There have been countless reactions to living through this extraordinary time of pandemic: anguished lamentations, deranged panic, long-haul stoicism, bogus casualness, oblivious disassociation, creepy anthrophilia, weepy self-pity, contrived defiance, Panglossian positivity and everything-must-change sermonising…and that’s just in my house! But, as week one of lockdown ends, I find myself increasingly feeling an overwhelming sense of embarrassment.
Yes, that’s right, embarrassment. Embarrassed to be human; embarrassed to belong to a species that has done this to itself and to the Earth; embarrassed to be put in the same biological bracket as someone like, say, Donald Trump; embarrassed to be tarred with the same brush as all the wicked, ignorant, criminal bastards whose actions and inactions across centuries have brought us to this catastrophe; embarrassed to breathe the same air as mammals who have gone in a couple of weeks from strutting, swaggering masters of the universe to tragi-comic diddums utterly lost without their pathetic delusions, tawdry distractions, greedy indulgences and dumb routines; and embarrassed to be counted, along with 8 billion others, as a walking, talking, deadly virus.
Then I pull myself together and find solace in my legendary sense of humour:
Exchange in the local corner shop:
Have you any toilet paper please?
I’m sorry dear, there’s been a run on it.
OK, in that case I’ll have a packet of king size Rizlas and a box of toothpicks.
Red, green, blue, silver, orange, white or liquorice?
And when that fails me, there’s always the consoling thought that right now the planet’s air is cleaner than it’s been for 200 years, the destruction of the natural world has almost entirely ceased and all other life-forms are joyously flourishing in an unprecedented respite from slaughter. This calls for an appreciation of largely forgotten English writer John Heywood (c1497-c1580) from Coventry. In the 16th century the cunning linguist coined many telling epigrams that proved so universal, timeless, memorable and wise they are still in routine common use today, sayings such as:
Beggars can’t be choosers
Better late than never
Can’t see the wood for the trees
Have your cake and eat it
Hit the nail on the head
Know which side your bread is buttered
Look before you leap
Make hay while the sun shines
One good turn deserves another
Out of sight, out of mind
Rome wasn’t built in a day
The more the merrier
Two heads are better than one
…and that’s just a small selection of his succinct brilliance. However, the Heywood proverb that is most pertinent for me at the moment has got to be this one: It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good…
Picture: Henri Le Chat Noir