Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

Thursday 26 March 2020

contagion layman

‘War-footing’, but in slippers

In her second week of quarantine, Hannah Jane Parkinson is getting a repetitive strain injury – and not from her keyboard

We are now on lockdown, which is essentially sitting on the sofa by government decree. Perhaps Number 10 wouldn’t have gone quite so far, except for a lot of people taking a “stiff upper lip” approach to a virus and not adhering to the rules. (Perhaps it would have always gone so far, looking at Italy.) Others are comparing the experience of living in sweatpants picking at grapes to being ground into the mud on the Somme. We are on a “war-footing”, but wearing slippers throughout. I wouldn’t say the two are quite the same.

I’m being flippant, but of course it turns out that, in some ways, this actually is quite difficult. It’s both the easiest task, and yet will prove to be a trial of endurance. It requires no skill and yet it will test us. The thing that is concerning me most, as someone who lives alone, is the thought of going weeks – and who knows how long beyond that – without human touch. I don’t mean sex (though also sex; repetitive strain injury is a potential hazard, just not from the office keyboard) but the enveloping embrace of a pal; the kiss on the cheek; holding hands with a romantic partner. We call them “touchscreens”, but of course, they’re not. Not really.

I am writing this as the sun streams through my window, patterns of light thrown against the wall. It is beautiful. This is the sort of thing we must hold close. I will go on my once-a-day permitted walk soon, and I will want to walk and walk. Maybe walk until I forget about all this. Which sometimes I do. Upon waking there is a brief moment of oblivion. Or how when I close the covers of a book after a period of reading, I am briefly transported into the old world. Without wanting to sound dramatic, it feels similar to when a loved one has recently died, this slipping out of knowing and not knowing. Many people’s loved ones have recently died.

To take my mind off this, I’ve been devouring videos on social media that have wet my cheeks with tears of laughter. The teens on TikTok are often unfairly mocked, but here they are stepping up to the plate with their own public service. Meanwhile, in scenes I never would have imagined, Arnold Schwarzenegger is emerging as quite the coping tool, posting frequent clips of him with his pet miniature horse, Whiskey, and a donkey called Lulu. (You read that right.)

Less comforting remains the response from our politicians. While Boris Johnson did manage to address the nation for a whole two minutes without gurning and asking someone to pull his finger, he still has the intensely annoying and unserious habit of banging the lectern during his daily briefings and continues to use the word “should” when “must” would be a more apposite choice. He has turned out to be quite the awful orator.

The thing that infuriates most, however, is that NHS frontline workers are still reporting a lack of proper personal protective equipment (PPE). This is madness. How are we not protecting the people responsible for protecting us? The fate of the self-employed, renters and gig workers still hangs in the balance.

But in good news: we are closer to an antibody test, which will reveal who has previously had the virus and therefore be (if only temporarily) immune. A game changer. And in a triumph of collective will and engineering, a group of academics have come together and designed prototype ventilators in an attempt to quickly make up the shortage.

I am quietly making a list of the companies and wealthy who are aiding the fight, and those who have thrown people under the coronavirus bus. Cheeringly, there seems to be more of the former. My spirits are ok for the time being, then. I have both vodka and brandy left.

Things I am grateful for:

  • That I have retained the concentration to read, read, read.
  • Nigella Lawson and Jack Monroe dishing out daily cooking tips.
  • My garden. I feel very lucky indeed to have one.

We will get through this. Together apart.

Illustrations by Tim King

All our journalism is built to be shared. No walls here – as a member you have unlimited sharing