Yesterday morning as I was walking past the increasingly small number of fellow pedestrians headed for work, the song `Everybody Hurts` was playing through the speakers of the adjacent shopping centre. The song swirled quite loudly around us and I had a sudden filmic moment. I imagined people stopping and acknowledging each other aware that hugging was out of the question due to social distancing but at least everyone understanding we were all in it together, a powerful moment of empathy in the midst of a crisis. Perhaps everyone sang together. It didn’t happen, instead we all just carried on walking our separate ways. Obviously I do not have the power of Richard Curtis.
This is the most unusual, unsettling time I’ve ever lived through simply because it is happening to everyone. Usually when one of life’s crises occurs it is within your own circle. Other people can sympathise, help etc. Even a major tragedy that might shock everyone does not actually involve most of us directly. Wars are fought all the time and sometimes we don’t even notice. Recessions affect some badly but not others. Yet every single person in the world is affected by this situation. Ironically the thing that finally brings us all together is also making us stay apart.
Here the number of closed shops is going from the minority to about half and tonight’s closure of pubs, restaurants and others will take to about 75%. Coffee shops and fast food places are now takeaway only. All shops are reducing hours, public transport reducing its frequency. Will hairdressers close? When everyone emerges from isolation will we all be sporting unfeasibly long bushy barnets?
Every possible event you can think of- and even ones you’d never heard of – have been cancelled. And you still can’t get pasta, paracetamol or toilet rolls. I’m going to be typing that a lot aren’t I? Though I’ve seen photos online of people with trolleys full of toilet rolls all I’ve personally seen are empty shelves. I keep looking at the estimates as to when some things will go back to normal and then at the number of toilet rolls I have and wondering- `will this be enough?`. Worse than that though I’ve noticed other products disappearing too as if this may be the end of the stock line for hundreds of things. You might well ask if I’m noticing all this am I in fact panic buying myself? Actually I’m not, I normally shop at the weekend but I’m getting regular things on week days because I wonder if there’ll be much left by the weekend.
Social distancing is in full effect in a Tesco Express I visited a couple of days ago which had criss- crossing yellow lines on the floor in front of the till and glove wearing staff to pack your bag and hand you the card reader. Some supermarkets now have queues outside or have special times reserved for the elderly. Those traders I mentioned in the last post still have their stalls selling hand sanitizer and cleaning products described as `Spanish`. Is that really an invitation to readily purchase them? Still present in his usual place though is a familiar city centre character who croaks his way through songs making even the most familiar unintelligible. When I say `croaks` I do mean literally, the guttural sound echoing through a microphone. Looking to be in his seventies he always wears a big, bright wig and multi coloured clothes. He could be the only person in the world who has not heard of the coronavirus; when he disappears it really will be lockdown.
While there is largely a spirit of getting on with it at this early stage there has also been some harsh criticism especially of people continuing to travel into a workplace. I have to say that the official advice can be a bit vague; are there for example even that many jobs that are not essential? That list of essential workers seems to cover a huge proportion of the workforce. Is there a difference between going from home to a workplace then back than leaving home to visit several shops? So long as you take precautions and do all that hand washing (I’ve never had such dry skin caused by some much soap and water!) I’m not sure.
There has been some inevitable criticism too of the government as if Boris and co are just making this up as they go along. I don’t think it would make much difference which party formed the government at this juncture. In these scenarios their decisions are controlled by events not by some manifesto cooked up in committees. This is what we could dub `Politics- Live!` in which politicians no longer have the luxury of months of planning and need to react right away. We can go back to criticising them later, for now we have to assume that the people advising them know what they’re talking about- all the government does is facilitate what is needed.
I will no doubt be working from home soon something I’ve never done before unless you count writing several novels, endless blog posts and a lot of fanzines working. I suppose I’m from a tradition where people went out somewhere to work and came home afterwards, the two being separate worlds. Working from home seemed to be quite a buzzword even before the virus but now it will seem a little like house arrest. Plus when there’s somebody else in the house, they don’t necessarily understand the concept and that you are supposed to be working even though you’re just there, downstairs, in the same building.
After a year of delaying it cos it’s a lot of faff I splashed out on a new laptop this week to enable me to work from home. Buying the device felt like a hop back to the world as it was a month ago as the shop was reasonably busy and I was impressed by the sleek manner in which the device was packaged complete with a handle to carry it neatly. It was almost too good to open. Last night was all installing security then realising I’d not left my work pc on so attempting a remote connection was pointless. Distanced again!
Though this virus has been kicking around a while, this does seem like it’s been week one of many, many weeks of increasing isolation, scavenging around half empty shelves and watching that egg timer as my remote connection drops out. If I’m really lucky I might not even get the virus. Whatever happens, I have a feeling we’ll all know what social distancing really means over the coming weeks.