'Don’t stand, don’t stand so, don’t stand so close to me’ The Police
When Sting wrote that song, way back in 1980, he surely didn’t intend it as an advance warning of life as we know it today. Actually, as revealed in an interview he gave in 1981, as a former teacher his reasons were very different. Here’s part of that interview:
‘I wanted to write a song about sexuality in the classroom. I’d done teaching practice at secondary schools and been through the business of having 15-year-old girls fancying me – and me really fancying them! How I kept my hands off them I don’t know… Then there was my love for Lolita which I think is a brilliant novel. But I was looking for the key for eighteen months and suddenly there it was. That opened the gates and out it came: the teacher, the open page, the virgin, the rape in the car, getting the sack, Nabakov, all that.’
Hmm! Different times, different viewpoints, different impressions of ‘acceptability’ eh?
How about Noli me Tangere then as an applicable message for the pandemic?
A Latin motto that translates as Touch me not - is the title of a novel written by José Rizal, one of the national heroes of the Philippines, during the somewhat unwelcome colonisation of the country by Spain to describe perceived inequities between Spanish Catholic priests and the ruling government.
The expression didn’t originate with José Rizal as I discovered recently when re-reading one of my fall back authors, Pliny the Elder who referenced herds of deer belonging solely to Caesar for hunting purposes which bore a tag on their collars stating, ‘Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am.’
A derivation of the original phrase, in this case ‘Don’t tread on me,’ is the motto of the US Army's oldest infantry regiment, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), located at Fort Myer, Virginia and also Number 103 (Bomber) Squadron of the Royal Air Force.
Touch me not should be inscribed on all our collars just now. Not needed on mine as I have no intention of going anywhere until the All Clear is sounded.
The dire warnings I get from the NHS continue to arrive regularly and a very pleasant young woman has taken to ringing me up every week to ‘see if I am managing.’ She always sounds a little startled when I answer the phone as if she expected an unanswered ringing tone to forlornly continue until she moved on to the next poor unfortunate on her list.
I always reassure her of my continued if tenuous grasp on life, but in view of her continued air of astonishment that her call has been answered I do rather worry what aspects of my medical records she’s regarding in such a pessimistic manner.
It may be totally unrelated, but I’ve recently been targeted by adverts for affordable funerals. By ‘affordable’, do they mean ‘cheap?’ if so, why not say so?
Even more importantly, why are they focusing on me? What do these funeral firms know that I don’t? Life is one worry after another lately.
I’m still ticking along nicely, thanks for asking.
I still do my daily walks, albeit they’re not what most people would call ‘walking’ restricted as I am to a mere 25 paces along my entrance path. A house on one side, a high hedge on the other I walk, turn, walk again up and down this slim corridor of what we mockingly call ‘outside.’
Recent warm weather means I can wear shorts again, the effect marred somewhat by an ancient, utterly repulsive but effective knee bandage holding together yet another defective body part.
Marigold suggests, often, it’s just as well my walks are hidden from public view.
When we left England for distant shores many years ago – not all that distant actually, the Loire Valley being not exactly Outer Mongolia – we had our first taste of solitude. We knew nobody at all in France, didn’t speak the language, there was no telephone and of course this pre dated mobile phones and the Internet by many years.
It didn’t bother us much. We coped. We had enough to fill our days after taking on the renovation of a much neglected and vast French farmhouse without funds to pay tradesmen and only rudimentary building skills.
In the first six months or so we were too exhausted at the end of the day to even think about a world outside our gates. Our nearest neighbour, about a mile away, was everything we’d imagined a French peasant farmer to be. Hard working, just getting by, no ‘plan’ for the future.
We had a number of chats about farming when my French language skills finally got up to speed. For Bernard, living one day at a time was the norm. All he had ever known. Plowing, sowing, harvesting, that’s it. In a rare lucid moment after several glasses of his lethal home brewed and completely illegal eau de vie, 90% proof, he once confided that if he ever stopped to think beyond the set routine of planting and harvesting he would become so depressed he would not be able to function.
‘This has been my life. It is my life. It will be my life until I die.’ It was a bleak moment. I compared my availability of choice to those of this son of the soil and realised how lucky I was.
Even now, still in lockdown with a modern day version of the Plague unleashed on the world we have so much to be grateful for. This may be ‘our’ pandemic, but terrifying diseases are hardly new.
Here’s what Samuel Pepys had to say about ‘his’ plague:
“The taverns are fair full of gadabouts making merry this eve. Though I may press my face against the window like an urchin at a confectioner’s, I am tempted not by the sweetmeats within. A dram in exchange for the pox is an ill bargain indeed."
Samuel Pepys may or may not have written this in his celebrated diary as there are suggestions it was tagged on a few years later. I certainly can’t find it in my copy, but in style and attitude it’s a fair representation of the great diarist’s views.
Maybe it has been mischievously tagged on or maybe some long dead scholar just adding in a section of his writing discovered elsewhere, it was so long ago it would be easier to confirm the authorship of all Shakespeare’s plays.
However, Pepys did certainly write this next passage in his journal and it caught my eye when reading a section of Pepys’ Diary late one evening.
Yes, I know that may make me sound weird, but I have very broad tastes in literature and Samual Pepys is not even listed in the top fifty unlikely authors I continue to read and re-read
‘On hearing ill rumour that Londoners may soon be urged into their lodgings by Her Majesty’s men, I looked upon the street to see a gaggle of striplings making fair merry, and no doubt spreading the plague well about. Not a care had these rogues for the health of their elders!’
Oh Samuel, you could easily get a job as a roving tv reporter nowadays. Just dig out some of your old scribblings and stick them on autocue.
Lockdown, isolation, it has advantages. In times of peril it’s not a bad idea to establish priorities. A time to connect, or reconnect, with people we like and an ideal opportunity to let the ones we’ve never been all that keen on drift away.
I have hidden Marigold’s latest toy, the hair clippers. Even though the few remaining areas of what I used to call ‘hair’ have been surgically removed by this wild eyed woman wielding clippers she’s still got the idea my eyebrows are too bushy and could do with a ‘trim’.
Me, on the morning after Marigold scalped me. ‘Why have you put a picture of an old man in the bathroom?’
Marigold, ‘I haven’t, that’s a mirror.’
I’m not hugely impressed by the new ‘hairstyle’ and no amount of talk about the money we’ve saved on barbers will change that.
Marigold said, ‘women find bald men sexy,’ then looked at me, rather unkindly I thought, and added, ‘not all women and not all bald men though.’
Glancing into the communal bin the other day – old habits die hard – I noticed half a dozen bread crusts. We’ve gone back to the 1950s at our house, nothing is wasted. What’s wrong with crusts? A bread crust is still bread, just slightly firmer. I eat everything, crusts and all. No, it doesn’t always taste as good, but it’s still food. Even Marigold has a strange aversion to eating some crusts. I told her yesterday she could at least make an effort. After all she really liked the middle part of that water melon…