Not Stir Crazy Yet


It’s been a weird week for me, because far from seeing nobody I’ve seen more people than ever thanks to doctors, tests and hospital visits in the middle of a national shutdown. Suffice it to say, bad timing of the very worst order, but I shall deal with it. We shall speak of this no more because a. boring and b. happens to millions, so move on.

In between shouting at our spouses, kids and grandparents while doing all the laundry and cleaning in between races to empty stores, how will we stay sane at home for weeks or months or even a year and find useful occupations?

Homeworkers always complain that work spills over into private time; you end up powering through weekends and late into nights. Now the reverse seems true; I don’t feel like going anywhere near my desk. It’s not as if it will earn me a monthly wage. I struggle to watch TV; my attention seems to drift away no matter how interesting a series is. Passive viewing is for me enjoyable in a cinema but not at home. It’s a psychological issue I need to deal with. What to do instead?

I’ve downloaded lots of apps; the National Gallery HD App allows you to peruse their painting collection, conveniently arranged by centuries, without crowds. Plus, you can expand them to examine all the fine detail.

I’m using several home training, yoga and stretching apps, which only work if you have a little bit of space, patience and something upon which you can prop your phone upright. Self-hypnosis videos are surprisingly good for de-stressing and relaxation, too.

I still watch movies at home, so  the weirder subscription apps are good for a free month’s trial, and I go down the ends of the streaming EPGs for overlooked world cinema like ‘Burning’, ‘The World Is Yours’, ‘Snowpiercer’, ‘So Long, My Son’, ‘The Laws of Thermodynamics’, ‘The Bar’, ‘The Candidate‘ and many others.

We’ve set up several WhatsApp groups with people in other countries to hear what life under lockdown is like where they are, and we’ve connected with (nearly) all our neighbours. We’ve left out the grumpy one nobody likes.

I feel like taking up a pointless, ridiculous hobby like building marble roller coasters (I’m being instructed by friends on Twitter, where you can find me @peculiar). I’m re-thematising my bookcases (something I do even when I’m busy), finally sorting out our insanely messy music library, Marie Kondo-ising the wardrobes, trying to revive the forgotten art of paper sculpture, digitising those shoeboxes full of photos we still own.

London is picturesque at the moment, snowstorms of pink and white cherry blossom everywhere, clear skies, deserted public spaces, room to take the best selfies ever. There are plenty of people out walking, keeping sensible precautions. At times like this we do sensible well.

Paradoxically, social media has suddenly become unappealing. Too much panic, too much fake news, too many ridiculous ideas being spread about the virus (someone in Toronto (pop: 2.8m) sent me a hysterical warning about irresponsible London (pop: 9m) packing out tube trains, enclosing an old pre-shutdown photo as proof).

So I revert to reading, the one occupation that always rewards and never lets you down. Some of my research will find its way into writing, but this time I’ll tackle it on my schedule, nobody else’s. We’re in it for the long term.

I’ll continue to publish as wide a range of stories as possible from early pulp to later, gentler pieces, probably two a week. There will be a few unavoidable gaps in the usual schedule, for which I ask your forgiveness. Comments will be here for all your own self-iso stories, so onward!

26 comments on “Not Stir Crazy Yet”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    Stay safe, old bean

  2. Lyn Jackson says:

    Hi Chris, hope you are recovering from your hospital stay.
    I have only recently discovered your books. I am reading Bryant and May in order ,am up to The Bleeding Heart.
    I live in Perth Australia an would love to join your WhatsApp group.
    Everything is closing down here and we have started WhatsApp groups.

    You have given us enough ideas to last awhile! Most of us are painters so it is a way to show each other what we are up to.

  3. Davem says:

    What did you think of Snowpiercer? I really enjoyed it.

  4. SimonB says:

    Home working was mandated for me on Tuesday so I’ve been spending this weekend doing a proper tidy in my office space. Will be heading up into the loft with a load of non-essential junk after lunch. Funny how much clutter I can work around one day a week but I need a bit of space for a long stretch.

    My plan to stave off the boredom is LEGO. Time to build up my set backlog and then try to get more creative when working on my own creations.

  5. Roger says:

    “We’ve left out the grumpy one nobody likes.”
    Is there a Diogenes App for people who don’t want to communicate but want everyone to know it?

    I am in two minds: do I write my autobiography or a Great Novel?
    Snowpiercer was great – if preposterous – fun, Davem. I’m very fond of steampunk. In fact, I’d have invented it if someone hadn’t pre-emptively plagiarised me.

  6. Roger says:

    And I forgot – hope all went well and no more hospital visits needed.

  7. Jan says:

    Hiya Chris My hotmail has packed up so cannot e mail you (“thank f®^k for that” thinks Fowler no more very early medieval history from her for a fortnight……

    Just to spite you I will write!! See I used to write you many many moons ago remember?
    I’ve not forgot how to…

    Be lucky my little buddy.

  8. Brian Evans says:

    I will be doing what I usually do, as for the last couple of years I have become more reclusive in recent winters: building up my own database on British films, cinemas/theatres and plays. Plus working on my two model railways of different gauges.

    A couple of days ago my partner and I had our first row of the shutdown. Ahem.

  9. Brian Evans says:

    I will not find much change from the winter months as in recent years I have become more reclusive at that time of year. I’ll be continuing my ongoing work of building up my database of British films, cinema/theatres and plays. Plus working on my two model railways of different gauges.

    My partner will be getting under my feet however, as most nights and weekends he is out playing Bridge. Though they are now doing it on line. We had our first row of the of the close-down a couple of nights ago. Ahem.

  10. Brian Evans says:

    Sorry about the duplication. I thought the first message didn’t get on. At least they are reasonably consistent!

  11. Brian Evans says:

    I didn’t mean to duplicate. I thought 1st message didn’t go up.

  12. Brian Evans says:

    Is it me going stir crazy already? Or is the website a bit dodgy at the moment?

  13. admin says:

    I’ve run a check and everything seems fine on the site.

  14. Roger says:

    You could start making a Snowpiercer model railway, Brian Evans!

  15. Porl says:

    I’m struggling to either read or watch without glancing at the phone for the latest horror story…

    On a whim I’ve bought an xbox because it needs both hands and your undivided attention so there’s no opportunity for a sneaky moan or share on social media…

    But there’s still a massive “to read” pile that’s taller than my 6ft, and a very underused Netflix and BFI subscription.

    Anyone with tips for maintaining attention-span and detoxing from social media, I’d love to hear from you….

  16. We had a plan to go out more, booked the theatre, several talks at the Oxford Literary Festival, some old car events, conferences in Vienna and Norway. Then darkness fell. All cancelled, the University is shut, Blackwell’s are temporarily closing their physical bookshops. So it’s back to my normal life … but somehow without much motivation. I still need a week to get into gear.

  17. Helen Martin says:

    I can pretty much go on as I used to, although I had to teach a calligraphy class by e-mail and the “college” is now completely shut. Quilting is now unsupported at home and Myrtle will have to wait until this is all over for the pattern for knitted boot tops I left for her. I was supposed to be meeting this morning over zoom but I must have got the instructions wrong because I couldn’t make it work.
    I can start gardening and even talk to neighbours as long as they stay on the pavement and I stay in the garden.
    Too bad my husband can’t talk to you about the model trains, Brian Evans. What gauges do you model?
    Ironically, our BookCrossing group was scheduled to see a film about New York book shops on the 30th. I’m just glad I have a stack of books here as well as all sorts of jobs I probably won’t get around to.
    CBC radio is doing an ideal job of providing factual coverage and informed comment within a totally altered scheduled. Many of them are broadcasting from home although not from their bathtubs as Stephen Colbert is reported to have done.

  18. Ian Mason says:

    You’re getting a touch of the “Maggies” there Helen. I give it two weeks more cabin fever and you’ll have reached the point where we drop in here and find a chapter a day of Helen’s “Finnegans Wake”. 🙂

  19. Alan Robson says:

    I’m in New Zealand. We’ve just gone into lockdown for a minimum of four weeks. Supermarkets, pharmacies and doctor’s surgeries remain open. Everything else is closed. Pubs, restaurants, libraries, gyms, schools… you name it, it’s closed. There is no public transport. Only essential services will remain. Everybody is required to maintain a “social distance” between people. You are only allowed to be close to the people you live with. We are allowed to go out for a walk, though we must continue to maintain social distance when we do so. I have a large dog, so I’m glad I can continue to go for walks with him. He needs the exercise, and so do I.

    We have 102 cases and no deaths. Two cases appear to be community transmission which is why we have implemented these measures. The hope is that by shutting down early we will avoid the problems that have hit other countries who left it too late and who are now suffering the consequences.

    Fortunately my wife and I have always been hermits (I’m astonished that we ever managed to meet each other) so as far as we are concerned it’s no big deal. Just life as normal.

    I have books to read, videos to watch, words to type. There’s lots to keep me occupied.

    Take care of yourselves.


  20. Ian Luck says:

    Exactly the same for me. Life as normal. Only difference is me being nocturnal on my days off work – I’d normally be up in the daytime then. As my brother has a form of MS, I really don’t want him to catch anything, so am keeping to work hours. It’s not difficult. I also understand all UK branches of Muck Donalds are shutting for the forseeable. Again, no change. I’ve not eaten any of their ‘food’ for many, many years.

  21. Jo W says:

    We are lucky to have a house with a garden, so exercise is not a problem. We only have a longer walk when going to a local shop to get some fresh produce (if we can). So far so good.
    Plenty of books to read and hobbies to pursue. We might even get to do all those jobs that are just waiting for the arrival of the ’round tuit’ that ‘imself says he’s going to get.
    Stay well everyone. 😉

  22. John Howard says:

    Well here in my part of Spain everything was shut down a week ago apart from supermarkets, pharmacies and petrol stations. Being retired it isn’t much of a change in routine as life has slowed somewhat and I still have my shed to go and practise my wood turning. Only one of us can go out to the shop and only one person in a car. There are instances of people being stopped and fined when not adhering to the instruction.
    It is amazing how psychologically having to stay in makes you want to go out…. up until now we just used to pop out as and when the whim took us. Oh and we aren’t supposed to take the dog for the usual walk, just a quick out for a ‘dash and a splash’. Only dogs don’t quite understand that so we do the usual routine but it helps being in a village so things are pretty damn quiet around here for the moment.
    Stay safe everyone and see you all in the next post.

  23. Helen Martin says:

    Finnegan’s Wake? My goodness, that is quite the compliment – I think.

  24. Jeanette says:

    Was saving The lonely hour for a long car trip to Scotland to attend a wedding which was due to take place in May, which has now been postponed, so have just started reading the book. Oh my goodness, that first chapter… this is going to be so good.

  25. Kathy McIntyre says:

    John Howard’s comment ‘dash & splash’ about walking the dog tickle’s my funny bone. I am an interiorscaper (fancy term for one who cares for plants in a commercial setting) in the US. In my world ‘splash & dash’ is what I did last Tues. at one of my accounts, a tribal casino, before they closed it down due to the health concerns. Interesting to read how other countries are dealing with COVID-19. Same craziness here. I just re-read ‘Wild Chamber’ to stave off cabin fever. Usually have that in winter when the weather is awful, not in spring when it’s lovely outside.

  26. Ian Luck says:

    Roger – I love the idea of an ‘anti facebook’ site like Diogenes. You sign up… And that’s it. No interactions with any other member. The only control you have, is one with which you can cancel your membership. The UI is a page saying something like:
    ‘Welcome to the Diogenes Club. Please be quiet.’
    And that’s it: no pictures of people you hated, no pictures of places the sender hasn’t visited. No pictures of food. No knuckle- dragging opinions or comments. Just a black screen, and velvety silence. Perfect.

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