In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone.
Christina Georgina Rosseti
Ho-hum. Another day, another doldrum.
Here we are in Lockdown Number Three and it’s not a pretty place. Makes Lockdown Number One, in retrospect, seem like a bit of a doddle – months spent sitting in the garden with a wee dram, a good book and the sun beaming kindly down on us. Happy days! We didn’t know we were having it so good.
Now look at us – singing the blues in deep mid-winter. Plague on the rampage and the world under siege. Covid-19, the sly bugger, is evolving. Causing mayhem. Rates of infection shooting through the roof. Deaths scaling up when we thought we were over the worst.
The numbers are horrifying.
As I write, one person is dying of the virus every eight minutes in Los Angeles. Mercifully, the mad American President has shuffled off to the ignominy of his Florida netherworld. If I may borrow a phrase from Leonard Cohen, democracy is coming to the USA and some kind of sanity is being restored. For now, anyway.
Here in the land of saints and scholars we may currently boast of a shocking statistic – the highest rate of transmission in the world. This is the price we pay for our sociable Christmas; some of us were more sociable than others but nonetheless we all pay the piper. The New Zealand Prime Minister has cited Ireland as an example of how not to respond to the virus. Mortifying!
People are wrecked - demoralised, exhausted and benumbed by almost a year of living in the prison the planet has become.
The weather doesn’t help. Short, gloomy days. Dark, dreary nights. Icy chills and clouds and rain. There’s a darkness about the place. A dullness. A monotony. A grimness. Shadows on the psyche. Day after groundhog day after day in this dreadful plague-ridden Limbo, we, the fortunate survivors, endure and carry on, our steadfastness a tad shakier but nonetheless extant.
I’m sleeping later these days. Am a tad more sluggish about keeping to my daily schedule. It’s not easy to get motivated. Back in October, alarmed at the lack of social distancing and the prevalence of mask-less muscle-folk in the gym, we put a new shed in the garden and furnished it with weights and a bench press. But it’s freezing out there. Some days I look out the window and it seems like a long, hard walk to the back of the garden.
The days are heavy.
Where would we be without TV? The Masters Snooker Championship has just ended. I lapped it up. Missed the audiences though, as the games were played to an empty hall. No applause for century breaks. No groans after jammy flukes or atrocious misses. No shaking of hands before and after battle was joined. Despite these deficits, however, it was all immensely watchable.
Snooker players are the gladiators of our time, although I wonder why they’re all so white. Do people of colour not play? Or women, for that matter? In recent years the game has taken off in Asia and the influx of Chinese competitors gives the sport a welcome diversity.
Despite the fact that I mis-spent some of my youth in smoke-filled snooker halls, I can’t shoot a cue worth a damn, but I’ve been following the sport for donkeys’ years. I recall, many moons ago in the days before coloured televisions (God, I’m old), watching Pot Black on our black-and-white telly. The commentator would tell us the colours of the balls that were being attacked. It was kind of insane and yet it somehow worked. Snooker was always great TV. It was the visionary David Attenborough who, as a senior manager at BBC Television (before he found fame as a gifted naturalist) was responsible for bringing the coverage of snooker onto the box.
Now that the Masters is over, I’m back to Netflix and Reeling in the Years. The latter programme recently covered 1980 and showed a clip of then-Taoiseach Charlie Haughey when he infamously appeared on TV to inform the nation that as a community we are living way beyond our means. This was a phrase that came back to haunt him in later years when the level of his corrupt financial shenanigans was exposed and we learned that among his many extravagances was a fondness for importing bespoke Charvet Shirts from Paris.
When the show was over, with nothing but time on my hands, out of curiosity I googled the price of a Charvet Shirt. Holy fuck! One of them costs more than I paid for my favourite item of clothing – a gorgeous linen suit I bought in Florence back in the days when it was relatively safe and permissible to go gallivanting to foreign climes. The suit was on sale, but I was raised to be frugal and I felt almost guilty at the extravagance of the purchase.
So, no Charvet Shirts for me, although that point is moot as it seems like a lifetime ago since I’ve worn a shirt, given that I’ve spent virtually the past year in sweats. God only knows when I’ll have occasion to wear that linen suit again.
I never imagined that I’d miss shopping. Last night I dreamed that I was browsing the bookshelves in Chapters. Like a kid in a sweetshop, I skipped merrily from section to section. Crime Fiction. Poetry. Biography. Politics. History. Arts and Entertainment. I was in clover. Ecstatic.
When I awoke, of course, Chapters was, like most of the country, closed and shuttered. Winter prevails in commerce, climate and spirit.
But the days are getting longer at last.
And hope springs eternal.