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3:AM in Lockdown 46: Stuart Walton

By Stuart Walton.


There is a great deal to be said in a crisis for the attitude of pretending it isn’t happening. Adopting that attitude in the preamble to it is generally disastrous, and has resulted in the worldwide climate emergency, and will doubtless issue eventually in the next economic meltdown. Once it’s happening, though, and if the shadow of death has politely passed you by, it’s hard to see how adopting the spiritual Brace position can help.

Having been on immunosuppressant therapy for the past eighteen months, I have received the NHS curfew letter — not once, but three times. The outside world has thereby shrunk to the compass of a weekly trip to the recycle boxes and back. Philanthropic care packages of food, one from the council, the other organised by a cherished friend, arrived while I waited for the government to instruct the retailers to let me order online. I have been able to remind myself that the only surefire way of making Heinz tomato soup at all palatable is to dump a clump of shredded strong Cheddar in it, not least in that it now looks like something I have chosen to eat, rather than the resource of dire exigency.

I joined the Facebook group of my local Help Hub for a weekend, which was as long as it took for one member to accuse me erroneously of three moral failings in one message, another to accuse me erroneously of denigrating the NHS, and another to launch a bilious attack on me for taking issue with somebody else for correcting somebody else’s spelling. What ought to be the warm embrace of mutual support is as fissiparous and prickly as all such collectivities — the raft of the Medusa caught at the moment when everybody realises they are going to have to eat each other.

Days wasted trying to get through on the phone to the bank or the welfare system or the supermarkets are days one will never recover, lost to the vile rotation of the sort of muzak that was once cleverly psychologically pitched to make you give up all the sooner, and is now no better than inhuman and degrading treatment, each hopeless day ending with the glowing embers of emotional abrasion.

The problem, as ever, is hope. ‘I can take the despair,’ says John Cleese’s head teacher in the comic film Clockwise. ‘It’s the hope I can’t stand.’ Hope is what fools you into thinking that the bank, having been compelled by the regulator to let you defer your loan repayments, will allow you to get through and apply for it. This does not happen, and will never happen. Amid the muck and bullets of the Western Front, Siegfried Sassoon notes how ‘hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists, / Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!’ Make the horror stop, of course, and if that won’t stop, make the hope stop tormenting us.

Food is now arriving. The days have returned to their sanctified rhythm of reading and writing, phoning and emailing. Out There is sunny today, but due to rain tomorrow, so one wouldn’t want to risk it. Last night, the weekly ovation for key workers erupted in a symphony of air-horns, jungle drumming, tribal whooping, the blasting of Dylanish harmonicas, and a five-minute round of applause. I leaned into the evening air from my second-floor casement, like Juliet, and joined in. Then it was back to the solitude of the studious cell and the light within.

Stay well, mis amigos. Shit will end.


First posted: Wednesday, April 29th, 2020.

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