Friday 10 April 2020

Contagion Layman

Sunning myself

Hannah Jane Parkinson has mostly been in the garden – her reveries only occasionally broken by the thought of all those batshit conspiracy theories about 5G

A lot has happened since my last diary. Just kidding, absolutely nothing has happened.

Well, that isn’t quite true. Our prime minister has been admitted to intensive care, which is quite a big deal. This led to many people on social media opining: “Whatever you think of his politics, we should all wish the Prime Minister recovers.” As if anything else wouldn’t be evidence of a murderous pathology. At the time of writing, Johnson is said to have improved and is sitting up. This is good because, as his former deputy mayor informed us, the PM “won’t enjoy being sick”. Of course, the rest of us were fucking stoked at getting Covid-19 and had a blast.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump described Johnson as a man who “doesn’t give up”. Which is about as disrespectful a thing one could say in the face of the tens of thousands of people who have died of the virus, and presumably just couldn’t be arsed to hang around.

Closer to home – i.e. literally my home – things have buoyed slightly. I imagine all of us are fluctuating like a needle on a dial throughout these times. I think a large part of why I am feeling perkier, and perhaps you felt it too, has been down to the mini heatwave. In truth, I have become bored of the same, or similar, route for exercise. There’s a futility of setting off and never reaching a destination. Or rather, reaching a destination, but not where one would probably go, given the normal choices.

So, where I have been truly enjoying the gorgeous weather is in my garden. I mentioned, briefly, in an earlier diary, that I felt extremely lucky to have outside space – and even more so now. I spent the weekend reading in the garden. Giving up on finding my sunglasses and plunging into the brilliant white of the pages. Pausing occasionally to close my eyes to enjoy the neon orange flooding my eyelids and the warmth on my face. Everything melted away.

I’ve been mooching around the garden too. Pruning overhanging trees. In my mind I’m as skilled as Edward Scissorhands creating beautiful designs from hedges; though, in reality, I am thrashing wildly at branches with semi-rusted shears.

More successfully, the plants I inherited from my landlord are revealing their colours to me. There is the magnolia tree; its budding pink and green taking on the shape of paper birds; the crab-apple tree; the lilac on upturned branches, standing upright like purple medieval torches. There are also plants that, to my shame, I wasn’t clear on their names. But now I have an app which identifies when I take a photograph, and this pleases me enormously.

I worry that posting pictures of my plants comes across as smug, when my hope is that I am sharing some beauty in the world. I would recommend those without gardens consider potted plants and flowers, to keep spirits up.

Others have taken to sitting in parks, an occurrence which has caused significant debate. I am torn between feeling that people sitting for a while in plenty of space are doing no harm, and also knowing that if everybody did it, social distancing wouldn’t work at all. Either way, I’m not sure I have enjoyed the 0-100 speed at which the British public has turned vigilante.

Speaking of our fellow citizens, there are many who, unfathomably, have been sucked into an absurd conspiracy theory that coronavirus has been caused by 5G infrastructure. I can only describe this as “utterly batshit”. And that may, in fact, be the technical term. Michael Gove went for “dangerous nonsense” which, to my knowledge, may be the only time we’ve ever been in agreement. (Actually, wait, he did restore prisoners’ access to books.) A special shout out to the people who burnt down a telecommunications mast that didn’t even provide 5G. Most don’t yet.

One of the most concerning and disheartening developments of the past decade is to see conspiracy theories – previously mostly the obsessions of David Icke and your uni boyfriend watching 9/11 truther videos on YouTube while sparking up a spliff – enter the mainstream. But that’s what happens when experts are routinely traduced; dissembling populist governments are in power; and fake news proliferates online thanks to tech companies that don’t give a toss about anything but their bottom line. (Also, because Mark Zuckerberg does actually look quite like a lizard person, which doesn’t help.) Really, are we surprised that the Earth is no longer round?

So while this pandemic has brought out wonderful sides to people, pushed into the spotlight our common humanity – the volunteers helping the elderly, the online book-launches and crowdfunding efforts – I can’t be the only one tussling with a burning hatred for the repulsive attacks on nurses; thugs purposely coughing in the faces of individuals (seriously); and the spread of moronic falsities. Extreme circumstances reveal the extremes of people. (Apart from the huge expanse of people doing not much at all except re-watching things we didn’t even like that much the first time round.)

It doesn’t look like there’s an end to the lockdown in sight; not yet, not in the UK. Antibody tests aren’t ready and the government’s endless promise to “ramp up” antigen testing seems to be happening in increments of half-degrees. But there is news to be positive about; Italy and Spain seem to be past their peaks, which offers us hope, and on its own terms is wonderful for those nations. (Although Sweden seems to be embracing any prospect of restrictions with all the enthusiasm of Scotland’s chief medical officer, who resigned after bombing down to her second home for two weekends in a row. Amazingly, the Israeli health minister was going to a synagogue that was flouting rules, while the New Zealand health minister literally hit the beach.)

By the time you read this, we may have more clarity on how much longer we will be confined to our homes, but it doesn’t look like it. And so: fortitude. And tea. And wine. And biscuits. And chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

Other things to cheer:

Keep sort of calm – interspersed with existential panic – and carry on.

Illustrations by Tim King

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