PAUL HOPKINS: Life in the time of coronavirus … I’m fine, honest, but I’d love a bit of human flesh
Despite seven or so weeks of isolation, we are surrounded by bodies — lone bodies, bodies from afar, bodies on your daily constitutional walk to be avoided, bodies of youths hanging out in groups, bodies in lines outside shops, bodies flattened on screens and, above all, bodies of dead loved ones, and of health workers and carers, the latter not normally praised, now being celebrated.
We are learning a whole new etiquette of, eh, bodies. Despite a forthcoming easing off of things in Step 1 of the 5-Step plan, social isolation will be with us for some time to come, so we still have to tippy-toe around each other, side-step into the near-empty street, calculate distances at entrances to the pharmacist, avoid even eye contact.
It’s strange, somewhat discombobulating, not quite second nature…
The sweating, smelling, holding, stroking body of another becomes for now a distant memory – while for others, such as those sharing a house with teenagers, it’s just all too much. We no longer have social communion in the flesh, the handshake or the hug, the secret pleasure of eating out with a friend or lover while seated near strangers.
The saddest thing about the coronavirus is that we can’t help one another through it. We can’t lay on hands, we can only wash them: in fact, the way we’ve been explicitly told to help is to stay away from one another. That makes us a little off-centre: social, or rather physical, distancing goes hard against the grain of that gregarious instinct that makes us who we are.
Every other time that we have faced a natural disaster, we have come together: that’s the instinctive, invariable human response to a crisis. In the wake of an earthquake, a bombing or, in our case, a major storm, most people prove altruistic, urgently engaged in caring for those around them, strangers and neighbours as well as friends and loved ones.
With coronavirus, none of such altruistic behaviour is possible, health officials and those at the frontline notwithstanding. There’s little way to be of use except to disappear inside your home, so that you can’t infect anyone. The places we gather for solace, sport and entertainment are off limits.
It’s not all gloom and doom, though — far from it. My isolation is easy for me as I have plied my trade as an editor and writer from home for almost eight years now. I am well used to the solitary life.
I go for my long walk, most days. But, if you see me out with an energetic stride, just don’t expect me to be like a rash all over you, up close and personal like. I am more likely to wave my hacking stick at you from over the wall, a la Father Ted, and shout: “I hear we’re all doomed now (Father)…”
There’s more than a few around each day and those I pass look at me sheepishly, because I’m wearing a bright yellow bandana over my mouth and nose. I want to say to them: “Don’t you just love TK Maxx for these kind of everyday essentials?” But I think better, knowing that right now they might have a lot on their plate.
My isolation is not a ‘I’ll never see anyone ever again’ scenario. I may need veg for tonight’s dinner, so will have to go to the supermarket, my bright yellow bandana around my gob, and the garden shovel with which to hand the veg to the check-out person from a safe distance. Jesus, but you couldn’t make this up.
Honest, I am fine where I am. I have work to do, mainly for newspapers and online sites on Covid-19, and my evenings are spent with Netflix and Apple+ TV. I have, too, my books and my poetry (of Heaney and Kavanagh) to protect me. But I am no rock, no island. WhatsApp and my super, super iPhone 11 is seeing to that.
Like the youngest daughter of a long-time friend texting me to say she is doing a big pasta bake and will drop some off to me should I be short of food. Well, bless her cotton socks. What a sweetheart (she always was) and she and so many others, in particular neighbours and friends of my children, have in the past weeks restored to a grand scale my faith in human nature.
It is such traits of kindness and concern and generosity that will see us through, and see us triumph. Of that, I have no doubt.