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DIARY Distant socialising

Writer JAN WOOLF reflects, among other things, on how anxiety is the gap between how things are and how we want them to be

PICTURED is my pot scourer after a fortnight’s heavy duty, smiling through the frazzle like its owner.

But it’s been a different atmosphere this week for us iso-lonas. I enjoyed the sun, that great propagator, getting our imaginations going. But now for some hardening off, as gardeners say.  

OK, the air smells fresher, the roads are clearer and I’m getting in touch with my inner Billy Blake. If there’s all the world in a grain of sand, think how much there is in a house. But if I was in a small flat with tetchy kids, or a bedsit or hostel…

At least street-sleepers are in hotel rooms. Makes you think doesn’t it?  It should be impossible to shut the Chancellor’s Pandora’s box when this is all over. I’m starting to see him as the stargazer on Plato’s Ship of Fools, the only one looking up at the bigger picture, the only one fit to be captain in a dysfunctional crew.
Looking out of my window at the Edgware Road, buses with adverts on the side glide by like weird moving pop-art exhibitions, but with no-one to see them. The electric cacophony of Times Square in New York shimmers for no-one in a Ballardian dystopia. Doesn’t this show us the absurdity of capitalism?

I lurch with anxiety at the sound of an ambulance. Anxiety is generated in the gap between how things are and how we want them to be. But fear and anxiety are immuno-suppressants and we don’t need them.

Rationing media is important and I leave an hour between Covid-19 reporting and bed. But listening to stuff half-asleep lets it seep into the brain, like the interview on Radio 4 one morning when a man described the death of a loved one.

After that, Johnson, trying to sound Churchillian through his fever on his Twitter feed, splutters on about how important testing is, how vital to get the kits, how marvellous our NHS staff are, we’ll get them PPE soon — I thought he slipped and said PPI — waffle this and waffle that, a weak echo of “our finest hour.”  

Testing times indeed.  But anger is different — it can energise, not enervate, and the anger at the earlier obfuscation and prevarication by this government is palpable. That the neo-Darwinian notion of herd immunity was even in their collective minds makes me see red. You too? I for one wish our PM a speedy recovery, so that he can see his shambles of a government fall when the virus is done.

It’s interesting that the removal of choice like staying home can be liberating for the individual, yet a disaster for neoliberalism when we might finally discover home as a country.

It has never been as important to understand what Lenin called the “national question.” Not its Janus face, ugly nationalism, but that concept of country as a collective, progressive thing, where working-class action shapes it profoundly.  

I note on my daily park walk how counterintuitive it is to keep away from people but that it’s compelling to smile at each other. Then there is the rare selfish act: the jogger puffing up behind me.

“Keep your distance,” I shout.

“But you’re in my way,” she yells.

Jumping aside, swearing, I noticed how she gave the next person she ran past a very wide berth. Remembering, too, that in Hanoi the city’s constant beeping of motorbikes signifies “I am here,” not “get out of the way.”

Yes, the days are full of purpose for isolates, as well families doing their best, health workers in the eye of the storm, oldsters realising they have neighbours and public workers appreciated like never before.

We’re all hunkered down for the duration — either alone or with others — each with its challenges, working out the sanity-saving rituals of confinement.

And drawing conclusions. I wonder how it will be when everyone’s let out? Everyone, and everything, will have changed.

Abridged from articles that first appeared in International Times,




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