Living in a Dystopia, by Elizabeth Kay
|My strawberry pot. And I have flowers already!|
Hands up who thought a pandemic would be like this. None of us, I reckon. I’ve been reading dystopian novels ever since I was a teenager, and it was John Wyndham who wrote the most believable ones. The Midwich Cuckoos, in particular. Take a sleepy little English village, and turn it upside down by making every woman of childbearing age pregnant with an alien. Or The Day of the Triffids. It only takes two things to go really wrong for chaos to ensue.
What I hadn’t anticipated was the attention paid to the economy, although perhaps I should. All those books were written before the advent of the internet, and worldwide stats became available at the touch of a key. Nor did I ever envisage a narcissistic American president who gave such stupid advice, because he only cared about himself and his image. I’ve been leaving writing this until the last minute, and I’ll probably edit it the day before, when I’ve seen the latest stats. I’m not surprised that in the US, the gun shops have been doing a roaring trade. Nor am I surprised that there has been a run on toilet rolls, as I remember the last time, in 1973, when we were cutting kitchen rolls in half. All started by a rumour, but oh how quickly rumours race around the globe these days. But there are other shortages, and trying to stay ahead of the game has been quite interesting. I have quite a big garden, although some of it is overshadowed by next door’s horse chestnut which was booked in for a prune – now cancelled, obviously. So I ordered a strawberry pot and a ton of compost, which is hard to get hold of, which I had to transfer from the front of the house to the end of the garden by wheelbarrow. A good way to get the exercise I’m not getting elsewhere!
Most dystopian novels have people dashing about round the countryside, snaffling the last dregs of petrol, keeping a lookout for the lions and leopards that have escaped from the zoos, encountering groups that have fallen back on cannibalism. It’s not like that at all though, is it? We’re all stuck at home, and the zoos are in big trouble because they can’t feed their animals. I don’t see them releasing them; it’s more likely they’ll be feeding the antelopes to the tigers, and humanely destroying all the big cats when the meat runs out. Helen Dunmore’s book The Siege has people eating shoe leather.
I didn’t foresee my entire road turning out on Thursday evenings to applaud the NHS. Nor did I see that leaving a Thank You Dustmen sign outside would mean they’d take the branches that wouldn’t fit in the bin, which I’d been leaving out the front for when the dump opens again. I didn’t anticipate all the people who have volunteered to help out in different capacities, nor did I foresee people stepping back out of my way and giving a little wave as we’re all wearing masks and smiles have become invisible. All except the joggers, who expect you to get out of their way, and belt past breathing out whatever germs they’re harbouring whilst plugged into their iPods so they can’t hear you swear. I didn’t anticipate all the people who stay in touch by email, some of whom I haven’t heard from for ages.
But I’m lucky, I know that. I have a big garden, and sitting on the patio in the sunshine with a G&T after a hard day’s gardening still feels like normal life. Apart from the fact that the air is clear, no noise from the M25 – which is a quarter of a mile away – and no vapour trails in the sky. I am still teaching online, and my husband, an IT bod, is also still working three days a week. We are not in trouble financially, and we still enjoy one another’s company. We do miss seeing friends, going out for meals and going abroad, but the extra time means we’ve both been cooking a lot, so we’re not exactly going short. I miss keeping in touch with the adders on Epsom Common, and I’ll miss checking up on the peregrines that nest down the road each year. But hey – our garden is full of parakeets, our lemon tree is bearing fruit in the conservatory, our fig tree is covered with nascent figs. This still doesn’t feel like any dystopia I’d envisaged, but if I lived in a tower block with small children and a sudden absence of income I think I’d feel very differently. It really is living in a dystopia for them.