In Lockdown

In these days of lockdown, perhaps the most liberating moments occur on days when the sun is shining. I put the laundry on to wash, it finishes, the machine beeps loudly, and I take the wet clothes out to the washing line. I peg out the t-shirts and pyjama bottoms, I raise up the pole that supports the line, so the laundry catches the breeze. On a good day, the garments float and flutter on a warm wind.

Otherwise, there is not much to be said for this time. As I sit here in my study, Chabrier’s piano music echoes out from my stereo. I am one of the lucky ones: although I’m still in recovery mode, I’ve survived the coronavirus. I may be one of the fortunate ones who will have an immunity in future. I have sufficient space to be alone. I have enough books and music to see me through the next three weeks and well beyond. Yes, there are challenges, there are things to do, and I’m confronted with the daily struggle of trying to keep everything hygienic. Nevertheless, I feel blessed. I can still revel in the sunshine and warm spring breezes; my cats run out the back door and into the sunlight ahead of me. Life continues. Not everyone I know, or rather, known, has been so lucky.

The current lockdown has been so complete that I’ve sometimes caught myself thinking that it’s a foreign country beyond my doorstep. We will not always be like this, I know. There is a world beyond the front door. Nevertheless, when I first stepped out to take my dog for a brief walk, it was clear the country had changed. There were people walking down the same village lanes as I was, but as we approached, we each did a polite “veer”, ensuring that we were 2 metres apart when we passed. We smiled at each other and wished each other a “good afternoon”. My corner store’s opening hours were truncated. The patrons and staff wore masks. The queue at the checkout had people standing apart to maintain safe distance.

Until such time as there is a vaccine, I suspect this is what any lifting of the lockdown will look like. I can imagine anything that means people have to stand closer than 2 metres won’t be permitted: restaurants will lose capacity, concerts and sporting events won’t be allowed. Movie theatres will remain shut, perhaps forever, if they continue to lose money. I suspect masks will become as much a necessity as an umbrella when it rains. I have little doubt that there will be many “fashion” masks made. The catwalks will feature models wearing ones with Chanel and Vuitton logos as they walk, stop, and turn.

Will we be without a vaccine by Christmas? The holidays are always a home centred affair, but perhaps the confinement of the elderly due to their vulnerability to the virus will make it more sparse. No doubt some people will consume alcohol with gusto: in my mind’s eye, I see a middle aged father, a blue face mask askew, and an empty bottle of Irish cream on a table next to him, snoring amidst the glow of Christmas tree lights and the fading scent of roast turkey.

We will adapt, we will survive, we will go on. The government will likely have to step up, albeit hesitantly, for all those who have been economically deprived, lest indifference provokes unrest. It’s bad enough that many have lost their jobs, but to see tax money going to the likes of Richard Branson is a step too far. Even the tabloids cannot ignore their readership to that extent. The help may be faulty, inadequate, but we will stumble along. Labour will surge in the polls, I believe, as the government’s inadequacies and failings become clear. If the British government knows what is good for it, it will delay the next stage of Brexit indefinitely.

I believe supermarkets will be emptier. Online shopping, online working will become even more prevalent. Someone will have to say the obvious: if this is how we are going to be from now on, we need Fibre to the Premises throughout the country to ensure that broadband can cope with our new lifestyles. Perhaps the money dedicated to the new high speed rail – a dubious investment at best – will be diverted to this end. After all, we will be travelling less.

Some airlines may go bust. Certainly, some cruise companies will. Airports will be full of temperature scanners, to ensure that travellers arriving from abroad don’t carry the virus. 14 day quarantine orders for anyone arriving from a constantly updated list of countries will become normal. All the while, the mask will be an ever more present feature of our public spaces.

In this atmosphere, it could very well be that Trump will not be re-elected as President. No one, apart from his most extreme supporters, will be able to say that they are better off than they were four years ago. The governors that have most closely aligned themselves to Trump are the ones who are presiding over the most uncontained outbreaks of the coronavirus; this may be noticed. Biden could very well play the “return to normalcy” card, promising to deliver evidence-based policy; this will have an appeal in contrast to the ineffectiveness and harm of populism. In Britain, it may be that Boris Johnson is booted from office: it is clear some of the press has turned on him, in favour of his rival and colleague Michael Gove. The public may begin to look at the world prior to 2016 with a certain sense of nostalgia: they weren’t necessarily the “Good Old Days”, but at least one could meet one’s friends in a park on a bright Spring afternoon.

I think the moments of freedom from fear and tension will come mainly from being in one’s house, the only familiar country we will be able to maintain. The moments of comfort may come when the sunshine glows and from simple things like seeing the clothes flutter on the clothesline. It surely will come from being with family, and seeing our pets sit in the shade. Beyond the doorstep, it is now a different country and world. The only place where normality may continue to reign is home, at least until that brilliant day, which may never come, when we can say that the coronavirus has been defeated.

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