John Miller was a news and crime reporter on the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg in the 1980s. Now he writes for the love of it and until the Coronavirus stopped him in his tracks, he had plans to visit South Africa and Southeast Asia, one of his favourite travel destinations. John lives in Wales with his adorable dog, Poppy.
I’m looking on the bright side, which is ironic for two reasons. Firstly because I’m blind and secondly, do you need me to tell you the reason? It’s keeping us at home, it’s obsessing people all over the world and it’s bringing us down morning, noon and night.
Have you reached virus-news overload? Are you avoiding switching on the radio or TV? Much to my surprise, I am. A former news journalist, I’ve long missed the buzz and adrenalin rush that accompanies a major news story. I even envied journos working memorial events for Madiba, Diana, Princess of Wales and the victims of 9-11.
When I first became aware of the Coronavirus or Covid-19, I tuned in to briefings every day in the UK, the US and South Africa, but now, even though it’s undoubtedly the biggest event in most of our lives, I’m glad I’m no longer a news reporter. The virus has infected everything. As the weeks and months go by, the daily updates have become too much for me. I find myself deliberately avoiding the latest figures on virus-related deaths and disease.
Just months ago, words like lockdown, self-isolation and social distancing were… well, just words, now they’re commonplace reflections of how we are living and there’s hardly an advert that doesn’t make some reference to them. As someone who cannot see, self-isolation is not a new concept for me but that’s another story for another time.
So I’ve been wondering whether it’s possible to spin this negativity about the virus and find something uplifting. Or at least positive.
The closure of most businesses, other than essential services, was almost unimaginable but the bad brought innovation and countless individual acts of kindness, so I decided that was a good place to start.
A writer and a sometime muso, the entertainment industry came first to mind. In South Africa, the magazine business is all but gone and theatres and cinemas are dead everywhere. In the past, there were always ways for musicians to subsidise income in bars, pubs, restaurants, festivals and theatres but these options are now no-go areas – and yet, for performers, necessity has been the mother of invention and what a boon it’s been for audiences. Perhaps it’s not paying anyone’s rent but musicians, actors and comedians have taken their talent to the world wide web where many performances are free to watch, be they by unknowns with a solo guitar or star turns from Lady Gaga, the Rolling Stones or British theatre’s best, to name but some. With millions of people around the globe stuck at home with time on their hands and Wi-Fi at their disposal, the world is their oyster.
As a theatre lover, there was a time when I travelled to London’s West End almost every weekend to see a production as I’m afraid living in Wales is like living in the outback with a limited number of West End productions ever coming our way. What a feast this unwelcome virus has brought to the homes of people like me.
It’s also heartening to observe goodwill in local communities where individually and severally people have been doing their bit to provide food and assistance for the homeless and the less privileged. I too have been a beneficiary of kind gestures from people who thought about my disability inhibiting me during lockdown. Oblivious to the difficulties I had trying to order necessities online, my dentist, Claire, who lives many miles from me, called me out of the blue and offered to go shopping for me.
A fortnight ago as I switched on my laptop, I was jolted out of my Coronavirus despair by a pop-up friend request on Facebook from someone called Dawn. Thanks to Apple technology, it was a voice message that brought the memories flooding back.
What seems like eons ago, I was in a relationship with a woman who had a child who became my surrogate daughter. My relationship with her mother broke up and sadly the casualty was the bond between Dawn and me. After 20 years without contact, Dawn had managed to find me in what can best be described as a serendipitous search for I had quite recently also attempted to trace her, but unbeknown to me she was married and had taken on her husband’s surname.
Isolated by the virus, our reunion is of course via the phone and Internet. We have been catching up ever since and what unexpected joy she has added to my life. Now a successful author, it is with pride I listen to this independent young woman who until she found me had remained in my mind the 10-year-old I last knew in South Africa. We talk almost every day, unravel the lost years and learn a little more about each other’s lives. One of the biggest surprises to us both was discovering we are living not that far from each other – we both live in Wales, Dawn and her husband in the north and I am in the south.
Were it not for all the inhibiting factors of the virus, Dawn and I would have had these conversations face to face by now, but given how long it’s been since we last saw each other, it’s a small price to pay to connect remotely until a way is found for the Coronavirus to stop dictating how we live our lives.
I can’t wait.