‘I’m normal: it’s everyone else who’s weird’
Alas, I have learned this lifelong motto is no longer true. Having been cooped up semi-voluntarily for over six months now, Clare and I have made a brief getaway bid to the West Country. It was a foolish move. We had forgotten there is no such thing as ‘low season’ in this part of the world any more — a phenomenon all the more apparent since foreign holidays, weekend breaks, stag parties and bar-mitzvahs are off the menu, except for people with copious fortnights to spare for quarantine, both on arrival and return.
As a result, the place is heaving with grockles, emmets, or whatever the local slang name for tourists is down here. These days they’re probably known as super-spreaders. You can almost hear the dialect’s rolling rrr’s making the most of the phrase — superr-sprreaderrrs.
The trouble is, Britain doesn’t have the infrastructure to cope with a pandemic. I’m not talking hospitals and contact-tracing systems here. I mean pavements. Even in the city it’s hard to pass anyone with two metres to spare without stepping into traffic. Picturesque seaside fishing villages have no capacity at all.
This leaves me jumping like a startled rabbit at every turn. Crowds that I would normally cruise through, cause me to hyperventilate, which is not a good thing when you’re trying not to breathe in somebody else’s coronaviruses. A stroll to the beach, or a country ramble, turns into a sequence of body-swerves worthy of an international rugby winger.
You see, I have conscientiously taken on board all those messages about social distancing. So primal instincts are aroused. Fight or flight? Shall I scurry into the nearest hermetically isolated bunker, or will I stand on a street corner and scream like some demented prophet of old, ‘We’re all doomed!’ (While keeping my face mask on, of course.)
What really scares me is the unchristian compulsion to punch those people careless enough to come within an arm’s length. Or push them off the pavement. Or the cliff-top path. Fear does strange things to you, or so I’ve been told. I’ve discovered that it’s true.
These unwary risk-takers come in all guises. Young, old, beach-fit surfers, and those who totter up or down the slightest gradient. Some march close by, grimly defiant of any virus you may inadvertently carry. Others glance at you as they brush past as if to say, ‘Go on, challenge me. I’ve been let out of lockdown and I’m spoiling for a fight.’ One or two shuffle hastily along, scared you might exhale in their vicinity.
Even on a moorland walk, I’m constantly on the lookout for the next widening in the path, a potential passing place should hikers approach from the other direction. I might as well drive the narrow, awkward country lanes with their irregularly placed gateways and pull-ins for all I get to see of the scenery.
Every now and then, someone pauses at a ‘safe’ distance and engages in a chat. Noticing our binoculars, they ask ‘Have you seen the choughs at Cape Cornwall?’ Such encounters restore our humanity. Even the little old lady who, out with friends, stops to compare notes on the steepness of the slope—‘Tough going up; even trickier coming down!’—and leans in as if to reinforce the joke with a pat on the arm, suddenly remembers the new protocol and pulls back. Of course I feel sorry for her.
I am the new normal. And everyone else is the new weird.
Rev John Downing
Two contributors offer their personal thoughts on the effects of COVID19 on our lives
Visible and Invisible barriers
Honestly, who could ever have imagined life today? When the New Year began, new diaries were quickly filling up with great expectations, exciting plans, appointments and milestones to celebrate together. Yet as the year has progressed, our lives have changed each spiralling within our own, individual protective dome of safety, as if connected to the core of each individual.
Physical barriers have now become part of our 'new normal'. They are visually in our constant view, protecting us like the railings on a pavement outside a school gate before the busy road.
Facemasks have become commonplace and gloves are another thing we also see more often. Others wear the more transparent barrier of a face shield.
There is the funny little dance we do, when we pass someone in the street, as if we are giant magnets repelling each other - almost like a barn dance! Inevitably, you both go the same way and then mirror each other again, as you both correct to the starting position, eventually passing each other. It's as if there is a huge invisible square between you both: moves negotiated and a gentle smile exchanged, although not obvious under the facemask.
More translucent barriers are created by hand sanitiser and gels. Anti bacterial spray for wiping shopping, door handles and worktops. For some folk, the protection of our homes has become our safety, with groceries delivered, post and anything from outside, sprayed or quarantined.
It is as if we are in a huge clear ball; the ones you would see children running within at a Fun Day, trying to stay upright as it rolls along until it picks up speed and all control is lost. The remaining time spent just trying to stand up once more!
Loneliness too becomes its own invisible barrier, lifted only by the welcome sound of a telephone call breaking the silence. Outside life is very much observed through a window: watching the world go by; watching the seasons of nature changing like clockwork; a world that continues, yet we may feel very disconnected from at the moment.
Updates of news on the radio or television inevitably show the scale of an ever-changing situation. Anxiety is more commonplace, in turn fuelling depression and a fear of the unknown. Occasionally the blessing of a hand written letter from a friend comes to brighten the day.
The heartbreak of the separation from friends and family seems to be the hardest, most painful invisible barrier: quite the opposite of our natural reaction and normal response. The impact ripples through every generation: endless days full of emptiness and the isolation of a never-ending void; weeks filled with nothingness.
How we long for the regular structure of life before COVID19, to be able to spend time in the company of family and friends, to worship in our church building together once more, to be part of support groups and shared activities, to take for granted the continued treatment of existing medical conditions that may have been paused above all to be able to support each other in person and to be beside our loved ones.
Father God, we pray for those who are struggling with the challenges of life at the moment. May they feel your love surrounding them and know they are never alone.
We ask you Lord to be a strong support for all those who are working tirelessly to make our lives better today and towards a future when these barriers can be safely removed.
In Jesus name, Amen