Six weeks in and our mood changes with the weather — which is fortunately very good. Even so, my beloved turns her Civil Servant’s mind to the way that government has handled things so far and to plans for the future and she is mightily unimpressed with what she sees.
Week 6 completed. I have been going through my calendar, obsessively, trying to keep track of a time in a world where workdays and week-ends have become mushed.
What do days look like now? We are finding our own, natural rhythms unencumbered by outside pressure. Young people have moved their days later. Mike mentioned going to bed at 3am. Not us. I’m now in bed by 10pm, barely listening to the news before sleep engulfs me. On Thursday (for example) I woke up at 7 am and spent 40 minutes coming to terms with the world, listening to the radio, cuddling, chatting, before getting out of bed. All that sense of urgency – places to be, things to do – has gone. It’s usually a leisurely breakfast around 8am and I’m seldom at my desk before 9am.
Once I’ve switched on the computer, work takes me along with it. Writing is calming, normal and once I get into the details I forget how irrelevant it is.
Lunch is dead on 1pm – the fixed point of the day, with the news, two slices of bread and a piece of fruit. Then back to work, and (usually) a long chat to J.
I tend to collapse around 4pm. The days I would keep going until 6pm have long passed. It’s as if the illusion of normal work involves a level of mental energy that can’t be sustained for more than 6 hours.
4pm to 6.30pm is the danger slot. Low energy levels. Feelings of uselessness. Hypochondria – am I really better? Is that cough hay fever? Do my eyes sting? Am I short of breath? Not helped by a recent interview with a lung consultant saying covid sufferers can have dangerously low levels of oxygen without realising it.
The temptation is to listen to the Daily Numbers, aka Daily Fantasy or Daily Pravda. This is a mistake. Guaranteed to exacerbate all feelings of uselessness and hypochondria, while adding anger into the mix, and leading to endless repetitive discussions with Tom about delays in counting deaths, the nature of a peak, what happens to people who die in ambulances (are they counted as dying in hospital) etc etc. We spend so much energy on these bloody figures, and the more you look at them the less reliable they become.
Much better to get outside. On Thursday Tom and I strolled to York House Gardens where we found a quiet bench where no-one goes and sat in the sun reading. Lovely. Mike said it was illegal – but who knows? No-one minded, mainly because the only people to see us in our nook, surrounded by hedges, were also motivated by a criminal intention to sit in the sun.
Then it’s time to cook. I haven’t tried clever stuff – or made pastry – or baked. But I do like chopping vegetables, and garlic, and ginger, and loading them into the pressure cooker to make stews. On Thursday my red cabbage/beans stew, blending bramleys (for sourness) with dried apricots (for sweetness). Served with couscous and sour cream – delicious.
After supper its tele time. We’ve now finished Tiger King, Spinning Out, I’m not OK with this and Belgravia. Thursday was Sabrina Season 3 and Friday was Quiz. Maybe a bit of colouring in while I wait for Tom to scroll through Twitter.
After tele we try to motivate each other to get off our arses and dance. We are now dancing really slow, moody stuff. On Thursday it was Summertime. Then a drink (I’m still on hot squash and archers) with a radio comedy. And so to bed.
In Friday, we finally got our bikes out and cycled to the Woodland Gardens in Bushy Park. Rhododendrons and azaleas were beginning to come out. The fauna seemed to have lost all fear. A rabbit with two babies munched its way through foliage without a care in the world. A curious young fox came up to us as we sat on a bench. Ducks and geese, but very few people. It felt like old times, when we used to visit stately homes and gardens. If we had been able to buy an ice cream at the (now closed) kiosk, it would have been completely BC. We felt optimistic and talked about the holidays we would have over the summer.
On Sunday I only left the house to buy a newspaper. Mike queried whether this was essential, within the meaning of the Coronavirus Regulations (Regulations I have studiously avoided looking at). I reasoned that if the Government allowed the Sunday Times to be printed, and the corner shop to be open to sell it, it would make no sense to forbid me from buying it.
A day of newspaper reading finally scotched the idea I had flirted with briefly, back in March, that Government was competent and guided by experts. Obviously, after 10 years of austerity we had failed to maintain our epidemic stocks. And when we last did an exercise in 2016, maybe Government could be forgiven for not seeing the recommendations as a priority. We had Brexit. And obviously we had other things to think about in 2017, 2018 and 2019 (Brexit). But by January 2020, the lack of an implemented Pandemic Plan should have been seen as a bit of a problem. Those five weeks of inaction don’t put the Government in a good light. Did junior civil servants fail to understand the extent of our under-preparedness? Did senior civil servants fail to pass on the message? Or did politicians ignore it? My money is on all three.
I had a long phone call with L about transport policy after the all this is over. Almost all transport providers are no longer solvent and completely depend on Government funding. The only good news is that Transport for London’s previous budget problems have disappeared into a gaping maw. “We will have to rethink land use”, L said. “City centres will never to be same again, as we work locally and from home. It’s no longer a question of just getting people from A to B.”
If this continues for more than a few months, Government funding will be less about just returning to the status quo ante – and more about deciding what we want for the future. There are lots of opportunities here to do things better, with a greener, more resilient economy with less reliance of private cars and attenuated supply chains. But also a huge worry about whether our current Government machine can deliver.