An occasional series in which influential thinkers and writers post uplifting messages to the less fortunate at a time of national crisis.
# 1 Former Chief Druid and Master of Alma Mater College Cambridge, Hawthorn Straggleybeard
Dr Straggleybeard writes:
At a time of national crisis, it is always comforting to hear an uplifting message from an influential thinker or writer. As a leading thinker and writer myself, I am in the unique and privileged position of being able both to share with you my hard-won insights and thoughts on the matter and to offer advice on how those less insightful than I can cope with the pressures of a self-isolating locked-down world; a topsy-turvy world in which the policeman is no longer one's whistling street corner "evening all" friend and the old certainties no longer remain as they did in our grandfather's and great grandfather's and even great-great grandfather's times.
I have reflected a good deal on the current state of affairs and have, on the basis of many years of accumulated knowledge, realized several things which it is now my pleasure to share with you.
Think of it as the gift of wisdom*.
Make life meaningful - do something to make you and those you care deeply about [or even quite like] happy. For example make yourself a nice cup of tea and tell an older self-isolated relative you have done so and that you were thinking about them as you did it [even if you weren't - truth, as St Paul tells us, is both relative and unimportant: it's the spirit of the deception that counts].
Do something you have never done before - for example, read a book [A la recherche du temps perdue is a good start] or learn to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Sociologists tell us that a feeling of adventure allied to a sense of achievement releases the social equivalent of endorphins which make us feel superior to other people and so better about life.
Closely study and reflect upon a major work of art. Here in Alma Mater College, we are surrounded by great works of art which we often simply take for granted. Pause before a major portrait [I have been looking closely at the superb brushwork on a portrait of Professor Thrupiece which hangs in our former dining Hall [now Media Centre] and feel the positive uplift to be gained from it. If, by chance, you do not have a major artwork in your home, try to borrow one from a wealthy and more cultured neighbour, always remembering, as you pass it over the garden fence, to maintain a 2-metre distance between the two of you.
Think of others less fortunate than yourself. Here in College, for example, we have Fellows who are no longer able to collect their three free meals per day. Aren't they in a poorer position than you? You probably have a well-stocked larder. They wouldn't know what a larder is even if a college servant pointed one out to them!
Count your blessings. Dwelling on the things you have lost as a result of CONTRIK-69 [eg one out of every five episodes of The Drifters on Radio 4 [will Peggy ever mount that pig at the Annual Garden and Produce Show?], betting on the 2.15 at Nether Cerne Park or bus queues on market day in Batcombe] will only "get you down". Consider instead the many advantages to be found in the midst of this crisis. I think for example of the prospect of never seeing some relatives [and Fellows!] ever again, the absence of needy and entitled students and their unreasonable demands for tuition, the ability to wander through the College's extensive grounds in the sure and certain knowledge that everyone I meet will keep their distance. These are the small blessings in life for which we should be grateful. Whilst you may not be able to empathise completely with my personal compensations [perhaps you don't live in a Master's Lodge for example], try to find equivalents of your own - perhaps your pathetic but important-to-you wilting windowbox or the fact you still have bleach for your toilets. There are still blessings - seek them out!
Establish a WhatsApp group of like-minded individuals - share with them your interests and concerns and try to be uplifting in your postings: pictures perhaps of candles lit for recently departed loved-ones, furry pets, illegal boating trips and beach holidays or perhaps just a good old-fashioned political rant about PPE, the RAE or loss of High Table dining privileges. The list is endless.
Finally, do something positive for a front-line institution battling hard to overcome this dreadful disease. Make a generous donation, for example, to your Cambridge College to ensure its survival at a difficult time. This crisis will end and it is important that things we treasure - Fellowship, community, sound finances and free meals - are still intact and waiting for us when it is all finally over.
STAY AT HOME - PROTECT YOUR CAMBRIDGE COLLEGE - SAVE MONEY
[for later donation]
* Gifts - as the great sociologist Marcel Maus made clear - come at the price of expected reciprocation. If you have benefitted from the advice given here, please consider making a donation to: The Master and Fellows, Alma Mater College, Cambridge. Cheques, Postal Orders, Bank Transfers and all major Credit Cards accepted]