems they always had. But now that they are in forced isolation, they have decided this is the moment to find an innovative way to share their problems with a shrink. That means patients who dropped out are back on the scene, and the existing patients are determined to continue.
My other daughter Tamara, a high-powered solicitor, is flat out busy because her case load includes being appointed by the courts as a 'deputy' for people with mental incapacity problems. This makes her a 'key' worker, and she could go to the office if she wanted to. She has chosen to work from home instead. She has to live on the telephone making sure her care clients are fed, reasonably happy and feeling secure in a world where shopping is difficult, human contact is limited and support systems are stretched to breaking point. The bright side doesn't dominate the picture. However she says she has suddenly discovered how much of her weekends had been given over to preparing for the working week ahead. At weekends she washed and ironed her work outfits, shopped, planned meals, read legal papers and generally prepared for the coming onslaught. Now, thanks to working from home and not commuting at 6:30 in the morning from Taunton to Bristol in the west country of England, then catching the train home from work at 7:00 pm by the same route, she has been given a few desperately needed extra hours for productive work, and at the weekend there's sometimes a welcome moment for a cycle ride or a spade and fork session in the garden.
Bookseller friends in Australia tell me that business has picked up since the lockdown. People are stocking up with books instead of loo paper. (Don't tempt me with too close an analysis of this!)
My New York friend Paul Kuttner, ever the gourmet, has discovered a web site #quarantinerecipes which seems to be serving him well from the look of the photographs of food on his Facebook page.
So, as the headline says, make the best of it. You can. And don't forget to keep a record. You're living out a piece of history.