Category: Health

“El difícil porvenir,” por Francisco Ardiles

27/07/2020

Francisco Ardiles

 

Economía de Jacques Attalí

Lo que Jacques Attalí dijo en una entrevista que le hicieron la semana pasada me dejó sin palabras. Fue tajante, implacable pero claro en lo que respecta a sus consideraciones sobre lo que está por venir. Entre las numerosas cosas que señaló, horribles casi todas por cierto, fue que la verdadera crisis aún no ha comenzado y que muchos de los sueños, planes y esperanzas que tenemos para el futuro van a tener que posponerse por un tiempo indefinido. La recesión económica será profunda y larga; y acabará indefectiblemente con los sectores más frágiles de la sociedad.  Casi todos las ramas del mercado que no son imprescindibles para mantener al mundo con vida desaparecerán. La gran cantidad de dinero que se ha emitido para mantener los negocios abiertos y el nivel de consumo a flote, solo ha servido de paliativo temporal para disfrazar la banca rota del sistema, sin embargo hay una bomba de tiempo que ya se activó y terminará explotando tarde o temprano. Más temprano que tarde pienso yo. Cuando eso suceda no quedará otra cosa más que desempleo, hambre y miseria. Así que si yo fuera ustedes, dejaría de gastar mi dinero en lujos innecesarios y compras nerviosas por internet; y lo guardaría en una cajita fuerte para que luego no me falten los alimentos.

En otro pasaje de su entrevista, Attallí asegura que en muchos palacios presidenciales y empresas prominentes del mundo todavía no se ha comprendido la gravedad de lo que se avecina. Para explicar este punto tan delicado dijo lo siguiente: “la industria automotriz, por ejemplo, aún no lo entendió, pero una enorme parte de ella está muerta. El sector aeronáutico tampoco lo comprendió, pero está muerto. Y muchas empresas son zombis y son financiadas como si fueran a sobrevivir. Hay empresas que incluso están organizando cursos y seminarios, y todavía encuentran forma de financiarse, ¡pero ya están muertas!”. Resulta que algunos expertos financieros y economistas de renombre lo saben, pero no lo dicen para no que no cunda el pánico por doquier. Al parecer es un hecho que cuando están entre amigos y gente de confianza, casi todos coinciden en augurar una recesión que durará años. No se sabe cuántos pero seguramente serán años muy difíciles, sobre todo para los más vulnerables. Esto no sólo se refiere a las personas sino también a los países con las economías más frágiles. Ya pueden imaginarse cuáles son esos países. No hay que forzar mucho la imaginación para dar con los nombres. De los ricos no dijo nada, porque los ricos siempre sobreviven.

Al parecer, lo único que quedara en pie en este paisaje distópico de la economía del porvenir, será la salud, la educación, la alimentación, la industria de combustibles y el mundo digital. El resto tendrá que esperar un buen rato para salir a flote de nuevo. Todos los otros sectores de menor importancia: el turismo, la gastronomía, la hostelería, las tiendas de ropa, los cruceros, los colegios privados, las pequeñas empresas de confección de prendas de vestir, los gimnasios, las universidades privadas, las peluquerías, la construcción, los talleres mecánicos, los centros comerciales, los cines, el transporte que no sea de carga, los alquileres de vivienda y la gran mayoría de los burdeles, bares y discotecas, se pueden dar por muertos. Con ellos se irán por el desagüe sus empleados y obreros. Con esto también se pude dar por descontado que habrá marchas y manifestaciones multitudinarias, de todos esos gremios que no saben que ya están muertos. A los gobiernos que tengan recursos, no les quedará otra opción que generar sistemas de ayuda y apoyo alimentario para toda esta gente. De los otros, de los que no los tienen, prefiero no hablar y ahorrarme el comentarío. Para Attallí lo peor de toda esta situación terrible que se avecina, es que los políticos y los periodistas que están al tanto de todo, porque alguien se los advirtió, no lo quieren decir porque: “buscan cómo llegar hasta la próxima elección y confían en que después de las urnas se encontrará una solución. Pero eso es falso. Lo mismo pasa con la gente: prefiere creer que las fuerzas de la naturaleza o un mesías o Dios o cualquier otro tipo de salvador aportará una solución. Y no es así.” Como ven, queda poco por decir. Puede que algunos piensen que Atallí está exagerando pero yo creo que lo que se nos viene encima será algo así.

Sobre Francisco Ardiles

Imagen del pasillo cubierto de la Facultad de Humanidades de la Universidad Central de Venezuela (patrimonio mundial de la humanidad desde el año 2000) después de que cediera ante el peso de la lluvia, el abandono y la desidia.

It’s Been Emotional, an article by Elizabeth Rimmer

23/07/2020

 

It’s Been Emotional

We in Scotland have just taken the most significant step out of lockdown. We can get our haircut -the demand has been so great that mine won’t be cut until for another month, by which time it will take some serious archaeology to discover what the original cut was – visit each other and go to pubs and restaurants again. Museums and libraries can open, with restrictions, and faith communities can celebrate communal worship, though the restricted numbers allowed will make it difficult for even my small parish to function normally. We’re anxious, especially as we recorded a spike in local infections – ironically enough at a call centre doing contact tracing – but we do feel we’re at the end of a very bleak time.

It got emotional. We didn’t sleep so well. We stockpiled toilet rolls, and pasta. Eggs and baking ingredients disappeared from supermarkets – who knew Britain had so many bread makers? Pickled onion Monster Munch and Pepsi Max became contraband and people had to learn to make their own curries, tacos and kebabs to replace the takeaways that couldn’t open for weeks. Some people were working too hard, and some people didn’t have any work at all. A lot of people worried about the behaviour of others. A lot of people worried about the effects on the economy. A lot of people escaped into gardening and birdwatching, online yoga and Zoom coffees and family quizzes. Some writers wrote prolifically, others couldn’t write at all. Almost everyone submitted their work as if possessed. Plague poems and pandemic anthologies abounded, like these:

https://pestilencepoems.blogspot.com/

https://newbootsandpantisocracies.wordpress.com/

and publishers had to close submissions.

In Scotland, things have been slightly different. We were two days earlier into lockdown, and progress out has been slower and more cautious. Nicola Sturgeon has been holding daily press conferences, and taking questions, so that information has been more consistent and transparent. It has also been backed up by voiceovers from Glasgow comedian Janey Godley

(specimen here: https://www.facebook.com/janeygodleyfanpage/videos/vb.1680210945622928/2576371909242976/?type=2&theater)

which have provided much needed light relief. These have been so successful that ‘Frank get the door’ is now a catch phrase, and you can buy merchandise featuring it, some of which raises money for a children’s charity. In fact, I have sometimes had to explain that this is not the real First Minister!

I know there was some trepidation – some governments, the UK among them, apparently believed that their populations would not stand for it, some thought it would require draconian state controls, and there was a level of anxiety that we wouldn’t meet the minimum threshold to make it effective. And it has been a challenge, no doubt about it. It is human instinct to come together in times of trouble, hug, bring cake to friends, organise social events to cheer each other up, hold meetings to get things done. And this time we had to keep apart. Grandparents couldn’t help out with childcare when parents were trying to work from home, neighbours couldn’t call in to check that someone self-isolating was okay, you couldn’t put your arms around someone when they told you they had been bereaved or broke up with a partner or lost their job. We have been acting against our instincts, and that has been difficult.

We have been acting against the grain in other ways too. Those of us in urban environments have lived our lives in a way that is almost entirely defined by human choices – political and economic institutions, culture, law, peer pressure. When we don’t like something, we know that most of the time there is a person whose decision we need to challenge and change, someone whose hostility we need to dismantle, whose ignorance or misunderstanding we need to rectify. This time there has been no such human agency. No human brought the virus. No human knows how to cure it (yet). No human can make it go away or modify its path in any way, and we don’t like it. The impulse ‘not to give in’ is the one our culture most admires, and it’s the wrong one. The craving for decisive action has had to be put on hold, and going cold turkey is really tough. So there has been the usual denial, anger, conspiracy theories, superstitions and magical thinking, compensatory indulgence and distraction.

But we did it. Scottish people went into lockdown, sat at home, worked in our pyjamas, read stories to our grandchildren over the internet and protected each other. It wasn’t about ‘following the science’, it was about a culture of ‘compassion, kindness and solidarity’ (Nicola Sturgeon). There is a long way to go yet, but the death rate is close to 2%, not 25% as it was when the Black Death raged in the Middle Ages. It’s been emotional, but it may just have saved us all.

 

About Elizabeth Rimmer:

Elizabeth Rimmer is a poet, editor for Red Squirrel Press and occasional translator. She has published three collections of poetry with Red Squirrel Press: Wherever We Live Now (2011) The Territory of Rain (2015) and Haggards (2018), and is working on a fourth Burnedthumb, which will be out in 2021. Her website is at www.burnedthumb.com.

“The Weakness of Strength,” an article by David Garyan

July 3rd, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

The Weakness of Strength

In Ancient Chinese philosophy the ever-recognizable symbol of yin and yang is both appealing from an aesthetic point of view and also from the perspective of its simple philosophy—the nature of opposites.

However, are things really that straightforward in the end? Is it only about the interconnectedness between fire and water, male and female, earth and sky, and so on? In other words, when we consider these opposites, why do we categorize them as such to begin with? Surely, fire and water couldn’t be any more different in terms of their chemical compositions, but if we look at their capacity to cause destruction, they really are very similar in the end. A flood can destroy a city just as quickly as a fire can; in this sense, their properties are almost identical.

The same can be said for men and women. There’s a biological and chemical difference even (testosterone, body type, and other factors), but in their actual desires, men and women—if once again we look at it from the perspective of destruction—have almost similar capacities to wreak havoc on themselves and on others; in the same vein, the capability and desire for love is pretty much equal in both sexes (for those who think women are generally more empathetic, I highly urge you to familiarize yourself with Stanley Milgram’s electroshock experiment). For our purposes, however, let us grant that men and women are the same when it comes to their ability to cause destruction and their capabilities for love. What purpose does the yin and yang serve, then, if we look at fire and water—or women and men, for that matter—from the perspective of love and destruction?

I would like to make the same argument for strength and weakness; biologically, a bodybuilder might be stronger than your average man and the best female bodybuilder will always be weaker than her male counterpart—granted. If we look at strength and weakness from the perspective of destruction and love, however, things move beyond the traditional yin and yang conception—the black and white becomes one thing, grey.

The great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in his book The Anti-Christ, wrote the following: “What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.” Nietzsche, in this sense, believed that it was both natural and noble for people to display their strength, for that meant the complete realization of the individual—the final transformation of a person as he or she attained a total agency over their will with which they could maximize their own powers, in a sense becoming divine to an extent, even godlike, perhaps. “God is dead,” Nietzsche famously uttered, and he must be replaced with something—the individual and his will to power.

In the most poetic sense, however, Nietzsche died at the age of 55, completely in the care of his family, having lost whatever powers (whether creative or physical) he had. Nevertheless, the strength of the thought he produced—despite the later debilitation that affected his body—remains as powerful as ever. The question hence becomes: Was Nietzsche a weak man? It’s a difficult question to answer. Certainly, he was a hypocrite because he didn’t have the strength to kill himself before becoming the less-than-ideal human being that people should be according to his view.

The same can be said for Ayn Rand, who, throughout her younger years, denounced those who took advantage of social services as parasites and moochers, only to suffer a debilitating illness later in life which gave her no other choice but to collect social security—something she chose to do under a different name. Today, Atlas Shrugged remains one of the most powerful books ever written. Like Nietzsche, what do we make of this?

I have neither the intention nor desire to defend or criticize Nietzsche or Rand—it’s not my place to judge. I would, however, like to resume the discussion of strength and weakness. Strength, and by extension the power it produces, has given us many positive things. Firefighters carrying people out of burning buildings, laborers who built great monuments like the pyramids, and, in the psychological sense, resilient individuals we can depend on are also a product of strength. In the same sense, however, strength has also given people the ability to build walls, to push others away, and to harm the environment; with respect to building walls (whether physical or psychological), the strength which allows for this is actually based on weakness—an obsession from protecting one’s self from threats real or imagined and in that sense the act represents a fundamental characteristic not of power, but of fear. In other words, unlike vulnerability, strength plays it safe by installing barriers to keep danger away, knowing perhaps that it might not be powerful enough to deal with whatever problem life may produce.

Weakness, and by extension vulnerability, does not have the luxury of this aforementioned protection; it must deal with whatever arises (whether it’s physical or psychological) in a direct manner. Paradoxically, also, by refusing to close itself off, to shut itself away from the world, vulnerability takes more chances; it opens itself up to new experiences, people, places, and opportunities—even when it has been hurt before. Vulnerability is a testament to the human spirit. It represents the highest essence of humanity. Some authors like Ursula K. Le Guin have even argued that the suffering which comes from being vulnerable is purer than love. In her novel, The Dispossessed, she writes the following, worth quoting at length: “It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.” The ability to suffer, to be vulnerable is, thus, the greatest human strength—many are capable of doing it stoically while some need drugs or different forms of escape and others yet can’t endure this pain at all.

Even more interesting to our discussion is the fact that strong people who use their power to build physical and psychological walls around themselves have even less chance of finding happiness and joy. They may be comforted by the momentary security which they do receive in their dungeons, but sooner or later the person must step out in search of food for the body and nourishment for the soul, which represents the happiness we all seek. Le Guin is, likewise, aware of this fact: “If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home.” The age-old cliché of leaving the comfort zone to succeed even reaches as far as Sicily: Cu nesci arrinesci; this is one of the first things I learned in Italy that I had already known for a long time, just not in the Sicilian language. It must be said that I’ve taken a very positive interpretation of the aforementioned proverb; according to a very good Sicilian friend I met here, the phrase is largely construed negatively on the island—young people abandoning Sicily to seek fortune elsewhere, but there’s nevertheless something to be said about moving on and away from your comfort zone to find success, to make a change, to see things differently.

Frankly, in that respect, I’ve always had a rather negative outlook on weakness and vulnerability—being a man made it “necessary” to conform with certain gender standards imposed by society and this didn’t help my perspective either. It was only at the University of Bologna at the end of Professor Annalisa Furia’s course, Political Power Beyond State Boundaries: Migration, Development and Human Rights, that I began to change my mind about this topic. In one of her concluding lecture slides, she had written the following about reevaluating vulnerability: “even though it is produced as the condition of certain categories, it is our common condition.” Once again, a simple piece of logic on the surface but the fact that she had chosen to highlight “common condition” made me start thinking deeper about the issue. Whereas before I had championed Nietzsche’s idea of the will to power, I now denounce it as the weakest pursuit humans can have. In fact, much of what constitutes power is based on paranoia and pathological fear. Seattle University professor and psychologist George Kunz, who passed away recently, in his book, The Paradox of Power and Weakness, argues exactly that: “When we are psychologically captured and driven by our own power, we know that our bondage is, first, our addiction to the sweet taste of power itself; second, our addiction to the stuff that power can purchase; third, our habitual blindness to the needs of others; and, finally, our fear of losing the power to exercise more power. Obsessive fear, compulsive needs and fear of others’ taking our power drive us into ourselves and away from others. The power of power can be self-destructive. It tends to burrow into and cling to the heart, rather than expose itself to the needy claims of others.” On a personal level, Kunz’s statement fascinates me because I experienced something exactly like what he describes for myself.

Again, as I’ve said before, it’s not my place to judge anyone here; thus, I will simply describe the situation in the most neutral way possible. About seven months ago, I got to know a person (let’s call this individual Alex and use “they” in the interest of privacy). Although I still think Alex is a great person, they fit Dr. Kunz’s description perfectly, which made it very hard to spend time with them. Due to the walls they built, any attempt to go beyond the surface with this person was met with resistance; at the same time, interaction was quite cordial and warm when Alex could stay within clearly delineated comfort zones and things also went especially well at parties when everyone was drunk and there was no need—or the capability, for that matter—to discuss something more meaningful. Alex enjoyed the attention of everyone, so long as others didn’t dig below the surface and come out on the other side of the wall; on repeated occasions, nevertheless, this very person described themselves as “strong,” and tried to project an image of fierce independence—all of this, however, was an illusion, because, in reality, Alex was and continues to be an individual who neither possesses much mental resilience, nor independence; their strength and independence, in fact, is produced by deriving great pleasure from their ability to manipulate people and using them for whatever purposes any given situation requires—at will. I have really not seen what Alex is like when there’s no one to impress or manipulate, all I know is that their self-purported strength turned out to be hollow in the end because they repeatedly refused to behave in a manner beyond surface-level interaction (one of the characteristics of mental fortitude) despite showing great interest and warmth towards me in their comfort zone, where the chance of being vulnerable was very low.

It’s always discouraging when people don’t turn out to be who you thought they were, especially when they don’t live up to the very labels they make for themselves. My idea of strong men and women lies in their ability to be vulnerable, to take risks, to give other people a chance, especially when these very individuals only want the best for you. As I said, I neither blame Alex, nor do I think they’re a bad person—it’s just a psychological burden to be around them, and that’s why I decided to distance myself. They’re too “strong” and they themselves push people away.

In the end, I don’t think life is really long enough for us to be powerful. We spend many of our years helpless and weak, from the moment we’re born until we become adults; and in old age we require the care and attention of others. The prime of our life is perhaps ten or twenty years at best. I’m always reminded of this when I listen to Bob Seger‘s song Fire Inside. My favorite part is quite pertinent to the discussion:

I think we all have problems and we all need help in certain respects—I’m probably the person who’s in need of the most guidance in this respect, but when someone claims to be “strong” just to push people away, all because they don’t want to experience vulnerability, well, then, like Le Guin said, they don’t have a good chance of finding the spiritual nourishment that produces happiness—something which exists outside of their caves. No person can help another person who’s hanging from a cliff but refuses to take someone’s hand because they trust in their own strength to pull themselves up.

On the concluding slide of her lecture, Professor Furia posted the following quote by Giovanni Testori: “Healing is possible only if you accept the wound.” Life will break everyone—even the so-called “strong.” The question, hence, becomes: How will you get up and what will you do afterwards?

 

Addition: After reading my article, Alex got the suspicion that I was writing about them. As I predicted, they sent me an insulting message accusing me of all sorts of things: It was my fault that I tried to seek a closer connection with them; it was my fault for trying to be a good friend. It can’t be denied that I did misjudge the nature of this friendship; on my part, I take full responsibility for that, but the anger coming from this person was totally unwarranted; it confirmed to me everything that I’ve written—Alex is obsessed by the power which comes from their own self-described strong personality and my refusal to be controlled any longer meant they had lost the ability to manipulate someone, which is all they really wanted to begin with. As I again predicted, instead of talking to me, asking if the article was about them (maybe it is and maybe it isn’t—I never implicated them; it could be about anyone, really), and attempting to resolve the situation in a way where we could both walk away from this like mature adults, they continued using their weakness of strength to build bigger walls and push me further away, unfriending me on Facebook and blocking me on WhatsApp—indeed, very powerful, independent, and mature, which is exactly what I expected from this “strong” person. Had they been stronger, however, more courageous even, and attempted to speak with me like I’m a human being instead of a punching bag, I may have gone the extra mile myself and agreed to take down the article, but not any longer, because, like I said, Alex’s actions confirmed all the arguments I made within it. To the insulting message I received, I sent the nicest possible response, stating that despite their disparaging remarks, I still respected them and wished them the best. Why let something good that happened in the past turn bad from my side? On this Independence Day, I can say that I’m free and that I’ve finally moved on from this.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

La cuarentena más larga del mundo, bajo la lupa de los expertos

 

Valeria Chavez escribe:

A 100 días de decretado el aislamiento social preventivo y obligatorio, la Argentina se dispone a iniciar a un nuevo confinamiento más restrictivo en las zonas con circulación comunitaria del COVID-19. “El esfuerzo permitió preparar el sistema de salud para lo que sabíamos que iba a pasar”, coincidieron tres especialistas que asesoran al Gobierno.

La Argentina cumple hoy 100 días de aislamiento social preventivo y obligatorio como una de las medidas centrales en la lucha contra el avance del coronavirus en el país. Y mientras algunas provincias y ciudades fueron logrando flexibilizar sus actividades, el Área Metropolitana de Buenos Aires (AMBA) -que abarca a la Capital Federal y el conurbano bonaerense- concentra el 90% de los casos de todo el territorio nacional y enfrenta una “vuelta atrás” tendiente a frenar la escalada de infectados y evitar el colapso del sistema sanitario.

Con voces a favor y en contra, el aislamiento y distanciamiento social lleva más de tres meses, y pareciera que el humor y la tolerancia de la sociedad para cumplir el confinamiento se agotó, justo cuando la Argentina se encamina al tan famoso e indeseado “pico de contagios”.

¿Para qué, entonces, estamos confinados desde marzo? ¿No sirvió de nada el esfuerzo? ¿O hubiera sido inevitable el colapso sanitario si no se tomaba la medida de manera tan temprana? ¿Por qué la seguimos llamando cuarentena a los 100 días? Infobae entrevistó a tres de los infectólogos que integran el comité de expertos que asesora al Gobierno en la pandemia para conocer su opinión sobre esta cuarentena, ya conocida por muchos como “la más larga del mundo”.

La cuarentena es un viejo término que se usó al comienzo de las enfermedades infecciosas porque precisamente se aislaba a los pacientes enfermos durante 40 días. Y hoy estamos usando el término para hablar de un periodo en el que hay que aplicar ciertas restricciones para reducir la transmisión del virus; para evitar que se multiplique con tanta rapidez se hace distanciamiento y aislamiento”. La médica infectóloga Ángela Gentile es jefa del Departamento de Epidemiología del Hospital de Niños Ricardo Gutiérrez y consultada por este medio precisó que “en la Argentina se pasó por una cuarentena de diferentes etapas”.

Así, detalló que “fue rígida en el principio, cuando se permitió sólo la movilidad del personal esencial, y a medida que los indicadores epidemiológicos mejoraron se pasó a otras etapas”. Los indicadores a los que la especialista se refiere son el índice R0 (la cantidad de personas que contagia cada infectado), la duplicación de casos (cuántos días tarda en duplicarse la cantidad de casos), las características de la movilidad de la población, la cantidad de camas de terapia intensiva, respiradores, y otros números duros que se analizan.

De acuerdo a esos indicadores, nosotros optamos por cortar bruscamente la transmisibilidad tan alta que existía en marzo para aplanar la curva y permitirnos preparar el sistema de salud para enfrentar lo que sabíamos que iba a pasar -continuó-. Ahora hay dos realidades en el país: es diferente lo que ocurre en el AMBA, Chaco y alguna ciudad puntual con circulación comunitaria al resto del territorio, por eso cuando se ve que los casos se duplican en menos de 25 días se sabe que hay que permanecer en esta etapa, con una cuarentena administrada y ‘a la medida’ de cada lugar”.

Life Under Lockdown, an article by Jessica Rydill


(Image: the meadows near our house)

 

25/06/2020

Life under Lockdown by Jessica Rydill

I may have had the virus, but I don’t know, and won’t know until they make antibody testing more widely available in this country. It’s possible I picked it up on a visit to friends in London in late February, when we attended a packed exhibition at Tate Britain on the work of 18th century artist, visionary and writer William Blake.

Some time after returning to Bath, my husband and I came down with what seemed like two odd viruses: one gastro-intestinal and the other causing a cough. Neither of us was seriously ill, but the viruses were noticeably unusual, and we lost our sense of smell.

In my case, the cough persisted for a long time, and there were episodes at the start where I coughed so badly I nearly passed out. I went to the doctor twice, and there was no evidence of problems with my lungs, but the cough persisted for months afterwards.

It is possible that it was a different type of coronavirus, not COVID-19 at all; there is no way of knowing. But what happened was that in late March, a week before the government put the whole country into lockdown, Stephen and I decided to self-isolate because we are in a high-risk category.

This meant that we stopped going out, except for exercise, and started to order our shopping online. We also bought some antiviral snoods, rather odd tubular things that you pull over your head and which make you look a bank robber in a stocking mask.

In the end, we remained under lockdown from late March to mid-June. We were not in one of the groups instructed to shelter by the government, but we were extremely fearful.

It is difficult to sum up the experience, but I think the word “terrifying” is apposite. We did not experience great hardship, like some people. We have not lost anyone dear to us, though friends have; but it is impossible not to recognise that something has happened, not just to England but to the world.

What do I think of? How kind some people were, especially at the outset. Our younger neighbours sent us notes offering to do shopping for us. The local pharmacy delivered our medications for a nominal charge. One neighbour brought round armfuls of bluebells from her garden. Every Thursday, we stepped out the front door to “clap for carers” and said hello to our next-door neighbours.

This was important for morale because apart from the odd visit to a local shop at the very beginning, we saw nobody.

At first, we could not for love nor money get our groceries delivered by any supermarket. They were all booked solid. And everywhere was cleaned out of loo roll, hand sanitiser, and staples like pasta and rice. A kind of mass hysteria set in and there were scenes on TV and social media of people fighting in the supermarket aisles, and of empty shelves.

Because we live on the edge of the countryside, we were able to place orders over the phone with local farm shops, and drive there to pick up our shopping. They would emerge from the store with a box of food and put it in our car boot. It all felt absurd, and exciting, and slightly frightening.

My mental health dropped off a cliff because though I see a therapist on a regular basis, the start of the lockdown coincided with the Easter break. After that, consultations continued by phone, but the three weeks of the Easter/Passover holiday were not good.

I was fairly convinced that I must have the virus, and that I was going to die. I spend quite a lot of time worrying about dying, and always have. This time, it felt like a certainty.

In fact, there have never been high levels of infection in this area, and relatively few deaths. But what one became aware of was other people dying, and the daily death toll; the reporting by government figures on television, and the bravado of the Prime Minister until he too became seriously ill.

And it was strange how people online turned to plague mythology and tropes. To reading The Plague by Albert Camus and The Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe.

(Image: Lormes and friends by Seed Arts)

I own two tiny figures made by resin artist Seed Arts that she calls Lormes. They are miniature versions of the iconic figure of the Plague Doctor, named after Renaissance French physician Charles de Lorme. Somehow, I found these tiny figures comforting, as if they had apotropaic properties, and was slightly distressed when I dropped one on the floor and couldn’t find him.

It made me aware once again how important culture and art are at a time like this. And we learned how to talk to friends via Zoom and Skype, so that we could have meetings and even birthday parties!

But the isolation played on us. We started to become reluctant to leave the house. To begin with, we had ventured out into the beautiful meadows at the rear of where we live, and tried to walk reasonably often. As the lockdown continued, we seemed to spend more and more time asleep in the daytime, and to stay up all night until long past dawn.

The astonishing peace and lushness of the countryside was noticeable, together with the flourishing of birds, animals and insects in the absence of humans. There were many fewer cars driving past out house; and once we went out for a drive and saw the city of Bath looking emptier than it had ever before.

And then the news came out about Dominic Cummings. The government’s chief adviser and the eminence grise to Boris Johnson. He had driven up to Durham with his wife, who was ill with the virus, and their children. He had stayed on his parents’ property and gone on an experimental drive to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight.

After that, it seemed somehow the government could no longer sustain the lockdown. It seemed as if they would do anything to preserve the reputation and status of this unelected individual, who refused to resign though in clear breach of regulations he himself had instituted.

What frightens me is the thought, however fugitive, that in order to justify their position, the government might have moved to relax the lockdown rules earlier than they would otherwise have done. Or because the public mood had shifted drastically due to Cummings and his excursion.

Politics can’t be left out of this altogether. This country has had an exceptionally high death rate for its size. And there is clear evidence that old people were discharged from hospital into care homes, where they infected other residents with the virus, and many died.


(Image: Empty Bath)

The government were supposed to be shielding these people. And in some instances, hospitals refused to treat gravely ill people who were suffering from conditions that were not coronavirus; they were sent home, and they died.

Though hospitals have been undoubtedly dealing with impossible circumstances, such as years of government underfunding of the NHS, and a lack of the PPE needed to keep their staff safe, it seems as though people have died who should not have died. They should have been protected.

Several of us whose parents died in recent years admitted that we were relieved that neither they nor we had to live through this crisis. But other friends did lose a parent; and there must be thousands of people across Britain (and the world) whose lives have been affected, and changed, by the virus and how it was dealt with.

Don’t even ask me about Trump or Bolsonaro.

So the current state of play is: not dead yet. We have started to emerge from lockdown. But we will be wearing face masks in the shops, even if people give us funny looks. And they do.

Whatever the government predicts, we will move at our own pace. But not everyone has that luxury, and that is wrong. No-one should be forced to return to work without adequate protection.

There has been something about the lockdown that is irreducible, impossible to capture. The incredible stillness of the fields with long grasses and wild flowers in the meadow. The silence. The city of Bath almost empty of cars and people.

It’s like a warning. A wake-up call. We live and die, we stand or fall, together. Or as Tom Lehrer said, “We will all go together when we go.”

 

About Jessica Rydill

Jessica Rydill is a fantasy author from the west country in England. Her first novel, Children of the Shaman, was short-listed in 2001 for the Locus award for best first novel.