Trick or Treat?

I’m trying to look on the bright side…at least this year I won’t have to turn off all the lights and hide behind the curtains when the trick or treaters turn up tonight.  The way things are going I’ll also save a fortune not having to pay Christmas Carollers either. 

Photo by Greg Jordan from https://freeimages.com

I know it might seem that I’m grasping at straws, but I was brought up being told to count my blessings.  I know I have far more blessings than I deserve but this lockdown seems to be taking a bit more of a toll than I thought it would and just ‘being positive’ isn’t working the way it usually does.

If there is any consolation to be had for me, or for you, I think I’m not the only one finding it tough.  For the last 25 years I’ve had to spend a lot of time on my own, writing or recording. When we went into lockdown last month I casually used to say this is no different for me.  I was wrong because as I soon came to realise, in between those periods of self-isolation there were days filled with meetings and planning and people and laughter.

For every month or so I spent in front of a computer writing the next draft of a musical there were weeks of intense rehearsal and discussion with a director and cast.  The time spent in solitary confinement writing songs were followed by days laughing with my band mates in the studio as those ideas were brought to life.  Even presenting a radio show ‘on my own’ meant sitting in a radio studio whilst being served endless cups of coffee by the producer.

I thought I was working on my own, but I wasn’t…not until now…and I miss people.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear, I understand why we are doing what we are doing.  Sometimes we have to act together to protect the most vulnerable in our society.  I understand it, but I don’t like it. All of our lives have changed, we have had to adapt to the circumstances but it’s hurting us all.

Taking away the ability for people to mix has been described as psychological torture, in fact the United Nations has banned the use of solitary confinement for longer than 15 days. Now I’m not for one minute comparing our recent ‘firebreak’ in Wales with being locked in solitary confinement but as we retreat into our bubbles the variety of our human interaction is dramatically less than in normal times and I think it’s having a negative effect on our mental health. 

Last Christmas I got quite friendly with the Hermes and Amazon drivers; this year they have been far more regular visitors and its only Halloween, but we don’t chat anymore.  They have been like professional ‘bobby knockers’, ringing my bell, dropping their parcels on my door step and then running for the safety of their vans before taking photographs of me and the parcels to prove they made the delivery.  It’s probably a lot more efficient but its far less human.

Earlier this year I prided myself on ‘efficiently’ recording my latest album.  It started with me writing the songs on my own at the piano.  Then instead of getting all the musicians together in one room I actually went to them individually.  One day I recorded drums in Ystradgynlais, the next bass guitar in Glanaman, then the following day electric guitar in Llangennech.  

At the time I quite enjoyed the novelty. Yes, I missed the collective banter but there were positives too. I found that working with fewer people at a time meant I was quicker and that I had time to really chat to my friends on an individual basis. Would I do it again, given the choice probably not, but sadly this time I have no options if I want them involved.

This time around there will be no home visits and chats in between songs where we talk about family and past gigs and tv shows. This time I’ll email everyone the songs and they will do their bits on their own and email it back. It will mean I end up with a new album, but it won’t be the same.

The same is true with the radio shows I’ve been presenting.  For years I’ve being ‘flying solo’ from the small BBC studio in Swansea but even then I’d bump into other colleagues in the main BBC offices.  Occasionally I’d travel to Cardiff for meetings and also to help them remember I was still alive but since March I’ve broadcast from home. 

The Late Night Show has meant chatting to people from all over the world and we are doing our best to hold each other up but almost everyone says that coping with the second wave of the virus and the consequent lockdown is harder than the first time we did it.

When you compare what we are going through with what our grandparents went through during the war and the 1930’s depression then of course we are in a much better position.  The trouble is we didn’t go through those things, this is our trial, we don’t have a worse trial to compare it with.

My worries are that like those who experience solitary confinement, once this is all over, we will also have to go through a transition period where we get used to interacting again.  Its been seen that prisoners released after such confinement find it difficult to adjust to ‘normal’ life again.  They are often easily startled; they can suffer from agoraphobia. I’m reminded of the story of lions in a zoo or circus.  It was said that lions held for long periods of time in a small cage would walk around in small circles just inside the cage boundaries.  Even when the cage itself had been removed the lions would still confine themselves to a small space, unable to leave the mental cage them imposed on themselves.

When we get through this will we find ourselves mentally confined in cages even when the barriers have been removed?

I think what I’m trying to say here is that it’s ok to struggle with this.  It’s ok to feel down and wonder how you are going to cope.  This is not the way we are ‘supposed’ to live so it is hard.  Talking is good.  Some are lucky to have a good strong bubble to rely on but even that bubble has its limits.  You might love those in your bubble to pieces but being with them 24/7 isn’t the way we were built to live either.

I must admit when I spoke to one friend this week and he told me he couldn’t motivate himself to write any new music it really helped me to put my own lack of motivation into perspective. Whilst we can’t step outside our bubble why not try reaching out to old friends or colleagues, checking in with them and asking how they are doing at the moment.

We will come out of this but let’s try to help each other as best we can.  Come to think of it I might search the house for some treats for tonight just in case the kids turn up.  If they don’t, well, the Hermes delivery man might well get a snack size Mars bar thrown towards him as a thank you on his next delivery.


2 thoughts on “Trick or Treat?”

  1. I think Mal you have summed up perfectly what we are all going through. We know it is necessary, but we don’t have to like it. Living on my own, I absolutely hate it. I’m fortunate to have family and friends, but phone calls just aren’t the same. There doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel, and it does affect us mentally. On a brighter note, I listen to your late night show, and you and the callers never fail to put a smile on my face. We’re all in it together and we have to pick each other up when we have those low moments.

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