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Well! These are indeed extraordinary times. Tough times. Scary times. But whilst our everyday lives have changed beyond belief, there’s proof around the world that things will return to normal, eventually.

Even our vocabulary has changed – self isolating and social distancing are new phrases but the concept of quarantine hasn’t changed over the years.

There’s a tiny village in Derbyshire called Eyam. Not as well known as it’s pretty neighbour Stoney Middleton, mostly because the road through the latter is one of the more major routes through the Peak District. But in reality Eyam is the more famous.

During The Great Plague of 1665, almost a quarter of London’s population was wiped out within 18 months. The disease was spread through the bite of infected rat fleas. At a time when the spread of the plague was slowing, some of those fleas arrived in Derbyshire in a tailor’s bundle of cloth.

As villagers began to fall ill, the 1000 inhabitants of Eyam were persuaded to isolate themselves from the villages around. A gritstone boulder still stands on the village boundary with six holes in it. Villagers would leave money in the holes and supplies of food and medicine would be left by the stone by neighbouring villages.

The people of Derbyshire didn’t know how the plague was transmitted – it was a calculated guess – and the self imposed isolation was the idea of the newly arrived priest, William Mompesson, aided and abetted by his predecessor Thomas Stanley.

It is a truly amazing story of self sacrifice; one that my mother used to tell me with tears in her eyes. (Although, to be honest, she could never get to the end of Babar without crying either.)

The one thing the villagers of Eyam didn’t do was to distance one from the other. As they nursed each other and maintained their community, so the plague spread rapidly through their population.

Thankfully we’ve learned quite a lot in the last 400 years. And we’re not the first country to have to deal with it – so we’ve got the research, knowledge and know how to slow the spread of this novel Coronavirus.

That’s why we’re being asked to keep two metres away from each other – to self isolate in family units and to wash our hands. That’s all we need to do. The scientists and doctors will do the rest.

Yes it’s going to be hard, not to see our friends and family as usual – not to go to our places of work. Hopefully measures are being put in place to make sure people don’t suffer financially. But we have television and the internet – books and kindles and the opportunity to do some of those things we ‘haven’t had the time to do’ before.

And on the positive upside, an assistant professor at Stanford’s Department of Earth System Science suggests that the reduction in air pollution resulting from China’s drastic measures during the coronavirus outbreak is likely to have ‘saved twenty times more lives in China than have been lost to the virus.’

In fact, many countries have recorded a significant drop in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions

And in Venice the water in the canal network is cleaner and clearer than in living memory, with fish visible below the surface.

Accepted that many of these benefits will disappear when life returns to normal, but perhaps the ‘new’ normal will still offer some beneficial effects.

Many many people have switched to home working during this crisis. Some companies may find that this is a better, more productive way of working and will allow their employees to continue.

In the meantime, we’ve all got ‘time’ on our hands. And that’s something that is usually in very short supply in 21st Century living.

Social media suggests we put up trees and lights and enjoy a second Christmas, without the stress of cooking huge meals and buying presents. It’s one idea, but not for everyone.

What we do have is the opportunity to do something new – take up a new hobby, learn a new language. We can get the garden properly sorted for the spring? Clear out the loft or the laundry cupboard. Or, if you want to be really really useful, invent an alternative to loo roll and make it widely available.

If your kids are at home, enjoy their company, play with them and read them stories. And if you ever find out what happens at the end of Babar – please let me know!


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