Lockdown Day 228 – What if this was forever?

In theory, the vaccine will be ready by the end of the year. It will go to the NHS workers first, then to vulnerable people, then to the wider population. It will take some time to get round to everyone but, by the start of summer 2021, everything is back to normal. House parties, gigs and festivals can all start again.

This is the vision that was laid out by the government at the briefing I watched last week. But this is a group that has been wrong about almost every prediction. They were wrong at the very start of 2020, when they said that coronavirus was a minor issue that did not merit closing airports or cancelling large events. They were wrong when they said they said that twelve weeks would get everything back to normal. They have made unnecessary errors at every stage, such as the care home scandal, failures with track and trace, and then they make ridiculous announcements about moonshots to distract from these errors.

The government’s vaccine vision certainly saves them from the hard work of setting up proper testing, tracing and quarantining. It’s also quite a fragile thing to be basing our entire future on. There are things that could go wrong with this, and then normality is pushed back another year.

When the pandemic started, I figured the lockdown could go on for maybe 10 weeks. I prepared myself for three months of this, just in case. In parts of the summer I felt becalmed, unsure what I was supposed to be doing.

I’m now settling into hibernation for the winter. I feel good about this, as I have things to work on and to practise. I’m happy enough for now, but I don’t want to make the same mistake I made this summer, of expecting things to get back to normal at a particular point. Which makes me think about 2021. What if this goes on throughout that year, and even into 2022? What does life look like under a prolonged pandemic? How do I keep my spirits up and my enthusiasms alive if this does go on for years?

It’s not that I think I can’t, or that this is likely to go on into 2022. But answering the question ‘What if this lasts forever’ makes it easier to deal with shorter periods of time. How should we enjoy life and thrive with these new limits?

Lockdown Day 225 – Back into Retreat

Socially distanced pods being prepared for winter partying

225 days in, and it feels like we’re back to where we started.

It was supposed to be very different to this, and could have been. A recent article described life in Taiwan: prompt action meant that cases were quickly brought under control and life there is mostly normal. Here in England, the government seems to have some very poor decisions and we’re entering winter with cases rising

Last weekend I went on holiday to Shropshire. It was relaxing and also provided a circuit-breaker from my constant watching of the news. Since coming back I’ve continued avoiding the news and I feel less anxious. And, since I’m distancing, there’s little that the news could change about my behaviour.

I’ve stopped travelling into work for the time being, and I’m avoiding socialising indoors. While the odds are good for me being OK if I catch covid, they are even better if I delay catching this, since treatment and outcomes improve all the time (research into long covid has barely begun, so that risk is hard to quantify). And, you know, if I’m going to get it then best to get it when the hospitals are quiet.

The ‘whack-a-mole’ lockdowns continue with no exit strategy. I watched a daily briefing last week (watching it directly doesn’t quite count as news) and it sounds as if we are holding out for the vaccine. This seems quite a gamble, as a successful vaccine is neither inevitable, nor an instant solution – unlike, say, testing, tracing and effective quarantine. This virus is going to be with Britain for a long time – and we still have the spectre of Brexit to deal with. One commentator referred to this as ‘covexit’, the two crises finally becoming the same thing.

I can’t do anything to change the tides and storms that are coming. All I can do is make sure that my little boat is seaworthy. I am walking 10,000 steps each day, even when I don’t feel like it. My diet has been a little poor recently, so I have restocked the cupboards this weekend. I’m working on focussing more on single tasks, reading more consciously, and thinking about new exercise routines.

I’m still finding sleep difficult, as I have since the start of the pandemic. I’m feeling worn-out and fatigued most days, even after a decent sleep. I wake about 6am, pick up coffee from small batch, take a stroll. Start work about 8:30am, finishing about 5, and spend the evening writing or watching TV. And repeat. It’s not a bad life, and one I can manage for some time. It’s going to be a long winter though.

Ten-word short stories

Earlier in October was the prize giving for Shoreham Wordfest. I went along as I’d won two prizes for 10-word stories. You can read all three of my entries on the Shoreham Wordfest website.

It was the first time I’d been out since March, when I went to the Trope event at Phoenix Gallery. This event was very different, with rules almost as strict as an aeroplane flight. Everyone remained masked throughout the performances, and drinks were brought to our seats.

A very 2020 picture

It was great to see Katrina Quinn, who’d also read at that Trope event. She read Bittersweet, an account of a pilgrimage on the South Downs Way. Katrina had travelled through Cocking at around the same time as Katharine, Romi and I were there recently.

The prose prize was judged by Catherine Smith, who read her future-tense story When. Catherine spoke a little about flash and micro-fiction, talking about how the ten-word stories needed both a premise and change.

The competition involved submitting three ten-word stories. I wrote a brace of them and then rejected several for not coming down to the required word-length. Of the stories, two won prizes and one was highly-commended. The last of these, a clown story, was actually my favourite, but nobody else seems as impressed with my clown stories as I am.

Forgetting Norwich

Back in 1998, I lived in Norwich for six months. I was there for work, but I liked the town. I met some good people and even moved into a shared house for the length of my placement.

After leaving Norwich, I never got round to returning. It’s not an easy place to reach, tucked away in a corner of the coastline, at the end of a dreary A-road. I had no reason to go back rather than exploring new places. When Rosy announced she was moving there I was excited – it would be a chance to return.

Arriving in Norwich, I was surprised how little I remembered. I felt like I recalled the train station’s platforms, and the Unthank Road seemed familiar, but I couldn’t remember much more. Maybe the streets around the castle? I visited the Festival House pub, which has changed hands and names in the years since. It looks very different, but I remembered the layout, if not the area nearby.

I found an old computer file, a letter to the landlord, objecting to his seizure of our deposit, and it included the address of the flat. It was about a hundred meters from where Rosy was living. I recalled nothing of these streets. When I went to look at the house I felt no connection. It was as if I’d never lived there.

As I child, I once had a dream about having a particular toy, a Star Wars ‘Hoth Imperial Base Playset’. It’s not something I particularly longed for, but the dream felt so real that I was disappointed to wake and realise I didn’t own the toy. In Norwich, in a church converted to an antiques market, I found that very toy. The old dream seemed more real than Norwich itself.

I sometimes worry that life will have seemed so short. But here is a six-month period of my own life that has few memories attached. The events have been composted into a sort of general impression. How much more of my life will I forget before I am done?

1,001 Bucket Lists to Complete Before You Die

While I hate the idea of them, bucket lists fascinate me. It’s the way that they reduce life to a set of tasks to complete before the ultimate deadline.

It’s particularly creepy how the media promotes impersonal bucket lists, almost-arbitrary requirements to have lived a ‘complete’ life. There is a whole series of books based around things that you should do before you die, produced by Quintessence Editions. 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. 1001 Natural Wonders You Must See Before You Die. 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die. And so on.

I know these books are not really intended to be completed, but I find the idea that you might try enthralling. I have to hold myself back from researching or writing about this, because it’s a black hole and I have too many distractions already.

But, I can imagine a book collecting these books – 1001 Bucket Lists to Complete Before you Die. I can see each one graded – difficulty, novelty, time to complete and so on.

Take the book of 1000 books to read before you die. If you managed 100 books a year, that is ten years of solid reading. I only manage 100 books on a good year, and one that involves a lot of travelling. 1,000 books will take even longer if you interrupt it with other books. 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die is, allowing for sleep, about 9 weeks. Then there are the ones requiring travel, such as 1001 restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die. Maybe you could combine that with another book requiring travel but even so… it’s a lot.

And so many others… 101 chillies to try before you die. 1001 TV Series to Watch (how many hours is each of these?). 101 Gins. 1001 plants you must grow before you die. Although I am quite tempted to browse 1001 Walks You must experience before you die. I doubt I could get even a tenth of the way through that in what remains of this lifetime.

I wish I had time before I die to review 1001 of these volumes. I think it would make quite a book.

Lockdown Day 220 – A Souvenir of the First Lockdown

One of the most interesting things about algorithms is the strange mistakes they make, which can be sometimes spooky. Like the time when Facebook made jaunty videos about people’s years, which blithely incorporated funerals and house fires among the celebrations. Or the strange writing collected on the AI Weirdness Blog.

Google photos draws up all the photographs taken on my phone in order to learn how to market web advertising more successfully. Sometimes google suggests new services or goods, such as unlimited storage space. Or an automatically generated photo book.

Google offered me a book of my best photos from Spring 2020. This was a time when I travelled less than any time in my entire life. Lockdown confined me to just a few miles from my house. It seemed a weird time to memorialise. The photos are mundane and strange and I had to buy a copy as a souvenir.

I sometimes wonder how I will remember this period. Already, the frustrations are fading and the summer is about walks and being outdoors. I remember the sunrises better than the insomnia.

Lockdown Day 206 – Resenting the Threats of a Brighton Lockdown

A Whatsapp message from Kate, just after three yesterday afternoon, linked to a tweet from the local council. The city’s covid alert level had gone from yellow to amber, the last stage before the government “will declare the city an area of national concern“.

Along with the cutesy picture of a knitted coronavirus, the council informs us that “We all now need to make extra efforts”. What efforts? I’m genuinely not sure what else we should be doing.

My reaction to this news is not fear at getting the virus; despite the awful effect it’s had on friends of mine. My reaction is not determination to ride this out.

My main reaction is anger. Throughout the summer, the government has made foolish errors and failed to prepare for any rise in cases. Tracking and tracing is a joke, an expensive and confused bureaucracy that is unable to count cases, or tell us the number of people being tested. Local lockdowns are not working. Enforcement of the existing rules, particularly around the 10pm curfew is a mess. Nobody can keep track of the current rules people should follow, including government ministers. Messaging has been incompetent, with exemptions to the rules for grouse hunting, or certain government advisors. And just this week, the Prime Minister was telling us to go out more and support our local cinemas.

Part of my resentment is selfish, at the threat to my own plans. But a lot of the anger comes of being six months into this crisis with no clear exit strategy and no real plan from the government. My job is stable, and I can’t imagine the fear and uncertainty for those working in local hospitality businesses (most of the cinemas in the town didn’t survive the news of the new Bond film being postponed).

I guess the only thing to do is prepare to withdraw once more, and check those around me are OK. But I am so tired of this mess.

Monthnotes – September 2020

September has been about negotiating with the new normal. This pandemic isn’t going away, and there’s no obvious exit strategy. Even a vaccine won’t be an instant fix, and may not be a permanent one. The situation is dangerous, but I’ve been trying to find a balance between safety and continuing my life.

This month has included a visit to Norwich and hiking the White to Dark Trail in the Pennines. I’ve also returned to the office. This has meant commuting, which feels risky but – it’s so great to have time out of the house! I love working remotely, but the current situation removes a lot of the things I enjoy about it.

My walking has been a little variable, with the last 1/3 of the month being little more than a maintenance dose. My total was still a respectable 487,076 steps, an average of just over 16,000 steps a day. My maximum was 44,468 and the minimum was 10,401. Given the worsening weather, I’m happy enough to be forcing out 10,000 steps most days.

I’ve been reading a lot of news on my Kindle, but not many books. The only one I finished in September was The Museum of Whales You’ll Never See. I basically bought this on the strength of the title, and was not disappointed. It’s like Borges writing a travel book.

I’ve continued watching Lovecraft Country, which hasn’t lived up to its initial promise. I also watched Oz Season 1 over a weekend, which was interesting. Like Babylon 5 it was a harbinger of the golden age of TV, but it is a little dated. Very watchable though. I saw a couple of movies: Felon and Charlie Kaufman’s new movie I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Kaufman’s film was impressive, but it’s odd to see such great arthouse movies going straight to streaming. I’m not missing the cinema as much as I expected.

My exploration of videogames has continued. I’m finding the big games less enthralling than I expected. However, I started playing Death Stranding at the end of the month and I’m blown away. I love scrabbling over the landscapes, and the storyline is like being trapped in someone else’s dream.

The weather has now definitely turned towards winter, and the nights are drawing in. I feel less dread about the coming season than I did a few weeks back. It’s going to be a strange autumn, but I’m going to make my home as cosy as I can, and do my best to enjoy it.