So here we are: exactly one calendar month since the UK woke up for its first full day under coronavirus lockdown. To mark this milestone, here is a list of five things that have become normal in that time:
- Being grateful to supermarkets Although the rush of the early days of the lockdown has subsided as shoppers have adapted to the new rhythms of life and supermarkets have adjusted their ordering and restocking accordingly, shopping is a very different experience these days. The power balance has shifted. After several years of price wars and falling profits, supermarkets have a great deal more control than they did six weeks ago. The shopping bills have risen; we accept gaps on the shelves without complaint; and, instead of offers designed to tempt us into buying more, our shopping trips are punctuated with Tannoy announcements trumpeting what the business is doing to ‘feed the nation’ (although in many cases this still doesn’t involve providing staff with adequate protective measures).
- Suspending disbelief for realist, contemporary novels, soap operas, films and TV dramas The purpose of drama, Hamlet tells the travelling players in Act III, scene 2 of the play that bears his name, is to:
This is very much not happening now (and, judging by the uncertainty surrounding publishing, may not do so for a while). Characters in novels and on screen do lots of wildly unrealistic things. They hug people they meet in the street. They gather in crowded bars. They travel on public transport. They sit down in parks. When we attempt to lose ourselves in these stories, our brains now have to perform an unconscious conjuring trick, swapping one reality for another to overcome the cognitive dissonance that stems from seeing what is supposed to be our world functioning very differently. This has presented profound problems for many writers I know, who have seen their realist works in progress transform into outlandish fantasies overnight.
- Raising money for nationally funded institutions Few people in the UK won’t have heard of Captain Tom Moore, the determined and charming 99-year-old Second World War veteran who walked laps of his garden to drum up what ended up being more than £23m for the NHS. It is, of course, a marvellous effort. However, all the media furore, calls for a knighthood for the good captain and copycat ventures are drowning out an uncomfortable truth: the National Health Service is a centrally funded organisation (the clue is in the name). A month ago, the idea of private individuals fundraising for it would have been absurd. That we now accept and celebrate this concept shows a shift towards accepting the idea that the government may not be solely responsible for supporting it. If we’re not careful, this could stop us holding politicians to account, in much the same way that the well-intentioned #ClapforCarers movement risks glorifying the inadequacies of the protection given to workers on healthcare’s frontline.
- Getting excited about seeing a plane The skies are so quiet now that when a plane flies over it feels like an event. The sharp reduction in air travel (as well as in the number of cars on the road) has already had a dramatic impact on pollution levels in many places. It’s clear that there will have to be careful thought about how much we ought to be flying when this crisis is over. Still, when a plane passes overhead, I now find myself feeling the same prick of excitement that I did as a child in the playground, stopping to wave as Concorde roared past.
- Speaking to our neighbours Before lockdown, we knew one of the families whose gardens adjoin ours. Now we’re on regular speaking terms with three. We have exchanged news, shared advice, thrown balls back, commiserated over minor frustrations and chuckled about some of the sillier aspects of what we’re living through over the garden wall. From what I hear from friends in other parts of the country, this experience is part of a pattern that many are noticing. This new-found neighbourliness has to be one of the most positive aspects of the way in which this crisis is changing our society. I hope this is something that will persist when we come out the other side.