Western Morning News (Saturday)

Let’s all just take it one day at a time...

- Read Martin’s column every week in the Western Morning News

ONE step at a time, bit by bit, you’ll get through this – and one day soon you’ll be enjoying yourself, forgetting it ever happened...

That is what doctors say after you’ve had a major operation. Cricket pundits do much the same thing. During commentari­es, the likes of Geoffrey Boycott say batsmen should just think one run at a time, rather than concentrat­e on scoring an entire century.

It’s good advice for all of us right now. Take it one day at time. Don’t think about the whole lockdown stretching into spring – just sort out what you’re doing this afternoon and enjoy it.

As it happens, the afternoons are getting perceptibl­y longer. As I write, it is 4.50pm and there’s still enough light outside to read a newspaper. Just. A fortnight ago it would have been pitch dark.

That’s another good plan: only think about the positives.

We need every positive there is, because most people are saying this third lockdown is far more difficult than the other two.

As a regular listener to BBC Radio Four, I’ve never heard so many psychologi­cal self-help experts rattling on about mindfulnes­s and other ways of staying cheerful.

It strikes me one guaranteed way of becoming very cheerful indeed would be to write a book advising folk on how to stay happy. You’d be laughing all the way to the bank – if you were allowed out to actually go to a bank and if there were any left in the high streets.

We are, of course, allowed out for exercise. And I’ve noticed how enormously keen people are to stop and talk in the latest lockdown. Me too.

On Tuesday, I spent half-an-hour on the slopes of a chilly field talking to a friend who happened to be walking the other way. I ended up with a cricked neck because, maintainin­g a social distance, I spent 30 minutes with my head wrenched back at an angle so I could look up the steep slope towards her.

One thing that surprised me was the woman – who lives alone – said she had no television. Although I’m not a TV addict, I’d find it hard to get through lockdown without a big screen offering endless movies, documentar­ies and other stuff. Nowadays you have such a wide choice, which means you can watch exactly what you fancy – when you fancy – and not have to put up with rubbish just because it’s all that’s on and you’re too tired to pick up a book.

Last night I watched Rick Stein in Cornwall followed by an old All Creatures Great and Small, rounded off by a few 10-minute episodes of Netflix’s remarkable Flavourful Origins, which is one of the most fascinatin­g TV food documentar­ies ever made.

Not for a second was I bored. The giant screen provided me with a window on the world and with comfort food for the brain. What’s not to like?

On another walk in the valley I came across a woman I’d never met before, working in her garden – and we spent 45 minutes chatting in icy drizzle. I am a terrible gossip, especially when it comes to newcomers who’ve moved into the area where I’ve lived all my life. There’s some mischief in me – I cannot resist the urge to surprise and shock.

So I told the woman all about the eccentric who used to live in the woodland next to her home. Right through the winter of 1962/3 he lived there among the snowdrifts.

When the great thaw set in, so John Stonewall Stoneman’s few belongings began to melt amid the trees. I remember paintings, family photos and a shaving mirror hung on tree branches like you’d hang such things around the walls of your house. Ice had got into everything and as it expanded during the thaw so it wrenched everything apart.

Poor man, sitting there wet and cold with his belongings disintegra­ting. It was such a melancholi­c scene, I have never forgotten it. To me, aged six, Mr Stoneman was the living embodiment of Eeyore.

Years later, he came to our house to see me because, by then, I was a cub reporter and he wanted to air some woe or other. He always wanted something in the paper, having dedicated the last part of his life to being a thorn in the side of any local authority which dared pick a fight with him. The trouble was, his tales took hours to tell – so I whispered to my mum I wasn’t at home and she convinced him to come back another time.

He never did, because the next day he dropped dead in a Bristol street where he’d been to visit a specialnee­ds son no one knew he had. The youth was incapable of meaningful communicat­ion, so Stonewall lay “in state” for months before they found anyone to identify him.

Despite being far colder than he’d ever been in that winter wood, Stoneman apparently had a broad grin on his face. Even in death he enjoyed being a problem – squatting, rent-free, in a municipal morgue.

My new neighbour laughed. Far from being shocked, she was delighted: “Please tell me more!” she cried.

So at least I’ve cheered someone up this week. You can’t ask for more than that in these strange times.

‘I am a terrible gossip, especially when it comes to newcomers who’ve moved into the area’

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