In Memory of Orwell

There are thoughts that, once they have made themselves known hitherto unbidden, decide to hunker down and stay awhile. 

Today’s interloper is How Have We Allowed This?

It’s probably a question that’s easy to answer, at least glibly. But of course it requires a more forensic, longer exploration for a true answer than can reasonably be expected to be forthcoming, outside of a year of doing nothing else and a bursary from one of the UK’s remaining excellent centres of learning.      

 I ponder the question while going about my “lockdown” (of which more shortly) business. I have written a lot during this stay-at-home period (day 57 for me, I just counted). Having finished and despatched a second novel to my agent (to sit alongside the first, which he is attempting to sell into a publishing market that appears reluctant as a toddler putting shoes on), and written a first draft adaptation of one of my own short stories into a 30 minute screenplay, I have also written a new script for a short film that I’m beginning work on alongside a multi-talented pal; I’ve got a new short story coming out soon and have written a new poem that is apparently due for imminent publication. Alongside the words, I try to exercise, increasing my previous three-times-a-week workout (45 minutes each time on an ageing static bike on which I—sometimes successfully—try to hit the 30km mark, followed by a short stretching and weights regime) to five times a week; I cook quite a lot, and am increasingly inspired by the writing of Nigella Lawson. Yes, that bit surprises me, too, having previously preferred Cormac McCarthy and James Ellroy, although Nigella is way better at summoning the confidence with which to attempt homemade flatbreads, or escalope Milanese. 

Back to lockdown, a term that sums up where we are like few others, it being in essence a lie. We are no more in lockdown than we are under martial law, of course, free to wander daily, although preferably not too far from home. Last night my next door neighbour appeared to host a full on party, complete with twenty year old rock and assorted drunken whoops ghosting through the walls. I wasn’t invited, thankfully, and await the outbreak of something more serious than hangovers to inveigle next door. Will they paint a cross on their door to let us all know?

But it is this use of language that disturbs, this “tell us all it’s lockdown and we’ll all come to see it as such” without necessarily observing what might ordinarily be actions commensurate with the term. I read two excellent pieces today by the journalist Hardeep Matharu in which she eloquently and forensically compared the UK’s spread of COVID-19 to Chernobyl, and talked about the infantilisation of the public that has led to a complete absence in critical thinking. In turn, this allows politicians to lie unchallenged on a grand scale. But they’ve always lied! people cry. Maybe, but not necessarily without challenge or consequences. But the population, needing to ask what to do, what steps to take, who to trust, which celebrity’s got a new dress, whether to breathe in as well as out, laps up the part of the lie that it deems acceptable and ignores all else. 

This sounds like some old cynic having a whinge. And fair enough. Except in the last six weeks a minimum of 33,000 and possibly as many as 50,000 UK citizens have lost their lives to COVID-19. That’s like a town the size of Canterbury or Tunbridge Wells or Leamington Spa or Kings Lynn or Jarrow being wiped from the map. And still the papers talk about British Grit or some such idiocy, whip up whisked crap about returning to the pub, simply pretend that it doesn’t matter, that the deaths don’t really matter. Unless they’re nurses, for whom we should clap, or care workers (so appalling abandoned), for whom we should also stand on our doorsteps and show the same appreciation as we might to a batsman coming in for tea having made 100 runs, before returning to the sofa and watching The One Show presenters socially distance.

And now social argument surrounds whether children should return to school. At a time when Britain has indisputably the highest death toll in Europe, the second highest in the world after only poor, poor America, with no vaccine in the immediate vicinity and still only sketchy understanding of the science (remember when that word meant something) surrounding COVID-19, we demand, insist, shame, bully our teachers into opening schools so that children may return, and we do it in the name of The Economy. Because, the zealots tell us, the Economy is the lifeforce, the totem. the engine that drives all else. Never mind the science. What utter nonsense. However we have allowed this, we surely cannot allow it any longer. 

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