Last night I slept fitfully and the dreams when they came were freaky. I dreamed of invasion, of violation and contagion. This pandemic has got under my skin. When my husband took the cat to the vet this morning I was convinced bad news was coming. I watch something on Netflix, hoping to lose myself for a while, I find myself wondering why they’re not observing social distancing. All those people rubbing shoulders with each other, dancing with each other, sleeping with each other.
That’s not the way we live now.
I catch the comings and goings from next door from the window behind my desk and wonder are they panic buying. Do the people walking past know that they should be 3 metres away from the nearest person. Probably not, government information about social distancing has been decidedly lacklustre, with little specific detail and the only recommended distance for how socially distant we’re all supposed to be being found in a note on a table. This is leading to confusion and disregard. Former Financial Times journalist turned teacher Lucy Kellaway tweeted a picture to her almost 60 thousand followers with the caption “Social Distancing Teacher Style”.
Some of those followers were quick to point out that this was not what was meant by the term. The tweet has now been deleted. Now in fairness, none of us had heard of the term social distancing a month ago. It is part of our new lexicon. When you consider that its purpose, and the reason we know the phrase now, is the urgent imperative to slow the spread of this pandemic so that national health services are not overwhelmed, it’s not hard to work out. We should all have an inkling of how not to catch a bug – but if the sudden rush on hand soap has been anything to go by our personal sanitation has got complacent, to say the least. Last night the pubs were full, acting as if there was no risk of contagion. These stories continue even as the situation gets more serious.
That’s the thing with this virus, with being in the middle of a global pandemic. We know what it looks like because we’ve read about them in the history books, watched the horror unfold in sci-fi and speculative fiction. We have all seen the images of mask-wearing nurses, of hundreds of beds stretching the length of huge wards. We know surely that a pandemic is to be feared, that viruses spread through crowds, but as news of the coronavirus spread through the first days of spring did we get distracted by the word “novel” in the virus’ description? Did we assume this one was different? It really doesn’t matter if other pandemics have been worse, it doesn’t matter that in entirely different circumstances we behaved differently. What matters is that there is a pandemic here and now, that is a threat to life and to the integrity of our health system. It really does seem at the moment that common sense has been a victim of our indulgence of lies and falsehoods. Conspiracy theories have gone mainstream and the stories we’ve all grown up with are no longer trusted.
As I wrote yesterday, the stress has been growing over the past few weeks. Today I got up and discovered I had vertigo. It’s fine, it happens sometimes when I get particularly stressed, but it does mean that the world feels even more unreal today. It’s very gently swaying. It’s only to be expected in days like these but it is a warning to take care. Outside of my window, I can see the garden starting to sprout again, I can see birds soaring in an almost cloudless sky. Spring is coming despite the pandemic, despite the increasing restrictions on our lives. The months will pass despite the sickness, despite the fear and panic. Yesterday was the spring equinox. From now on the days will get longer and before long the clocks will go forward. This year for those home working the missed hour will be perhaps a little less irksome. We will get through this.