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Two Hundred Days of near Solitude

Blog Number 39 [Friday 17th July 2020]

I am trying to be magnanimous. Blogs are democratic; anyone can write a blog. And M’s blog is perfectly fine in its way. I don’t think she should call it “The Blog” though. That sort of implies that hers is the definitive one, casting all others into the shade. As to her telling the “unvarnished truth,” all I can say is that if it were a table, it would be gleaming.

I am a bit miffed that people I took to be my good friends have sent emails in support of M’s blog, even suggesting [Paddy] that I should suspend mine in favour of hers and [Max] that I learned my craft from M when nothing could be further from the truth. I accept that Colin has from the start lauded M and will continue to do so whatever I write. And Peter, your suggestion of a two column blog assumes a skill with Word that frankly neither of us possess. The fact that M’s first blog garnered twice as many emails as mine is a bit of a blow but then it is her first blog and people like to encourage ingenues, don’t they?

My old friend, John C, has accused me of too much “Boris-bashing”. I plead guilty, M’Lud. So I will refrain from more, for the time being at least. For those who can’t do without, I will simply refer you to two far more accomplished Boris-bashers than I.

It’s been a long time since I mentioned our breadmaker. If you recall I was waiting for it to trip us up and produce some squashed up piece of barely risen dough and pass it off as bread. But, credit where it’s due, it hasn’t. Every loaf is spot on. It’s a blessing. I mention this to M. 

‘The breadmaker’s been a good buy, hasn’t it? It just never fails.’

This seemed an anodyne remark to me but apparently not.

‘You do know that someone has to measure out the yeast and flour and get the right amount of water put it into the machine and remember to do it at least 5 hours before the bread is needed?’

‘Er, yes, I suppose I do.’

‘I just thought I’d mention it. In case you’d forgotten that bit.’

The lockdown gets to all of us one way or another.

We have now bought an airfryer, a machine that cooks chips, fresh or frozen, via hot air. According to our friends, Peter and Lesley, it makes great chips and is better for our health. Like the breadmaker it is black and bulbous. We have placed the two of them side by side on the top of small kitchen cupboard we have also bought just for them. I am looking at them now, two quiet machines waiting to be called into action. I wonder if they will get on. Of course I don’t really. Still, there is something about their impassivity, an air of brooding menace. Hmm, the lockdown does get to us all one way or another.

This brings me to the subject of robots. They are big in Japan it seems where they are even being employed to take lessons in primary schools. After a lesson, one little child rushed to give the ‘teacher’ a hug. Some of you may be repulsed by that. Not me. I am all in favour of robots. In fact, if and when I find myself eking out my twilight years in a care home, surrounded, I hope, by Mattie’s ‘ring of steel,’ I want a robot to take care of me. For a robot cannot be infected, never gets tired, can bring perfect cups of tea, can sing songs, play music, play games, and answer stupid questions without getting bored or upset. Best of all she/he will listen to my witless witterings without batting an eyelid, assuming she/he has eyelids. You might think that I as a psychologist would be in favour of real people. Generally I am. As this lockdown has shown, disembodied conversations are nothing like meeting up with your friends. A few days ago we had coffee in Richard and Liz’s lovely garden under their newly acquired gazebo. It was like the sensation of taking your first sip of cool water after a long thirst. Just great to be able to talk easily without the stuttering hesitations and forced repetitions of a Zoom call. In a real place, with real people, you can pick up the social cues and engage in quiet side conversations while others are speaking. The brain has primed us for actual human contact and the myriad of subtle perceptions and emotions that go with it. A robot is always going to be a mimic, not the real thing. It is not either-or though, is it? Robots and humans can and do work together. As to Blade Runner-type fantasies of sci-fi movies, of androids so human-like the difference cannot be detected, we’ll see. Or rather we won’t if we can’t tell the difference. 

Wytham Woods has reopened! Hooray! There are restrictions. You have to have a permit and you have to book a slot, morning or afternoon on either Friday, Saturday or Sunday. M and I went there this morning. Only the main gate is open and we had to park the car on the field beside Wytham Village Hall and then walk up the hill. This brought back memories as it was the site of a notorious student party in the 1960s. In a change from Vicars and Tarts, we decided upon Stripes as the theme but we hadn’t anticipated that one of number – no names, no pack-drill – would choose to turn up naked, apart from a discreet loin cloth, with black stripes painted all over his body. His girlfriend hadn’t anticipated that either and it brought their relationship to a swift end. There was also the incident with the piano lid and the glasses but probably best not go into that. Ah those golden days! 

Our walk was going to be a short walk, just an hour, to revisit a few old haunts. As I am more familiar with the woods, I was to be the guide. It didn’t turn out quite as smoothly as I had hoped. M was not impressed by the hard slog up the hill to the main entrance especially as I took the longer route along the path by the side of the road.

‘You said it was hardly any distance,’ she said. ‘Yet it’s taken us 15 minutes just to get to the gate.’

‘That’s not long really.’

‘No? That’s quarter of an hour in case you didn’t know.’

‘I do know what 15 minutes is.’

‘You said we were going for an hour’s walk. We have to return the same way. So by my calculation we have done half the walk before we get into the woods.’

‘It will be quicker going back. It’s downhill. We can take the road. We can run.’

‘Yes,’ said M, ‘a good plan. I always like to end a long tiring walk with a swift run.’

My plan was to walk up the field, turn left on Singing Way, and then right through the beech copse to where there’s a view of Farmoor reservoir and head down and back via the Duck Pond. As my daughter Kate knows, I have on more than one occasion failed to find the Duck Pond. It is hidden deep in the midst of the forest. Not obvious from the main ride. But I was confident. Last time when I had failed to find it, I had realised where I had gone wrong. I had to take the first rather than the second track on the right into the woods. This time we would take the first track and that is what we did. Only it took us in a long loop back to the main ride. 

‘Perhaps I’d better look at the map,’ I said.

‘You have a map?’

‘Yes. I don’t really need it. Well, mostly anyway.’

I got out the small sketch map that comes with the permit. The trouble was I didn’t know exactly where we were. I turned it about a bit but that didn’t really help. 

‘There’s a better map now,’ I said. Unwisely.  

‘Oh good. Let’s look at that.’

‘I left it at home.’

There was a silence. What writers like to call a brooding silence. 

Still, it may have taken us two hours not one and we didn’t find the Duck Pond but we both agreed it was lovely to be in Wytham Woods again. In case you are wondering, we didn’t sprint down the road at the end. But I think you knew that already.

Antidote 39

The comedian Peter Kay, in his element at The Bolton Albert Halls, reducing his audience to paroxysms of helpless laughter.

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