Last year it was the B word; this year it’s the C word; but maybe it should be the A word – A as in A for Arseholes; the Arseholes in question would be those whose pantries or garages or sheds are crammed with more toilet rolls than yer average Andrex warehouse. For the first time so far during WWIII, I was today confronted by the empty shelf when seeking to purchase my usual four-pack of botty hankies. Cheers for that, whoever thought it wise to exceed the purchase of a humble four-pack. I’m sure the manufacturers are producing more than enough to go round, but people are naturally purchasing stocks for their fallout shelters because they’re gullible gits feasting on a 24/7 diet of sensationalistic scaremongering on the part of irresponsible broadcasters and online news agencies.
Not that the streets seemed any emptier to me when breaking the curfew and venturing outdoors for what (in my relative world) was an ‘essential’ expedition, i.e. to acquire food and, of course, cash in exchange for it. I live within a short walking distance of a lengthy parade of shops, so I’m fortunate that my status as a non-motorist is no impediment to getting the job done. I don’t need a car to do ‘weekly shops’ to out-of-town retail parks; I tend to buy what I fancy on the day I fancy it, so visitors often mistake the empty fridge to be a pointer to latent anorexia. What, though, of those permanent pedestrians residing in more rural neighbourhoods or ones in which astronomical business rates have rendered most of the local stores boarded-up husks? Buy online, you might say. What if they’re not online? Some people aren’t, weirdly enough.
So much of the Government advice is a reflection of the lives led by those dispensing it. I can’t say for certain – though I can guess with a degree of high probability – that no member of the Cabinet has ever worked in either heavy industry or in professions that are largely conducted out of doors and working with one’s hands. Relocating to one’s home address is therefore not the same kind of option for a binman, postman, builder or gardener as it would be for white-collar drones or honourable members. I have a friend who walks dogs for a living; the first half of her day when not partaking in the actual walking is spent driving from one suburban residence to another, collecting and then returning the pooches; she can hardly work from home.
The Government approach to large-scale gatherings to date seems to be a case of withdrawing the usual state support for such events – police, first-aid services etc. – as a means of laying the responsibility at the door of the organisers and those in attendance rather than issuing an official ban. Some, such as this year’s Grand National and the Euro 2020 tournament, have been cancelled and deferred a year respectively by the authorities in charge of them; but they could in theory have gone ahead – only, Government would have then said ‘Nothing to do with me, mate’ if these events had proven to be a fertile breeding ground for further mass infection by the coronavirus.
It’s probably the half-and-half measures that are leaving so many in a state of confusion. Schools remain open for business, yet the parents of schoolchildren are being advised to work from home whilst the grandparents are being advised to minimise all contact with fellow human beings altogether. The Government tells us not to patronise pubs, clubs or restaurants, and theatres are voluntarily closing their doors; the latter are doing so without the prospect of financial compensation, and whilst it could be argued their patrons are small in number nationwide, the creative industries are still a sizeable employer in this country. Across the Channel, Monsieur Macron has declared no business, however big or small, will go under; over here, struggling Laura Ashley has called in administrators.
By sheer bloody coincidence, the profession that leaves me self-isolating even when the rest of the world is enjoying a pandemic-free lifestyle has inadvertently mirrored a highly relevant contemporary scenario with the publication of my latest book. A collection of six short stories in a ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ vein, ‘Solitaire’ is half-a-dozen variations on a theme, the theme being confinement of both an internal and external nature. Each story is self-contained and shares no characters or locations with any other; but what they do share is this very issue – people stricken by loneliness and isolation when alone and when in company, all seeking escape and then finding something they weren’t looking for. Yes, I know any recommendation on my part will lead to you paraphrasing the late, great Mandy Rice-Davies – ‘well, he would say that, wouldn’t he’ – but if you like storytelling with a creepy, unnerving undercurrent, you could do worse than invest in a copy to while away all those long hours of self-isolation.
Now said book is on sale and the next project has yet to smack me over the head with a light-bulb, I’ve spent a good few hours indulging in my usual escapist pastime of the box-set. At the moment, I’m revisiting Peter Wyngarde’s sequel to ‘Department S’, in which his irrepressibly foppish Jason King character is promoted to leading man and stumbles into all manner of unlikely scrapes that nevertheless provide sublime and surreal entertainment of the most joyously preposterous nature. Once the delicious dollybirds and Wyngarde’s hilariously effete hero are taken on board as the norm, much of the fun comes from playing ‘guess what else you’ve seen him/her in’ as the roll-call of character actors that seem to appear in every drama series produced for UK TV in the 1970s is once again called upon to fill out the cast.
Earlier today, I watched an episode in which Lance Percival impersonated Jason King in order to infiltrate a Turkish drug-smuggling gang (don’t ask); but half of the time I was trying to recall which similarly vintage series the villain of the piece had appeared in – ‘Special Branch’? ‘Public Eye’? ‘Callan’? ‘The Tomorrow People?’; the answer was, of course, all of them. I sometimes wonder if there were no more than fifty actors working in television at the time. And then, of course, there’s always good old Pat Gorman – extra extraordinaire, who had the occasional line but usually appeared in the background as a reliably mute presence, a safe pair of seventies hands you could depend on. Yes, watch enough of this stuff and you even get to know the names of the extras. But I digress.
Music, literature, TV, YouTube, handicrafts, the box-set, alcohol, illicit substances, masturbation – yes, there’s no shortage of things one can enjoy when bereft of company. I appreciate the more social animals may well struggle at the abrupt adjustment, but as long as essential household items are available and haven’t all been snatched by the Arseholes, there’s no reason why the Devil should spy an abundance of idle hands. However, novelty has a habit of wearing off quickly, and then there’s the inconvenient truth of an economy starved of its human resources tending to crash – a factor which will outweigh any death toll when it comes to emergency measures. As Karen Carpenter once so memorably observed, we’ve only just begun.
© The Editor