I’m finding the contrast between God’s bit of the world and man’s bit of the world essential contemplation in this time of lunacy. Fortunately, writing God’s Good Earth permanently opened my eyes to the goodness of nature in a new way, and I’ve been reminded of this by preparing to speak on the book’s subject online at the Christian Scientific Society next month. Yesterday I felt the contrast particularly keenly.
Thoroughly depressed by the day’s further government curtailment of our freedoms in the cause of the Virus Formerly Known As A Pandemic, Mrs G and I decided we would go to the pub for a jar in the evening, before they’re closed again altogether. Incidentally, the Ruling Cabal can’t even draw breath before shaking things up again. the very morning after Boris Johnson’s Winston Churchill parody one of the government SAGE scientists has already said that visits between houses will need to stop “sooner rather than later,” ie in the next fortnight or so. This despite there still being minimal admissions and deaths with no clear trend, and only a wildly implausible projection, to justify it.
Be that as it may, the whole year I’ve been yearning to take our normal summer evening trip down the Jurassic Coast to Seatown, where we can sit at a trestle table on the cliff-top at the Anchor for a pint and, maybe, a meal. It’s a privilege of the English way of life to roll up to an inn in a beautiful situation, and enjoy the fruits of the earth washed down with the nectar of John Barleycorn. The words of a possible ancient relative of mine, the poet Charles Cotton, sum up the privilege of being English as much for our time as for the seventeenth century:
And now on benches all are sat,
In the cool air to sit and chat,
Till Phoebus, dipping in the West,
Shall lead the world the way to rest.
Or at least, Cotton’s words sum up how things were until this baneful year. The staff at the Anchor have done their best to maintain a warm welcome. But instead of grabbing a table and crowding into the bar to order our Palmers Gold, we had to wait by a yellow and black tape barrier, reading a blackboard full of regulations, until a waitress could choose us a table on the terrace, reciting some spiel about how we should behave (and evidently so tired by it all she kept inserting Spoonerisms, to her embarrassment). Dutifully sanitizing our hands to protect the innocent, we followed the arrows and the waitress to the table, and chose drinks from the menu to be delivered to our table, as the bar was off-limits.
We should have recorded our presence using the track and trace app on our smart phone – except that both of us refuse to own such a device. Fortunately we were not evicted, and were merely asked to add our details on their website when we got home. Sod that for a bunch of soldiers – they’ll have to arrest us from our card details after all the other customers catch the plague from us. If they had my details, and some other customer we never even saw then had a positive COVID test, we would be under house arrest for a fortnight on penalty of £100 fine.
Anyway, we enjoyed the drink and a laugh at the stupidity of it all – praise God if you have a spouse who shares your outlook: many have nobody to offload to either at home or in their limited social bubble. And the evening light, the familiar cliffs and the dark sea waves breaking on the red shore were as beautiful as ever.
But the regimentation and the lack of spontaneity certainly detracted from a once routine, informal, joy, as does the thought that next year we may need a passport saying we’ve been injected with an inadequately-tested vaccine to protect other very elderly people, before we are permitted to leave the house at all.
But it was better than it might have been because the friendly BT engineer had managed to fix our broadband fault, after two days of effort, just before we left. A previous engineer’s visit, which remedied a nicked wire in a distant junction box, had failed to prevent the constant drop-outs. Our guy tested every line in the neighbourhood with his meters, freed cables from entangling oak-boughs, searched in vain for fallen trees, and eventually isolated the fault to the top of the pole near our house. Hooray for the conscientious working man who actually understands what he’s doing.
And the cause of the slow internet speeds and rustling noises on the phone? It turned out to be a mouse nesting in the cabinet on top of the pole, and chewing the insulation when peckish. Since the mouse had failed to pay its BT line-rental, the engineer evicted it. Such is the capitalist system. The thought of a wood-mouse challenging all the skills and technology of BT amused us, as did the enterprise of a rodent willing repeatedly to climb all that way with nesting material, all for a better view and a quiet life. Maybe I’ll treat him to a beer if things get better.