Any crisis or emergency brings out different personality traits in different individuals, and it’s interesting to observe family and friends all reacting in diverse ways to the present emergency.
One young foodie friend has taken to rising at 5 a.m. to go “foraging” in wild places, collecting all sorts of plants and herbs to add to the cooking pot.
Another pal, possessed of a grand piano, and sequestered in a “pod” (a household self-isolating together) with a brilliant pianist, is re-visiting the piano lessons of her girlhood.
Someone else I know has reverted to smoking “like there is no tomorrow” – the crisis has convinced her that there may not be.
It is tragic for those who have lost family or friends, and quarantine is depressing for those who feel even more isolated and lonely; yet human nature is so various that others relish the changed way of life. One literary grandmother I know has described the present situation as “the nearest thing to heaven on earth. No hassle!” It’s the peace and quiet and the suspension of all social obligations that appeals.
Some individuals have resolved to learn life lessons from this emergency and simplify lifestyles “when this is all over”. Others have the opposite reaction: they resolve to be as gregarious as possible when they get the chance.
Some parents find it hugely rewarding to be homeschooling their children. Others are taking to the wine bottle by mid-afternoon.
I am catching up with much reading, listening to birdsong, and on my brief daily walks, contemplating the sea.
But I’ve also been introduced to a magical new technology, called “Zoom”. Don’t ask me to explain it, but it’s suddenly much in vogue (the shares are soaring). Via electronic connection you see far-off friends and family on your screen, and they can see you. Crises always introduce new inventions.
I still wish the churches were open, however.
The Pilgrimage series on BBC television has become a regular Easter event. The formula is to bring a disparate group together as they walk across Europe to a sacred location. The success of the enterprise often depends on the group dynamics, and whether the pilgrims, all with some celebrity status, have something to contribute. But the camerawork, the scenery and the shots of ancient monuments and holy places are stunning.
The pilgrims themselves are partly picked for diversity in religion and background; so on this trek to Istanbul we have Adrian Chiles, the TV presenter and Catholic convert, comfortable in his faith (with a special interest in the trees encountered). He’s joined by Edwina Currie, who was raised Jewish – she has an O-level in Biblical Hebrew – but broke with it when she married “out”, and Fatima Whitbread, Olympian athlete and a most attractive personality. She grew up in a children’s home, where Christian faith gave her an anchor – “the one thing that held me together”.
Then there’s Pauline McLynn from Father Ted, a lapsed Catholic; comedian Dom Joly, a robust atheist; Amar Latif, a former Muslim and also blind; and the youngest, Mim Shaikh, a believing Muslim. (Recorded before the coronavirus, so there’s lots of hugging.)
The group attitude is respectful to the wondrous sights they see as they move through Serbia on the old “Sultan’s Trail”. They visit old monasteries, wonderful apple orchards, distressing ruins of Nazi concentration camps, woods, fields and mountaintops. For those of us who will never walk from Belgrade to the Bosphorus, it’s a rewarding vicarious experience to be able to follow via the TV screen – each Friday night, and on BBC catch-up.
There’s some historical precedent for Harry and Meghan’s decision to move to the United States, having first emigrated to Canada. It was a familiar strategy among Irish emigrants in times gone by. It was often easier to get to Canada with an assisted passage, so that route would frequently be taken.
Subsequently many would somehow manage to cross the border to the U.S., which was more exciting, less stern, offered more action and varied opportunities. It seems to me that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have not dissimilar migrating motives to the Paddy and Biddy O’Mulligan of bygone years, railroad worker and kitchen maid.