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Wednesday 1 April 2020

Contagion Layman

Coronavirus quicksand

The melancholia is setting in for Hannah Jane Parkinson, and not even a viral video game about animals can rouse her

When I was at school, my class was shown a safety film about quicksand; how we should not wade into it, because we would be sucked into the depths and then we’d be struggling. That’s sort of how I feel right now.

After being sick with what may or may not have been Covid-19 (because none of us know for sure, given that this country has inexplicably decided not to “test, test, test” but just to talk about “ramping up” testing), I reside in a quagmire of fatigue. Of course, a lack of exercise and fresh air means we probably all are to an extent. So I can’t be sure of the cause. Medics even have a shorthand for this, TATT (tired all the time). Externally and internally, uncertainty is now a constant.

But when the fog lifts periodically, I am filled with gratitude, but also a sadness at the beautiful light we’ve been having; the azure sky and the greening leaves. It is like enjoying the company of a long-distance lover knowing you probably won’t be able to see them properly again for a long while.

I miss the theatre and I miss galleries, so I am cheering myself spending a lot of time trying to recreate the experience online (I recommend Google Arts and Culture for museum tours; and the National Theatre is soon to broadcast past performances each Thursday on YouTube.) Of course, this isn’t the same, but the one advantage is avoiding crowds of tourists with selfie-sticks, each wearing their rucksacks on their front, pregnant with straps and pockets.

I am listening to a lot of Lana del Rey, who I have designated the perfect lockdown soundtrack and, my god, I’m excited to hear the songs she’s writing now. If she were busy “tearing around in my fucking nightgown” during normal times, I can only imagine what she’s up to now. Meanwhile, people are talking a lot about a video game called Animal Crossing fast becoming a cultural sensation, which I’m too incurious about to seek out more information. See also: Love Island.

Pity the experience of people who went through previous pandemics without technology. It would put even greater emphasis on lockdown companions. Those living through the 1918 flu pandemic must have been thanking their lucky stars if in isolation with a talented storyteller, or devastated to be imprisoned with an irritating lodger. “Who would you have at your dream dinner party?” and “Who would you most hate to be stuck in a lift with?” are now queries to chew over when it comes to lockdown partners. In a way, we’re all Big Brother contestants now.

Boy, do I miss my friends. Colleagues. Physical contact. Lidos. Chats in cafes (and the staff in my local cafe). Pub roasts. Riding on the front top seat of the bus. The smiles of bus drivers. Saying thank you to bus drivers. Even the grumpy bus drivers. Not wondering if I am going to be stopped by the police for going to a park or buying an Easter egg.

I am still avoiding cleaning the flat. Although for those of us who aren’t wrangling with homeschooling children, I know it is the perfect time to do so. A real, manic deep-clean – as we’re all accustomed to these days. But I feel cleaning between floorboards with cotton buds is in some way admitting defeat; giving in to our new normal. As Peggy Lee once sang, is that all there is?

But there was a special moment at the end of last week. Something that brought me – someone who cringes at displays of forced jollity and bonding – to tears. You already know what it is: the nationwide clapping that rang out at 8pm to convey our immeasurable gratitude to those in the NHS putting themselves at risk to care for us.

People threw their palms together; some banged pots and pans, as they do in Brazil; teenagers whooped; dogs barked and ran in circles; children held aloft handcrafted signs visible under streetlights.

After the last four years of divisive rhetoric and endless culture wars, of the fabric of society seeming stretched thin, it was a moment of togetherness that felt true and pure and deep. Those working in factories and supermarkets and local shops; the couriers, the pharmacists, the bin men and women, the transport drivers and many more deserve our eternal thanks, too. It is my great hope that something positive that comes out of all this is that the lie of “unskilled workers” is exposed for what it is.

Things giving me heart this week:

— the cold showers that recharge me

— the voices and faces of friends on calls

— copious, copious amounts of tea

Here’s to the ties that bind.

Illustrations by Tim King

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