I’m not bored. I’m not depressed. I don’t like lockdown. But I don’t hate it. I’m not going stir crazy or getting cabin fever. I will be glad when it’s over, because of what it is doing to so many things we love and value – the theatre, live music, galleries, restaurants, village pubs, garden centres and nurseries – and the unimaginable difficulties and miseries it is inflicting on poor families, on those who have lost their jobs, on people living in high-rise, poorly maintained buildings with non-functioning lifts, on single old people whose only human contact is the food box delivery, on women and children (and some men) suffering horrible physical and psychological abuse with nowhere to run to.
But I’m not bored. We have found so many interesting things to do, so many things we should have done but have been too busy to do, caught up with so many friends on the phone and by email; we have started that food and travel memoir we have so often talked about, planted more vegetables than ever and given them more attention.
And we have rediscovered pleasures that were forgotten, buried in a whirl of work, deadlines, keeping up with friends, organising events, planning travel, going to the theatre and concerts, travelling … never a moment to stop and think.
We sit and read the papers, sometimes even with breakfast in bed. We spend time opening boxes, finding old diaries and photographs, sorting the last three or four years accumulated mountain of theatre programmes – now all properly filed – and catching up on boxed sets and television dramas that we have missed, including Line of Duty and Killing Eve. We are finally watching the last series of Mad Men, and have discovered the astonishing selection of operas that are being streamed nightly by New York’s Metropolitan Opera. This past week, there was Leontyne Price’s deeply emotional final Met performance in the title role of Aida; next week’s include the matchless Renee Fleming and Bryn Terfel in Le Nozze di Figaro.
When I walk Pippin, my choice of walks includes a path up one of Wincanton’s many hills, overhung by beech trees, with benches to take a break and enjoy the view. There is no rush, because I don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time. In itself, that’s a rare treat.
I’m not going to go all WH Hudson – “What is this life if, full of cares, we have no time to stare …” – but, then why the hell not? What is this life if we don’t have time to stop and listen and look?
One day recently I stood in one of those polite, social-distancing queues that we orderly Brits seem to find so much easier than more impatient and chaotic nations.
I was queueing outside our favourite farm shop, waiting to collect my order of asparagus and locally grown strawberries. It was a beautiful day, everything brighter green because of the rain of the previous few days, the air heavy with country smells of the earth, cow parsley, chickens, cows, and above all a heady scent from lilac trees outside an old barn.
The cows were mooing peacefully, the cockerel was showing off, there were skylarks, blackbirds, robins and various warblers or finches or sparrows all singing their hearts out.
It was quite a long queue, locals, cyclists, walkers, all waiting in the sun. The shop has a strict distancing rule, with the counter set up close to the doorway, where you stand and look in to make your purchases.
Most of the people were on their mobile phones, scrolling, texting or talking, oblivious of the spring morning around them. I thought how lucky I was to be there, not rushing anywhere, enjoying a little freedom from lockdown but not feeling the need to check for emails or pick up the latest headlines or WhatsApp messages.
I want the lockdown to end – when it’s safe for everyone. I want children and teenagers to get back to school and students back to university. I want the theatres to reopen, the concert halls to be full of the sound of Bach and Beethoven, the festival fields to be full of music and colourful crowds and tents, the galleries to have real not virtual exhibitions and pubs, cafes and restaurants to be back in business.
I want arts organisations, like Dorset’s Artsreach, Somerset’s Take Art, Poole’s Lighthouse arts centre, Salisbury Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic, Bath Theatre Royal, to be able to programme without fear of a return of the coronavirus and another lockdown, from which they might not recover.
We will do whatever we can to help and support the arts and farmers and our friends in the food and hospitality sector when they can get back to work. I hope that city managers will do more for public transport and the environment, that the government will rethink the Heathrow third runway and HS2, I hope … I pray that Trump won’t be re-elected, that his brush with death will change Boris Johnson’s attitude to immigrants and funding the NHS and its heroic staff, and that scientists and doctors will find a reliable, effective vaccine for the coronavirus.
But in the meantime, I am also enjoying some unexpected silver linings of this black cloud. And I’m not bored.