I have good reason to believe that we are reaching the end of the twelfth week of lockdown. It has been somewhat relaxed: less, I fear, in response to careful balancing of the science around the virus and the mutliple adverse impacts on life and excess mortality caused by lockdown and more to provide covering fire for the increasingly surreal behaviour of members of the government and its senior advisors. I don’t think a virus has the capability to take control of humans – either directly or fiscally controlling behaviour – but fungi can cause very odd behavour in ants and such capture would explain a lot. In a world with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis anything is possible…
I have broadly continued with my existing attempts not to go down in history as the Typhoid Mary de nos jour: though I have been enjoying the opportunity for longer bike rides to explore further afield. I have now cycled to Winchester, Mottisfont, Lyndhurst and Hamble (plus a range of points in between) and each journey has brought its share of joys and annoyingly frequent hills. The ability of horses to ascend relatively steep slopes has left all too many modern roads, inheritors of more ancient ways, rambling up and down hills for no very good reason. If only man had discovered the railways sooner and the importance of following a contour line rather than willfully ignoring them!
I can’t be sure that this is a related phenomonen but I have had to say goodbye to an unusually high number of pairs of keks since lockdown began: I am blaming hill-based expansion in my thighs and buttocks for this increased wear-and-tear. By the way, I do not wear normal keks for cycling but have a small range of padded numbers that I use to try and reduce the impact damage to a somewhat sensitive area occasioned by the relatively poor quality of local road maintenance: so we cannot blame increased friction between my saddle and nethers.
The nature of the last twelve weeks had meant that each day is very much like its predecessor. I am not claiming that my pre-lockdown life was filled with danger and excitement, I was not typically descending Mont Blanc on my ironing board (to proffer but one example of an activity eschewed), but recent weeks have brought home the extent to which life is a matter of conjuring up, from the stuff of chaos, some semblence of purpose to cover the next sixteen hours of consciousness. I deliberately chose the word ‘purpose’ rather than ‘meaning’ as I think I gave up on that as a life goal some considerable time ago. In the first Discworld novel, when explaining the four fundamental forces that apply, Terry Pratchett noted that charm allowed trees to grow and bloody-mindedness kept them up. I’m not sure that charm had much to do with my being brought forth into this world, though at times I’m fairly certain the bloody-mindedness has kept me here. More broadly, given that I was brought up to believe that dying was in some unspecified way a slightly rude and attention-seeking activity (the sort of thing that would happen on ITV), it is perhaps as well that the human body decays and tends to force the issue at some point or I fear some weird politesse would render me irritatingly immortal.
Nevertheless, the Sisyphean struggle to imbue each day with purpose does seem to involve a stone and hill of monotonically increasing weight and gradient respectively. This has led to me turning the mattress, vaccuming areas untouched since I moved and finally connecting my piano and Macbook via MIDI to allow me to “lay down” some tracks. I would note that my filthy windows show that there are still heavier stones and more tightly packed contour lines yet to be brought to bear. When not trying to solve the clean energy crisis by boosting the rate at which Bach and Scarlatti are spinning in their respective graves, I have been attempting to create a MIDI track of the right hand (the left hand is a project for a more serious pandemic) of the Noveltones 1963 ‘hit’ Left Bank Two. And no, I’m afraid I can’t return any of your pictures: I’m not made of stamps. I have found that the computer faithfully records on the score what I actually play rather than what I am intending to play. I can generally render all the right notes in the right order, but the length of those right notes and rests between them can diverge somewhat from the accepted mean. At this stage, I am hoping to pass off this difference as ‘swing’: probably of the continuously variable kind.
Work remains a boon. On days when I feel too enervated and lacking in energy or focus to watch allegedely mindless television I find I am still quite capable of reading complex legal directives and regulations and indeed drafting my own legal text. I’m not sure this is some indication of my own desperate mental state or a sign that we are massively over-paying lawyers (and, of course, I cannot discount the possibility that both statements are true).
This past week though was graced by some actual purpose: for the first time since lockdown I had an indoor appointment not in my own tiny flat. Boosting my solipsism no end, this coincided with the first concerted rainfall in Southampton since the start of lockdown: see I am important, the uncaring universe saves precipitation for almost twelve weeks until it knows it can get me wet (little does it realise I have Welsh antecedents and spent most of my childhood holidays in North Wales: I am broadly waterproof!). Yes, I had to cycle off to give my socially-distanced blood. Well, perhaps wisely, NHSBT decided against 2m long needles: they would require extraordinary motor control to hit a vein with any accuracy. However, we donors were kept apart from each other and masks and near continuous wiping down of everything were de rigeur. My own donation was made in a specially kitted out conference room in a part of the centre normally off-limits to civilians. The changed circumstances since twelve weeks ago did mean the process took a little longer than usual – no bad thing when trying to fill each unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run (always good to slip a cake reference in) . More sadly, there was also a reduction in the range of biscuits available (though due to a purchasing error, KitKat fans were in for a treat) and I had to substitute an Orange Club for my usual Mint and could only consume the one before I felt that I might be outstaying my welcome (I refer you to my earlier remarks on politesse). Still, it filled a good three hours of my Wednesday with real purpose: roll on another twelve weeks!
Anyway, I have to attempt a solo ceilidh shortly as a sacrificial guinea pig: I may be stripping my own willow within the hour (and I’m not sure my medical insurance covers this). I shall be relying on the far worse behaviour of senior members of the government which will, no doubt, shortly be unearthed to make this legal before a prosection can be successfully brought. If only I could get a note from my optician…