The staff are back and all is well, as they used to say long ago in faraway places. The gardener and the cleaner are Portuguese, and they greet me, with their inherent dignity, from afar. The Filipina maid and cook almost gets me in a headlock trying to thank me for keeping her on salary while she rested at home. I shoo her away. Who does she take me for, a lowlife cheapskate like Philip Green? I didn’t hesitate to send them all home.
The most visible local landmark is a solitary two-headed Jurassic mountain called Le Bessillon, six miles long and 800 metres tall at the highest peak. These are unimpressive vital statistics for a mountain perhaps, but the Bessillon exerts a tremendous, almost uncanny presence on us all. The foreign correspondent and his wife have bought an 800-tree olive farm on a nearby hillside. From their outside dining table this great primeval slab and its forested sides can be seen in profile, like a finely drawn illustration in a Victorian encyclopedia.
When people ask me what I did during lockdown, I would like to give an inspiring answer, apart from growing vegetables.
I thought I would write The Real Life Guide to Keeping a Horse, with all the stuff other books won’t tell you.
Chapter One, ‘You Will Need’, will give the most realistic list ever published of the items you should assemble before bringing home your new equine friend.
Number one item: gaffer tape. I know you’re thinking the farrier comes every six weeks.
I admit it freely: I’m a lockdown lush. There, I’ve said it. I simply can’t help but be undone by the siren call of the corkscrew which — during these dark times — comes earlier each day.
And, judging by the titanic quantities of vino I see knocked back during my early evening Zoom calls with fellow sots, I’m not alone. Indeed, it’s clearly impossible for folk to hear the word ‘Zoom’ without reaching automatically for well-chilled Fino or Sauvignon Blanc.
It has become a commonplace among social psychologists that one of the characteristics that unites conservatives is our sensitivity to disgust. A succession of experiments carried out over the past ten years seems to show that a person’s political views are linked to how disgusting they find the idea of, say, touching a toilet seat in a public lavatory. The more repulsed you are, the more likely you are to hold conservative positions on issues like gay marriage, immigration and abortion.
Q. My goddaughter was getting married in July but due to Covid-19 this has been postponed. I had already chosen the couple four cashmere blankets from their wedding present list. Now I hear the first date they can re-book the venue is September 2021. Is it reasonable of me not to want to have to wait until then to be thanked? (I understand most couples nowadays thank for presents with a photograph from the actual wedding day.
What does a critic do when her genre collapses? Mostly I panic. I speak to restaurateurs who believe that without government help into 2022, many British restaurants will close.
Most restaurants rent their premises; even if landlords defer collection, the debt will be unpayable. Most restaurants operate on slender margins; they cannot secure finance even in happy times. It is a scandal that the government has excluded monies from the service charge ‘tronc fund’ from the 80 per cent calculations in the Job Retention Scheme, even though it has received National Insurance contributions on it for years, and many restaurant staff are getting only 40 per cent of their earnings.
I Hoovered on Saturday (or vacuumed as they say in newspapers eager to avoid using a trademark) while my husband was out ‘exercising’. I don’t know whether he attracts dust, like a piece of amber, or produces it, as if by spontaneous combustion in slow motion.
Anyway, when he settled in his chair again, he ran his finger rather annoyingly over the table next to him and said encouragingly: ‘Spick and span.’
It’s a curious expression, since neither part seems to have any meaning on its own.
For all the abuse heaped on the Behavioural Insights Team early in the crisis, let’s not forget that the only three immediate solutions proposed by the combined ranks of the scientific establishment were, um, behavioural. People were encouraged to wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds, to stay home where possible and to keep two metres away from those outside their household.
And we adopted this advice in our millions, long before any mandate had been issued.