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Routine is vital: We’ve got form on that front

March 18, 2020

I was very impressed by an interview on BBC News yesterday with journalist and presenter Joan Bakewell. She spoke about the importance of creating and sustaining routines while we sit at home, isolated from everything we consider normal.

Bakewell is 86 and explained that she had been unwell for some weeks before the coronavirus started its deadly progress in the UK. As it emerged as a threat she asked her doctor what she should do and was advised to self-isolate. She took this advice and so already has several weeks experience.

She stressed the importance of creating routines and sticking to them, including exercise, reading, taking up new hobbies and generally keeping busy in as structured a way as possible. It was persuasive and very pertinent.

I have worked for myself for nearly seven years and have long got used to working from home. From the start I eschewed the novelty of sitting around in my pyjamas all day. Get up, get dressed, have breakfast and start work has worked well for me. Never let yourself slide into having lazy day. By all means give yourself a day off but do it with a sense of purpose. I have run my life that way with a degree of success. It might help others now facing that challenge suddenly and unexpectedly.

The British have some interesting form in maintaining routine in the face of adversity. I have found a couple of stories in my many researches for my books.

One is told in Fighting for the Empire, the story of my wife’s grandfather, Thomas Kelly, a doctor in the Indian Medical Service.

In 1904 and 1905 he found himself in a remote province of Persia fighting an outbreak of the plague that was threatening to get out of hand. It was a desolate place and a very dangerous job. The famous Swedish explorer Sven Hedin arrived while Kelly was battling the menace of the plague. He was accommodated at the British Consulate (pictured) and could hardly believe the British determination to maintain certain standards and routine. Only a few weeks before an angry mob had attempted to burn this building down.

“Six Englishmen, without ladies, were staying in Seistan, and with them I spent nine memorable days. Englishmen have a knack of making themselves at home in whatever part of the world their lot may cast them, and even here in this wretched Nasretabad they lived much as in London. They did not come unshaved to luncheon in the great saloon, and at dinner they appeared in spruce attire, with starched shirts, dinner jackets, and patent leather shoes. And then we sank into the soft armchairs, and took coffee, with prime cigars, and, while the gramophone reminded us of the divas and tenors of the great world, whisky and soda were served, and we talked of Iran, Tibet, and the plague. We were in high spirits; and it was difficult to believe that all the while the angel of death was roaming about in search of his hapless victims.”

In the book on the evacuations from France in June 1940 I am currently writing there is the story of the playwright Rupert Downing and his escape from Paris to a port near the Spanish border on a bicycle. This took the best part of two weeks as he and a female colleague battled through the hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees fleeing the advancing Germans.

Downing was especially proud of his attempts to maintain some sort of standards – “some thread of tradition, custom, civilized habit, whatever you like to call it”. Having packed his shaving kit he was determined to make use of it every day, even when it meant crouching by a cold stream as dawn broke. It was an objective he proudly achieved.

These things matter in times of crisis and stress. Perhaps we can learn from them and from Joan Bakewell.

Stay safe.

From → Society

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