How bizarre it feels, flicking through the pages of my diary and seeing nothing planned. No midweek quiz night, no visiting my mother, no trip to the Tate or dining in the local Greek restaurant at the weekend. My weekdays and weekends are less contrasted and the rhythm of my days slower now that we are all in lockdown.

More than half a million people in this country have stepped forward and volunteered to assist with this pandemic. I was so impressed by the willingness of people to give up their time and reach out to others, to show their capacity for love and altruism. In the words of our Foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, in one of the recent news conferences: “The spirit of selflessness shown by so many is an inspiration.”

A book I once read by psychoanalyst and philosopher Eric Fromm, To Have or to Be, published in 1971 comes to mind. I absolutely loved it! The book reminded us all about the mode of ‘being’. As a child of the 1980s, and after having lived through such a grossly materialistic decade, I could have written a treatise about the mode of ‘having’. I can see Harry Enfield now yelling “Loadsamoney!” and Gordon Gekko reminding us that “Money never sleeps, pal”. There were very few role models in society that exemplified the ‘being’ mode. I was intrigued by the book’s title and eager to hear what Fromm had to teach me.

Early on in the book, Fromm gives his readers an example of how the Victorian poet Tennyson feels the need to pluck a flower and possess it to appreciate its beauty; essentially, he must ‘have it,’ thereby destroying it. Japanese Haiku poet Matsuo Basho, on the other hand, does not need to touch it, but simply admire it, be in awe of its beauty and see its connectedness with all things.

Fromm talks about "breaking through the mode of having" - overcoming ego-boundedness, craving and consumerism. The mode of ‘being’ is connected with our experiences of growing as a person, to flow, to transcend the prison of one’s isolated ego, to give, to share, to understand and co-operate; sensing the oneness with all of life and giving up the aim of conquering, subduing and possessing.

The author observes that such acts of sharing, giving and sacrificing are repressed in industrial societies. However, in wartime situations (and in the current global pandemic) there is no incentive for most of us to acquire, exploit and profit. The author concludes that it is through tragic circumstances that we are given opportunities to develop a capacity for love and experience an inner joy and personal satisfaction that comes from giving and sharing rather than hoarding and exploiting. One of Fromm’s finest quotes from his book The Art of Loving comes to mind: “Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much.”

Then I think of last week’s news conference and my thoughts go to Dawn Bilbrough, an NHS critical care nurse who, after a 48 hour shift, broke down and cried in the middle of a supermarket when faced with empty shelves because of other shoppers who had gone so far into ‘the mode of having’.

“There’s no fruit or vegetables. I don’t know how I’m supposed to stay healthy.” Her message through her tears was clear to those buying in bulk. “You just need to stop it because its people like me that are going to be looking after you when you’re at your lowest.”

At first, I feel furious, then my anger turns into sadness, and I feel moved thinking about some of my own personal memories of the amazing kindness that I have been shown by nurses. Memories of an Irish nurse chatting and joking with me about Riverdance to make sure I was ‘compos mentis’ on awakening after a short general anaesthetic; memories of a nurse bringing me a hot cup of strong tea and warm buttery toast after the travails of childbirth. These professionals carry us through our deeper, darker moments; moments when we are either fighting through challenges or having to endure and surrender, and so they naturally need to be valued and cherished by us all.

Later that afternoon, I decide to bake a small and simple apple and plum crumble using just two apples and two plums before dinner. I enjoy the feel of mixing the butter, flour, porridge oats and cinnamon with my fingers. The sweet smell of apple and spicy cinnamon fill the kitchen air and I begin to daydream about a time when all of this will be over.

I imagine an NHS party all along the length of our high street on the scale of 1977’s Silver Jubilee. I see a huge celebration with an army of volunteers serving food and drink, musicians and dancers entertaining and colleagues giving speeches in honour of all NHS and key workers across the board. The sun is shining down on this humongous tea party packed with the freshest of cucumber and egg mayonnaise finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones, huge slabs of Victoria sponge, chocolate cupcakes and the finest teas and champagnes!

Creating joyous memories of togetherness, seeing their smiles, dancing with them, singing with them, laughing with them. The music is loud, the dancing, spirited. Dawn Bilbrough would be sitting at the head table and if she’d dare to say; “You really shouldn’t have.” We’d all respond, “Oh yes nurse Dawn, we really, really should!”

  • Marisa Laycock moved to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city. These columns are also available as podcasts from 92.6 FM Radio Verulam at