The pandemic has revealed just how many people live alone; we hear and read about well known stars and artists happily living by themselves, presumably as a lifestyle choice. Plenty of ordinary people live alone, perhaps always have done as adults, or since a parent or partner died or after divorce. Many of these are happy living by themselves, self contained. Those elderly people already restricted to home before Covid hit, are not necessarily lonely. A lady in her nineties on our library round told us she was never lonely, as long as she had the twenty books we brought her every three weeks. Of course there are many people who are lonely, young people from broken homes in tiny bedsits, old people who have no family left in the world.
None of these ‘single households’ reckoned on having a pandemic and being prisoners in their homes. Single retired people leading busy independent lives suddenly found themselves described as vulnerable. The people for whom lockdowns and the lack of access to normal activities are so hard are single parents in tiny flats, carers left to cope with disabled children or parents and partners with dementia. Their support network was suddenly pulled out from beneath them.
Being alone is not the same as being lonely. In days gone by lone people might manage a farm by themselves with the nearest humans miles away; being alone really meant that, no radio, television or internet. I can’t imagine what that would be like, but perhaps the company of their dog, farm animals and nature all around was enough. It’s a cliché, but you can be just as lonely in a big city; most of us have probably found ourselves in a new town, at a new job, knowing no one.
When we first moved here sixteen years ago Cyberspouse had a few more weeks working out his notice at Heathrow. When he left for work early on Monday morning with the kitchen flooded ( that’s another story ) I suddenly realised I had gone from a home with five people and a job at Heathrow with thousands of people – I wasn’t actually working with thousands, just moving among thousands each day – to a strange house in a place I knew no one. I wondered if I only existed in relation to other people.
I had time to get used to the idea of joining that large club, widows ( what a medical scandal it is that women are still outliving men ) and the even larger club of women living alone. After the flurry of activity and family visits we are in our second lockdown in England, so now I am officially on my own. Cyberspouse was totally dependable, unflappable and fun, so being on my own was not what I would have chosen, but if others manage to cope so will I. During 2019 we had plenty of time for trips and fun and getting everything in order. In 2020 I learnt to be a carer and the only responsible adult in the house, no more yelling for help when the computer didn’t work. I am cheating slightly, having had family to help out with the official stuff and Cyberson Two, who after doing nothing at school, is now a builder we all depend on, who can turn his hand to anything. The downside is that none of the family live nearby, but it must be hard to truly be on your own.
What else helps? Covid Comforts are what we all need and anyone who has a home and food enough to eat must be grateful. We glimpse on our television screens into the homes of news commentators or our favourite entertainers; they enjoy having the chance to chat and presumably they are coping fine with lockdown. Invisible are those folk in poverty or grieving having lost family to Covid. It may seem to me that everyone is walking around alive while Cyberspouse is not, but 53,000 is our death toll from Covid in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile in my cosy lockdown retreat I live in a nice little road with good neighbours and a garden to keep me busy. We are allowed to go to the shops for essentials and at the local shops I buy fresh flowers regularly, my lockdown treat to brighten the dark days of winter. We can go out for exercise and use our beach huts; I can sit and chat at the beach hut with the one friend we’re allowed to meet outside. We can go out for medical reasons, so I was quite excited to go on the bus to the hospital for a blood test!
Indoors the lifesaver is BBC Radio, it never goes off; if I can’t sleep I can listen to the World Service. During the day there is news aplenty ( too much ), but also intelligent chat, dramas, serials and music. I have a CD player so I am never without music on tap. Television may have plenty of rubbish, but also interesting or cheerful programmes to watch with dinner on my lap. Writing is absorbing, creative and vital. Photography and crafts are other creatives to focus on.
Connecting with the outside world? The good old fashioned telephone is the easiest way to chat to people, but how many of us would want to do without the internet during Covid? We can blog, Facetime, share political and lockdown jokes on Facebook, go on zoom; my only experience with zoom is the weekly quiz my daughters’ friends do, but it’s good to have something fun to focus on.
What will happen next in the world, in our own countries; will Christmas be cancelled, will those of us in the northern hemisphere cope with winter… look out for Home Alone Two.