In this corona isolation-state-of-mind it’s hard to know what day it is or what’s the time. It’s 8.30pm but it feels like midnight. It’s Wednesday but it feels like Saturday, Holy Saturday, a day of no-one-ness. And it has been a spectacularly beautiful evening again. Hastings by the sea at its absolute best. The misery of a wet winter is a distant memory and you think it will never rain again.
We're allowed out once a day to exercise. With the tide far out, you can walk on the edge of quiet waters where the sounding waves drown out every other sound, within and without. Walking on sand instead of stones is pleasure for tired feet, the still wetness of it a mirror for Venus. It takes you under the pier and on as far as Warrior Square before climbing up to the promenade which is busy enough in the hour before dark, making social distancing a bit more testing. Lovely, loving ouples walk as though ballroom-dancing, a slow foxtrot weaving from side to side, filling the whole wide space so that you don’t know which side of them to pass at a safe distance.
At the old bathing pool – which is no longer a pool – darkness has already fallen. My usual distance takes me beyond the beach huts to the place where the track meet the railway fence. The Ballyloughan child in me still gets excited at the sight and sound of a train. On these evenings you can see totally empty trains passing by, stirring that old desire to be a lone passenger on a night train.
Food is the big temptation of my isolation, always thinking of something to eat. The chocolate in the fridge has begun to taunt me. All my other desires merge into this one single hunger which is normally held at bay by busy-ness, except at night, the hours of grazing.
Potatoes! There are no potatoes at home and there’s a shop around the corner on the Bexhill road. None to be seen but there’s no harm in asking, “you don’t have any potatoes, do you?” Behind the counter the tall man replies in a strong accent, “I am just preparing them now!” And he hands over a small blue bag. The pleasure it gives me! It’s like when we were in the desert. One night they brought us a big plate of plain spaghetti and we all went “wow!” in unison. Pleasure becomes simplified in simpler times.
My lazy arm did not relish the prospect of carrying potatoes all the way home for more than two miles. The hood of my jacket offered the perfect backpack for the little bundle and this discovery brought an immense sense of pleasure.
Isolation is not a great problem since mine is a solitary life by and large but it causes me to pause – the fact that no-one will enter my home for the next three weeks or even more. There’s lots of contact via whatsapp video, phone calls and emails. All of them looking out for my welfare. The phone as a means of communication is not my favourite thing, though it's easier when we do video calls.
Three children from the parish have reached out in the past couple of days. Two four-year old girls from different families sent messages saying how much the miss and love me. The third is a ten-year-old boy who artistically wrote a line from what looks like Psalm 16, the Psalm of my life as a priest. He wrote, “I will choose to find joy in the journey that God has set before me!” A prophetic reminder of an essential element in this priestly life that has been given me. It is gift. All is gift.