I’ve been curious about what I hear and read about the state of our mental health during lockdown. I’ve been in the UK now for almost nine weeks, just about the longest continuous period of time I’ve spent here in the past 15 years and of those 61 days, 35 have been spent either self-isolating or in lockdown, and there still 10 more days of current lockdown to go. Moreover, the thought of a further fortnight of quarantine once I return to Tel Aviv, I find a little daunting, to say the least.
This morning, I looked out of the window as I sat at the computer and realised that I’ve been observing the seasons transmogrify from autumn at its most glorious to the beginnings of winter. This notwithstanding, I found myself last week looking at a blank wall and uttering profanities in its direction but, unsurprisingly, there was no response. I mentioned this to a friend and she said that people our age shouldn’t be talking to walls, that we should really be talking to ourselves. So I gave that a try but it didn’t really work as the acknowledgements I was receiving in return sounded too much like those of an old cynic with whom I’ve been familiar for a long time and they didn’t really do anything to improve the state of my mental wellbeing. They only convinced me that what I have always felt is, in many ways, true. The truth is that I’m not really going nuts but I sense a certain unease and frustration—with the situation in general and with politicians specifically. (You’ll notice, if you bother to read on, that this week’s post has no mention of a Bibi, a Boris, a Trump or any other politicos who more often than not enter these diatribes! Difficult to do but it happens on occasion.)
So I just grit my teeth and get on with it.
About three weeks ago, I had a phone call from someone who introduced himself as representing the North Central London Diabetic Eye Screening Programme. I had never heard of such a programme before and I wondered why they decided to call me and then it dawned on me that a couple of hours prior to his call, I had a conversation with a nurse at the local NHS clinic to review the results of blood tests I had had a couple of weeks after arriving in London in which she told me that I was “pre-diabetic”, something I’d known for a few years. The young man, who had seemed more than a trifle confused, offered me an appointment at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead a couple of days later and told me that I would receive a text message confirming the appointment. No such message arrived on that day so the following morning I called the Ophthalmology Department at the Royal Free and left a voice message with all my details, asking whether or not I really did have an appointment. No response was forthcoming by the morning of said appointment and a further attempt to establish contact failed and, the weather being what it was, I decided that a 40-minute round trip walking in the rain to get to a clinic where I might or might not have an appointment wasn’t worth it.
Then, last week, I received what I can only describe as a reprimand, a letter which began “We made an appointment for you to have your diabetic eye screening examination … and our records suggest that you did not attend.” How British! Their records didn’t suggest; they screamed out loud. I don’t like being rebuked when I don’t think that I’m the one at fault, so I emailed them back informing them why I didn’t turn up and I called the following morning and relayed the same message verbally. I was given a new appointment (which I did attend, last week) and was told again that I would receive a text message for confirmation. When, after half an hour no such message had arrived, I called again to ask them to which number the text message had been sent and was told that it had been sent to the number from which I was calling but that they would send it again just in case. I am now awaiting three text messages. Perhaps they got held up in lockdown. But to my surprise, I did receive another email in answer to my rather tart rejoinder to the “letter of rebuke” apologising for the mix-up! So some things work.
At any rate, I went to the NHS clinic in Kentish Town and had the eye scan. I don’t particularly like eye scans especially when a rather bright light is aimed straight at my eye so I wasn’t looking forward to it. However, on this occasion, there was no bright light at which I had to stare. Rather there was one flash of the brightest yellow light I’ve ever experienced which blinded me (once in each eye) for perhaps a second or two after which the technician, looking at her computer screen, told me that there didn’t seem to be any serious problem with my eyes, which was good to hear.
After that, I decided to walk from Kentish Town to Belsize Park along Prince of Wales Road, a street I’d often driven along but never walked, I passed the Church of Christ just before the junction of Castlehaven Road, and given my state of mind re lockdowns and quarantines, my eyes were attracted to the sign that appears below …
… and there, on the adjoining poster, was spelled out the five-stage strategy for attaining salvation.
I studied these carefully and came to the conclusion that as I age, I seem to be increasingly hard of hearing so Stage 1 might prove difficult. I also found that Stage 2 might be awkward because again, as I age, I appear to believe less and less of less of what I read. With regard to Stage 3, were I to be provided with an organised list, I might be able to tick off what might apply but as that’s unlikely to happen, so that went by the board as well. Re Stage 4, the only thing to which I might confess is that I have a tendency towards cynicism. Finally, I’m not quite sure how the creators of this message envisage this re-enactment taking place and anyway, I have a fear of water.
So having digested the message and come to the conclusion that this kind of salvation wasn’t really for me, I continued my walk along Prince of Wales Road and came across a rather handsome terraced block of flats.
Lockdown, however, doesn’t mean that I’m indoors 24/7. The week before last, a walk along The Regents Canal with some friends yielded some satisfying photos.
One never quite knows what one is likely to see en route. No sooner had we arrived than I saw an amateur acrobat strutting his stuff. He was quite impressive if only because his body shape was not what one usually associates with acrobatics. The first photo of the three is nothing much to write home about (not that I can manage myself) but my youngest grandchild does it each day as a matter of course.
His second movement was quite impressive and he held that position for several seconds.
However, it was the third exercise that had me stop and stare because he held that position for at least half a minute and, as I said, his overall body shape didn’t seem to tally with what he had managed to accomplish.
And the pictures didn’t stop with just acrobatics but also contained some landscape photography!
Prior to the walk along the canal, we’d been to Newington Green to visit a public sculpture,the work of a British artist, Maggi Hambling, commemorating Mary Wollstonecraft, a 19th century feminist writer and advocate and the mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. The sculpture, the culmination of a decade-long campaign, was unveiled on November 10 2020 and attracted a lot of media attention. It is is sited opposite the Newington Green Unitarian Church that Wollstonecraft attended. The work is a representation of a naked female figure, emerging out of organic matter and was described by the BBC as “a swirling mingle of female forms”. Inscribed on the plinth is the quotation: “I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves”. The sculpture has been criticised for its depiction of nudity and objectification of the female form, something that several people considered inappropriate for representing a feminist figure but the artist noted that the figure in the work was not intended as a historical likeness of Wollstonecraft, saying that she felt that clothes would have restricted her as statues in historic costume seem as if they belong to history because of their clothes and it was crucial that she be considered relevant ‘now’.
Frankly, I don’t know what all the hoo-hah was about. The naked lady is tiny and you have to have pretty good eyesight to view it. I couldn’t see what there was to be offended about but then I couldn’t really appreciate it as a great piece of art. Everyone to their own, it seems.
Walking back towards the car, I encountered something that looked as if it was an interesting happening. The shop was shuttered and it seemed as if the gentleman wanted to get in but he hadn’t received permission. I’m not sure what language he was speaking—perhaps Turkish—but there was a constant stream of words being injected into the letterbox, apparently with nil response from whomsoever was inside or whomsoever he thought might be inside.
And then, of course, there’s always Primrose Hill to offer its weekly complement of images!
Finally, Sunday afternoon brought 2½ hours of walking with the London grandchildren and their parents on Hampstead Heath. They, being who they are, tend to shun the main footpaths on the understanding that nothing could be more interesting and fun than strolling, slipping and sliding along little-used byways? The operative words to describe this activity are “mud” and “fallen leaves” which were in superabundance.
The activity started a little later than planned due to a misunderstanding regarding the meeting place and it seems that I misread the map of where we were supposed to meet up. After all, I’m (or I was) a geographer! Fortunately, as I waited to be located, the weather was mild and the skies were more or less clear.
However, one of the positive outcomes of this foray into ooze and sludge is that I was able to teach the other the chorus of The Hippopotamus Song, the Flanders and Swann hit from six decades ago.