from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Free and not free

June 11.   In the lockdown, I have tried to be sensible.  I have maintained my hours of work despite the absence of timetabled commitments.  I have written diary entries.  I have resisted drinking all of our not very capacious wine cellar.  My one besetting sin has been newspapers.  Deprived of hard copy I have set up online feeds from the Guardian, The Times (for an alternative view), the Financial Times (for hard evidence) and the New York Times (for the rest of the world).  Unlimited words, limitless time consumed.

Much of the knowledge thus gained has not illuminated my life.  Today I learn that there is a looming shortage of marmite (caused by a decline in beer brewing, who knew), and mounting anxiety about the closure of public lavatories.

Occasionally, however, there is a story that seems to encapsulate all that is now going wrong.  Yesterday’s online Times has an article headlined: ‘Lockdown eased to allow lonely to meet another household.’  It was part of the good news narrative that Johnson is trying to promote.  Day by day things are getting better.   In every other regard it brings no comfort.

First there is the nominative disarray I discussed yesterday; the confusion in this case between those living alone, and those who are lonely.  A third of UK households are occupied by one person.  Some of those are lonely; most are not.  All of them with grandchildren are probably missing them.

Second there is the small print.  Everyone can go and see their grandchildren except those in lockdown, which includes all those over seventy.  My wife and I, as it happens, are bang on the demographic average for the birth of our first grandchild (we were 63).  But now we have more years and more grandchildren.   Under the new regulations, we are too old to see them.  It’s as if the Government had announced with a fanfare that everyone was now free to play football, except those under thirty.

Third there is the surrounding argument.  The fifth paragraph of the same article reads:  ‘However, the government’s claim to have made the right decisions at the right time on the pandemic was dealt a severe blow when one of the architects of lockdown said Britain’s death toll could have been halved by imposing it a week earlier.’  What has collapsed in the last few weeks is not the infection rate but public trust in the entire official management of the crisis.

Every recent decision, whether about schools, testing, opening shops, allowing grandparents out of the house, quarantining international arrivals, has immediately been met by criticism, counter-argument and in some cases legal action.  The point is not so much the rights and Priti Patels of each issue, rather the belief that everyone is free to advance their own view and can find an ‘expert’ somewhere to back them up.  Deference towards politicians, and towards those who advise them, has disappeared.  In the early days there was a tendency to accept what we were told in the grave surroundings of No. 10.  We needed to believe that those with power were doing the right thing, and anyway it was difficult for amateurs fully to understand the science and the projections.  That comfort is no longer available.

The largest argument, referred to by the Times journalist, is about what was not done in February and March and how many tens of thousands of people died as a result.  The Government’s repeated hope that this kind of retrospective analysis could be left to a post-pandemic enquiry is in vain. 

We are all historians now.  And that is a measure of the trouble we are in.

from Shannon in Florida, USA: life seems relatively normal …

April 28. I must say given how crazy the things have been and how cumbersome (putting it mildly) all restrictions have been for most people around the world, my life seems relatively normal. 

I am lucky to be working as a consultant, which means working from home is not new or far fetched. Yes, you are in meetings starting at 8 and ending around 18, and you are lucky if you can close your computer and enjoy dinner before 20, but still this is better than most. Usually for work I am traveling Monday – Thursday to be on client site,  which means I don’t get to spend as much time with family, or pets, but now things are different. My schedule has adapted, and I am not complaining in the slightest. I get to take my pets on a long walk on the morning and the evening, see my mom and dad, and workout from home. I don’t have to think about missing a flight, or what I am ordering for room service because I can’t be bothered to leave the hotel after a long day at work.

I am in Florida where people seem to care more about their tan, beer, and “freedom” than anyone else, which may play a part. Beaches are open, people have quarantine parties, and everyone seems to think this is all just a big vacation. I would normally be frustrated that peoples ignorance will just prolong the situation, but I would just be in a bad mood all day if I thought that way. SO instead of being upset that my travels are cancelled, that my boyfriend is on the other side of the world, and that people seem to not care about anyone but themselves I am choosing to see positives. 

I am spending more time with my parents than I have since I was about 8, I get to walk outside on an empty golf course with two extremely happy dogs, the sun is shining, I have a job, and I know eventually things will go back to normal.