I hope you’re all managing under these new and very trying circs, though I note that some of you, especially those with conditions you have to live with, are finding Life Challenging, to put it mildly.
I had a dear German friend, now deceased, who translated a famous German saying for me: ‘Every house has its cross to bear’ and that’s particularly true for us all now. Every flat, bedsit, house or even mansion, has its cross to bear. Fear lurks near us, for ourselves and for loved ones, but in the long term so perhaps does frustration, boredom, loneliness and perhaps for some, despair. Some of our greatest challenges are surely going to be the psychological challenges of living on our own, or indeed being squidged up together with others in close confinement.
Living with those we love is a great privilege but it can also sometimes be, however much we deny it, a bit of a pain in the posterior. However much you love a Chap or a Dear Girl, living with them 24/7 can bring its own special challenges. I am already whinging at My Dear Old Lad for :
i)Leaving the loo seat up and an empty loo roll left for me as a kind of tip.
ii)Crunching crisps loudly and with maddeningly slow deliberation during emotional scenes on the telly.
iii)Clearing his throat over and over again for no particular reason.
iv)Toddling around the house emitting tuneful farts, just because he can (no behaviour-adjusting company to distract or shame).
v)Wiping his mustard/ketchup/mayonnaise along the edge of his plate, thereby making a sticky mess on edge of same and then never finishing the sauce he’s doled out…
The Dear Auld Fart has probably got an even longer list of complaints against me, and I blame him not at all. Hard, isn’t it? We love those we love but they do tend to send us Round the Frigging Pipe (as Shirley Valentine would say) if we have them as full-time Boozum-Buddies for too long. And this is going to be too long. Anything between 12 and 24 weeks too long, possibly. We are all in for the Long Haul.
So perhaps some of us know already that loneliness can come in different shapes and forms. For those of us single and living on our own, this period of social distancing (perhaps soon to become social exclusion) separates us from dear ones, friends and colleagues. That might feel like a rest for a short while from work, for instance, but now we know it might be months, managing our lives, our fears, our dreams and goals – everything on ice for the moment - is Super-tough.
Last week, a week before Britain, the Portuguese prime minister, sanctioned by the President, sent the country’s children home from school. The little boy next-door, an only child, is now home for the duration. Portuguese schools don’t go back for the new academic year until mid-September. The government is dubious about the possibility of opening for summer term school, as indeed are all European countries. So his very loving mother is sitting him down for the advised four hours a day to do his schoolwork. He’s released to kick a ball around the back yard twice a day and these two breaks are the highlight of his current life: he’s Cristiano Ronaldo for two lots of half an hour. Today, it’s pouring down and will do for many days of the next six weeks. No footie. This little boy is going to find it hard, hard, loved as he is.
So why Betty, you may ask, do we have a picture of a sheep, the sort that looks like an extra from the Simpsons? What has this scraggy sheep know of social distancing?
This is Norbert. He arrived six weeks after the other sheep in our next-door field and was tethered to a tree for 24hrs while the sitting sheepy tenants got used to him. He’s a ram (well, probably a wether) of very little brain, a sort of woolly Pooh Bear. This was soon apparent by the number of times he set off to join the unimpressed flock, got to the end of his tether (literally), jolted to a stop, sorted out his legs from the rope with elaborate care, sauntered back to the tree, then five minutes later he’d do it all again, looking just as puzzled as he did before.
Do any of you remember sometimes not being that popular at school? Or just being new at school when others weren’t? Well Norbert was like that. His owner freed him on Day Two and after that I watched heartbroken while he spent three days trying to get them to accept him into the fold. He’d sidle up to them when they were feeding and they’d just drift off as if by chance. But I could see what was happening. They didn’t want him to join them in their playground games. He was different, and he didn’t belong. He was being socially-distanced, big-time. Eventually Norbert was allowed to be with them and he’s pretty much one of them now, especially as two small goats were added into the mix and he’s much more ‘normal’ then they are, so he’s gained a few Brownie points at last, poor Love.
Norbert talks a lot to me. He has a dark brown, resonant ‘Baaah’ which travels right across the field but he also climbs up onto tussocks to speak to me through the railings, and for a few minutes until he gets bored with me, we are close, at least physically. We lost our dear cat Bob in January, so Norbert’s attempts at making contact, and the hopeless affection we feel for this dim shaggy neighbour, feel very precious just at the moment.
It's not our fault we're all socially distanced now. We're not even new or unlikeable; we're just on the other end of Something Big of which social distancing is the unique result. So I can stand near Norbert but I can’t stand near or hug my precious English friends, or kiss or hug my Portuguese acquaintances – and they are very tactile people; they are going to find it harder even than I not to greet each other with kisses, hugs, an innocent hand on the shoulder. Then I chose to live abroad, so berate myself for the fact that I now cannot see my daughters maybe until Autumn – and that’s if we are lucky. Of course, I have to remember that it wouldn’t make any difference if we were still in Kent: we still couldn’t see them.
Thank goodness then, for the internet and for tv! What would we be at the moment without technology to move us, to help us communicate, to make us laugh, to divert us? The family and I are going to sit down to Face-time together when we can from three different places. We will each have a glass of wine and we’ll chat and laugh away, even if we are a thousand miles apart. It’s a small, but at the same time huge, consolation. Face-time and Skype were always miracles, never more so than now.
So whatever your tipple, and at the moment mine is sometimes red wine and sometimes home-made beetroot and apple juice, let's raise a glass to friends and loved ones, let’s keep chatting to those we love, writing or ringing those we know are on their own, let’s keep sharing ideas and watching shows and just basically Making Connections. We can get through this, all of us around the world. We need Courage and we need Love.
Of course, if you’re Norbert, you just need some fresh food and a sheep to sit next to who won’t move away when you sit down. Oh, and a silly old woman to shout to every day: ‘Have you any grass? No? Not much cop are you? But at least you’re my friend next-door. And it’s not your fault you’re only human.’
Love Betty xx