The consolations of ‘self-isolation’

It’s interesting that a few friends have mentioned the publication of The Mirror and the Light, the third and final volume of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, as a good excuse for self-isolation. These are mostly pretty busy academics who would really like a fortnight’s break that’s been ‘legitimised’ by public safety measures — time that they could enjoyably spend in Mantel’s virtual world of Tudor England.

Which made me think of the only time when I have been really ill — way back in the mid-1990s when I had a bad case of influenza. It was the first time in my life when I felt unable to get out of bed and so I decided that it was legitimate to stay home and do nothing. Except, of course, that I didn’t ‘do nothing’. I started to read about the history of computing and came up with the idea of writing an account of the origins of the Internet. Thus began the process that eventually led to A Brief History of the Future. So that particular period of self-isolation turned out to be amazingly productive.