Have you given anyone a hug recently?

I only ask because I’ve suddenly found myself hugging people all over the place.

I did wonder during the various lockdowns if we would ever return to this kind of closeness.

And like everyone else I have done my fair share of miming a hug as I meet up with someone I care for.

But now, it’s as if my body and mind are rebelling against this somewhat unnatural gesture, and in the last few weeks, I’ve found myself stroking people’s arms sympathetically, giving them a fond squeeze, or indeed throwing caution to the winds and going in for a genuinely close cuddle.

Yet, at the same time, I am the old bird defiantly wearing a mask in concerts, cinemas, on trains and buses, in the local Co-op, and even at my choir right up until the moment when I open my mouth to sing.

So actually, I’m mostly hugging people when I have a mask on, but they don’t seem to mind.

I’m aware however, that I’m indulging in hugs because I crave this contact for myself, as well as doing it because loads of people seem desperate for a show of affection right now.

As I said last week, many men and women are going through relationship break ups. On top of that, nearly everyone seems to be worried about the cost of petrol, food, heating oil and so on. And I think there’s a general view too that the world is becoming more hostile.

It’s not just the atrocities being perpetuated in various conflicts around the globe. It’s also how nasty some individuals seem to be with little provocation. I’ve just read a post on Twitter about a group of Ukrainian refugees who have somehow made it to Kent – and who went out for a walk.

Unbelievably, they were subjected to foul and racist comments by some of the locals. What is in the mind of these abusers? Doesn’t this make you despair for the human race? I confess it does me.

And I have realised – and I know I’m not alone here – that when I feel mystified and helpless about the state of the world and so much awfulness, my response is to focus on what I can alter and control within my own little area of East Anglia.

So perhaps hugging is just part of that syndrome. Scratch the surface of so many folk right now, and you discover they feel they’re holding themselves together by the flimsiest of threads. This is a bad time for many, which means there are countless men and women in need of reassurance and comfort.

When I was staying in a hotel in Glasgow recently, I spotted a woman at the buffet breakfast looking rather timid and diffident.

As chance would have it, she chose to sit at the table next to me.

After a minute or two I plucked up courage to speak to her. I quickly discovered that she had been widowed recently and that this was the first time she had ever stayed in a hotel on her own.

It had clearly been a bit of an ordeal. But we got talking, and she told me that she was going to her brother’s surprise birthday party and we ended up having quite a natter.

The next morning, we again breakfasted at the same time and sat on adjoining tables and continued our conversation from the day before.

Now, I’d like to say that we have emailed each other every day since and become bosom buddies. We haven’t!

But I know that we both felt happier and enriched because of our chats over breakfast on those two mornings. In retrospect though, I think I should have hugged her.

Quite apart from anything else, I now know what a shock it is when your partner dies, and you go from lots of bodily contact to absolutely none. I’m ashamed actually, that I never realised what a brutal loss this is until it happened to me.

But it’s a massive change, and curling up round a pillow at night, when you have been used to lying in the arms of someone you love, brings scant comfort.

So, as you return to hugging people, I would urge you to pay special attention to those who are single.

I hope this doesn’t sound pathetic, but for those of us living alone, it can mean the world when a friend gives us the sort of bear hug that lifts us off our feet. And when grandchildren visit and throw their arms around our knees, or whatever part of us they can reach, it is touchingly sweet and gratifying.

Frankly, it’s my opinion that we all need a hug right now – because life is seriously weird and tough.

So, I’m pleased I’ve decided to get closer to others again after two years of restraint.

Let the hugging begin, I say. Will you join me?