Or ‘How I learned to stop worrying and (not quite) love the corona virus’
Chances are that you are reading this from lockdown somewhere in the world (I have little clue about how the internet works but most people who read what I write, read it on the day it was written) and no matter where you are I appreciate the fact that you are reading it at all.
Of course, it meant more back in the olden days, when we were allowed to do things and go places but hey, I’ll take it. You might be berating the fact that all you have available to you currently is this crummy blog and I feel your pain, as they say. All I have available is to sit here and write the thing.
Life is… different now. It is constricted, oppressive… limited.
Or is it?
If you look at my google activity map for March you will find a marked difference to any other period in my life. I drove for a total of 7.2 miles in the whole month and that was one trip. So I have become limited in my travel but… I have also become freer to do other things. This lockdown has not been uniformly negative for me.
Make no mistake. I wish it had never happened. As an asthmatic with poor lungs I am fully aware of what it is like to be struggling for breath inside in an oxygen mask and you don’t get to my age without experiencing grief. Although I cannot possibly conceive of the agony suffered by those families who have lost young people. 13 year old boys… five year olds. This is a horror.
For those who are self-employed or struggling financially I totally get it – this is a disaster and don’t imagine for a second that I won’t be harangueing all and sundry when this is over. Equally there are some people who can’t stop working because they are fighting the damn virus – and life has changed for them only in bad ways. I won’t be forgetting Priti Patel’s non-apology either.
It is easy to highlight the things that we have lost and easier still to blame the people in charge for their failures – that is what the press is for. But I didn’t want to write about what I thought and felt right away because my first thoughts were Fuck! Shit! and my first feeling was terror. Which is no good to anyone.
And even weeks into this thing, that feeling has not entirely gone away. It’s like a fairground ride or a pendulum. It’s like trying to stand up in a small boat as the waves toss you up and down. Just when you reach some kind of equilibrium another piece of news appears either at home or abroad; or another wave of deaths is broadcast, so you lurch into a nauseous spin as your mind tries to grapple with both the existential terror and the sunshine in the garden at the same time.
If there were sirens going off and drone strikes then perhaps we would become acclimatised, but there aren’t. There are stereos playing in the back garden and the sound of lawnmowers. It feels like a long weekend, where there’s not enough time to go anywhere but no work to do. Until you remember there is work to do and, oh yeah, your chances of survival if intubated are about fifty percent – the toss of a coin.
That confusion you feel is the combination of fight-or-flight adrenaline mixed with boredom. And what we are living through is the most intense and mundane thing that will likely ever happen to any of us. For those of us not suffering the immediate trauma of loss, or the exhaustion of the battle in the hospitals this is a lens through which we can see our lives a little differently – and like all lenses, it tends to change your focus.
For me, this is bringing great clarity in certain areas. If, for example, you focus that lens on …
The Big Stuff
Margaret Thatcher once said ‘There is no such thing as society’ and that turns out to be about as right as you think it is. Her idea was that although there were things like family units there was no underlying structure or greater altruism. People didn’t really care about the big picture, they cared only about themselves. Turns out that was a pile of shite.
And it sucks to be poor, or worse, poor and in an ethnic minority. Both groups being disproportionately hit by this pandemic. I’m going to check my privilege right here and leave that subject to people better qualified/justified in their protests.
The corona lens also brings into the spotlight things like the importance of normal working folk – nurses, yes, but also the delivery drivers, the supermarket workers and the tradesmen like plumbers and electricians. Turns out everyone is important – guess that’ll get forgotten immediately when this is all over.
The Little Things
And just as it is the ‘little’ people who turn out to be vital so it is the little things that are teaching us the greatest lessons. Some things we thought were vital turn out not to be. For example…
I can’t go to the shops.
No shit? I live seven or eight miles from the nearest real shopping centre place and guess what? I’m lucky if I can find the time to get up there four times a year. Sure, I have the weekends but between ferrying the kids to lessons and clubs and getting the grocery shopping done I can easily go three months without hitting the mall in search of something I don’t need. If I actually do need a new pair of Adidas that can be a six month project. I don’t like shopping and I won’t miss it.
I can’t get out and exercise
I’ll leave those who know me in the flesh to fill in the punchline of that particular joke. Although I am trying to do some press-ups, squats and the like.
I can’t have friends to the house for a BBQ
Okay, I’ll give you that one. Not being able to see friends has actually been really painful. I only have about two BBQs a year because we live in Scotland but the (in)ability to see friends has been a big effect.
The other day we took our daily family walk and just went to people’s houses to play the dumbest game of chap-door-run ever. We knocked on the door and then stood a good fifteen feet away so that we could talk to them across the width of their garden. We went to my sister’s house just so we could see her and clap the dog (The spaniel knows nothing about anything and less than that about the corona virus).
Did we talk about anything important? Hell no. How can you when you are standing on the street and nearly shouting across the lawn?
It didn’t matter though. I called my father the other day because I was standing within eyesight of a petrol station and the price of petrol is ridiculously low and I thought I would share that information. We got 5 minutes chat out of that. It genuinely feels like being thrown back in time. When someone comes to visit the whole fucking family has to come down and see what all the fuss is about. We’re the 21st century equivalent of those kids at the beginning of the 20th century who would run after cars because who knows when you’ll ever see another one?
I now have an appreciation of small talk. I used to hate it (and likely will again) but for now I understand why it exists and I need it just as much as anyone. The sheer joy I get in seeing other people’s faces and knowing that they are there… it’s a big change from a small thing.
But not the biggest.
No. It’s work that has seen the biggest effects. And I’m not just talking about financially. Of course, everyone is different…
I know people who work for large corporations and they are reporting actual financial benefits in some cases – there is no travel to pay for, fuel costs have all but vanished and hotel bills are non-existent.
Perhaps you work in London and now find that the morning commute was not really necessary – only to discover that you do miss leaving your house each morning and going to a place that has people in it. Even if two months ago you would happily have gone postal on most of them.
It’s the going to work that has changed and that’s why I am not sure life has been made measurably worse for us. For me the difference really lies in how defined I had become by my work. I spend a lot of time in classrooms, or in meetings. If you look at me as an educator or a film maker or even as a writer then my job is a people job. Take that aspect away and… what is left?
I now have to work remotely. There are fewer meetings and exactly no trips to London (which I had been looking forward to) for useless film industry encounters that, actually, mean the whole world to me.
I should be moaning. And those who know me could tell you how much I love a good moan. But I ain’t. Not because this isn’t going to hurt financially – it will – but because the corona lens has shown me what is important in my life and I am (a little) grateful for that.
I am terrified of this thing. Not just because it could kill me but because it could leave my children without a father. I realised quite quickly that there are things I have to do that I have not yet done. I have stories that lie unfinished, including my own.
So thank you corona. I wish I had never heard of you but in the last three weeks I have done more work not less -whilst at the same time (hopefully) retaining a sense of perspective on what is important. Whilst a great many of you might be out there and hating every second of this unfair incarceration (and rightly so) I have listened to (and appreciated) more music than I normally would in a year; I’ve retreated into reading… and research… and writing.
So, I have run to my favourite place – a world of my own creation where I move the characters around and summon events at will. This pandemic has only really shown me that I should have been doing this more all along. It has focused me… like any good lens would.
Perhaps this is just me but I suspect not. I suspect that the corona lens has had a similar effect on other people and brought into pinpoint sharpness what is most important to all of us.
All of us.
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