Arrive late, leave early! Excellent advice for fiction writers pruning the unnecessaries from our scenes. Equally useful for introverts who quickly tire of socialising. But for a public health initiative in a pandemic? The UK is showing the world how not to do lockdown, introducing it too late and loosening the restrictions too early. Could it be that the occupant of number 10, having achieved his ambition of becoming prime minister has been using his undoubted spare time to brush up his skills in creative writing? Could it be that covid-brain has mangled his already
Ridiculous! As if I’ve learned nothing from this government’s mismanagement of the whole affair. So I’ll reclaim my neglected pessimism and decline the PM’s invitation to socialise. The benefits don’t outweigh the risks. Which is probably the case for the women in my book group: they’ll have other priorities than driving to sit in my garden in the drizzle or under a scorching sun.
Obviously I’m a Remainer, but that’s easy for me: I’m not sacrificing much to stay at home. I’ve revised my views on silver linings: this virus doesn’t treat everyone the same. The physical risks of contracting and/or dying from covid are greater for certain demographics – particularly BAME communities; likewise the psychological and financial risks of staying at home are greater for some than others. Yet there’s not much evidence of these differences informing the government’s plans. (Okay, there’s not much evidence of any logic informing their decisions, other than detracting attention from their mistakes.)
What if we were permitted to produce and act on individual risk assessments? Instead of the Great British Public being collectively granted the luxury of visiting car showrooms and IKEA, could we be guided towards making our own choices about what we’ll sacrifice for a personal good? Perhaps one person would prefer to cuddle her grandchild, even if that means strict self-isolation both before and after, to meeting with five friends to discuss books? Perhaps another, an extrovert living alone, would do almost anything (legal) just to touch and be touched.
Of course it would be chaotic: impossible to police and open to abuse. But that’s where we are already: many are acting on their own initiative, rather than government guidelines, either because they’re weary of lockdown or angry at the absence of consequences for a government adviser who flouted the regulations he introduced.
Last weekend, distancing was impossible for many who marked the British tradition of scorching their skin in certain beauty spots while, in others, piles of rubbish were left a neat two metres apart. The neighbours on either side of me each hosted garden get-togethers – one lot actually feeding their visitors indoors – before the groups-of-six rule was legit.
Of course it would be confusing if everyone was permitted different things. But it’s confusing already with slightly different kinds of easing allowed in the four separate countries that comprise the UK. Would people have the intelligence to carry out a cost-benefit analysis doth for themselves as individuals and for others they could potentially infect? Possibly not, but dieters manage to count calories and to calculate whether it’s worth skipping dinner to treat themselves to afternoon tea.
I have in mind some kind of flowchart taking us through the options available and the potential costs. I imagine that one of my preferences – to sing with a real rather than virtual choir – would lead, as many others, to a dead end. And I might decide that other options aren’t worth the risk. They might even be a way for me to donate my unwanted and underused privileges to someone who has already sacrificed so much more for the public good.
A pipe dream, no doubt, but, if this virus sticks around for some time, worth considering. Because the alternative – blanket bans that suit some and hurt others, while others will blatantly flout – is grossly unfair. But Anne, you say, have you forgotten, people voted for unfairness just six short months ago? The only risk this government will assess is of being unseated.
With America grieving for another brutal police murder of a black man, and for the response to the protests it evoked, it seems wrong to shift attention to anything other than #BlackLivesMatter. Yet that’s what the British media did yesterday morning with headlines about the identification of a suspect for the abduction of a four-year-old from a Portuguese holiday resort thirteen years ago. In trying to understand why her parents don’t only arouse compassion, my 99-word story has turned into another protest poem.
They could’ve stayed in the apartment with their three sleeping children.
They could’ve grieved in private, they could’ve owned their guilt.
They could’ve recognised all families face tragedy and some tragedies loom larger than theirs.
They could’ve searched for ALL abducted children, campaigned for all victims of parental neglect.
They could’ve accepted police budgets have limits, that lost-cause investigations siphon resources from elsewhere.
They could’ve used their power, their professional contacts, their shiny media profile; they could’ve raised their white middle-class voices to shout for justice for all.
In their shoes – or flip-flops – would you have done the same?