A friend just emailed me: ‘Lockdown is suiting you’. I don’t think it’s because I’m under house arrest. Although, maybe it is. Most likely it was because I’d emailed him a list of projects I’ve been filling my time with during these distanced weeks, and made them sound more exciting and extensive than they are.
None of my projects is making face masks or anything useful to the corona-effort. Maybe that’s one reason why I’ve felt rather empty this last week or so. Could I be ‘making a difference’? Should I be? The youngest daughter has also been out of sorts, what she calls ‘low morale’. There’s a curve often experienced in challenging times: a surge of energy and activity, a dampening of spirits as the crisis continues, and a sinking into lethargy and inactivity as a sense of pointlessness pervades.
On the upside, the eldest daughter shared a Teams (online meetings app) story. On these apps, you can share documents or your whole computer screen with others. The daughter’s colleague (presumably inadvertently) shared their online lingerie shopping with a meeting of ten people. Literally pants for the colleague, but light relief for everyone else.
As if to echo my dip in spirits and the exhausting uncertainty of ‘staying alert’, my skin has literally gone into meltdown. My hands have thrown out a weird form of intense eczema and a lesion has appeared in the centre of my forehead. The sort of thing that my mother would have enjoyed telling me: ‘It’s your badness coming out, Jacqueline’. Obviously, it will make it easier for me to be a zombie at the family’s forthcoming fright night this weekend. So that’s all good.
Sending photos of my crusty forehead to the doctor was quite gratifying. He was most intrigued – maybe even a bit delighted by something ‘so very odd’. He was incredibly gracious and didn’t let on if I was distracting him from more weighty cases. We had three telephone conversations before I was given a prescription for a cream that ‘has a bit of everything in it’ which the pharmacist described as ‘like an ancient remedy’. I’m glad ancient remedies still exist in mainstream life. I’m sure we’ve lost some grand skills and insights in terms of therapeutics and healing. Although, chopping up meat and burying it in the garden to get rid of warts (something I vaguely remember my mum doing when my brother’s hands were covered in the blighters) is maybe a good loss.
The valuable make-do-and-mend efforts around making scrubs to prop up the NHS are not, of course, entirely altruistic. Another symptom of a national crisis is the need for individuals to feel they have an active part to play. A contribution to make to the frontline effort. And to fill the time that would usually be filled with ‘normal’ activities with something that feels significant. It all helps keep that tricksy morale on an even keel. As long as we’re doing something, we’re dealing with it. Whatever the ‘it’ is. Which sounds a little like a speech our Prime Minister might make.
I felt quite bewildered about the VE Day celebrations. I guess my feelings were all mixed up with Brexit angst, Covid19, a general sense of being played by government and media, and the fact that VE Day came just after the UK announced the highest coronavirus death rates in Europe. Don’t get me wrong, remembering and acknowledging the privations and sacrifices of generations past (and generations present) – and why they made those sacrifices – is important and appropriate. The freedoms won in Europe through the Second World War are fundamental to human rights and equality. I guess today’s parallel paradox is that, even as some are declaring lockdown as an infringement of their freedom, others are putting themselves at risk because they either have little choice or are being encouraged to do so for the greater good.
With VE Day, there was a dissonance between being encouraged to stay home to save lives or whatever it is now; and being encouraged to hold street parties (albeit socially distanced ones). The long-cherished personal stories of uncles and aunts, parents, and grandparents remembered and shared on all media were, as always, moving and inspiring. Hearing the account on BBC Radio 4 of the two princesses joining the cheering throng outside Buckingham Palace back in 1945 made me think of my mum. I think she loved the slightly romantic idea of those two young women breaking with convention to be ‘with the people’. At 11am, our household members toddled onto the doorstep to observe the two-minute silence – as suggested in the VE Day official schedule. Berwick streamed by in full spate. My VE Day malaise, I think, was more about what we were actually being asked to celebrate in our Union Jack swathed streets. Was this all a bit of a call to some Trumpian-style nationalism, rather than a straightforward celebration of historic lives and deeds on a day that is, after all, celebrating a European union as well as a national triumph?
Ultimately, many lockdown activities are a distraction from the uncertainties of the moment. And many of them provide hope in what’s to come beyond the immediacy of living with coronavirus and its unfolding impact on our lives around the world. A friend and I recently joked that we’re focusing on the three Ws during lockdown: Working, Walking and Wine-ing (whining?). ‘Cheers!’.