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The Duke of Edinburgh’s return to Windsor last week made me think how much I’d love to visit a castle. Prince Philip’s probably a bit less enthusiastic about it, for the combined reasons of his infirmity and his enormous familiarity with Windsor Castle. No change is as bad as no rest, as we’re all finding.
I’m telling myself that lots of trips to castles will be on the cards for me as soon as things open up a bit. I love castles, particularly ruined castles, as the non-ruined ones have usually been ruined – often by the Victorians’ attempts to make them look more authentically like the vision of medieval life that Walt Disney hadn’t yet been bothered to be born and imagine; but sometimes by the attempts of aristocrats in the 1950s to continue living in them with reasonable comfort despite the onslaught of new welfare state-induced taxation levels, and in advance of the approaching constraints of listed building status. So plenty of little electric fires and asbestos amid the arrow slits. I remember a room at Sudeley Castle that looked like someone had taken a fitted kitchen from Howards’ Way and fired it at a baronial location from an Errol Flynn movie.
So I want a lovely ruined one, but with plenty of serviceable spiral staircases and some railings put in by English Heritage to make the battlements accessible, then a tearoom afterwards – that’s my recurrent fantasy for a drizzly afternoon. Obviously, I have hardly ever actually done that as an adult despite more than two and a half decades of pre-lockdown opportunities. Still, maybe I will soon.
The actor James Norton’s post-lockdown plans, as recounted in a recent interview with the Times, are a bit different: “I don’t know, just having a beer in a pub, having a sweaty drink in a horrible club. Dancing… We’re going to be, like, 10 years younger than we actually are, all back in our mid-20s, just raring to go, ripping it up. I can’t wait. I’m going to see so many dawns. I thought that period of my life was done, you know? Going to bed, the walk of shame – but no.”
Being slightly older than James, I’d have to go a little further into my past to find that lifestyle – indeed, I’d need to go far enough that I’m in a previous life. Maybe a 1920s preincarnation of me was a nightclub libertine, up to my eyes in cocaine and sex – all that dancing certainly seems to have had a knock-on effect on the current incarnation of my back.
I absolutely share his desire to go to the pub, however, as do millions of others. The relentless news that it’s far too soon to plan anything fun was recently superseded by the revelation that it’s already too late: every outdoor pub table in the country is booked up basically for ever. In me, this caused the onset of a new glumness. Should I be booking places now? Is the time I’m spending even thinking about this spoiling my chances? Are the last opportunities to have a pint and a chat being pushed back into 2022 even as I sit here impotently pondering?
I find the urge in some people to immediately and callously book and book and book, even though they can’t know that these things will be able to go ahead, frankly appalling. Booking flights, booking holidays, booking tables, booking theatre tickets, booking a trip to Mars for 2030 because, if interplanetary tourism becomes available, what a nightmare to have to wait or queue! Booking a wedding venue in case you meet someone and a grave for when you die.
It’s all so unemotional! It’s practical and front foot and organised and optimistic and sensible and I think it’s horrible. Don’t they feel, these bookers, the sadness of the relentless disappointments – the bitter blows of everything being delayed or cancelled or, worse than either, moved online? That’s what I hate most about the pandemic, so I can’t book things because it’s just asking for more of it. One of the things I’m most desperately looking forward to is a return to the sense that, if you make a modest plan like meeting a friend or attending a carol service or going to the shops, it is relatively likely to happen.
That likelihood, which we enjoyed for years without realising we were enjoying it, brought a constant comfort which I now crave. I would certainly like to visit castles and tearooms, but more important than that, I’d like the sense, if I don’t, that I could. The reassuring knowledge that the castles are all there, open, waiting for me, was something I took for granted but I really miss. As much as I want to go to the pub, I want to be able to walk past a pub and not go in, while knowing that I could because it’s open.
Early in the first lockdown last spring, when people were clinging to the anecdotal environmental positives of a scary situation, there was a lot of talk of the canals of Venice becoming clean and teeming with fish. Unsullied by human activity, the silt had settled and the water magically clarified. Lovely. But terrifying. For more than a millennium, Venice has been there. This beautiful and unique city, full of people and trade and fun and all the consequent filth and crime – a constant. If you could get to it, there it would be. Until lockdown.
Among the most deeply unnerving aspects of what we’ve been through is the thought that everything and everywhere was put into an induced coma. London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, restaurants, nightclubs, museums, cinemas, theatres – all silent, except for sporadic pneumatic drilling. Not even lockdown stopped that.
Usually when you’re stuck at home, staring at a computer screen or aimlessly watching TV, you do it in the knowledge that more fun is being had elsewhere – parties are being thrown, plays put on, retirement dinners eaten, exhibitions launched, wines tasted. You might feel you’re missing out. But much weirder and lonelier is the bleak certainty that you’re not.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: I’m gripped by the fear of not missing out | Coronavirus