This may seem insensitive or even cruel to those who are suffering grievously from the virus and its social effects – lockdowns, social distancing, ‘bubbles’ – but I have to say that I’m rather enjoying it all.
On the ‘social distancing’ thing, I’ve never been a very social person, especially since I became rather deaf, which makes certain kinds of socialising almost impossible: for example, in noisy pubs. I prefer small group meetings, just two or three ideally; and don’t mind my own company, poor company as it is, most of the time. A lockdown enables one to spurn company without offending anyone, and to stay in one spot without the inconvenience of air, rail or road travel, or even walking. There one can immerse oneself in one’s own black thoughts – and mine are pretty black just now, what with Brexit and this appalling government – without the risk of depressing others, or having to ‘fake’ cheerfulness in order to protect them. If you’re in England, and unwelcome guests arrive, I understand that you can summon the police to evict them if they make up more than six. Or is it eight? I don’t know, as I’m not in England currently. But it sounds a great service.
Indeed, I’m hugely privileged in having an idyllic bolthole of my own to quarantine myself in. I also have continuous company of my own choosing, my beloved Kajsa, who shares my ‘bubble’ with me; we own the ‘sommarhus’ jointly, on an island – almost the definition of ‘isolation’! – in the Stockholm Archipelago. We’ve just installed ‘winter water’ – insulated pipes which won’t freeze – so we can spend the coming winter here for as long as the pandemic lasts. (It’s pretty virulent in the city. Whose fault that is I don’t know. ‘Socialist’ Sweden’s unexpectedly liberal approach to things like face masks, which you hardly see, is widely blamed; but I’m no expert.)
And the whole experience has scarcely affected our life- and leisure-style at all. We’re both Zooming like crazy: me with family, societies and friends, and Kajsa with her teaching and politicking. We have a shop on the island that provides all essentials, including fresh turkey (or we may downsize to a chicken), and incorporates a post office that takes in parcels (brought by boat) from home and abroad. I’m impressed by how many shops and other suppliers have adapted to the lockdowns by upping their delivery arrangements; not only Amazon – which it’s difficult to avoid just now – but also the ‘Little Britain’ shop in the city (for Xmas puds, crackers, mince pies, goose fat and rum butter: we got that order today); a wonderful master chef called Lena actually on the island, who makes most of our Swedish meals; and, back in Blighty, the ‘British Corner Shop Ltd.’ in Bristol, which specialises in sending English grub to homesick ex-pats everywhere. My order was ‘packed with love by Saffron’. Isn’t that nice?
Fortunately the Swedish and British Christmas dinners don’t clash: we’ll have Lena’s on Julaften and my roast on Juldagen. I’m also expecting a delivery – a surprise present for Kajsa (she’ll never guess it) – from the British Museum shop, and another from ‘Radical Teatowels’, which should be winging its way here soon. The kids are also sending things over, and I to them. We really are well set up here. If we need more warmth, all we have to do is chop down a tree. Most of them are firs, which means we have Christmas trees all around the house, so there’s no need to bring one in. Booze comes by boat from Systembolaget, including my new favourite lakrits vodka from Finland. The only thing I’ll miss will be the British Christmas TV Specials; but I imagine someone can teach me how to ‘stream’ them (is that the word?) on my computer.
I’m sure all this has been made even better for us old anti-social grumps by the pandemic. Shops, especially, have adapted to the situation enterprisingly by doing more of their business on the internet and by post. I’m sure it wasn’t like this last year. Delivery services of all kinds must have profited greatly; albeit at a possible cost to the health of their delivery drivers, who form the front line troops between us and the disease. And we, the lucky ones, who don’t need to go out in public – or even out of our beds – can have the laziest Christmas ever.
Could this carry on after the virus has been tamed? For me that’s quite an attractive prospect. But I’m reminded of the fat woman in EM Forster’s short Sci-Fi novel The Machine Stops (1909), who lives in much the same way; until…. Well, if you haven’t yet read it, get it for Christmas. It might be cautionary.