Coronavirus exploded into our consciousness less than three months ago, and we have seen the different ways that various countries around the world have dealt with it. What has fascinated me more, I have to be honest, is the way that individual people have managed to live in this enforced lockdown period, and what I have been able to reflect and understand personally about that.
Let’s take two men: one is in his mid-eighties, a retired medical consultant, married, living in the north. The other is a few years younger, has had some health issues of his own, never married, lives in the south, has had two or three jobs in his lifetime, but has worked most of his life on a farm. Before we go further, both of these men are dearly beloved of this family so all that I say is said with love and respect, but also with honesty. Both are living alone as we go into the pandemic lockdown, and yet they are each reacting quite differently to the situation.
P, our consultant, used to spend his mornings playing golf, having coffee with some other retired gentlemen or doing some shopping. His afternoons were largely spent visiting his wife, who now resides in a care home. He largely eats ready-meals, or simply prepared suppers. Evenings were spent at home, perhaps reading or watching some tv, unless there was a church event on, and once a month, he attended the history society talk. He lives in a flat, because the couple downsized some years ago, so he has no outside space to worry about.
A, the agricultural worker, would potter in the garden and greenhouses whenever the weather was fine, but he would amuse himself reading, watching some tv, doing jigsaws, baking, preserving his produce and preparing his meals from scratch, largely using fresh produce from his garden in season, or previously frozen when not. He went to the bell-ringing group once a week, attended church some Sundays, and a pensioners’ lunch group on Wednesdays. He has a large house and about half an acre of garden to manage: he has lived in the house for over 50 years now.
Who is facing the biggest challenges in the lockdown? To whose life has it made the most changes?
A’s life goes on, pretty much as normal. Yes, he can’t go to church, nor the other activities that he did on a weekly or month basis, but day to day life has always been based around the home, and so he potters on. He’s glad of the phone calls from the church members and family each week, but he has plenty to do, as ever, and keeps himself busy. It’s spring and there is lots to do on the garden at this time of year.
P is struggling. He can’t play golf, he can’t go out for coffee with his friends, and very sadly, he is now unable to visit his wife. Meals don’t take long to prepare, and nothing else is happening that he counted on for regular connections. The neighbours are all quiet in their respective flats and he sees few people. He goes out for a walk most days, but there are limited opportunities around his area, and he is bored of them, even having done them in both directions!
Having married P’s son in 2018, I can actually see that our retirement years are going to be challenging to me. I am A’s niece, and the different ways in which P and A are getting through this lockdown is mirrored in our home here. Many things which my husband does to relax have been barred from his life now – golf, badminton, swimming, Costa/Greggs coffees, the gym, outings to NT houses, for example. Holidays have been cancelled and it is all quite sad for him. He is grieving these losses and they have hit him quite hard.
A and I come from a working class background, what one commentator has called “Northern” this week, which I find a deep honour as so many positive qualities emanate from the north, but the truth is that my husband and his father both have greater claims to that moniker than do I. However, what I do lay claim to is to thriftiness and frugality, which A has in spades. We have no history of leisure activities that cost money – Heaven forbid – we play draughts, we play whist, we read, we bake, we create with yarn and fabric and plants and seeds, we work in the garden for exercise and we take pleasure in our rest. There is a contentment in this that is inexplicable.
P and his son have had no need of such frugal ways in the past, and find it hard to adjust to them now. P is too old to want to learn to cook at his age with any great challenge, for example. They have expectations of having the finances to maintain this lifestyle, and that is not now their problem – the lifestyle is as unavailable to them as it would be to anyone, whatever their pecuniary fortune. It is just not possible to do the things they love because of the lockdown and the social distancing rules.
If your background is one of financial challenge, as mine is, I think that we have been blessed for such a time as this, when all that we know is a bonus, that our time can be filled with simple pleasures that cost nothing and can easily be done at home, that we are content with relatively plain joys, with no great expectations.
I spoke with both P and A yesterday. I love them both, and we will continue to ring them both regularly. For P, our phone calls are a lifeline to relieve his boredom and to keep his morale at least tolerably high, because his world has been turned upside down in these past few weeks. His separation from his wife just now is particularly troubling and he is very concerned for her. In that, he has my greatest sympathy. For A, this different way of living is a bit of an inconvenience, but he has weathered numerous storms in his lifetime and there is within him an admirable depth of resilience that recognises the seriousness of the pandemic but that says this too shall pass. Let’s hope he’s right!