Some Thoughts on Quarantine by the Sea

By Chris Smith

The sea is almost completely still this afternoon, coloured an undefinable shade of grey as if to reflect the slowly creeping feelings of uncertainty that have pervaded my consciousness these last few weeks. There are no ships of any kind, the lack of any activity seeming to emphasise the vast emptiness of the panoramic seascape visible from my vantage point on the promenade, quarantined behind the mental barriers that we have been forced to erect to protect ourselves; working in opposition against every social instinct in our bodies. I look out to sea constantly, endlessly, it regulates the flow of my days more than ever. I have ceded control of my psyche to the waves, and as they ebb and flow so do my emotions; symbiotically entwined with this all-encompassing, ever-fluctuating natural force.

As you’ve probably heard, these are uncertain times. As if to remind me of this, a solitary police car saunters by at walking pace, its passengers scanning the passing pedestrians with suspicion. Every human being in sight is now a possible source of infection, a foreign contaminant; to save ourselves we must shun and avoid each other. This strange contradiction is at the heart of everything now.

PICTURE: Dave Young

But we are creatures of contradiction, in this age of instant connectivity we have never been more alone. Simultaneously in the face of this invisible enemy that has forced us to retreat into our homes, I would say that many of us feel more connected.

I’ve found myself contacting people I never had any intention of speaking to again; long-held pain and resentment overruled by concern in the face of something much bigger than ourselves. The metaphysical poet John Donne once said: “Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind”. Perhaps a more famous line from the same poem is the oft-quoted “No man is an Island”, and in recent times I have lived my life in a conscious contradiction of this idea. But we are learning that impulses towards isolationism in all of its forms are at best futile and at worst dangerous and irresponsible, that the barriers we put up between ourselves serve to imprison us mentally during a time where our relationship with our physical liberties is changing due to alien forces beyond our control.

We will leave our houses one day, but will the ignorant leave the cells that they have constructed for themselves?

Whilst writing those last paragraphs the darkening grey clouds slowly assembling on the horizon have drifted away, and the sudden increase of sunlight has rendered the water a rather inviting shade of blue. The promenade and the beach are almost completely devoid of life, but in the absence of the usual crowds it feels like a breath of fresh air. A mere injection of sunlight has caused the scene before me to transform dramatically, to metamorphose from bleakness into beauty in a manner of minutes whilst the elements within it have remained for the most part unchanged. The events of the last few weeks have simultaneously challenged and renewed my faith in humanity in equal measure, but like the sea we are capable of great contradictory impulses; of terrible fury and gentle tranquillity. The elements of our being remain the same.

Surely the composition of the scene itself is down to us.


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