I’ve cried a lot recently (more so than normal). While driving to work one morning in the week before lockdown, I welled up listening to The Leisure Society’s ‘The Last of the Melting Snow’. There’s nothing particularly unusual about that – plenty of songs get me in the throat – but it’s the fact that I was sobbing uncontrollably even when the song had finished. Inconsolable at the wheel and completely overwhelmed by the creeping, all-consuming nightmare of a deadly pandemic. Yesterday, I cried at the kitchen sink listening to the The Smiths’ ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’. If we’re in this for the long haul, I may cry myself to the point where my entire body becomes as withered, cracked, and desiccated as my excessively washed hands.
Life is different now. It’s dizzying how quickly everything has changed, and how it’s made us realise, or reorder, all the things in our lives that we cherish. It’s like the sudden, unexpected death of everything we once knew (and took for granted). I reorganised my son’s magnetic calendar the other day and set it up for April – but the only forthcoming events I could realistically add were dates of the next full moon and new moon. Because the lunar cycle is the only certainty right now.
I went for a walk around our village last Friday for my daily instalment of government-mandated exercise, which was nothing short of exhilarating. I had only spent one week under lockdown yet I walked the half hour circuit like someone witnessing the breathtaking beauty of the world for the very first time – or maybe even the last time – obsessively absorbing every sight, sound, and smell, while my inner sixth-form poet provided a flowery and verbose running commentary. A cloudless cerulean sky; long shadows stretching towards me across undulating fields; the early evening sun bathing gnarled ancient oak trees in a golden hue; clouds of midgies illuminated like fireflies as they danced through shafts of sunlight scything through a nearby copse; a chorus of birdsong; the comforting faint smell of wood smoke…it was all too beautiful!
My rural idyll was occasionally marred by the presence of other walkers, which forced me to quickly conceal my nature erection and greet people with a veneer of civility that barely masked my skittishness and natural instinct to bolt. I was like Patrick McGoohan wandering around the Village in The Prisoner, eyeing everyone suspiciously. “Be seeing you,” I pleasantly say, as I stumble awkwardly onto a grass verge to ensure that I’m the required two-metre distance from any human beings that could potentially infect me with a life-threatening virus.
Life has changed in other ways, too. For instance, my wife and I have suddenly become incapable of watching television in the evenings without marvelling at how closely everyone’s standing to one another. Watching a couple discuss their collection of silver vinaigrette boxes on the Antiques Roadshow last night, surrounded by a small crowd of interested onlookers, seemed utterly bizarre. “DISPERSE! YOU CRAZY, IRRESPONSIBLE FUCKERS!” It was like gawping through a window into a parallel universe where everything wasn’t so shit.
As for work, all my meetings are now virtual while I work from home, as I’m sure they are for pretty much everyone. Every day is Groundhog Day, trapped in the opening titles to The Brady Bunch. As an aside, a new category probably needs adding to the Worldometer to track the number of people who’ve regrettably seen a colleague’s bollocks after they’ve inadvertently activated their camera while naked during a Zoom meeting. I dare say it’s in the low thousands already.
And while I work in my office (one end of the kitchen table), my phone constantly pings with new messages from the village WhatsApp group. Consisting largely of retirees, they share terrible jokes and memes, and occasionally (and unknowingly) some misinformation.
“According to Terry Nutkins, coronavirus is now being spread by blue tits!! If you see any land on your netted fat balls, you should immediately incapacitate them with a prolonged spray of Elnett hairspray. But it MUST be their ‘Flexible Hold & Shine’ range or the virus will simply mutate!”Margaret, 20:16
“Margaret, Terry Nutkins died in 2012. Can we please stick to trusted sources of information from the living?”John, 20:25
“John, I was merely trying to help during this terrible crisis. But I shan’t bother again.”Margaret, 20:27
Work is also squeezed around home-schooling our five-year-old son and tirelessly entertaining our two-year-old son. But as difficult as the current situation is, the silver lining is definitely the opportunity to spend every day with my two favourite little people on the planet – even though my wife and I have had a drink almost every night since lockdown.
So yeah, everything has changed. I think I’ve changed a bit, too. I can’t even find it in myself to be snarky about people in my Facebook timeline posting videos of themselves playing guitar, or the keyboards, or knocking out some Belle and Sebastian covers on the bloody washboard, or a version of Songbird on the theremin. Because we’re all just people trying to get through this, aren’t we? We’re all reaching for the things that lift us and comfort us, and I just can’t rubbish that.
Blimey, I think this pandemic is killing my cynicism.
Stay well, everyone.