A personal piece this week, I hope it’s not too depressing.
Thus far, into its eleventh month, and 2020 is the year of fear. It began well enough for the UK. The out-break of an unknown ‘flu-like virus in faraway China making only the end of the foreign news. After all, we’d had bird-flu SARs and MERs and it seemed that the ebola outbreak in West Africa was now under control. Nothing to worry about in Europe. Our concerns were of a different kind, for many just dealing with the daily grind in an society increasingly uncaring and nastily polarised, for others the approaching exit from the EU.
Of course this was a fatal miscalculation, with the UK currently recording over 50,000 COVID related deaths and who knows how many more as an indirect result of the pandemic. It is a small and interconnected world and no amount of fulminating about maintaining borders can keep out a virus for long. Our response cannot be isolationist and self-centred, as Albert Camus said, ‘…the only way to fight the plague is with common decency.’
People were, and still are, afraid, though not with the uninformed fear of March and April. We know a lot more about the virus than we did and, it seems, there is a vaccine coming over the horizon sooner than was at first thought possible. With the defeat of Donald Trump in the recent US Presidential election it seems that those who deny reality, thereby both belittling and increasing the suffering and death of many, are in retreat. There was much rejoicing (and some relief) in this house when Pennsylvania declared for Biden.
The winter of 20/21 will be hard, without the escape and solace available outdoors in the Spring/Summer lockdown. We will be unable to celebrate as usual the traditional, often family-centred, festivals, Christmas, Hannukah, Eid and Diwali. Yet by Spring there may be a vaccine, a game changer, and the US will again take its place in the international community. Reason may again determine actions, not populist rhetoric. Science will, it seems, prevail.
So, where is my optimism? Shouldn’t this sustain me? I am cautious and doubting. Conversations with friends and neighbours suggests that this attitude is shared. In part this could be sensible, why count one’s chickens? Trump and the husk of the Republican Party may yet disrupt the electoral college and defer the transfer of power, he is already refusing to share vital information with his successor. We have what looks like a hard exit from the EU to come with all the chaos that will bring and we are without meaningful leadership during a pandemic. In part my caution could also be a corrective to the complacency of January.
But this doesn’t sit well, I am a glass half full sort of person. On a personal level this year has been good. My first crime thriller was published and well received. I have almost completed the revision of the second. My life, albeit indoors at home, is full and, generally, rewarding. There are many worse off than me.
Yet being afraid isn’t easily abandoned, the niggling restlessness and the anger close to the surface. Life is still restricted ( watching the southern hemisphere TriNations Rugby yesterday was poignant, it had a stadium crowd, unmasked and happy, like it used to be here ). That sensible inner voice reminds about the touching and the distance, the confined spaces and so on. We’ve done this all before, now we have to do it again.
So what to do? Hunker down and enjoy the little things. The wit and kindness of friends, via zoom if not in person. Carry on with work as best one can, taking as few risks as possible. It really is ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, maintain one’s human decency and not give in to fear. That’s all one can do.
And there’s always schadenfreude.
I’ll be back to writing about books next week. Promise.
The mock-up of the government poster is by the brilliant Dan Mogford, graphic artist and book cover designer extraordinaire.