Self-Isolation

“Self-isolation” is the latest term to enter popular vocabulary. People who have been infected with the coronavirus have been urged to remove themselves from society. People who have recently been to regions which have been afflicted by the virus have also been urged to do it. Go home. Shut the door. Have minimal contact with people. Ensure that you’re not putting the health of the public at risk.

I have neither been infected, nor been to an affected region. Nevertheless, “self-isolation” is a term to which I can relate. My self-isolation began in late 2018. I had just finished being a witness in a prominent court case. I had taken the stand five times; I had travelled to the Old Bailey on three separate occasions. It is the task of every defence attorney worth their salt to pull witnesses inside out; this made a task which I found depressing to do in the first place, even more onerous despite having the comfort of holding fast to the truth. By the time it was all over, I was bruised and saddened; I must, however, give credit to the volunteers who help witnesses outside the courtroom. They were very supportive.

My face and name were in the newspapers and on television. I recall going into a corner store to get some supplies and hearing a couple whispering to each other behind me in the queue, “Is that the fellow…?” “Yes, dear, I think he is…”. I paid and left as quickly as I could.

After my last court appearance on December 17, 2018, I sat on the platform at City Thameslink station, waiting for the first train to whisk me home. Being alone was blissful. It was the early afternoon. I sat there, with my phone in hand, a chill wind blowing down the darkened tunnel. In a rare departure from my usual classical repertoire, I put on the Beatles song, “Two of Us”. I hoped the jaunty tune would cheer me up, but the reason why it particularly appealed was the line “I’m going home”. I also thought of a statement from Eliot’s “The Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

Time to turn back and ascend the stair

I would go home and ascend the stair. The curtains would be drawn, that would be all. I would wait for the noise to dissipate and for people to forget. After all, Christmas was coming up and surely more important things would preoccupy anyone who was acquainted with the story. I waited for the day when I could go to the corner store and no one would know my face nor remember my name.

It took longer than I hoped. My preference during that period was to stay at home and out of sight. I kept my Twitter account locked for sustained periods. The media approaches continued into the New Year; I thought about telling my story but eventually decided against it. I didn’t want to be bothered any more than I had been already; also, while there was an appeals process underway, I thought it would be unwise to say anything. Furthermore, I believe the publicity harmed the job hunt I was undertaking at the time.

Eventually, Spring came. The looks and whispers died away. I still have preferred to be home; through 2019, I spent a lot of time and effort into putting together a comfortable study where I can continue to self-isolate. I put a large portion of my classical music collection in there: the Mozart, Bach, Wagner, and Beethoven box sets have prominent places on the shelves. I acquired more bookshelves from Ikea and filled them. I spotted a deal on a television last July; I acquired it. My comfortable sofa is draped with blankets in case I need a nap on the weekends.

I got another job. More often than not, I work from home: I do so in my study. My cats quickly realised this was where they could find me; my cat Thomas has a spot on the sofa which he has claimed for himself. It’s not uncommon for all my cats, Thomas, Sarah Jane, and Solomon to be in here all at once. My Dachshund Boris also is a frequent visitor.

I found the study window could be brightened up by stringing coloured pennants across it. I ordered some from a craft company in Lithuania via Etsy prior to the Brexit deadline. Books continue to cram every corner. Small busts of composers acquired from eBay sit on the shelves. My banjo sits on a stand in the corner. When I look up from my laptop, I see tomes which range from Isabel Allende’s latest novel to a biography of the Austrian statesman Metternich. As I type this, a vinyl record spins on the player, liberating Billie Holiday’s voice to touch the air. The door is shut. I am self-isolated, at least until my cat Thomas comes to the door, pawing at it until I let him in. He is always welcome.

Although I’m an introvert, I was not always this way. I ran for city council in 2016, 2017, and 2018 as a Labour candidate. I remember the 2017 campaign as a particularly inspiring time. I went out every evening and knocked on doors and spoke to people in the ward. I wanted to speak to everyone. One evening, there was a public hustings in a village hall. I wore a dark pinstripe suit and a bright red tie. I felt like I could talk to anyone, and advocate for the cause of my constituents. I recall doing it, I recall every nuance of strength and emotion that I felt. I effectively countered the 8 or more Conservative councillors who decided to question me from the audience. I remember feeling “switched on”; the possibilities seemed as limitless as the summer sunshine that blessed the weeks of that campaign. I didn’t win, but it was a shining moment.

Not too long ago, I drove past that village hall. It was night; the windows were dark, the doors were locked. It some ways it seems the door is still shut. I am self-isolated. Time to turn back and ascend the stair. Put on another Billie Holliday record. Drink some mineral water, wrap a blanket around the shoulders. You’re ready for the coronavirus, I tell myself. You can stay here for weeks at a time if need be. Dear Thomas will come to the door and we will listen to music and he will watch me as I type away on this keyboard, his green-yellow eyes following the movement of my fingers. I will look up at a later hour and see the fading sunlight, and eventually, night will arrive. It will be time to turn back and ascend the stair, Thomas following me as I go to bed.

However, things change. After all, the open horizons of 2017 became the narrow confine of 2018 and beyond. I have little doubt there will be a time when I will get up from the routine of work, study, with trips to the gym or the store in-between. The healing that self-isolation offers will be complete. The door will open.

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