Be honest: when you first heard about self isolation, did you think, just for a second: 'that sounds good'? Many of us made the same mordant jokes about how we’d watch TV, catch up on reading books, generally enjoy some quiet and peace away from the constant noise of normal life.
I certainly made those jokes, usually about reading. I always wish I could read more, but the constant churn of working, writing, life, everything just seems to absorb my mental bandwidth to the point where there are some days when I manage three pages before falling asleep. I’ve been stuck in the foothills of Dan Jackson’s wonderful The Northumbrians since it arrived as a birthday present in February.
So I was one of those people who made those jokes.
And now the joke is on me, because I’ve got coronavirus. Or at least, I have all the symptoms of it; I haven’t bothered the NHS to check, since the service has much greater priorities than me.
Instead I’ve gone into self-isolation, confined to the spare room until next week.
The illness itself isn’t much fun. It is, as others have said, like bad flu. I have felt worse than this, but not often: getting salmonella in Sierra Leone was worse.
For me, coronavirus means sleeping a lot (but not sleeping well), coughing that makes it hard to talk, lots of muscle pain, and a sore head. And that’s where it gets hard. I can’t read. Not literally: I can process text. But when I try to settle to immerse myself in a book, my head pounds, my eyes ache, the page swims and I have to stop after a few minutes.
In better moments I find I can manage some work emails, a bit of writing, and a lot of dreadful television: since my retreat from the world I’ve watched a whole season of Inkmaster and I honestly couldn’t tell you why. But reading, proper reading, is beyond me.
So Jackson’s brilliant book about our beloved homeland of Northumberland remains closed by my bed — sorry Dan — and The Mirror and the Light is an Everest I can’t imagine climbing.
I am lucky. That this is the worst of my coronavirus experience is a reminder that for those of us with relative youth (ok, I’m 44), decent health and the economic security to absorb a week of inactivity, this is annoying and unpleasant but not grave. I can only hope that the same is true for as many other people as possible, and the country as a whole.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try to figure out how audiobooks work.