What else is a retired gentleman in lock-down to do?
What else is a retired gentleman in lock-down to do?
Last Edited: Mar 25, 2020 2:01 PM
It seems strange when I remember it now. When I retired at the end of August 2016, and for some months afterwards, I quite often found myself having anxious, fearful thoughts about different kinds of disasters and apocalypses that might happen.
Some of it, I’m sure, was the stress of something I had never experienced in my life until then: the burden and responsibility of living in a house that we actually owned. Say what you like about living in a tied cottage – such as a vicarage is – but you don’t have to worry much about maintenance. You just pick up the phone to Church House and get the Diocesan Surveyor to send someone round to fix it. It’s also true that the Diocesan Surveyor got a bit fed up with phone calls from Marston Vicarage (which has since been demolished and a new one built.) Starting with the leaky flat roof, and progressing through numerous cracks in the walls caused by alternating heave and subsidence from the huge willow tree about ten metres from the house, rebuilding of said walls, and at the last water leaking from the pipes embedded in the concrete floor… Now I write all that, I wonder how we put up with it for 25 years, unless it was something to do with the wonderful parish and people. But at least it kept us entertained, and was really the only thing we had to complain about in the whole of our wonderful time there.
But when all that was left behind, I would often find myself – chiefly in those sleepy moments of doing the washing up – thinking what it would be like when you turned the taps on and no water came out… or when there was no electricity… or when rats crawled out of the toilets. Like in Raymond Briggs’s terrifying When The Wind Blows. Or when bands of brigands roamed, terrorising neighbourhoods, or tanks rolled along the streets. This was in the months following the Brexit Referendum, with that sense of dread over the divided country we were suddenly living in, and the possibility, that I imagined, of actual civil war or some similar calamity.
Never, in my wildest fantasies, did I imagine an apocalypse in the form of a global pandemic. Clearly I needed a more fertile imagination.
If you were reading my blog about this time last year, you’ll remember that I wrote quite a lot about the health problems I was having. After my RARP (Robot Assisted Radical Prostatectomy) I developed osteomyelitis of the symphysis pubis – a bone infection of the pelvis. This is such an unusual complication of the surgery I’d undergone, that it was some time before it was recognised and diagnosed, by which time I had been in real pain, practically unable to walk, for about five weeks. The treatment prescribed was three months of antibiotics, and about the time of the spring equinox last year, I had been on ciprofloxacin for a week, and not yet seeing noticeable easing of the pain. I noted in my diary that I went out for a walk – aided by my two walking poles – and managed about a couple of hundred metres and back.
It was a grim time, and there was further unpleasantness to come, in the form of acute urinary retention which required a urethrotomy. One of the things that helped me cope with this whole months long ordeal, was telling my story. I told it to anyone and everyone I thought would listen. I told it so often and in such horrifying detail that it probably drove my family and friends to distraction. Fortunately they had the wisdom, the patience, and the grace to listen, because telling your story is a healing thing. Victims of far worse traumas than mine – rape, war, genocide – have all testified how telling their story can help, even if there’s an element of it forcing you to relive the bad time.
For me there are still ongoing maintenance procedures I have to do, chiefly intermittent self-catheterization, which sounds terrifying but proves to be manageable even for someone as squeamish as me. It’s amazing what you can do when there’s no alternative. But as 2020 began, we began to think that this year we could get away for holidays and breaks again, in a way that was impossible in 2019. Nothing as ambitious as overseas travel, because foreign health insurance was likely to be difficult to obtain. Instead, we planned a progress north to see some of the cathedrals and medieval abbeys we we have never visited or would like to revisit. This was to finish with a week’s retreat on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, one of our very favourite places. A thin place, a place where you really feel that you can draw near to God.
And then came Covid-19.
It has turned the world upside down, in a way that seems more extraordinary and frightening than any of the other disasters that have befallen the world in the 70 years I have known. In October 1962, when I was only 13 years old, the Cuban Missile Crisis convinced many people that we were on the brink of a Third World War which would destroy us all. I have hardly any recollection of it – certainly not of being unduly terrified at the time – though I know some of my contemporaries who were more aware of world events shared that great fear. The Vietnam War was terrible, but far away from being an immediate threat to our survival. Likewise the Gulf War(s), 9/11, and all the subsequent Middle East horrors. Suddenly an invisible killer is out there in the world, and all the powers we have been accustomed to look to for help seem powerless against it.
Each day that passes brings news of further restrictions, as the Government struggles to find the least worst way forward in dealing with the crisis. It often has the look of people thrashing about in the coils of a monster that is dragging them inexorably towards destruction. Apparently our Prime Minister was driven by enormous ambition to reach the place he is now. I’ve found myself wondering whether he regrets that now… Or would it be worse if he’s sitting in No. 10 thinking he really is the man for this hour?
We’re hoping to stay well, and if that doesn’t happen, we’re hoping to survive (what a thing to come to!) Perhaps we really are coming to a time when Bishop Ken’s hymn becomes real:
Redeem thy misspent time that’s past
And live this day as if thy last…?
How would my thoughts, words, actions be different, if I considered that every journal entry, every blog post, every phone call, every conversation, might be my last? Not many of us are ready to think like that. Maybe we should cultivate how to be.