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These Strange, Bewildering Days …

Can it only be just over a week ago that I sat in a café and considered it a completely normal, pleasant, yet not entirely riveting event worthy of comment and celebration? Now, I find myself staring through the glass of such deserted places with nostalgia – like looking at a time hooked to one’s distant past. And the closed doors of shops where I once browsed without thinking now appear like lands the rabbit led Alice – other worlds full of surprises and unknown adventure. And who would have thought that a visit to a supermarket, with its carefully timed and controlled entrance procedure, would become the highlight of the day? A chance to look at other walls other than one’s own, for a start, let alone the intoxication of excitement on seeing boxes of Paracetemol back on the shelves  and aisles swimming in mega packs of loo paper. (what WAS that all about?)As a close friend says, No need to read dystopian novels, now – we’re living in one.

This past week (only a week – surely not!) has done one thing for people’s vocabulary, anyway. And we should act upon it – all of us, that is, who don’t happen to work for the NHS or are not key workers – they absolutely do not have the luxury of doing  what I am suggesting.

But for the rest of us, there are 2 words that no long have a place in our daily lives and should be removed. Namely:  must and ought.

As in, I really must rush out now or I’ll be late for ……or I ought to push myself to go to that class even though I’d rather stay in. And how about I really ought to skin the tomatoes/make the pastry from scratch/ use up the vegetables in a soup/make that birthday cake – but there simply isn’t time. 

And there are those other self-inflicted compulsions from ‘normal life’ that suddenly play no part in our new contained universe. As in:

We really must see that film – it’s had great reviews and everyone’s talking about it.  And We promised to support them in their performance/concert/football match so we really must go. Can’t let them down. We must invite them for a meal. We must go to that play/exhibition/farmers’ market/charity fair.

Obligations now play very little part in our current lives. When you think about it, it’s liberating.

Life, after all, and therefore our vocabularies,  has an awful lot of oughts and musts in it. Such a pity when there are so many better words to source, other attitudes to strike.

Of course if you have school age children there is the required obligation to get them online to complete work that schools are so assiduously sending. People are working from home. There are still deadlines to meet. There are worries to contend with for many – the danger of falling ill plus the anxiety of not being able to earn money undoubtedly at the heart of it.

It’s just that, if you are looking for silver linings – and why not – it’s so easy to find the other variety right now, veritable black -out curtain linings thwarting any light or colour – I think dispensing ought and must from our daily vocabularies is a gain.

It’s hard to lose the habit, of course.

And a lifetime of routine, of filling each day with more than the number of hours seems to suggest is possible, is hard to shift.

We are not on holiday when indolence and self-indulgence rule. And probably only a small band of the population – namely most male teenagers between the ages of 13 and a half and 17 – easily abandon themselves to lethargy and the merits of a screen for 12 hours or more.

So there is still the tendency to wake up in the morning and think I really must clean that kitchen floor. Ought to tidy the under stairs cupboard. Must clean out the crumbs from the bottom of the toaster. Ought to dust/must polish/ought to weed/must descale. If only there were …

Time.  Well, now there is time. For a lot of us. So no need to place a sense of compulsion before the action.

There’s time for more pilates/yoga/learning that language/reading that book/cooking that casserole/making madeleines/face timing friends/practising piano …

There’s absolutely no excuse at all not to get it all done and without the need for lexical pressure.

Yet the thing is.

Still the days seem full. Still it’s possible to reach 10 o’clock at night and find most of the day’s positive plans incomplete.

But that’s all right. Because there will be another go at it all tomorrow. Tomorrow is another blank day waiting to be filled. And next week and the next …but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves for sanity’s sake.

Let’s simply focus on the idea that the English language is rich enough in words for us to be able to dispatch those sneaky, unpleasant monosyllabic pair and embrace, instead,  the positive ones.



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