My neighbour and myself

I live, entirely alone, in a pleasant part of South West London. When the original ‘locked in’ started I was approached by several neighbours offering their assistance. They are no longer just neighbours, they are now friends. But I am more directly served by a daughter who is in walking distance. She tries to ensure that I am visited at least once every day. Sadly, no hugs allowed – and I do love a hug. And I have been visited twice by my new great grandson: possibly the most beautiful baby in the world.

I have a friend some twenty miles away – she was in fact my late wife’s friend over 60 years. She too is widowed. She used to visit me every fortnight, but nowadays it has to be a late evening telephone call. We are both ancient, and we value that.

But I do have a constant companion – my old moggy. We spend each evening together. She likes routine. I don’t know what I will do if she snuffs it – I am too old to have a new young cat. I have written about her before.

I find my afternoon walks on the Common revealing. Everyone appears to be more sociable than heretofore. I frequently find myself in conversation with strangers, and I am always aware of how similar we often turn out to be. I even have chats with women – I am apparently well beyond being a source of any sexual danger.

What I am seeing is a community actively living out the virtue of loving our neighbour. And I like it. But I wonder whether it will continue when we all feel safe again. I realise that many of our neighbours have no religious connections – some may be consciously against religion. But, poor things, they can’t escape. Every time or moment of loving our neighbour is divine. There is only one source of love, and it is accessible to all of us. The little queue waiting to be accepted into Heaven will have some unlikely members. And so will the queue waiting for Hell. Let us all hope we are at least in the queue for Purgatory. See you then!   

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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26 Responses to My neighbour and myself

  1. John Thomas says:

    Great article, Quentin. Lockdown, etc., has produced many evils (eg. the loss of freedoms fought for over centuries), but some good things also – as you say, community, mutual love, etc. It’s always the case – any crisis, bad happenings, or whatever, the Holy Spirit gets in there and turns bad to good, or at least brings some good out of a situation, along with the bad (think of the last war … )

  2. galerimo says:

    Living entirely alone does not sound one bit lonely the way you describe it, Quentin.

    Yours is clear evidence of the wonderful grace of God that abounds in a life so well lived.

    How wise to be able to perceive the transformation of neighbours to friends. Good insight.

    This too, is not just a perception but testimony of the tranforming power of God’s love in your own life – always generative of such processes.

    Such powerful creative energies you presently engage in these relationships –no matter how casual you make them out to be.

    What a delight to have such attentions from your daughter who tops all the wonderful care and assistance now availble through your new friends.

    This is clear witness to the sacred power of the human family. A central tenet of your beliefs. And something for which you have been a fierce advocate.

    And how much of a failed American you are – stopping short of claiming the title of ‘most beatiful baby in the world” for your new great grandson by prefacing your observation with “possibly”.

    You would be banished instantly from the “home of the brave and land of the free” on displaying such modesty and reserve.

    It is truly inspiring to read how you and your wife’s friend of 60 years both value the “ancient” status you both claim for yourselves. Well said.

    Our ever-advancing society has suffered much impoverishment despite its brilliant technologies and truly mind boggling sciences. And central to those losses is that of Eldering.

    Aged care is too often a process of relegating our old people to redundancy. Their wisdom is lost in very large measure to the society of which they are the natural, if not the elected, leaders.

    And what a delight to read about your folly. A sign of ,valuable eldership too, I would suggest.

    What on earth lets you think yourself as constituting no “threat of sexual danger” to all the wonderful women who chat with you so kindly. Wishful thinking, Quentin, I can assure you.

    Human nature never changes even in it’s “ancient” stages.

    Three hours after you are dead is when “concupiscentia” departs. And if Saint Augustine didn’t say that then its not because he didn’t want to.

    Even though it is problably incorrect to limit our understanding of this essential component of our God given nature (remember God was the first to think about sex!) concupscence is certainly not just limited to sexual desire.

    Thank you for sharing your unifying view of humanity in the all embrasive way you do. Whether religious or not you can see all people as deeply loved and closely held by God.

    Closeness to God is the keystone of unity – both in its functioning and in its perception.

    Yes embracing is fundamental to our God given nature, and greatly missed by all of us in these covid times.

  3. Iona says:

    Ad multos annos to Tasha.
    But even if she were to snuff it, “a new young cat” is not the only possibility. Mature cats often need re-homing. The Cats’ Protection League could probably advise.

  4. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( ) :

    // But I am more directly served by a daughter who is in walking distance. She tries to ensure that I am visited at least once every day. Sadly, no hugs allowed – and I do love a hug. //

    It’s none of my business, but I’m outraged on your behalf.

    The madness that was foisted on most of the Western world in March and that has dug in its heels and grown apace is based, I think, on a peculiarly materialist understanding of life. To a materialist, what matters can be measured. They cannot measure how good a life is, but they can measure how long it is. And they can’t measure loneliness, or the warmth of a human touch. Therefore, they content themselves with measuring the length of my life and consider their work a success if, as a likely result of their ordering people about, I end up living a little longer than I’d likely have lived had they reined in their urge to order people about.

    I spoke with my physician today, during my annual physical exam. She sees around her the ravages of COVID-19 and she’s all in on politicians ordering people about to try to lessen the damage. She foresees local hospitals being flooded in the middle of December if people aren’t ordered about a lot well before then. I remarked that she sees the worst of it. She has a private practice, her husband runs emergency services in a large hospital, and her daughter is a nurse in intensive care. She’s swimming in visible, tangible misery. As a result, she misses the much larger picture, of which the so-called collateral damage caused directly by all the ordering about includes the creation of an immense amount of invisible, intangible misery. But, I must admit, that can’t be measured.

    • Alasdair says:

      Nobody likes the current restrictions. But are you seriously suggesting that half a million more deaths is a worthwhile price for raising two fingers to those tasked with protecting us? Having life is a prerequisite for continuing to having a fulfilling life. I have been coaxed out of retirement to volunteer to do cover teaching for teachers who are having to self-isolate. I’m therefore taking a higher level of risk than my family are happy with, given my age. My youngest son is also front-line hospital staff. I will be sparing them from reading your remarks, They’re stressed enough as it is.

  5. David Smith says:

    Alasdair writes ( ) :

    // Nobody likes the current restrictions. But are you seriously suggesting that half a million more deaths is a worthwhile price for raising two fingers to those tasked with protecting us? //


    // Having life is a prerequisite for continuing to having a fulfilling life. //

    I suggest only that the price for continuing to live in these societies has been made unnecessarily unpleasant and in many cases continually painful by their rulers’ egregiously unwise laws and rules.

    And I suggest that the rulers have greatly exceeded their lawful and moral authority in imposing such universal restrictions on individual movement, conduct, and speech.

  6. David Smith says:

    Guy de la Bédoyère in the Telegraph:

    It is surely one of the most peculiar facets of our current predicament that a certain type of scientist (whose sole focus in life is to tot up numbers and pretend to know the future) along with our hapless government ministers, have trapped themselves, and us, in the idea that life is worth living merely for the sake of being alive. In an even greater paradox, thousands have been condemned to dying alone, or indeed of loneliness, surely unprecedented in the history of civilization, for the sake of ‘saving’ others.

  7. Alasdair says:

    David: “a certain type of scientist (whose sole focus in life is to tot up numbers and pretend to know the future)”.
    You’ve presented a nuanced version of the situation and of the scientists. It is the basic scientific method to start as far as possible with accurate information (your “totting up numbers”), then to combine that with the best available historical and evolving information to arrive at a “model” of how events might pan out (your “pretending to know the future”). One of these models is often referred to as a worst-case scenario. There is no pretence of knowing the future, but as time moves on, the model is refined and can be trusted more, but is still vulnerable to the unexpected. This process is essential to enable those with the heavy burden of government (your “hapless government ministers”) to make decisions which they hope will, when seen through the lens of 60:60 hindsight, have optimised the competing priorities and minimised overall damage.
    Most people in the UK understand all that pretty well, although they like to vent their spleens from time to time.
    Regarding your “even greater paradox”. I can only speak for my own country Scotland, which in these matters operates outside the wider UK system. It is able to function quite well by having leaner-and-meaner government which is able to establish advisory groups from within a proportionately large scientific community which keeps in continuous dialog with worldwide agencies. The paradox issues which you describe are well understood here and strenuous efforts are being made to partner professional practitioners with the voluntary sector and public spiritedness to mitigate these effects.

  8. ignatius says:

    Alisdair writes:

    “Nobody likes the current restrictions. But are you seriously suggesting that half a million more deaths is a worthwhile price for raising two fingers to those tasked with protecting us?”

    I imagine this is some form of reactive hyperbole since I cannot see how any of it relates to anything that was said by anyone here, or indeed how it relates to the UK during the past year .Maybe its a kind of Covid induced Tourette’s syndrome or something blindingly obvious that I should have understood but have spectacularly failed to do so.
    Politically speaking it is pretty obvious that the UK would obey the ‘worst case’ scenario diktat and that, once presented with the various graphs, it would have to act on them. I think it is rather disingenuous to come up with apocalyptic possibilities, promising lines of body bags in the streets, then expect the leadership to brush them aside coolly as ‘only modelling’, after all
    I have been interested in the way things have gone and have come to the conclusion that we British have acted after our own fashion and come up with the best patchwork response that we could manage. Given our well meaning national tendency towards unpreparedness, mediocrity and general bumbling during the early stages of crisis, Still there lives in the psyche of our Island Nation that, somehow, it won’t happen to us.
    So the UK is not America, not New Zealand, not India and not Sweden. We have I think managed both well and badly in the face of Covid

    I write these words having just come from a shift in a prison which is practically swamped in Covid having just watched brave ambulance men ferry away two men who I would guess are unlikely to return. So its not that I am unaware of the toll or the danger. But I too think that, in the UK, the undertow of this crisis in terms of lost lives from lack of medical care and overall public despair will turn out to be greater than the simple mathematical toll of deaths from Covid.

    In the forest of statistics a small twiglet caught my eye recently. It was the one that claimed the average age of Covid death in the UK was 82 with pretty much every case resulting from underlying health issues. Furthermore, as we continue on to the unwanted landmark of almost a year of Covid it is becoming increasingly obvious that everyone has not died of the disease and that for whatever reason the rate of death isn’t rising that much. If we estimated 70,00 covid related deaths over a year with getting on for a million or so cases, then the cost to life overall is by no means that high.

    None of us can really say much about the relative merits of methodology regarding virus containment and none of us with ever know if this second lockdown has been ‘worth it’ in terms of added misery and there is probably no calculus that will set off the deaths of the older against the misery of lost opportunity by the younger. I don’t know. Nor does anyone else, and the UK Government is in the end only human, clunky and centralised as it is.

  9. Iona says:

    If covid had happened, say, 200 years ago, would it even have been noticed as a “new” disease? In the first place, the nature of infectious disease was less thoroughly understood then than now (no electron microscopes with which to identify a new virus).
    In the second place, there were fewer people around with “pre-existing medical conditions” of the type we see now simply because we now have facilities and treatment which make it possible to keep such people alive. So, fewer frail people around 200 years ago to be carried off by the disease.
    In the third place, there is now an expectation that everyone will have access to care and medical treatment, whereas in the past such treatment as was available was restricted to those who could pay for it. Those who couldn’t, either recovered spontaneously or died. No lockdowns, no isolation, no quarantines because no NHS to be overwhelmed.
    The Black Death, say, was noticeable because it carried off such a huge number of people, and because the symptoms were readily recognisable. Something like covid might, at most, have had a few people scratching their heads and saying “there’s a lot of pneumonia about this year”.

    • ignatius says:

      I have kept my Osteopathic practice open pretty much throughout the lockdowns and since my clinic is near two hospitals I treat a fair number of medical personnel from surgeons downward through the ranks. This means I’ve listened to views and discussed covid with everyone from doctors to dustmen, scientists to lorry drivers and social services administrators. Also, like most of us I have perused the fine print of covid through the broadsheets, the radio programmes the online research and inevitably via the BBC over the many months of keeping tally.
      This experience has made me interested in the pandemic as a social phenomenon and the way it affects our behaviour and beliefs
      My overall sense is that most of us are following government guidelines in a ‘sort of’ manner. ‘Sort of’ means a general, meandering and cherry picking, agreement in principle. Not because we all think the advice /edicts are in any way ‘right’ or ‘just’ or even ‘desirable’. It seems to me that most of us in say the 50+ bracket are going along with the general drift of policy simply because it the best we can manage to do and most of us haven’t a clue what else to do apart from going to live in a cave. We may or may not ‘agree’ with predictions or assumptions and in fact we see then constantly proved to be erroneous. As my wife who is a Police Community Support Officer says to groups of lads when moving them on: ” I don’t like this lockdown either, but its what we have to do..”

      I have been fascinated for example by the continuing saga of ‘Test and Trace’ which seems to be failing to convince overall, apparently only 10% of those traced obey the self isolation advice. I don’t think that’s always down to personal selfishness either. Part of it is that most people seem to be increasingly concerned about the social cost to the fabric of our society and are not willing to go along robotically through the nuances of life under corona virus, part of it is due to the fact that individuals make up their own minds about risk levels in relation to livelihoods and the presence nearby of loved ones.
      What people are increasingly allowing themselves to be is moved by compassion regarding the social cost to our society and so to gravitate almost instinctively to repair whatever small tears they are capable of addressing. This is lovely to see and be a part of. Overall I am coming to the conclusion that there isn’t much ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in the way we are going and it is a mistake to try and seperate ‘real’ from ‘collateral’ suffering as its all along the same continuum.

  10. David Smith says:

    It occurs to me that the Telegraph article by Guy de la Bédoyère may be behind a paywall. I’ve copied it here for anyone who may care to read it:

    Click to access GuydlB.pdf

  11. David Smith says:

    Well, that’s odd. WordPress has hidden the URL I just tried to post for Guy de la Bédoyère’s essay.

    I’ll try again, this time omitting the prefix:

    Past experience tells me that WordPress won’t interpret that as a URL, so you will probably need either to copy it onto your browser’s address line or simply to re-type it there.

    If this doesn’t work and you’d like a copy, I’ll be happy to mail it.

    My apologies.

  12. galerimo says:

    I’ll pick the queue for heaven, thanks Quentin. After all it is the only one of your three venues we can say with any certainty that actually exists.

    And that is because Jesus is there – there is nothing else apart from him.

    But sadly we have tended to make his heavenly presence an end in itself rather than the gateway, the door, the way, the abundance of life talked about when he names himself in these terms as being our fulfillment in “the kingdom of heaven”.

    Kingdoms are usually very busy places as opposed to the boring old image we have concocted as “beatific vision”.

    Another thing about getting older for those of us not destined to die in battle but to be wearied through the process of ageing is we do tend to get fed up with heaven.

    With all the claptrap of hell and purgatory that has been foisted on us to get our money or our compliance, heaven is still our best focus. We know it’s there.

    With our utter disbelief in the salvation given to us in the life and death of Jesus, and our greater belief in our own punishable misery as opposed to His mercy

    – we prefer to construct these realities and align them with our cogitations around free will, our own achievement of meritorious good outcomes and one hell of a bad tempered God.

    The beatific vision is a bit like a dead-end where you can only get to watch an outdoor movie.

    You cant go any further, so you take our your chairs and picnic and sit in front of the screen to watch endless versions of the “beatific vision”.

    We have to try and dodge this understanding of heaven as it comes more and more to the fore in old age. Along with the realisations of the unlikely ending of world hunger, war, population, pollution etc.

    Making Jesus – God – our ultimate reality however we name them, as ends in themselves falls short of realizing the shoulder-to-shoulder reality of our immense and diverse destiny.

    God always remains totally separate, totally other from us – no matter how good the beatific movie is. The bread of life does not mean we have to live in the bakery forever.

    No – we are energized, enlivened for further exploration of life unending in all the elements of goodness and truth, joy and beauty of which we have had little foretaste here on earth. The King is not the Kingdom – it is the amazing, endless horizon he makes with us, for us.

    Heaven is for real!

  13. David Smith says:

    Thanks. Tried. Can’t – UK only.

    I have one for you, though:

    Thirty minutes. It, too, is excellent.

    My apologies, again, for leaving the prefix off the address. But this video is worth the extra trouble of copying and pasting.

  14. Ignatius says:

    // Thirty minutes. It, too, is excellent.//

    Yes it is. This chap, Mike Yeadon, hit the headlines about a month or so ago now. He comes across as plausible and persuasive, as an ex head of Pfizer you would expect him to know his stuff. Yet now, a month or two on it is surely a little harder to proclaim the ‘end of the pandemic’ with confidence.. But his is an absorbing account of the virology behind the scenes.

  15. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( ) :

    // But I do have a constant companion – my old moggy. We spend each evening together. She likes routine. I don’t know what I will do if she snuffs it – I am too old to have a new young cat. I have written about her before. //

    Their companionship is such a solace and a constant gentle reminder of our mutual mortality. Our Charlie and I are growing old together, and we value each other’s quiet company. My wife does the hard work of walking with him and feeding him and taking him to the groomer and the vet, and I am only the occasional fortunate companion, but he and I are easy together, and reassuring. At least, he reassures me. They are a great and welcome gift.

  16. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( ) :

    // What I am seeing is a community actively living out the virtue of loving our neighbour. And I like it. But I wonder whether it will continue when we all feel safe again. //

    It sounds pleasant. I’m glad for you. Our next-door neighbors – a Catholic couple, I believe, if that means anything, which it may – have made occasional attempts in recent weeks to gather other neighbors informally on lawn or in driveway – properly “socially distanced”, I’m sure – but they’ve not done it often, which, I suspect, means they were not hugely successful in kindling a little community spirit in the surrounding darkness. As a social introvert, I’ve not taken part, so perhaps they *did* accomplish something. One hopes so.

    All in all, my experience of this prolonged social sterility has been depressingly negative. Seeing stores and even streets peopled by masked figures one assumes but can’t know to be humans is an ominously surreal portent of a spiritually bleak future. May God grant that it won’t be so.

  17. galerimo says:

    Love God and love your neighbour sums it all up – covid or no covid. It’s just not possible to do one and not the other.

    Those moments of kindness between strangers during lock-downs, further endorse the claim that “Every time or moment of loving our neighbour is divine.”

    Reflecting some more on the length and membership of the queues at heaven’s gates there was a real question for me on our recent Remembrance Day.

    I was visiting a magnificent site where the reconstructed WWI memorial, that once stood in Egypt before being torn down and vandalised in the 1950’s, now stands proud at its new location.

    How moving to read that 40,000 Australians and New Zealanders left from this port in 1914. And 11,000 horses.

    In those days, religion was still part of the establishment – both the Kaiser of Germany and Austria, the Tzar of all the Russias and King Emperor George V

    Were leaders in their various Christian denominations, professing a faith in God that manifests in love, forgiveness, mercy and peace.

    Sadly none of this appears to have restrained the mad scramble for land in the last days of the gradual disappearance of the Ottoman Empire and their bloody war ensued.

    The death toll was horrendous – I found a wooden post bearing the name “Tess” in memory of the one and only horse that made it back to Australia.

    The latest figure of those killed stands currently as 62,000 – with roughly 156,000 wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.

    At the time the population of Australia was fewer than 5 million. About one third of this reduced population was subsequently infected with Spanish Flu resulting in 15,000 deaths.

    These are long, long queues indeed – and no doubt full of surprising members!

  18. ignatius says:

    //She tries to ensure that I am visited at least once every day. Sadly, no hugs allowed – and I do love a hug//
    I doubt that a 15 second hug on the doorstep, especially with heads turned away from each other would constitute a grave risk…

    //Every time or moment of loving our neighbour is divine. There is only one source of love, and it is accessible to all of us//

    Yesterday I had the day off work and went for a bike ride in a long circle around my neighbouring villages. Around 35-40 miles I think and I was gone for around 4 hours. On the way I made brief 30 second conversations with about 10 people..just a smile and an encouraging word. When I got back I realised that I had been actively involved in ‘loving my neighbour’ It was great. Loving ones neighbour is, I think, the sum of small deeds applied often unconsciously but with the intention of grace. To love our neighbour is a privelege which goes a long way towards cheering us up ourselves

  19. David Smith says:

    I’m taking the liberty of the current hiatus to post a “letter to the editor” of the New Statesman I just stumbled across from Guy de la Bédoyère. It’s on the topic of the ongoing and seemingly never ending lockdown tragedy.

    Best wishes.

    When Simon Heffer quotes Enoch Powell – “the supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils” – he slightly misses the main point (“A crisis of statesmanship, 6 November”). Most human beings have always been prepared to sacrifice some of their autonomy in return for leadership that provides a buffer against disorder, famine and fear. This is, and always has been, the contract between the state and the people.

    Covid-19 is a force largely beyond the state’s control; many governments, especially ours, have tried to convince us otherwise. They have used fear as a weapon and promised salvation in return for unprecedented losses of freedom. They have failed to deliver, mainly because they cannot rein in a natural phenomenon on this scale.

    No government has found a permanent solution, even New Zealand. Their current virus-free state is no better than a mirage and has been bought at the price of isolation from the rest of the world. Our own government has offered mainly time-buying slogans and glib promises. It has preferred to listen only to a small cabal of well-paid and securely employed scientists who seem incapable of contextualising the problem and the collateral effects of their solutions on the wider health and well-being of the population.

    Perhaps this week’s exciting news about a vaccine will turn the tide at last, but it will be no thanks to governments and the games they have played, and the damage they have done to public trust.

    Guy de la Bédoyère
    Grantham, Lincolnshire

  20. John Nolan says:

    Guy de la Bédoyère is spot-on, and his arguments could equally be applied to the issue of climate change (Boris is sounding like a paid-up member of the Greens). But then Guy is an historian and a Durham man to boot.

    Alasdair seems to epitomize a national stereotype – he sounds like Private Fraser in Dad’s Army.

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