Well. What a year the last few months have been.
I’m not about to excuse my long absence in any way. But now, if ever, is when I need to be writing about how the world is.
China has been through the ravages of COVID-19 since November. Europe, especially Italy, then France and Spain, is just beginning to emerge from lockdown. Here in the UK, we’re…well, we may be seeing a plateau in cases, but thanks to our government’s, shall we say, laissez-faire attitude to testing from the beginning, we simply don’t know.
(And the USA is…I fear, only just beginning. While New York reels under the weight of body bags, people in some places actually gathered in churches on Easter Sunday, while TV preachers blamed the virus – like every other natural disaster – on gay people and abortions. While the stock market was on a high, millions of Americans found themselves applying for welfare for the first time. Meanwhile, the creature in the Oval Office calls reporters ‘nasty’ for asking if he has anything to say to console those suffering losses, lets private interests outbid state governors for face masks, and boasts about his ratings. Some have wished death on him; I hope he lives to stand trial for crimes against humanity.)
People have died. Some of them were the very people helping the sick, the skilled and dedicated staff of our NHS – which, even our Tory Prime Minister now seems to be admitting after his own bout with the virus, is a vital service. Whether his gratitude will extend to a much-needed, years overdue pay rise for nurses remains to be seen. Many people have been seriously ill. Thousands of people have had their livelihoods affected, and the promised economic support is delayed and uncertain.
As has been pointed out by many before me, we should not be going back to ‘normal’ when this is over – whenever that is. ‘Normal’, meaning a threadbare social safety net, the weak and vulnerable shoved aside and ignored, and humanity ridden over roughshod in pursuit of the bottom line, didn’t work. ‘Normal’ got us here.
What’s the Magpie doing in these times? Hunkering down at home. My day job, while it is connected to healthcare, is not deemed essential right now when routine surgery is postponed, so I’ve been told to stay home. I’m still being paid, for which I am extremely grateful. Mr. Magpie is still working, in a job that I wouldn’t deem essential at a time like this, but at least his management is being responsible and practising appropriate social distancing.
We are going for walks, keeping safely away from other people, and Mr Magpie is going out once a week to get groceries and do the laundry. A lot of gardening and painting and general house tidying and maintenance is being done. I have, after a long and lazy hiatus, started cooking from scratch again. I am doing a lot of quilting. I had a go at making a couple of cloth face masks, by hand, for personal use – although, if you have a sewing machine and can do these things faster, look up the many online patterns and check your local hospitals, as some are asking for cloth masks for general use so they can save the proper medical versions for frontline staff.
Aside from The Archers (Ambridge is in a weird Coronavirus-free limbo, in which rewilding, lambing and cricket matches are still valid topics of conversation), I’ve largely abandoned Radio 4 for LBC. I’m currently listening to the esteemed James O’Brien, a welcome voice of reason in this chaos, and you should too. But when the news gets too much, I switch to Lauren Laverne’s morning show on BBC 6 Music, because dancing is good for the soul.
What else? I’m watching old episodes of Father Ted. I’m reading a bunch of books on the Victorian era I acquired, with a view to research for a long-neglect steampunk novel, before this thing kicked off; the 19th century dealt with epidemics of cholera, typhoid and smallpox, which makes for eerie reading. I’m escaping with Sue Townsend’s collected diaries of Adrian Mole. I’m doodling, and colouring my doodles. I’m journaling, a bit.
The last time I had this much time off work and stayed home, it was during my sick leave for depression several years ago. So, it feels a bit weird, and I’m taking special care to not slip into a low mood. I’m taking my meds like a good Magpie, and trying to avoid my obsessive rumination method of choice (damn you, online Solitaire). I’m getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and not living entirely on discount chocolate bunnies (honest). I’m attempting to get sunlight, and taking multivitamins to be on the safe side.
It’s still weird. But life goes on. Sort of.
I’m grateful that hubby and I are well, that we have jobs, a roof over our head, money in the bank, food in the fridge, a working car, and that our various friends and relatives – some of them with existing chronic health issues – seem to have been OK so far. I’m grateful that Spring, in spite of everything, has sprung, that there’s blossom coming out on the trees and that the robins appear to be nesting. There are bluebells in the woods, and baby bunnies on the local warren, even if I won’t get out to see them this year.
I have silly, human cravings. I could kill for KFC strips, a Costa mint choc chip Frostino, and a rummage round a few good charity shops or secondhand bookstores. But the problem is, even if it were possible, I might actually kill someone in the process of getting hold of those things. So, I can wait.
I’m not about to pontificate about how this has made us slow down and realise what’s important, how nature is healing, how this shows that we humans were the virus all along. We weren’t. Capitalism might have been. Or, capitalism in excess. We might never get back to normal, but we need a new normal. A kinder, more compassionate, more generous, more creative normal.
We’ve seen some of the worst of humanity in this thing, but we’ve also seen some of the best. The healthcare and other essential workers risking their lives to keep society going. Our military helping build a new hospital in days. The many volunteers assisting the NHS. People going the extra mile to help their neighbours, with food or errands or just checking they’re OK. Celebrities giving their own money to help people in need. Counsellors and educators and financial advisors offering their virtual services for free. And artists, everywhere, creating online content to entertain people, to comfort them, and to bring us all together. And let’s not forget the youngest artists among us, the kids who’ve festooned windows round the country with rainbows and messages of hope.
On Thursday nights, at 8pm, people all over the UK have been coming out of their front doors and leaning out of their windows to ‘Clap for Carers’, to acknowledge the hard work the NHS is doing to save lives. The clapping quickly grew to include banging on pots and pans (my mother-in-law, bless her, broke a saucepan during last week’s session!), air horns, fireworks, vuvuzelas, bagpipes and more. We wave at each other across the streets, shout greetings, check we’ve all survived another week. We look out for one another.
We could use some of that, when this is over. That sort of love and care and creativity will be needed, if we’re to make a better world.
Take care, everyone. Stay safe. Wash your hands. And I’ll try to check in here a bit more often.