Normal Reality and Real Normality

Is getting back to normal life post Covid realistic? Are we Post, what is reality and what is normal life? No, don’t know and goodness knows…

Pandemics, epidemics and natural disasters have been normal for humans since we started wandering around, or at least wandering around in large numbers. Natural disasters were not disastrous before there were human settlements to destroy. Unless you were a dinosaur; even for them, getting back to normal life after a meteorite collision was never going to happen. Even Gaia was probably upset with giant meteors, just when she thought she controlled everything.

But for those of us who thought we were leading a privileged, or at least comfortable safe life before Covid, getting back to normal is what we both crave and fear. Some of us cannot have our old life back, while others are glad of the opportunity to start a new normal. Few of us believe our leaders have handled the crisis well all the way along. Every nation and state seems to have had different rules and while England is rapidly dispensing with restrictions ( I think, unless it’s all changed again ), on the other side of the world ‘Saint Mark’, Premier of Western Australia Mark McGowan, continues to try to protect the citizens of the Hermit Kingdom from Covid and the outside world.

‘In Western Australia, where there has never been a major Covid outbreak, Mr McGowan warned WA residents more restrictions could be implemented as new infections rise. With the state’s grand February 5 reopening now shelved indefinitely, tourism companies on the west coast will be unable to benefit when the rest of Australia flings open their doors to foreign tourists on February 21.’

https://www.wa.gov.au/government/covid-19-coronavirus

Of course it helps when your state is bordered by ocean and desert with only two roads in. Life has carried on more or less as normal. I don’t think people have been prevented from leaving, but they might not be able to get back in.

So where is normal life happening? The fewer restrictions the more worried are the hierarchy of the vulnerable. Clinically Extremely Vulnerable at the top perhaps, CEV a term to distinguish from those merely immunocompromised? However people are classified and however many jabs they have had – we’re up to four now – those worried about their health or their loved one’s health are still sticking to Zoom meetings, shopping on line and isolating.

But going back to normal is not good for the planet. However heart breaking this pandemic has been, Covid will not reduce the population enough to save Gaia, or rather keep her safe for us to live on. Have most of us forgotten we are meant to be saving the planet, have we forgotten how sweet the air was during that first world lock down, when streets were empty of polluting vehicles and people saw mountains from their city windows for the first time?

The new normal is unlikely to be a return to the simple life, or a rapid scientific breakthrough to heal Gaia while keeping our lifestyles. So it’s back to reality, unless you want to hide from reality with all the new skills you learnt during lockdowns. Have a pyjama day and hide under your duvet watching Netflix and ordering delicious meals from Deliveroo.

Silly Saturday- Out and About

Monday is England’s next step on the ‘roadmap’ to normality. Wherever you are you may be closing down or opening up or more likely your leaders are doing another u-turn. Normality is a long way off and though you might read messages on line from your favourite places – ‘Welcome Back’ – do they really mean it? Here are some nice places you probably won’t be able to go to…

London

Bridges open, but one way only, bad luck if you’re on the wrong side of the river.

Dreamland.

Dreaming about eating out? Stick to dreamland, everywhere else is fully booked.

Bournemouth

Must have beach app on phone to check if you are allowed to visit.

Portland Bill

Lighthouses – good for social distancing, but only one visitor at a time.

The Moon

Someone else got their first, closed until further notice.

Cruise Ships

Cruises currently limited to passengers who have been vaccinated and are good at rowing.

Portmeirion

Wales, different rules to England, you may not be allowed to cross the border.

Salisbury Cathedral

Cathedrals are always interesting to visit, but this may be as near as you can get. Enter only if you are fully masked and have had a negative Covid test.

Air museums

Museums are popular outings, especially if it’s raining, but book in advance for your thirty minute slot, book separately in advance for a cafe fifteen minute slot.

Iona

Scottish holy island – ferry only goes once a day. Scotland has different rules to England and Wales so you may not be allowed across the border… what a shame, you would really have loved Iona…

Kingston Lacey

National Trust houses always popular for an outing; they are opening up again – of course you have to book in advance and once inside will have to walk round in single file, one way only, no stopping or turning back…

A Big Country House

Chances of getting inside here for a look round? Very unlikely…. unless you live there.


Where will you go for your next outing?

Silly Saturday – Sensible Socialising

If you have any sense you will probably have used the world wide pandemic to avoid socialising at all, thankful to avoid seeing your partner’s friends, your in-laws or your children and grandchildren. If you had any friends of your own, you probably have none left by now.

However, if you still feel the need for the occasional human company how do you work out who you can see and under what conditions? Government advice changes twice daily, whichever country you are living in, so the best policy is to not let anyone inside your house, this has the advantage of not having to do any cleaning or tidying up.

A picnic in the garden is ideal, especially if they bring their own food and drink. The thoughtful host provides welcoming signs, you can probably nick one from somewhere.

Don’t worry if it rains, you can use all those large Amazon boxes left over from your Compulsive Covid Comfort buying, ideal for making Wendy houses, though perhaps the over twelves might not be so enthusiastic.

Before you phone or message your visitors remember to keep up the pretence that you still cannot leave home, at all, for the rest of the year, despite what Boris may have said about August 1st. Your visitors are sure to ask if they can bring anything, take full advantage of this; today’s newspaper, your favourite chocolate you couldn’t get in your Tesco shop, the milk you forgot to put on your Tesco order and yes a bottle of wine would be much appreciated. Every guest is bound to say, when you ask how much you owe them, ‘Oh don’t worry.’ Added to the money you have saved by not going out, eating out etc, you should be making a profit by now.

The Good The Bad and The Ugly

What if the biggest computer ever designed was switched off, could it be rebooted? Earlier this year the human world was switched off for a short time and ever since, people have been trying to reboot it, while others think we should just leave it switched off.

Can we talk about Covid 19 or pandemics without mentioning countries or politics? Yes. Good things, bad things and ugly scenes have happened this year all over the world, but we might not all agree on what is good or bad, right or wrong.

Good things happened for Gaia and for a lot of people. With everything at a standstill the air was fresher, the skies bluer, people in cities could breathe and see mountains on the horizon for the first time. Wildlife thrived and found new playgrounds. If any proof was needed, this was what climate change protestors had been pleading for; why was it okay to switch everything off to save a few people, but not to save the whole planet? The harsh truth is that Covid 19 may be terrible, but it is not a threat to the human race or the planet, while accelerated climate change affects us all, including our unborn descendants. Those of us whose lives and homes remain unscathed by fire, flood and famine cannot be complacent. Covid 19 won’t destroy the human race, but it is another symptom of the way we treat the planet and other creatures and we have all been affected by it.

Can we halt rebooting and unplug our giant computer at the mains? The beginning of pandemic panic is already taking on a rosy hue in our memories. Silent roads and empty skies, no road carnage or plane crashes. Spending more time with your family, discovering you can work from home, no commuter traffic, empty office buildings with the potential to house the homeless and key workers. The Pope calls for ceasefires and peace all over the world, people are nice to each other and appreciate the forgotten workforce, the cleaners, delivers and carers. Volunteers make an unprecedented effort to help their local communities. Governments and councils, in days, bring all homeless people off the streets. There is a splurge of on line creativity, people across the globe connected.

There was also a catastrophic loss of jobs and businesses, the world of live arts and entertainment devastated. Hunger, loneliness, domestic violence and mental health problems for those isolated in cramped places. We weren’t all in it together, those who had the least had even less. Big cracks appeared to divide people over long standing issues, people started arguing over new issues such as facemasks and there were vitriolic on line comments by those certain they alone knew how to deal with a pandemic.  And nobody took any notice of the Pope’s plea.

Is there any chance our world leaders know what to do next, how to organise societies that must live with a virus that will not go away, create a new fair normal. Perhaps someone will come up with new software to change how the Big Computer runs everything. The newly unemployed will be trained to build solar powered airships and homes, grow environmentally friendly food for the whole world and boost the care sector into a respected well paid profession. Maybe this software will conveniently delete any powers that threaten the new compassionate, sustainable world norm…

Five Seconds of Fame

I keep listening out for the doorbell, I keep looking out of the window, but the street is empty. The postman, greengrocer, Amazon delivery and Co Op groceries have all been, but They never come. Another day when a long pole, with a microphone on one end and a television interviewer at the other end, has not appeared at my front door.

How do they choose all these citizens who keep showing up on the news and breakfast television? I am not talking about science experts, political commentators, journalists and doctors, but ordinary people who sit in their living rooms unashamed of their ghastly wallpaper and awful fashion sense. Out of millions and millions of us how do they get chosen to be interviewed for several minutes in a segment that will be repeated endlessly on the main news and on News 24.

If they happen to have recovered from Covid they obviously have a head start over the rest of us, but it’s not just people pondering on pandemics, I have always been ignored. Every general election, the long years of Brexit, no one knocks on my door or stops me while I’m out shopping for my opinion. Though I would flee in the opposite direction if I did see cameras; too windswept, wrong clothes for television…

But if a reporter did call on me at home they might not get away; all those years of stored up opinions.

 ‘Yes we need more lockdown not less, gatherings of more than two people forbidden, identity cards, everyone to stay inside their own postcodes, disposable BBQs should be banned, litter bugs should be tasered on the spot, private motor vehicles confiscated, air travel banned… it was so nice during the first few weeks of lockdown…. Perhaps you and the cameraman would like to buy one of my books, I just happen to have a box full… or buy all my books…

Maybe a little bribery would secure their release…

Everyone is filmed at home now so if you haven’t had the chance to appear on television you can always pretend. Facetime with your boring family could become one of Alan Bennet’s brilliant Talking Heads – which are perfect for isolated actors and have just been remade.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08ftkkx

Or dust off your bookshelves and pontificate late at night on tomorrow’s newspaper headlines.

In the kitchen you can have your own masterchef celebrity banquet bake off.

‘What are you making?’

‘Bangers and Mash, it could all go horribly wrong… I’m just going to test the potatoes, okay, this is the moment when it could really go wrong, I could end up with third degree burns, I need to strain the potatoes now… make sure the camera lens doesn’t steam up…  yes the sausages all free range, they were running  around in a Hampshire field yesterday… oh oh is that the smoke alarm, I forgot to check the sausages…

Perhaps it would be better to stay in the garden. Gardening programmes are so popular now for peaceful healthy escapism and you can even send in videos of yourself and your delightful children giving a guided tour of your fantastic / unusual / beautiful / bountiful garden. Gardener’s World receives thousands of them, so you might not get chosen unless you have turned your bathroom into a tropical paradise, installed a waterfall in your living room, or turned a six foot sunless concrete square by your back door into the Garden of Eden.

Perhaps it’s best if I don’t film my garden; putting carefully cropped selected flowers on Instagram is my limit. Though if the people with poles do turn up tomorrow I could give them my views on new major projects injecting money into the economy; have all the motorways turned into cycle routes and gardens…

Have you ever invited television cameras into your home?

Silly Saturday – Secret Sorties

The opening of pubs in England on the fourth of July might be welcomed by many, including characters in books and television dramas, but characters and their writers might be in for a shock. Pubs in fiction are where people meet, either by arrangement or propped at the bar chatting to a stranger. Large and busy pubs are also where characters good and bad like to lurk anonymously, looking out in case they are being followed or following someone. In the best stories our heroes and lead characters inevitably have secrets they must keep from family and friends; in dark corners of noisy pubs they meet up to exchange important information unnoticed.

Roving campervan detective, Tobias Channing, in my latest novel, regularly sought out popular chain Wetherspoons for a cheap meal where he would be unnoticed as the stranger in town. Fortunately his story is set firmly in 2014, pandemics are one of the few things he doesn’t have to cope with.

What of novels and dramas of the future? No one will be slipping anonymously into any establishment. At the pub you will have to give your name and contact details at the door, perhaps needing your passport to prove who you are. Inside you must sit down and wait to be served and you had better take a book to read or your phone to play with as you won’t get chatting to strangers. There will only be two or three other customers, all spaced well away.

And if you want to pop to the toilets to do a drug deal, sniff a line of cocaine or squeeze through a tiny window to escape the enemy you have just spotted, you are out of luck. You have to ask the bar staff for permission to visit the Ladies or Gents and they will be buzzing in one person at a time.

This picture on Facebook elicited lots of shares.

If this idea from Paris catches on it won’t do much for the street cred of a crime boss or super spy to sit with Big Ted.

Friday Flash Fiction – Big Issue

It was the dog she recognised first and even then she wasn’t sure it was him, without his red vest and his hair much longer. Vivienne was busy with the secateurs in the front garden, glad of the breeze and cooling of the weather. If she didn’t call out he would cross over to the corner and the moment would be lost.

‘Sam… Sheba?’

He turned and looked, would he even recognise her out of context?

‘Wednesdays, noon, I always bought my Big Issue when I came out of the library after my class.’

‘Of course, how are you, fine by the look of it, me too.’

Vivienne was relieved, she had always felt slightly guilty at not offering him a home, a room at least, not that he was homeless exactly, but it sounded pretty grim the room he had in some place where you might get your stuff stolen and they were always being threatened with eviction. She could imagine James and Julia’s reaction if she had taken in a complete stranger and one wouldn’t know for sure if they were honest and then they might never leave. That was one good thing about the pandemic. All In, councils had to get everyone off the street, so she didn’t need to feel guilty about any homeless people, especially when she discovered she could subscribe to the Big Issue, get it through the post. The money still to go to Big Issue sellers who now needed help with mental health issues and loneliness and boredom, stuck in hotel rooms…. What would she say to Sam… thank goodness for dogs, always a conversation starter, Sheba, a shaggy friendly rescued dog.

‘How’s Sheba?’

‘She’s got a foster family, couldn’t have her in that hotel they put me up in. Now I’m allowed out I take her for a walk every day, access visit’ he laughed.

‘Sheba probably gets out more than me, I’ve got my divorced son living with me, polices my every move, though I guess he was right, the virus is so scary.’

Vivienne felt she had provided an explanation why the spare room could not be offered to Sam; even though there was now the worry about the homeless being put back out when hotels were back in business. The mention of divorce also made her feel more comfortable, her family, her life, was not cosily perfect; James could very well have ended up in the same position as Sam, they were much the same age, though it was hard to tell. She had no idea what Sam’s circumstances were, she didn’t like to intrude, he had his dignity and she could look up to him standing as a working person, not like walking past and trying not to look down at a bundle in the doorway.

‘What’s it like, the hotel?’

‘My own television, comfortable bed, three meals a day, some of the other guests though… I’m glad to get out and about, bit too hot the past few days…’

Vivienne looked at the over insulated dog, panting even in the cool breeze.

‘Would she like a drink?’

‘No, we’re right, Sheba’s been kitted out by the RSPCA’ he rummaged in his bag, produced a bottle of water and unfolded a dish. ‘New lead as well.’

‘Very stylish.’

She looked up the road, conscious that James was likely to come bowling down the road on his bike, back from his work break and daily exercise.

‘Well I must be going, I hope the library opens soon, maybe I’ll be back on my patch in July, before Sheba gets too soft and used to her foster home.’

He stepped out and crossed the road, narrowly missing James on his bike.

‘Who on earth was that Mother?’

‘My Big Issue man, you remember, I told you about him.’

‘No.’

‘Wednesdays, near the library, anyway at least he’s okay, for the moment, staying in a hotel.’

‘Nice to be some, you’re as bad as Cassie, she’s worried about her Big Issue girl, but you should be careful, how did he know where you lived?’

‘He didn’t, just coincidence, the dog’s foster home must be near here. It would be a shame if the poor dog didn’t want to go out on the streets, now she has enjoyed home comforts.’

‘Never mind the dog, the point is it could be dodgy, you don’t know him…’

‘I’m sure he’s not a burglar and he knows I’m not living alone,’ she decided to change the subject ‘anyway, talking of living alone, how’s Cassie, you haven’t said how the bubble idea is going.’

‘She’s not sure, thought she ought to ask that old lady next door to her if she wanted to be in her bubble, have her in for meals, make her feel less isolated.’

‘Oh that’s kind of her.’

‘Cassie already does enough, getting her shopping and stuff, anyway I shall find out this afternoon. I have to go in to the office again, all my plans up in the air now two metres distance has suddenly changed to one metre. Cassie has a few ideas, suggested chatting over the coffee machine. I can sign her in for half an hour.’

‘Well I suppose that will make a change from talking on line.’

Vivienne thought Cassie sounded like someone she would like and certainly an improvement on her first daughter-in-law, but what Cassie thought of James was another matter.

Locked Down or Locked In?

Like Japanese soldiers found hiding on remote Pacific islands decades after the Second World War, unaware the hostilities had ended, I fear I may emerge from isolation months in the future to discover everyone else has been out and about, holidaying and having fun. Scenes on the news of crowded beaches and beauty spots and anti racism protests, leave many of us wondering if we have missed a miraculous and sudden end to the pandemic.

One of my earliest memories is looking out of our upstairs window at sunshine and blue skies and feeling shut in. Until I was nearly seven, by which time my parents had a toddler and baby to cope with as well, Mum and Dad rented what they called a flat, but was really the spacious two top floors of a large Victorian terraced house. A quick glance on Zoopla reveals you would pay over a million and a quarter for such a house in that road today. But Mum had to lean out the kitchen window to hang the washing on a pulley line, suspended high above the back garden of the ‘wicked old lady’ ( mum’s words ) who lived on the ground floor. She never offered to let me play in her garden. But I certainly wasn’t a prisoner; my parents were always taking me down by the river or to Kew Gardens, Marble Hill Park and Richmond Park for fresh air and exercise. I feel so sorry for children literally locked into cramped flats because of the virus. Most children in England will not now return to school till after the summer holidays. While many are having fun and never had so many walks and bike rides with their parents, some children are isolated indoors because of their health or underlying health conditions of someone in their family.

We adults may grumble and some people have found themselves in dire situations, but we are not sheltering in a basement in a war shattered city. For writers, bloggers, artists and gardeners it’s just another day at home, an endless succession of days at home, but it’s okay. Obviously I could not survive without BBC Radio, books, music, the internet, television and of course chocolate.

When we were having our medical dramas just before lockdown, there was another patient who seemed to be following Cyberspouse from ward to ward. He had no visitors because he had a frail wife at home and no family near. I knew this because I heard all his conversations to medical staff and on his mobile, but his greatest upset was not having anything to read and nobody seemed able to get him a newspaper. When any medical staff asked how he was he told them he was soo bored. He was reduced to doing origami with the paperwork they left behind. By the third ward I made sure I brought him a newspaper and he was overwhelmed with gratitude. Boredom can be a worse threat than a pandemic.

What things have been essential for your survival in isolation?

Silly Saturday – Not Going Out

Whether you are stuck in your twenty bedroom mansion with many acres of private grounds or alone in a tiny flat, there are some advantages to being in the majority of the population not allowed to go out. Remember that feeling when your mother believed it when you said you felt ill and you didn’t have to go to school? Recreate that inner freedom of spirit for yourself every morning.

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You don’t have to decide what to wear each day, even if you are still in your dressing gown when you put the bins out no one will be around to see you.
If you are a schoolchild you are taking part in the biggest social experiment ever; if your exasperated parents call you a rat they just mean it affectionately, you are a laboratory rat. Perhaps the experiment will prove that actually nobody needs to go to school. If you had no friends at school you are a winner, nobody has any friends at school now.

 

Parents, if you are one of those families that appeared in that documentary, Twenty Two Children and Another on the Way, you are laughing, now is your time, with a ready made school and team sports. As you could never afford to go out anyway with all those children, life goes on much the same.
Adults, you don’t have to go to work, or if you have to work from home you can do it in your pyjamas.
You don’t have to go out, you don’t have to go to that boring party, your in-laws’ wedding, that tedious conference, parents’ evening, to the cinema to see that ghastly film your partner wanted to see and you don’t have to go to the dentist.
You can watch television all day long, especially twenty four hour corona coverage.

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Tired of decision making? Remember waking up to sunny Saturdays and discussing how to make the most of a nice weekend? We must go somewhere, but where, a favourite place or somewhere new? A local walk or major expedition? Take a picnic or eat out? Shall we call Barbara and John and see if they want to meet up?

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Ironically you will get to know your neighbours better, even if you do have to yell from your balcony, over the fence or across the road. They are home all the time and the ones that tried to avoid you are pitifully grateful when you wave to them.
Your dog is happy, very happy, never lonely and five walks a day with each member of the family going on their allotted outing.
If you are an introvert this is your time. No one is going to tell you that getting out more would be good for you.

You will have plenty of time to catch up with all those ( my ) books you wanted to read.

 

What advantages have you found in your confinement to home?

Apocadystolypsian Nightmare Now

Many of us, readers and writers alike, feel as if we are in a novel. All this can’t really be happening.

Caught up in minor and major medical dramas, our whole family’s normal life had already been put on hold last month, now it seems the whole world, or at least the human race, has been put on hold by The Virus. It is mainly good news for the planet and other species, except mountain gorillas, who have been told to self isolate as they could be vulnerable.

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In my new role ( less than a fortnight ) as full time carer, the first week was spent with family still around and friends dropping in for coffee – though some were beginning to stay at home. Week Two of my confinement and everybody has to stay at home. We shouldn’t complain, there are people in war torn and flattened cities who have been confined for years, with no home, little food and bombs dropping on them.
But it is still the biggest national drama that has happened to most of us. The rules keep changing and depend on which country you live in. Those of you living in the USA will be fine as Donald Trump says it will blow over by Easter.

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Less than a month ago, on our various hospital visits, everyone was using hand gel and I’m sure the rates of norovirus have gone down, but hardly anyone wore masks. The main entrance of the largest hospital was more like an airport, buzzing with life; 24 hour Costa, shops, Marks and Spencer café and shop. On the floor below was a large restaurant packed with staff and visitors on weekdays. I was mixing with far more people than I usually do. That week we were dealing with torrential downpours and high winds; one afternoon I insisted there was no need for anyone to come out to pick me up, what could be simpler than getting on one of the frequent buses from the hospital to the railway station? On arrival at the station it turned out there were no trains to Bournemouth due to a tree down on the line at Basingstoke. Fortunately a replacement bus was soon announced and I joined the surge of commuters boarding a comfortable double decker. Every seat was taken and in the dark and rain with the windows steamed up we had no idea where we were going. We did arrive at Bournemouth railway station in less than an hour, but had been in perfect virus catching conditions.

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Now this week in Britain we are all being told to avoid public transport and keep two metres apart. Schools, restaurants and pubs are closed. We should only leave the house for certain reasons, though we don’t have to carry a permission slip yet. The rules are getting clearer, or are they? The children of key workers would still be allowed to go to school, but the list of key workers is long and which schools had enough teachers who weren’t self isolating?

But I think we understand the underlying reasoning now, it is not that the government particularly cares about your granny or the people of any age with the glibly recited underlying health conditions, it’s because the National Health Service could not cope with vast numbers of patients needing ventilators and beds in Intensive Care Units.
Statistics can never tell the whole story, most people staying home with symptoms are not being tested for the virus, so will we ever know how many? The good news is most people don’t suffer serious symptoms, the bad news is some do and when it’s bad it’s very very bad. The idea of letting nature take its course and humanity build up herd immunity to this brand new virus is certainly not being considered by the World Health Organisation, but a vaccine can’t be magically produced.

Avoidance and drastic measures are all we have, but will our societies survive the shut down of civilisation and the resultant loss of jobs? What will happen in the last chapter of the novel we all find ourselves in?
If you want some comfort reading during your confinement at home find out what may happen to humanity in the future in Three Ages of Man.