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Neil Thomas: Living in isolation is not that different for some

By Neil Thomas | Opinions | Published:

While some people continue to struggle with the concept of social distancing, out in the countryside it has always been something of a way of life. When your next door neighbour is three fields away, social connectivity is more the challenge.

Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall, just one of the many Welsh tourist hotspots now closed due to the lockdown

Rural isolation is deeply entrenched in some parts of the Midlands, so self-isolation is a piece of cake. Farmers in areas like the Shropshire-Welsh border can go for days without seeing a soul other than close family members.

On the other hand, when you are used to a busy office, working from home is something of a culture shock. The ground coffee and view from the window are better. On the flipside, I hadn’t anticipated what a long-winded affair communicating with colleagues would be. Phone calls that go straight to voicemail and emails unanswered for half an hour are no substitute for simply yelling ‘oi’ across the newsroom. Also, I find I’m chatting to the cat more.

Being under house arrest, which is effectively what we are, is nowhere near as alarming as it sounds.

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We’ve gone from being ‘time poor’ to the polar opposite. It means there’s the chance to catch up with a few box sets, tidy up the garden and learn new skills.

I’m honing my guitar playing – such as it is – with online refreshers. I’m trying to improve my cooking ability, which won’t be difficult. Spicy parsnip soup for lunch.

They are on the turn but, hey, these are ‘make do and mend’ times.

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Me and the wife are practising online yoga. I even got hooked on an online fashion show, by Shrewsbury ladies boutique Ella Cru, which my wife had logged into.

Benefits

I’m attempting to cut the lawn, but I’ve got a lot of grass, it’s quite long, my petrol mower wouldn’t start immediately after its winter hibernation and when it did, one of the wheels fell off. It could be a lengthy operation. How have you been spending your time in the ‘exercise yard’? Nice little stroll up the street, remembering to cross the road to avoid the neighbours (which you might do anyway)? Perhaps you’ve fettled up the old Penny Farthing that was rusting away in the garage, for a quick burst up the cycle lane.

Me and the wife are running. We’re aiming to jog every day, a quick 5k around the lanes, where there is only the occasional dog walker around whom to essay a two metre swerve. This idea of keeping a safe distance does have its benefits. As the wife pulled away from me – yards in front – I was able to save face by telling to a young woman and her Labrador that we were social distancing.

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Talking of social distancing, some people still can’t get their heads around it.

Under emergency powers, police have apparently been stopping motorists on what few main roads we have here on the Welsh border – that’s effectively the handful of highways without craterous potholes and moss growing up the middle.

Drivers have been questioned about the reason for their journey and I’m pretty sure heading to Lake Vyrnwy for a picnic didn’t cut it.

The clampdown has been widely welcomed in this area, its rather sinister implications being overlooked in favour of the wider public good. Last weekend, the sun came out and so did the wallies and many of them headed this way. Welsh beauty spots were overrun with visitors. In normal times this would be welcomed, the tourist dollar being our lifeblood. These, of course, are not normal times.

For instance, I’ve never washed my hands so much. I wouldn’t wish to give the impression I’m especially unhygienic but I doubt I usually wash them more than a dozen times a day. Now it’s nearer a dozen times an hour. I never used hand gel at the best of times. I think we can all agree that these aren’t the best of times. Now I’m gelling like there’s no tomorrow, specifically to avert the possibility of there being no tomorrow. I just can’t gel enough! Largely because there’s not enough gel. A sign in our local supermarket declared: ‘This aisle is monitored by security guards’. From that, you might think they were protecting displays of gold rings and Rolex watches. In fact, they were shelves of toilet rolls. Or rather, they used to be. Now, they are just shelves.

Profit

A crisis brings out the best and worst of human nature. Those who stockpile, regardless of others, are motivated by panic and generally see nothing wrong with their selfishness. To them, it is simply survival of the strongest. Until they fall ill and need someone else’s help. Then, naturally, we’re all in it together.

As St Mark’s Gospel says: ‘For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul’. But for 20 packets of pasta shells?

Happily, many souls are intact. Consideration for others is much in evidence; from those running errands for elderly neighbours so they can stay indoors, from village shops offering home deliveries and from stores setting aside opening times specifically for our magnificent NHS workers and the elderly, so they avoid the crowds and get first pick.

Before the lockdown, I popped into a garden centre for a Mother’s Day gift. It was near the end of the day but the car park was so deserted.

Chatting to the staff, they said that earlier in the day, they’d never been busier. The vast majority of customers had bought seeds, plants and trees from which to grow their own food.

So there it is, self sufficiency, as in the 1970s BBC sitcom The Good Life, is in.

It’s a heart-warming thought, a return to simpler times. Give up the 9 to 5 and grow your own, as Tom and Barbara Good did in the TV show. Though my recollection is that, when they found themselves yearning for the finer things in life, they weren’t averse to politely sponging off their conventional neighbours Jerry and Margo. While the current crisis might make many of us re-evaluate our lives, perhaps the rat race isn’t quite dead . . .

Neil Thomas

By Neil Thomas
Editor, Shropshire Magazine

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