As we approach the VE day celebrations next weekend, lockdown has got me thinking about life in a submarine: 120 or so men and women under water for weeks or months at a time. A lockdown of duty. With the help of friends I found some submariners to talk to, and asked them for their advice on lockdown survival and beyond. If you would like to know more, read on…
One of the most heartening things in these weeks of lockdown has been the unexpected and extraordinary conversations I have had or listened to. On a call to FedEx to request a pick up for a parcel, I found myself not only thanking the receptionist Susie and all at FedEx for being there to pick up the parcel - making an 18th birthday in lockdown special, but also asking Susie how she was coping with lockdown? She said she had learnt to sing opera and had begun to play the piano again. How fantastic, I thought, Susie seemed buoyed up by her achievements such that she might pursue them more seriously post lockdown.
I have been thinking also how lockdown can be a conscious life choice. Some people are naturally reserved leading a quiet life, like hermits of old. Others choose a self-imposed lockdown: like writers. Submariners go into lockdown many leagues under the sea, for months on end, and out of choice as their job demands it. I am reminded in these days approaching the VE day celebrations on 8th May, of my cousin Lt Commander David Wanklyn who was a submariner on HMS Upholder and sunk more tonnage than anyone else before a depth charge got him and his crew (he was awarded a posthumous VC when he died aged 30 in 1942).
I have now spoken to three submariners, they each said survival comes down to a short list of seven things. I like to think that the symbolism of seven is important: as a Christian, seven symbolises the seven sacraments: baptism, eucharist, confirmation, marriage, reconciliation, holy orders, anointing. For a submariner, seven stands for:
2. Structure and routine
Interaction with loved ones is key. Routine, structure and duty help bind the team together. Team trust in emergencies helps pull them through, and the chef making bad fish and chips on a Friday can bring a ship close to mutiny. Does any of this resonate at home in lockdown with you? I thought about all these things in the first week of lockdown. And I am revisiting them now with new eyes, one at a time, every day.
For those at the front line, there has been little time to reflect when the day has been long, intense and agonising. For the majority of the rest of us lockdown has given us the chance - whether on a walk, preparing lunch or hanging out the washing - to pause and reflect. This Covid-19 lockdown is a unique and probably 'once in a lifetime' opportunity to make us all slow down and take TIME. Time to prepare for adapting to the new world that is being created before our eyes; a new world that we can shape with our hopes and dreams for a better place.
Lockdown has made me slow down and also ask myself the question: "If lock down ended in a week or two, what would I say (or perhaps what would I like to say) I had done during those Covid-19 weeks?", when I meet up with a friend over lunch later this summer, or in a decade or so talking to my grandchild studying the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of wondering, I panicked. Six weeks have gone by and somehow there has not been ENOUGH time to do all the things I had been thinking of doing!!! And where had the last few weeks gone? I needed to take action.
I went back to the paper I had stuck for the whole family inside the kitchen door entitled: COVID-19 and with its weekly columns of:
Achieved for the world
Achieved for me
Plans for the new world
Over these weeks the whole world has slowed down, we have come to value people and communities more (like the amazing teams within the NHS) and we have all enjoyed spring more than ever before, observing trees coming into leaf from one day to the next in the sunshine, the dawn chorus of the birds, the bees buzzing giddily over the flowers drunk on sweet nectar. It's time to think a little more deeply about lockdown. Just like for a submariner - lockdown is a challenge to be met and acted upon.
Cassandra was speaking to submariners:
Lt. Commander David Brannighan, Lt. Hugo Mitchell-Heggs and Capt. Richard Sharpe OBE. Richard captained the submarine HMS Aeneas, which featured in the 1967 James Bond film You only live twice with Sean Connery. In the final scene (where the raft is balanced on top of the rising submarine),the scene itself is filmed in reverse as it is too dangerous for a submarine to rise up with anything nearby.