Coronavirus: Laughing with friends is a good medicine – Christine Jardine

We may not be able to be in the same physical space with friends, but we can join them online or have fun watching old TV comedies like Cheers, writes Christine Jardine.

There is a theme tune from one of the biggest comedies of the 1980s that I have not been able to get out of my mind for the past week.

“Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name,

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And they’re always glad you came.

You want to be where people know, troubles are all the same,

You want to be where everybody knows your name.”

Cheers was about a group of friends in a bar in Boston... the forerunner of Friends, Frasier and so many more.

For my generation it was one of those appointment TV experiences. We all watched, we all discussed it later, we all shared the jokes.

This past week, of course, sharing anything with anybody, safely, has been a challenge.

For all of us the next few weeks, possibly months, are going to be marked by a lack of the social interaction that we often take for granted. Gradually I think we are all coming to terms with the facts and figures of Covid-19, the guidance and advice on hand washing.

But that will not, I believe, be the only measure or method we have to employ to get through this successfully. Working from home which, for many of us, will be completely new is, in some ways, proving a successful distraction from the troubles of the world.

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Video calls that I might have balked at in the past as impersonal are proving to be a really positive contribution to team spirit. If you have the right attitude.

The sheer hilarity of sharing pictures with friends of the home office you’ve set up or as one colleague put it, “The chance to get a sneaky look at what other people’s homes are like”, has created something I look forward to each day.

I have even had to do one call while playing with the new puppy who is making life at home so much more fun than it might have been just now. And some of the stories friends are telling me have brightened what could be dark days dealing with the crisis at a political level.

One is doing a regular ‘virtual pub quiz’ – two rounds every few days – with chums from university, and based on their memories of that time. The eventual winner at the end of all of this will be treated to dinner at a restaurant they all love.

Then there is the kindness of strangers, the little, knowing look you have as you pass someone in the street.

That glance or smile that says good luck, while at the same time you know you’re both wondering whether you should’ve crossed the street.

The long walks in the countryside, time for reading just talking, by whatever means, with the people we love.

In all the living we’ve been doing I wonder if we had forgotten what the important things actually are? Until now.

Certainly for those of us with elected responsibilities that will still have to come second to getting those facts and figures and advice out to our constituents.

This past week much of our time was spent scrutinising the legislation which is aimed at protecting us all and keeping vital services, including the NHS running.

There have also been the constituents trapped half-way across the world who need help and the one word which is becoming the most important in the politicians’ lexicon. Reassurance.

It’s no secret that I am no huge fan of either of our Governments – UK or Scottish – but that does not matter in this.

All of us have a duty to work together to make sure that the public has the information and that word reassurance that they need.

There are some steps that the UK Government is taking this week in legislation that I would normally want more time to question.

But in these circumstances I am willing to offer a measure of trust, but make it clear that trust must not be abused. The country would not forgive them.

I will continue to scrutinise and ask for changes but co-operation and mutual support for the public must come first.

Last week that co-operation was evident at Westminster in a way that has not always been the case.

One minister stopped me just to chat and reassure me about the emergency legislation. Another called me in my official spokesperson capacity.

Opposition MPs are talking and the More United group of MPs’ WhatsApp has never been busier with cross-party conversation.

All of that is as vital to the people we serve as it is to all of us as individuals in tackling this. Because if we trust each other we can build the thing that we need most: hope.

That hope, keeping in touch with our friends and having as many positive experiences as possible, will all help keep us going through the difficult times that will undoubtedly come. For the moment going to that place where everybody knows my name, and they are actually always glad I have come, is not possible.

So instead my daughter and I have been binge watching old episodes of the series which amazingly is still available on Channel 4 every morning along with other old comedy friends. The adventures of Sam, Diane, Carla, Cliff, Norm, Coach, Woody, Frasier and the rest of the gang at Cheers still are providing that other form of medicine in this: laughter.

For me that ability to laugh and smile at times is most important of all, with the added bonus of the memories engendered by revisiting the happier times old TV friends, and literature can represent.

That virtual place where we are always welcome and among friends. Take care.

Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West


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