The first night I moved to Shropshire I saw Terry Waite speak at the Assembly rooms. Call me odd, but for me it was the perfect welcome party. He spoke on solitude and captivity, having been held hostage in Beirut for five years. I felt moved, to say the least, by his ability to write books in his head, no pen or paper, chained to a radiator. All he had was his memory, imagination, and faith.
During this time in lockdown I am thinking about the impact of confinement on the human psyche. The challenges and the transformation it can bring. I think of prisoners who are experiencing lockdown within lockdown: no visitors, rehabilitation programmes halted, and virtually no time out of cells. There is a need for more dictionaries and reading glasses due to an increase of self study which provides a lifeline for many.
As a self-employed songwriter, I am fortunate. I have a ‘room of one’s own’, multiple devices on which I can write, a guitar, books, a fruit and veg delivery each week and the freedom to exercise once a day by a beautiful river, castle, and ancient woodland. As touring has been postponed, and I am unable to teach songwriting in prisons or sing in care homes, my days are now spent recording ‘songs from my sofa’ for the elderly, weekly zoom calls with a prison charity that discuss the development of e-learning packs for inmates, singing on doorsteps in the community on Sundays, writing new music, and sharing online, cautious not to over saturate social media, and give away too much of my work for free.
Peaceful walks by the Teme in the time of coronavirus have been a constant source of inspiration. I’ve been collecting stories that under ‘normal’ circumstances, strangers would not have stopped to share, albeit from two metres away. One evening a couple passed by and within minutes told me about their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, their baptism in the Sea of Galilee, and being led to Bethlehem by a star. The next morning, I met Kip, who is homeless by choice. He tells me he has tried living in a house before but finds it too boring, so lives outside with his dogs and works as a handyman. His work, like mine has all been put on hold, but he doesn’t qualify for furloughing, so is on his way to the food bank. Later that day I meet a lady on her doorstep, she says ‘hello human.’ I notice her american accent, and she tells me she is the daughter of the Potato Queen of North Dakota. If that’s not a Joni Mitchell lyric, I don’t know what is. Her neighbour who lives at Number 13, leaves children’s books in her window for passersby to read. ‘Advice from a Caterpillar’, ‘Aesop’s Fable’, and a free packet of spelt tagliatelle with a sign next to it saying, “eat me, pre-coronavirus pasta” is all for the taking. Then I meet a man called ‘Adam Anything.’ Flustered, overworked, talking loudly on his phone, he looks up and asks “Are you a secretary?” I ask him what he does for a living and he replies “anything, that’s the problem!” I imagine Tigger saying to Pooh, “don’t bite off more than you can chew.”
So I return from my daily walks full of thoughts, words, ideas, and movies in my mind and wonder what on earth I should do next … write a nursery rhyme, start a faith podcast, moonlight for Mr Anything, compose a song, craft a poem, feed the homeless or call my nan. In creative overwhelm and the liberty of lockdown, I download a new app that combines meditation and prayer, and ask myself is this multitasking?
My main sense of anxiety is not that I’m locked-in, but a fear of life resuming to ‘normal.’ Back to schedules, expectations, task lists, invitations, noise, motorways, airports, parties, people, small talk. I feel closer to loved ones since I’ve been socially distancing. There’s more intimacy in conversations, more compassion and humour. Closeness isn’t proximity, it’s the time you give, and the quality of connection.
I received many spiritual insights ahead of this situation, that looking back didn’t make much sense until now, but that’s another story, another song. I realise that spirit is always leading us to exactly where we need to be for our soul growth. Moving to Shropshire was part of my own personal quest for isolation. Ludlow itself means to lie low. My living room window frames the tower of a beautiful church, lit up every night like a beacon. I came here for solitude, seclusion, and silence, so that I could write. That’s exactly what I got, with bells on.
It seems the hardest aspect now for people is the uncertainty of when restrictions will be fully lifted. It makes me think of deportation centres, where people are locked away for months on end with no date for release. I will never forget visiting a Victorian Immigration Removal Centre in Portland, Dorset, situated on the edge of a cliff, with no windows. Detainees, some who are refugees, don’t even know where they are geographically. I met Portland’s postman, who was also the local fisherman on ‘Hallelujah Bay’ nearby. He told me a few stories, which reminds me, must finish that song before lockdown is done.