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.


Susan Price said…
Glad to hear you're both well and happy, Liz.
Isn't it strange, though? Most of us (excluding Tory MPs)were well aware that a pandemic was inevitable, yet we were all surprised and none of us expected it to result in, more or less, nationwide house-arrest.
I've plenty of home-made compost, but I need sterile compost to grow seeds. One of the tasks for today will be contacting a local equine supplier, to see if they will/can sell me a bag of compost.
Unknown said…
I used to volunteer for the RDA; riding for the disabled. I had to give it up due to arthritis in my wrists, which made holding onto a spooked pony a bit unsafe. However, it did entitle me to fill as many sacks as I wanted with compost, and the garden still benefits from that two years on. If you have a local RDA they may be only too pleased to let you take some away, as they often just want to get rid of it. Keep safe, Sue, as we say these days...
Jan Needle said…
If you're looking for horseshit, what's wrong with Matt Hancock and the boys on telly every evening?
Umberto Tosi said…
Thanks for your insights. We writers will be mining this pandemic experience for years to come, perhaps with a new genre or two.
Lovely you have a garden to enjoy, Liz. I have a small one, which is better than nothing, although only 5m from the back fence to my bedroom window means I strongly suspect I caught the virus from my coughing neighbours during lockdown! (Most of our road seems to have had some kind of flu... and it's a weird time of year for seasonal flu.) On the positive side, I feel fine and now presumably have some immunity so my blood is probably worth millions. And I saw a swallow today fly over my house, so summer is a-coming in...
Yes - just like it is if one has an income and a garden etc - wrote similarly myself on my blog recently... isn't it weird? So agree with you about the joggers - we were verbally abused by 2 of them yesterday, simply for reminding them that where we (all) were is not a place where jogging is allowed... (why does jogging appeal to the arrogant - or is it that it makes people arrogant?)

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