Twenty twenty

Reading time: 4–5 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): a slice of homemade cake or chocolate chip oat cookie

2020 has been an interesting one to date, I’m sure you will agree. What with Harry and Meghan renouncing the royal family and all. I can’t think that there have been any other cataclysmic events this year? I guess it’s all been pretty quiet in newsland since Boris took over last summer to #GetBrexitDone. It was going to be a simple in and out jobby, no? Or maybe that was just with his fiancé. After all, getting Brexit done was, and is, the most important development that the British people await. I mean, they voted for it. It is the will of the people. It is democracy at its purest. It is…oh, wait, aren’t some more pressing matters currently taking centre stage?

I have never before had the urge to research the difference in definition between epidemic and pandemic. If I’m totally honest, I thought both were a fancy way of saying “widespread disaster”. Which in many ways they are. But their specificity is not something to be sniffed at. Or indeed used haphazardly. We are, quite officially, in the middle of worldwide pandemic. And with a comprehensive understanding of what precisely that means, things become really rather scary.

To be fearful of a disease is nothing new. But to be fearful of the not-even-physical close contact of any family member, friend or passer-by in the street is like nothing, I believe, ever experienced before. Those of older generations muse that the current climate (though, alas, not the sunshine and rainbows) can only be compared to that of the world wars. When food was rationed, uncertainty was rife, and fear was part and parcel of everyday life. There was an enemy, there were heroes, there was a front line. There was a sense of all being in it together. There was substantial loss of life. But in the situation we find ourselves in today, we are on the same side as the enemy. We are, in many cases, the enemy. Or, perhaps more accurately, are housing it within our selves. Though, it doesn’t come looking for us in shooter planes or via hand grenades; it presents, instead, quite casually, as a high temperature and a new, continuous cough.

I seem to be on a journey (gotta love a spiritual journey) of many different stages in my relationship to and understanding of the coronavirus, sometimes on a daily-changing basis. Incredulousness, peacefulness, confusion, clarity and inquisitiveness all feature heavily. The whirlwind of emotions and thoughts and ponderings and political press conferences has rendered life before the outbreak an elusive haze in which I can barely remember how things went. How things worked. How easy everything was. How one could dash. Oh the time when one could dash! Somewhere, anywhere… the destination is neither here nor there, the enviable fleetingness the fond, but now distant, memory. Now one must plan. One must take plastic gloves. One must ensure that one’s business is essential and less than an hour in duration. And one must NOT FORGET THE BLOODY EGGS.

Sure, there are a lot of inconveniences to life as we now know it. Not to mention the stress of having to re-imagine your WFH routine now that your other half is too working from the kitchen table. But I have also discovered a kind of beautiful serenity in this time. And I believe that this is thanks to our individual and collective ability to see more clearly what is truly important, without all of the distractions and deliberations and, dare I say, dashing of pre-isolation life. I mean, is it simply a coincidence that perfect sight is referred to as twenty-twenty vision?

Not that I wish to undermine or diminish the distress and trouble caused to many as a direct result of this situation. I have friends on the front line and pregnant siblings scared shitless for their safety. I have furloughed friends who are struggling without any sort of routine. I have parents and other self-isolating relatives whose only contact with other people is through screens or windows or the reflection in the glass of the microwave door. And I have a dodgy, dongle-based Wi-Fi connection making the weekly virtual pub quiz a trifle bit infuriating. But out of adversity, if we are to believe a certain Mr Benjamin Franklin, comes opportunity.

Without a regimented and incessantly documented 37.5-hour routine thrust upon us each and every week, we are able to envision and experiment with our own take on day-to-day life. The fact that this concept seems – to probably the majority of the western world – a far-fetched fantasy is, to me at least, absolutely terrifying. When did we become so conditioned to the nine-to-five that not doing it was unquestionable? Who even came up with this eight-hour satanic ideal? (Apparently it started with the Industrial Revolution and became widespread in the 1920s following the lead of Henry Ford, which, though at the time was a reduction in hours, was underpinned by the logic of more free time equals more spending equals more profit for Henry Ford. Gah.)

Imagine waking up without the dependence on an alarm, or indeed the need for an alarm to wake up at a reasonable hour, because the lack of sleep accumulated due to the use of an alarm has vanished with the dissipation of Dolly Parton’s classic. Are you still with me? It just strikes me that – if you are lucky enough not to be suffering from the virus, or tending to those who are – we now have a golden opportunity to re-write our scripts. To – shock horror – plan our own days. Make our own routines. Look for what’s really important, and simply tend to that. For me, it boils down to happiness. And my search is at all systems go.

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