In Competition No. 3147 you were invited to submit tips on social isolation in the style of a well-known writer. It was a terrific entry, in which famously retiring souls such Emily Dickinson loomed uncharacteristically large. I loved Nicholas Stone’s twist on Louis Macneice’s ‘Bagpipe Music’ (‘It’s no go the bog roll, it’s no go the office,/ All we want is a conference call and a bag of Werther’s toffees…’) and J.G. Ballard’s suggestion, via Adrian Fry: ‘Exercise in liminal spaces: abandoned office complexes, rewilding traffic islands, Shepperton’. Commendations, too, to Hamish Wilson’s Philip Larkin (‘Man hands on unwashed misery to man,/ Keep people distant. Stay in while you can.’), Phillip Sheahan, Liz Aram and Amar Singh Bhandal. The winners take £25.
“If you can wash your hands ten times an hourWithout becoming overly obsessed;If you can hold back tears when there’s no flourNor make an online search your daily quest;If you can keep at least two metres’ distanceFrom everyone (that’s those you love as well)And not despair at your confined existenceBut strive to make a Heaven from this Hell.If you can work from home without succumbingTo living in pyjamas, munching TwixIf daily updates have become brain-numbingAnd you can’t swallow yet more politics;If you can live within each indoor minute,Not lust for travel plans you can’t contrive,But cherish each small hope and how to spin itThen you might — but, no promises! — survive.D.A. Prince/Rudyard Kipling
“Go wander lonely far from crowdsBut not as far as vale and hills;Go meditate on sky and clouds;Gaze on your neighbour’s daffodils.Down empty byways take your stroll;Think safety first where e’er you roamAnd when fresh air has filled your soulGo back content to muse at home.Earth may for you not look so fairWhen happy friends are far awayAnd deadly germs are in the airBut safe at home it’s wise to stay.And when upon your couch you lieAnd feel that life is full of pain,Look for a rainbow in the skyA sign the sun will shine again.Frank McDonald/Wordsworth
“Go placidly amid the joggers coughing and wheezing and the brats chalking rainbows and hopscotching all over the street. As far as possible, while crossing the road, looking the other way, holding your breath, be on good terms with all persons. Listen to others, even the Business Secretary: they too have their story. Avoid Good Morning Britain hosts: they are vexatious to the spirit. Enjoy your achievements, however humble: a Tesco delivery slot, a Netflix subscription — these are real possessions in the changing fortunes of time. Do not distress yourself with dark imaginings: Strictly will be back. You are a child of the universe. No less than Robert Peston, you have a right to be here. Be at peace with your neighbours, however noisy their bloody sound system. With all its scams, drudgery and joggers (did I mention joggers?) it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Watch Bargain Hunt.David Silverman/Max Ehrmann
“When you’re lying awake, is it umbrage you takeAt the thought of this terrible virus?Do you find it most grating, this self-isolatingAs Hancock and Whitty require us?Staying six feet apart from the love of your heart,And being of germs very conscious,Obeying the laws, are you washing your pawsMore than Pilate whose forename was Pontius?Are there grim thoughts a-brewing as you’re Asda-queueingAt double the length of a trolley?Do you ask my advice how in times so un-niceNot to give in to dark melancholy?I say just sit it out, repressing all doubtThat the thing will end, sooner or later.Meanwhile, do have handy a bottle of brandy,And the crossword from this week’s Spectator.George Simmers/W.S. Gilbert
“Quarantine is a rum business, but this is no time to lose your grip. Mens sana in corpore sano, so for splendid exercise, hang up a heavy cushion, visualise some unholy blackguard and punch the living daylights out of him. Alternatively, use your dressing-gown cord as a skipping-rope while briskly singing a sea-shanty. You can easily mock up a rowing boat with a chair, broom-handle, and elasticated braces attached to a doorknob.If nerves need steadying, reread some Henty or perhaps White Fang, or tie a few trout flies. If you happen to have a telephone, why not ‘ring up’ your pals for a bit of chaff? You could, purely for interest, ask your wife to show you how household tasks are performed.Eat sensibly, don’t get clogged up with too many vegetables, and try to make that bottle of whisky last two, or even three, days.Hugh King/John Buchan
“The Sanctity of SolitudeIs Nature’s best — Advice.When Fellowship turns fatal, thenLet Self — alone suffice.When summoned by — the wider WorldUpon some needful Task,With rubber Gauntlet guard the Touch,And breathe — behind the Mask.That Cleanliness and GodlinessAre Kin — we often read.With frequent Soap greet any SpotWhere Pestilence might — breed.Enriched — by Isolation, letOur Hygiene be — a PrayerUntil such Day as we can bidAdieu contagious Air.Chris O’Carroll/Emily Dickinson
No. 3150: herculean
You are invited to provide a sonnet describing one of Hercules’ labours. Please email entries to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 20 May. NB. We are unable to accept postal entries for the time being.