View all blog posts


Isolation | Sir John Tusa

Friday 15 May 2020

I am not of course isolated; I live with my wife. I am though isolated from most of the people and activities that filled my life before lockdown. It was only as I read the other blogs that I realised that my instinctive response to isolation has been to reach beyond it. To connect, to make connection and to stay connected. Some of that activity has been intentional; some involuntary; some more considered and reflective.

The intentional: I had a severe cull of photos reducing 25 albums to ten. Out went landscapes, sunsets and buildings. People, faces, moments, occasions remained. I thought I would send small groups of such images to those friends, in recollection of times past, sometimes very past. The response has been wonderful: “Your photos arrived on the fifth anniversary of x’s (husband) death. It was very moving”. Or: “ I have very few pix of the two of us together. Lovely that he was so happy in it!” Or responding to pix of me and my former tennis partners: ”Weren’t we young and beautiful?”

The involuntary: A fortnight after lockdown, one of our oldest friends died after years of ill health. He was very involved in BBC radio drama. The phones erupted, the emails came in scores, people, friends, colleagues pouring out their love for him, their admiration of him, their gratitude to him. More contacts in collecting material for the Times obit, the memories, the stories, the jokes, the appreciation. After the obit appeared, more phones, more emails, more memories. There were so many that I collated them into a longer memoir of such a loved and admired friend. And yes, when the memoir itself was distributed you can imagine what happened. This long farewell, it filled 4-5 weeks, has been one of John’s greatest gifts to all of us, bringing his extended circle together in a way that we had not been for years. I can only be grateful to him for sparking this intense period of connection and re-connection.

The reflective: I decided at the start to keep a “plague diary” of life, nothing portentous but detailed, routine, quotidien. How will we manage, survive, physically, psychologically? Also, to take two pix on my phone each day no matter how routine and ordinary, the pile of food delivered lying in the hall, that sort of thing. How does this connect to anything? By thinking about things and people besides reflecting on my own thoughts and anxieties. If I am critical of the government, I need to explain why to the diary. If I am frustrated by some radio and tv journalism, I need to say why, not just shout at the screen. If I know I could manage opening up the country after lockdown better than the government, I need to set it out as rationally as I can. And so on. And re-reading the first diary entries even now, I am struck by the speed with which we all started cancelling things, well before official lock down. It is as if we were instinctively aware that something horrid was up. Yes, this pause each day for testing thoughts by putting them into words is an important way of connecting with life as it is happening to us all. I need these connections now. It will be wonderful when all the other connections re-emerge.

And technology? The phone, of course, with the video function on WhatsApp occasionally pleasant to have. Zoom? Last weeks’ club committee meeting was very efficient, business was done. But! I don’t know Sarah or Emily well enough. At a lunch I could have sat next to them and had a chat. That’ s what I call connecting. As is the “pavement chat” when a friend or relative passes by for ten minutes. A real person, a real face, a real voice, a real exchange of anything little or nothing but a human one. That’s rich; separated by a pavement but connection nevertheless.

Sir John Tusa
words and photo
The Architecture Club President