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Best in Show
Every week The Friday Speed Read rearranges the deck chairs on its own personal Titanic not for any metaphorical reasons but simply for the fact that they were a massive trip hazard especially when carrying trays of drinks.
Without wanting to drag your Friday towards the long grass of philosophical posturing, not least for the fact that my hay fever has returned with a serious vengeance this morning and I’d likely scare you off with the absurdity of my sneezing but this past week has FELT just a little bit different. And that’s significant because difference has been scarce of late. As everyone’s noticed and then told their friends via Zoom calls, time has gone bonkers since the start of the lockdown. Abandoning its signature linear form, time has taken to sitting around the place on beanbags, munching on cheap crisps from Lidl and watching endless hours of ‘content’ via the Disney+ subscription you swore you’d never purchase. What was short is now long; what was long is now fleeting; seconds are hours; and weeks and pass in the blink of itchy eye.
The only inconstancy has been in our moods which, if you’re anything like me, have been up and down as if dangling on the finger of Gentry Stein (current World Yo Yo Champion according to Google who are usually right about this kind of stuff). If the worldwide dearth of content reaches absolute crisis levels that Netflix commissions a new drama called Jim: Lockdown then it would be full of juxtaposed shots in montage form – a shot of me sitting on a garden bench sobbing to Kate Bush records (see last week’s column) and then cutting to me running down the hill near where I live, laughing with joy as the warm summer winds tousle my bird nest hair. That is to say, it’s been bumpy. For all of us.
However, change (and pollen) is in the air. The sunshine helps of course. Actually, the sunshine has helped since the start of this nightmare. Imagine 10 weeks of lockdown soundtracked by unremitting rain slamming into our windows; it would have been like a Thomas Hardly novel but even MORE miserable. So thank you to the sunshine for doing its bit for national morale. But when you combine a warming sun with relaxed (in minor ways) lockdown rules in England at least, then the crowds of people spilling onto the beaches this week are hardly surprising. Worrying, perhaps, especially given the lack of social distancing in evidence in the photographs that were splashed across Thursday’s front pages but definitely understandable.
Many of the newspapers this week, seemingly unbowed after their recent overselling the prospects of a lockdown relaxation in Boris’s “stay alert” speech, jumped on the theme of better times beginning. “Boris to relax lockdown in . . . 10 days” said the Mail on Thursday; “Virus cases plummet in the capital”, declared the Metro on Friday. There’s talk of pubs being open again, albeit making use of beer gardens to ensure social distancing; restaurants are making similar plans. And when the pervading narrative is one of a country emerging from lockdown, then some people seem determined to prove that they’re not only on trend but significantly ahead of it.
People queued for two hours at the few McDonalds drive-throughs that had opened (which to me seems crazy even though their chicken nuggets are pretty damn good); people queued for two hours at garden centres for begonias and osteospermum (perfectly understandable); people queued for two hours at recycling centres for the distilled hit of pure pleasure that can only be derived from tossing a bag of miscellaneous crap from your garage into a giant hopper. What aspect of pre-lockdown life would induce you to spend two hours queuing to regain? Maybe have a think and discuss it with your friends via Zoom.
Even The Sun took a few tentative steps towards normality by opening the door to its pun cupboard and dusting off the contents. Thursday’s front page was an attack on one of its favourite targets, “leftie” Steve Coogan who, according to the Sun at least, has used the government furlough scheme to pay his housekeeper. The headline: “Knowing Me, Furloughing You . . Aha!” Yeah, I know. But hey, we’re all going to have work hard to get back to our pre-lockdown best and the Sun’s pun department is no exception.
Looming over all of this of course is the search for a vaccine but in the meantime, any return to the sociable world we took for granted before all of this began is both an effective antibody test that can accurately report whether or not someone has had Covid-19 PLUS an effective track and test programme that can isolate those that may have been in contact with the virus. Hopes for both have climbed steadily as this week progressed. Friday’s headlines suggest that a breakthrough of sorts may be close. “Game-changer tests for 10M Brits” (The Mirror); “Could this be the biggest virus hope we’ve had?” (The Mail).
Incidentally, “Game changer” may need to be added to the vocabulary blacklist along with “new normal”, “unprecedented” and “yes, I will have some more cheese”.
So there are reasons for hope if you care to look for them but the converse is also true. I don’t want to rain on your bank holiday barbecue but if you engage in a bit of reading around “second waves” then much of your garden centre and chicken nugget enthusiasm for life takes a hell of a hit. The much-referenced Spanish Flu in the early C20th killed more in its second wave than its first and Professor Chris Whitty (described brilliantly by the brilliant Charlie Brooker in the brilliant Antiviral Wipe now available brilliantly on the brilliant BBC iPlayer as “Tintin aged prematurely after watching his dog drown”) says that whatever measures the government puts into place, a second spike of infections is “inevitable.”
But that’s a bleak note on which to begin a bank holiday weekend. So let’s end this week’s ramblings by rallying around the wonder that is the moment. This second. One of the (many) joys of lockdown has been the restoration of the present tense to its rightful place in the forefront of culture. The past is long gone, the future is beyond our reach so let’s just find joy in now.
And to that end, I think it’s time for a cider.
See you next week.