Lockdown 2020 - let me Count the Ways… by Mari Howard (Clare Weiner)


What does the word ‘Out’ mean to you? As the nation was advised to stay home, to be ‘not allowed out’ bothered, terrified, threatened many who immediately shared that they felt imprisoned by having to stay home. And continued to refer to ‘being stuck indoors’, even though , as far as I understood it, being outdoors in your own garden, or on your own balcony, was perfectly okay. Maybe here we misunderstood?  The weather was glorious, we and the neighbours were ‘out’ in our gardens, under a blue sky with no planes droning overhead, and no cars pumping pollution into the atmosphere. For permitted exercise, we were able to walk through the local small nature reserve  - the only problem there was the joggers, who although not permitted, took to running through, panting and puffing, ignoring social distancing and verbally abusing those who drew their attention to this prohibition.


That was ‘out’ for us - but, for many, ‘out’ means meals in restaurants, visits to the theatre, concerts, gigs and festivals, football matches… excitement or boredom… and it was denied… we were all locked away bored and restless at home, no going out.

Those who already worked from home continued with their daily routine around here: life does not change very much if you routinely use your computer at you desk in your flat or house, feel financially secure and the home environment is not buzzing with frustrated teenagers or screaming toddlers. We forgot we were confined to barracks, if we are able to continue like this, just adding Zoom or  Teams meetings to vary the mix. Time stretches ahead peacefully, no need to appear at social events or even exercise classes or mother-in-law’s. In fact it’s like the perfect writers’ retreat.

It was a surprise then to hear people say ‘I’m going to be so bored, I’ll have to amuse myself with jigsaws, crosswords, maybe baking (I’ll put on so much weight!), or learn to crochet…’ 

But wait, it’s not the people who have complained about boredom who are suffering the most. What you learn, what you realise, is how immensely privileged we are, the home workers (and especially those merely crocheting…). We are immensely privileged to have a peaceful secure home and finances to cover our outgoings. An almost certainly much larger group haven’t been heard complaining, but have suffered a really hard time. 

People suffering potential domestic violence stuck in fear with the abusive partner, those on zero hour contracts or otherwise struggling with finances, families with children of various ages all to be homeschooled and entertained, uni students used to looking after themselves trying to live with parents again, people caring for children with learning difficulties or the elderly confused neither of which can understand not going to daycare, disabled people who have to struggle without a carer to help, asylum seekers living in poor accommodation with no source of money… all these wouldn’t mind just being bored and doing jigsaws…

The world is mad: another group meanwhile, “key workers”, a catch-all phrase which covers everyone working their butts off so the rest of us survive in reasonable condition. On Clapping Thursday, it wasn’t simply NHS staff but providers of unnoticed vital services without which we couldn't have leisure - what about the bin men?  Sewerage plant staff? As well as supermarket workers, those providing public transport, professional carers, teachers and lecturers having to provide coursework? Some in constant danger but without protection, all in demand to keep things going.

And, those worried by seeing their jobs simply melt away - caterers, actors, musicians… people who work in museums or art galleries… people who run small businesses…

Some have been furloughed, with no idea whether their job will come back… whether they will be needed…

So, some of us have been working overtime, others have lost their livelihood and reason for living…while genuine scientists have been working hard to find ways to control the virus - treatments, vaccines…. And those who've been confusing us with contrary advice and U-turns, people who feel entitled to break the lockdown whether high profile or simply ordinary folk, tempted to thinking it’s okay to defy “rules” and flock to the coast…

There are those who, defying the fear of infection marched in solidarity for Black Lives, and those others who then saw this as the opportunity to turn out to riot and attack… after all, lockdown had been really boring… (and they were not the jigsaw/crochet type).

So what have I learned in lockdown? To further appreciate the enormous range of reactions and circumstances, work and its necessities, some vital but unnoticed, and the enormous range of attitudes from the bored and the selfish to the generous and committed. That those who rule us have really no idea what they are dealing with, or how to deal with it - meaning, what it takes to care fairly for a nation… In answer to questioning what we can now write about, there is too much… in visual terms, it’s a bit like a cross between a Heath Robinson drawing and a painting by Lowry, stick people busy, busy, busy… a thousand million actions and reactions. A country, a world, much like an ant heap, or a bee hive. Little dots, each a human being with needs, emotions, family, friends, and living experiences… One size will never fit all. We can write every type of crime, romance, mystery, and memoir… thoughts, opinions, solutions, and dystopia…

I also learned that I can write in lockdown: shut it out and enter another, more rational, world - the point may be, though, will anyone want to read this nostalgically old-world story? Well plenty has changed since the days of Jane Austen - even the days of Wodehouse or when Marilynne Robinson’s latest was set… and plenty of readers are enjoying Hilary Mantel’s trilogy set in the time of Henry the Eighth…

Incidentally - anyone know where terrorism has gone…?





Comments

Peter Leyland said…
Thank you Clare. I very much enjoyed reading this.
Umberto Tosi said…
Thank you for a thought-provoking read that has set me to taking stock as well.

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