I must admit that I do not read my letters through once I have finished writing them, which leaves all the spelling mistakes right where they were unless I happen to spot them on the way down, and means that I often don’t notice when something jars, or when it doesn’t quite fit in with the overall picture. Checking my diary for 15 March, though, I see that there was another reason for my distraction, which has nothing to do with melancholy or solitude, and everything to do with an ongoing mail discussion, whereby I was trying, with a colleague, to sort out a problem an get a decision, and someone else was fighting against the changes we wanted to make. The fourth in the chain, who should have been making the decision, was sitting on the fence, not reading or following the rules and, in fact, showing a complete disregard for them, as well as demonstrating that he should not have been elevated into the position of responsibility we had given him. It was a day fraught with frustrations, something which can distract even the most concentrated of minds, and one which had, in the end, a bad outcome for the two fighting against my request. The waiting for mails, the writing of new ones, the citing of regulations all takes its toll, no matter how hard one tries to turn away from the process. However, as I say, the outcome was not what these two expected: neither one is being put forward as a candidate for these positions next year, despite them being otherwise eligible, and the problem has been solved, to a certain extent.

I would normally try and write my letters without any distractions, without my mail programme working in the background, or thee chance of someone ringing on the doorbell – although that is an uncontrollable aspect of life at the best of times. I tend to empty my mind and concentrate on the letter I have received, or on the subject that I wish to write about, much the same as if I were writing a paper for presentation or publication. So far I have had a reasonably good success rate, but now and then there are disturbances which cannot be avoided. The only real problem that I normally have when writing letters is that my mug of tea gets cold as I write, and I end up with a mouth full of something not quite so pleasant when refreshment is called for. Today, with the late afternoon sun falling on my back, I have been able to concentrate – and will, hopefully, keep that concentration – and the only sounds coming to my ears are those of a neighbour mowing his lawn. Which, as I wrote those words, came to an end.

The lockdown has not affected me as much as it has others, I am pleased to say. Not that I do not feel some amount of sorrow for those other people, but I have lived in effective solitude for many years, and successfully separated the outside world from that within my house, within each room. In here, where I am now sitting, I have peace and quiet, and can sit and read, or write letters and so on without fear of too many distractions, without having to worry about the laundry, or a pot cooking over, or even mail coming in on my computer. This last is always in the background but, with the lockdown, there has been considerably less traffic from outside, and matters have been cleared up and filed away quickly on the few occasions when they occur.

I do, of course, miss the social life, even though mine has been limited to all extents and purposes to Masonic matters, and my going out, aside from the daily trip to work, has usually been to visit Lodge, or a meeting concerned with Lodge, or a charity event. Now and then I’ll have taken time off to visit a museum, to see a good film, or even to buy provisions and stamps, but that is a necessity of life and hardly a disturbance to the normal order of things. And Masonic life has also not ground completely to a halt: I had the great pleasure of breaking the rules last night and travelled into Bremen to meet up with friends – four people from four different households, decidedly against the rules – and sit quietly for several hours drinking a glass of wine, discussing things in general. Officially we haven’t been able to meet properly, aside for one or two occasions, for a year, and that does take its toll, but there is always the thought that this too will come to an end. We might not know when, but the hope is there regardless. At the moment we’re planning on getting together in September, one of the more important dates in the calendar, but nothing is certain.

Being alone and being lonely are two very different kettles of fish, and I have plentiful experience of the first but, fortunately, little of the second. Of late I have spent some very enjoyable hours in the company of John Steinbeck and Benjamin Franklin – from the real world – and various colourful characters from the world of fiction. In some way their company are preferable to that of the living, but certainly no replacement. In my teenage years, before I settled down into life I was convinced that life had to be in the company of others, especially those others who agreed with me, and I with them, and who followed the same interests. Luckily I grew out of this phase relatively early, and came to see that life is far better with those who have other interests, otherwise the conversations tend to die quickly. Also the need to be in the presence of other people went its own way; we all need time to ourselves now and then, especially when our hobbies veer towards things only a single person can do, such as reading and writing. Company is good, but not constant company. I can well understand those who, by being forced to remain with those they have married twenty-four hours a day, suddenly discover that their initial impression, their decision to form such a strong bond, might not have been the best idea in the world.

Not that I have anything against the institution of marriage, for those who wish to embark upon such a journey, but it is not for everyone, and certainly not something anyone can suffer around the clock. Those little habits our partners have which are funny now and then, quickly become upsetting when we constantly see them, when we have to live with whatever it is. The way I have ordered my house, for example, would not necessarily be the way someone else would do things, and then we start treading on each other’s toes. But each to their own.

It was, in fact, the works of Lee Child and Harlan Coben which brought me onto the idea of the literary template. Back in the day I would pick up a book, read it, and then move onto another author. When you start getting into works which number twenty and more volumes, each an individual work within its own right, with a separate storyline and other characters – aside from the hero of the tale – and see all the similarities cropping up, then you know someone has found their audience, and they don’t want to get away from the easy life of writing just for them. I have found it to be a similar case with Jo Nesbø and his twelve detective novels, following the antics of Harry Hole, but not quite so severe. He returns, in the seventh book, to endangering those around him, and to losing colleagues left, right and centre, but there is more to the tale than just that. And it is easy to foresee when the hero will go back to drinking, and when he will work to a solution which no longer pleases him, but everyone else is satisfied with – the length of a book is a clear giveaway here anyway; when you still have over one hundred pages to read, the culprit caught or killed is not going to be the one they were after. But Agatha Christie had her templates too, and I am sure many crime thriller writers stick to a muster which works for them, which appeals to their audience. Why change when you are guaranteed success?

There, of course, is the question many writers have faced, and which some have answered. J. K. Rowling writing under another name – caught out by the loose mouth of one of the publisher’s trainees, but an attempt – Stephen King, even Benjamin Franklin. I’m not sure that I would write another book under my own name, but for no other reason than that I’d want to keep the true authorship a secret from those close around me. And I know how easy it is to keep a second personality going, when you are careful, having had a very successful alter ego on the internet, right down to writing and being published in a collection of short stories, without anyone suspecting a thing, and that for over five years. But what’s in a name?

As for my other name, it belongs to whoever wants to take it. Thus I shall perhaps honour a porter instead of myself. And then, even if I had a particular mark for myself, what can it mark when I am no longer there? Can it designate and benefit nothingness?

Most of us are given a name at birth, whether it fits our later personality, or even forms it, can never be told in advance. Many women take on the name of their husband through marriage, a few men do the same or, in Germany at least, hyphenate their name to include both. I chose my own name, after a long period of careful contemplation, and have been more than happy with the results ever since. If people couldn’t correctly spell my former name, my birth name, despite its simplicity (six letters) now they really have problems!

The name is Irish Gaelic, from the time when Scottish Gaelic and Irish were strongly related one to another, and, surprisingly enough, people still have problems with my forename – which I can understand over here, as Adam is not a common name in Germany. It causes some amusement, when people try to pronounce it, and I am sure my personal pronunciation would have any true Irish speaker pulling out their hair. Not that I have anything against my birth name, and I still keep in touch with the Clan, and wear our tartan, but decided that this was more Me – at the time, and since too – and so settled for it.

Books are one thing, photography quite another. One of the few regular pleasures I allowed myself outside of the house was to go to the flea market in Bremen on a Saturday morning, and just wander through the stands seeing what I could find. Sometimes there would be an old book – I bought as very fine complete works of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing from 1794 for an eye-wateringly small sum a few years ago – or some of the photographs that I collect. Many people don’t appreciate their value for collectors, so a flea market is ideal. There are, at the moment, no flea markets. The few people who also go out and do house clearances, passing the photographs on to me, are having a hard time of it too, which is rather more surprising. I received a donated photograph through the post a few months ago, and bought a large framed group photograph at the end of last year, but nothing aside from that. I could easily go onto any of the many online auction platforms and seek things out, but the feeling is not the same. There is no chance to handle them, to pick them up and turn them over. I used to buy online in the past, and now and then I do take a look, but the prices are also rather more than you’d find at a market. And many of the sellers have a commercial interest, it’s not just Aunt Jenny selling off the remains of the family jewels. Instead I have continued to catalogue what I have now and then, as well as listing all of my books – or, better, starting to list them – and I spend my time just reading instead. One day I will organise my books as I have organised the photographs, but that day is not today.

Once we are freed to get out and about again, and larger groups are allowed to meet and mingle, the flea markets will start up again, and then I’ll be out there having a browse, hoping to find something good. I do wonder, though, how many of the people I had met and befriended at the markets will still be there.

As to the various vaccines, only Denmark has actively stopped using the AZ vaccine, all others have advised care and further research is going on. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been delayed, by the company, because they have worries about blood clotting. It’s rare, but one of those things that has been blown out of proportion by the media, and by the Querdenker movement – a group of people who set themselves against government policy as a matter of principle, but have nothing better to offer. There were problems with the AZ vaccine from the moment it hit the market, though, and much of this has been caused by the company itself: failing to give satisfactory test results; failure to give any test results for over the 65s; failure, now, to supply according to contract. You write “made in the UK”, but the largest factory is in the Netherlands, and the bulk of the financing for the vaccine came from the EU, not from the UK. The only reason it is still called the Oxford vaccine – and even this is being hidden away out of embarrassment by some – is because some of the research was done there, and the results were announced in Oxford. However, the chances of getting blood clots are considerably higher for women who take the contraceptive pill, and no one seems to be too fussed about that.

One day someone will offer me a vaccine, regardless of which one it might be, and I will trundle along and get it done. I only know one other person who has been vaccinated so far, as the roll-out is still limited by age, and he doesn’t seem to be the worse for wear. Hopefully I’ll handle it better than the flu jab, which I had once many years ago, and was laid up for two weeks with a very serious case of the flu as a result. Being in seclusion and hardly going out of the door does have its advantages.