Roll Up, Get Ready!
go! - South Africa|September 2020
Roll Up, Get Ready!
Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctica expedition more than a century ago holds a lesson for us in our own challenging era of isolation
Toast Coetzer

Have you got Bovril in the house? Go make yourself a hot Bovril drink to enjoy while you’re reading this. I’ll tell you why just now.

This year has brought us all face to face with isolation. We’ve become obsessed with it.

Isolation can take various forms. A prisoner is isolated from the outside world, but at least most prisoners know there’s a fixed date when their incarceration will end. Some people voluntarily live isolated lives, like a Kalahari farmer at the end of a jeep track 10 dunes away from the closest cellphone reception. But he or she might own 600 sheep and a Land Cruiser, so life is good. You can also experience a sense of isolation within yourself. An Alzheimer’s sufferer might have forgotten the names of friends and loved ones; the intimate connections severed. But despite this, he or she can still be loved and cared for.

When the coronavirus arrived in South Africa and President Ramaphosa ordered us to stay home, we all got a taste of what it means to be isolated. Months would pass before we saw colleagues in person again. You couldn’t sommer just drive over to a friend for a braai on a weekend. We couldn’t shake hands or give and receive hugs.

Some of us live alone; others with a partner or a family. But I’m sure that, even in the most jovial family setup, you found yourself staring out the window just a little longer than usual from time to time, wondering: When will it all end? And what if we really do run out of toilet paper…

I experienced the same. My girlfriend Alice and I entertained ourselves by playing endless rounds of Scrabble (250 games and counting) and we had constant discussions about what to cook for dinner. We’re privileged, living in a safe neighbourhood; our biggest worry was whether our refuse would be collected every Tuesday.

It was also easy for us to work remotely, so our daytime hours were filled as per normal. For downtime, we had the Internet – Instagram and Showmax – and books to read before going to sleep.

But still, I occasionally found myself standing in our bedroom staring out over Table Bay and its flotilla of static cargo ships. If Alice saw me she’d know I was “watching ships”, but the watching actually meant something else: I was worried; at times depressed.


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September 2020