With all the curtailments on our freedoms, it is worth remembering governments are unable to prohibit the changing of the seasons. Try as they might to change our character with incessant police patrols and nightly official announcements, we can find comfort in the indifference shown towards such measures by birds and flowers.
Fortunately, due to my trade I am permitted to go to and from work with relative ease. Daily I observe the ugly morose mass of a deserted London, while reciting an explanation for my presence on the streets should I be stopped by the police.
We can find comfort in the indifference shown towards such [police] measures by birds and flowers.
A simple lunch hour break at the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral can no longer be enjoyed, because you feel a sense of guilt as you are the only one there. Undoubtedly, self-righteousness has riddled its way into our country in recent weeks, with a once sociable person looking at you in horror if you come within six feet.
So far great emphasis has been given to the hardships endured by businesses, employers and employees. Further concerns about the economy, the death count, and a bizarre secular fervour for the National Health Service dominated the news, over Easter Sunday, a day when a belief in one man’s struggle had been paramount across Western Civilisation. But in this time of hysteria little or no coverage has been given to individuals and their triumphs or failures.
On Good Friday a man I know as ‘Patrick’ walked down the pavement towards me. It had been a month or so since I saw him last. He was wearing a white linen blazer of the style worn abroad by elderly British men on holiday somewhere near the sea, though he cannot have been more than thirty.
He recognised me and: ‘It’s Easter on Sunday’. In his left hand he held a tiny chocolate egg still in its packaging. Opening his palm, he said: ‘Here it is for you’. A funny convulsion of pride stopped me from taking it. He offered again and I refused again. Then he asked me for money.
‘It’s three years now,’ he said. When we became acquainted, he had been wandering through a residential street in north London. Between asking me for money, and explaining with pride he was Irish, he’d then told me: ‘I used to rob people’. At the time I took it to be a suggestion of a threat. In our later meetings he did not repeat it, only that he hadn’t been in prison for so many months and then so many years.
I agreed to go and get some cash for him and began to walk along the queue outside a supermarket up a hill to the summit. I saw it trail on down the other side, and my charitable inclination vanished. I crossed over the road. Torn between ducking him or saying I would get the money somewhere else I was surprised to find he was not at the place we said we would meet.
Between asking me for money, and explaining with pride he was Irish, Patrick told me: ‘I used to rob people’.
My pride wasn’t hurt but I saw how quickly my refusal of his gift forced him to leave. Perhaps, he had got a better offer. Then I remembered his white linen jacket. He told me he had found it. Suspiciously, my thoughts snaked towards our first meeting and what he had told me then.
But there we both were on Good Friday, with the rest of the country under house arrest. I wondered what Patrick had been doing in the recent months amid the ‘lockdown’. He had nowhere to self-isolate that I knew of. It would be untrue to say I could bring myself to envy his nomadic life, but it seemed blessed to me on that day, as I stole an hour outside in the park eyes glancing for the police.
George Orwell wrote in his essay Some Thoughts on the Common Toad: ‘So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring.
‘The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.’
That afternoon I watched a squirrel outside of my window before heading into a park. There, without restriction other creatures frolicked amid the opening flower buds. Birds built nests in the trees after swooping and darting under branches with twigs in their mouths.
There, without restriction other creatures frolicked amid the opening flower buds.
The full vigour of spring settled within my chest and imbued me defend what must not be taken away from us. Millions of people are not ill and yet are complicit in surrendering their freedom. If there is to be any point surviving this virus it must be a spring walk which can be enjoyed by all but owned by none.
Why has a walk in the park or holding hands on a bench become a crime worthy of public shaming, financial penalty or imprisonment? Why are these basic tokens of fellowship, love and charity so despised by the authorities? They are intrinsic to our character and cannot be forcefully wiped out. Man will still love woman, until he decides it is not worth it.
We are deciding it is not worth it, and that is to the peril of us all.