Social isolation – no difference there then! C. said that to me last month when we were teetering on the edge of the lockdown and we laughed in mutual understanding, each of us paid up members of the Loner’s Club; that not so exclusive band of members who spend too much of the week hanging out alone. But this is different. With this, there is no nipping out for 9 o’clock chocolate, no last-minute invites to meet (they were few and far between anyway), no getting on the phone to moan about how Marlene Dietrich your life is. All such calls are gone, along with the sympathy (or impatience) from the other end of the line. They have all dried up because everyone has joined Marlene in her sinking ship of alone-ness. Except Marlene requested it in her sexy German drawl – “I vant to be alone,” (pout) – and we didn’t.
Let’s not forget, though, in February 2020 BC (Before Covid) so full was the membership of the ‘I’m so busy I’m going to explode’ club that there was a waiting list to get in. In that members’ club the ‘busy’ badge was worn with pride. ‘I wish I had time to relax,’ Alpha Annie would cry between lunchtime workouts and briefing the Chairman of the Confederation of Plate Spinners – or whatever it was she was up to – without which the world would stop turning. And what’s Alpha Annie got on her agenda now she’s locked away? Why, she’s improving herself, of course!
What is wrong with us? How have we managed to move the frenetic daily pace of life seamlessly online and add to it so that we are up in time for 6am body pump dubbed in Spanish with a background of Gregorian Chant to re-calibrate our inner-body frequency before checking emails. Why is nobody else admitting to watching Whisky Galore! at eleven in the morning whilst eating rice-krispie buns and drinking hot ribena (my Uisge Beatha) with their hair in braids pinned up in a halo like Heidi? (Cut me some slack – I miss seeing the rolling Atlantic waves and walking on the beach, and there are some great shots of the shoreline in Whisky Galore!). I have decided that the wellspring of good health is best tapped via serenity, rest and a good pinch of idleness, and – in my many years of research – I have found there is no better place to achieve this than from my bed.
‘I haven’t had time to be bored, my day has never felt fuller!’ It’s Alpha Annie again, fitting me in for five minutes between her zoom life-enhancing activities. I don’t know what she’s talking about, I never said I was bored, I just told her how satisfying it was to paint each toe nail a different colour and anyone who gets bored doing that can go task themselves with a spot of double-entry bookkeeping, if that’s what floats their boat.
If you haven’t got the drift of my imaginary boat bobbing around the Western Isles by now, here’s the message: I am slowing down. I am confronting life one cup of tea at a time. I’m drifting into a new mode of consciousness via Whisky Galore! and quoting lines of wisdom from it. (“I don’t believe the world has been in such a terrible mess since the flood.”) I’m shedding the known world by listening to the fridge hum. I’m wondering how many of my ex-boyfriends’ middle names I can remember. (“It’s a well know medical fact that some men were born two drinks below par.”) I’m emerging into an atmosphere of comfortable loneliness that begets a certain shade of madness. (“Mother, where is my helmet? You were using it to feed the hens.”) I’m hitching myself to a renewed lunacy that, day on day, is feeling more like sanity. I’m lying on the carpet under a shaft of morning sun floating on the mystery of life. I’m transcending the to-do list and re-rooting myself in a far-off field of hope. (“A happy people with few and simple pleasures.”) I’m dropping out.
Hope, Langston Hughes
Sometimes when I’m lonely,
Don’t know why,
Keep thinkin’ I won’t be lonely
By and by.