After over two weeks of lockdown we are all getting into a routine of sorts and adjusting to this strange, isolated existence. Apart from one neighbour, who kindly brings round a loaf of bread and a carton of milk when required , the only person I have seen in the flesh is the guy at the “Click and Collect” , who brought out our plastic baskets of food and left them at a safe distance. True, from our back windows we can see the occasional walker or jogger along the canal path and from our upstairs window there are a few people on the pavement, particularly mothers taking children for some fresh air and a break from being constantly in the house but overall, as in the rest of the country, it is quiet on the streets. Even the occasional bus trundling by carries only a few well-spaced passengers.
Superficially, if one avoids the temptation to be glued to the news from the outside world, all is quiet and peaceful. This appearance has been reinforced by the unusually long spell of reasonably sunny weather, a welcome feature in what can be a windy part of Scotland. I can also count myself lucky as having a partner to share my thoughts, a companion over a glass of wine and a friend with whom to chat; throw in the luxury of a garden in which to enjoy the sunshine or to immerse in physical toil without thinking too much, there is little to complain about. Yet we find ourselves doing small things that show that deeper down there is an insecurity, based partly on the inability for us, as humans, to socialise in small groups face to face during the lockdown and partly as a result of our fears for our friends and family and for the future.
Like many others we are using the time to start jobs that have been put off for far too long by the hurly-burly of life. In our case that is redecorating the bathroom. A while ago we decided to remove the wallpaper, curling at the edges in places from the damp, and paint the walls in blue to complement the large grey Italian tiles. The choice has narrowed down to three: Caribbean Escape, Sail the Seas and Paradise Sky, the names redolent of escapism.
As I painted A4 sheets of paper in each of these shades I wondered how much the current times have increased our need to find some quiet, safe mental space – to provide a temporary exit pathway from the present. Many years ago, when my wife had meningitis, we had a few weeks of being on our own and found doing jigsaws and playing card games like cribbage relaxing as we had no television! Working on a 1500 butterfly jigsaw last week provided the same enjoyment and the same break from overthinking.
At times of stress we subconsciously move back to behavioural patterns that are comforting, whether reading a Dick Francis or Georgette Heyer novel or watching something uncomplicated on television. The series “Death in Paradise” offers that in abundance- each episode revolving about solving a murder against the background of an idyllic island with palm beaches, crystal clear water and the bustle of life in the Caribbean. The fact that the formula is the same and that the frequency of murders rivals that of Midsomer Norton matters not a jot.
So when the bathroom is redecorated and I am sitting in the bath surrounded by a Caribbean sky, will I need to add mentally a background of some palm trees and physically a cocktail on the side or just dream faraway thoughts in a steamy atmosphere? The answer will probably depend on what unrecognised currents in my subconscious are driving me to feel tense or relaxed. There is always more going on underwater than on the surface.
Written 8th April 2020