Social distancing! Bring it on!
We are all required to self-isolate to fight the pestilence. This will be an ordeal for the gregarious, the party-going, the social animals, the stop-outs among you.
But for those of us who already in our daily lives practice a kind of reclusiveness, an enjoyment of our own company, of curling up for hours on end with a good book (or thanks to digital miracles like YouTube, a good opera or play), a period of slightly-more-intense-than-usual self-isolation hold no fears whatsoever.
Cutting short a holiday in New Zealand, I have just skedaddled home. And when at the airport in Christchurch a Qantas damsel instructed me "Handsome, you know you will have to self-isolate for a fortnight once you get home," I answered with a merry "What bliss, thou crisply uniformed vision of loveliness! I'll get so much great reading done."
I don't know what it can be like to not love books, to never read fiction, to never have make-believe pump one's imagination up to the size of Skywhale.
Even while in New Zealand and so as to deepen my immersion in New Zealandishness I did a lot of reading of the alarmingly wonderful and sometimes upsettingly punch-packing short stories of New Zealand's Katherine Mansfield. In Wellington and walking on air (for I had just been watching my political heartthrob, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in action in New Zealand's parliament) I walked to Mansfield's childhood home, now a nifty and poignant Mansfield museum.
Although I have just bragged about how easy-peasy this period of self-isolation will be for me, I must own up to how throughout I will have the precious company of my dog.
Through her vivid, heart-on-the-sleeve stories, Katherine Mansfield became for me such a presence while we were in New Zealand that she somehow seemed to go everywhere with us, making Ian and Sandra and Katherine inseparable. In Wellington she came with us to various events of the New Zealand Arts Festival. And what great company she was. I half expected her to be beside me on our mercy-dash flight home from New Zealand, but instead (because of course Katherine stayed at home) my companion was a sweet, anxious young Dutchman, his own antipodean holiday-adventure cut short by these horrors, now making his own long, long dash home to a virus-disrupted Europe, unsure of what awaited him.
You are probably noticing too, thinking readers, that COVID-19's menaces are sometimes (when we are not fighting one another in supermarkets) creating a strange new camaraderie even among strangers. COVID-19 and its ramifications are sparing no one, and the People versus COVID-19 scenario-battle generates strange new spirit-of-the-Blitz feelings among us People. Between Christchurch and Melbourne it seemed to me that, nattering deeply together, a bond of almost father-and-son strength developed between this gnarled Australian and the youthful flying Dutchman. What strange days these are.
Although I have just bragged about how easy-peasy this period of self-isolation will be for me, I must own up to how throughout I will have the precious company of my dog. A dog is a recluse's best friend.
Everything is improved by a dog. This conviction has just been reinforced for me by an experience in Wellington.
I had gambolled reverently into Wellington's enormous, canyon-spacious Anglican Cathedral to pray for Almighty God to deliver us all from COVID-19 (and, too, to deliver the ACT from the menace of the election of a Liberal government at October's elections) and found that sacred space blessed (and I use that word advisedly) by an exuberant border collie.
She was accompanying some acoustic engineers who were doing some work there and she had the run of the hallowed place, sometimes even chasing after and retrieving a rubber ball thrown for her. The presiding senior clergywoman agreed with me that the dog added a happy, hard-to-define special something to the ambience of the otherwise really rather austere cathedral, an informality, a jauntiness.
I put it to the clergymatron that perhaps the cathedral should have its very own resident dog, always there to spontaneously enhance worship services and of course christenings, weddings and, especially (for they can be far too hatchet-faced and funereal) funerals.
She seemed, in her obliging, open-minded Anglican way, to sincerely take this idea on board. I wondered, but couldn't quite bring myself to ask her, if she (and her bishop, a chap she enthused about as someone "really cool" who wears his hair in "dreadlocks") believed in God. Anglican leaders, to their great intellectual credit, are often famously ambivalent about God's existence.
The way the bounding, bouncing, attractively drooling collie lifted the ambience of the great cathedral reminded me of the sad absence of dogs from the stories told in the Bible. How miserable Adam and Eve look in so many of the old masters' authoritative depictions of them struggling together (how fraught their relationship, both of them, red-blooded, struggling with the unnatural demands of monogamy), always pining, subconsciously, for something that would give them unconditional love, someone they could throw a ball (an apple?) for, a creature to put some fun, some play into their deadly earnest, playless, isolationist lives.
Typically, in the Adam and Eve (1526) of Lucas Cranach the Elder, the two humans, bored, have lots of animal company (for example there is a lion, a deer, something half-hippopotamus/half-platypus and of course a serpent) but nothing they can romp with, nothing for them to shout "Catch!" and throw a frisbee for, nothing that needs them to rub its tummy.
These are count-our-blessings times. So I rejoice in how happier my dog-enriched self-isolation is today in my unremarkable suburb than Adam's and Eve's isolations, then, in their miraculous (but tragically dogless) so-called Paradise.