There's a headline in a recent Grauniad welcoming us to the quarantine era – 'where bored, lonely and trapped indoors may be the new normal.' I shied away as per from investigating the depressing headline and headed for the sports page – my opioid fix to reassure me that some things never change and that if we just go on a-wishin' and a-hopin', everything will be all right. Ultimately. Maybe. Probably not.
It struck a chord, though, because I've been toying with the idea of a visit to the Disunited Kingdom, where the 52% now rule. I want to see my dear old father, one of the 48%, bless his new multi-coloured dressing gown, which rarely seems to be off him these days when we talk on Skype of a mid-morning. But should I go or should I stay? Having contracted air-travel-shame, it would mean a long-distance train journey. While the threat of disruption has now eased, I still trust SNCF as little as I trust politicians, bureaucrats and big businesses. But more to the point, there's now the spectre of quarantine. If I got over to England, would I get back to France? Much can happen in a week when a super-virus is abroad.
Is this finally The Big One? If Mother Nature were to fight back big time, this could be the next Spanish flu. No doubt clever medical scientists will cook up some kind of vaccine in a secret laboratory somewhere to delay the Time of Reckoning, but until that day cometh we may well be faced with the prospect of face-masks, travel embargos and quarantine.
Being of an unsound mind that conjures constant worst-case scenarios, I may well opt to stay here unless I can somehow guarantee a quick in-out, there-and-back, aller-et-retour. In which case, I must consider the 'bored, lonely and trapped indoors' element of the equation. Just recently, I have concluded that maybe I am a trifle bored and lonely, at least on days when the Good Wife is in Brive, attending to clients. I have Daphne, of course, and to a lesser extent, Otis and Mingus the cats, but they all seem to spend the whole day sleeping.
The locals don't provide the kind of stimulating conversation I crave. I may be quite wrong, but no one in the near vicinity would wish to discuss film, music or literature with me, so I have been renewing my efforts to find a new radio show. If people won't talk to me, then I'll jolly well talk to them. I dropped in on a little local radio station in Meyssac when I went to see my tattooed lady for a hair cut the other week and I met the head honcho. He seemed reasonably enthusiastic, but he hasn't got back to me since I wrote to him with details of what I was planning to do. He probably doesn't trust me, as he believes I'm not French (ha!).
I'll be OK, though. I've got my work to keep me busy and, whenever that dries up, I've got my literary ambitions to feed, so I'm not going to turn to drink, drugs or unspeakable practices. Living, too, in the middle of the countryside, they couldn't confine me to barracks in the same way that they probably can in a city. The local gendarmes drive by only once in a blue moon to check that everything appears to be normal. Same as it ever was; same as it EVER was!
I spoke to my sister the other morning. She still watches the news on telly and told me of the horrifying images from China, with people being dragged from their homes like criminals to be shipped off to some quarantine detention centre (or QDC when the time comes for an acronym). It didn't surprise me. They treat humans only marginally better than they do animals. I dare say they'll probably find a way of profiting from the deceased when the numbers really start to stack up. Body parts or leather for cheap shoes.
I suppose that's the worst thing about spending so much time alone in effective quarantine. Your mind starts to dwell on such morbid, rabid thoughts. Without 'rivets', his metaphor for work or some such gainful preoccupation, Joseph Conrad's heroes would find themselves straying into the darkness at the heart of our existence. That's what must happen to all those deranged loners of life, who spend too much time reading Trump's tweets or staring at dreadful images on the dark web. They get themselves a semi-automatic lethal weapon and, the next thing you know, there's another massacre at a school or a shopping centre. While I might fantasise sometimes about gunning down hunters or dangerous motorists, the last time I picked up a rifle was during the cowboy phase of my development.
Life in solitary has made me understand what happened to my mother, bless her peculiarities. Never much of a traveller, she became positively agoraphobic towards the end of her worried life. I remember watching from a first-floor room in my parents' rather dismal last home together – in a faceless suburb of Southampton – as she returned from a morning constitutional: once briskly around the block, and customarily alone because my father was and is such a lazy sod. I remember looking at her and thinking That woman is stark staring mad.
Latterly, those brisk constitutionals represented the sum of her excursions from the house. There's something genetically similar in my system. I don't think it's yet critical; I can still be saved from such a fate. But the notion of 'out there' is definitely becoming increasingly scary with every passing year. The other evening we watched one of the Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's wonderfully quirky films, The Other Side of Hope I think it was called. A tale of a bewildered Syrian asylum-seeker adrift in Helsinki, it was compassionate, frequently funny and always slightly grim. As ever, he managed to make Helsinki look like the kind of place that you so do not want to visit. The trouble is: everywhere these days is looking to me like that kind of place. Even Paris.
Where's it all going to end? We talk sometimes of moving back to some small town in Yorkshire, somewhere with a strong sense of community where we could join a book club and a jazz club and a film society. Maybe places like that exist in Brive, but it's so much easier to converse in your own language. It probably won't come to anything. For one thing, quarantine might become a reality. And even if it doesn't, quarantine is also it seems a state of mind.