The Lockdown Diaries 3: Double Or Nothing
I’m sitting in my dressing gown overlooking London, thinking about where the city goes from here.
In his memoir of growing up in middle-class Viennese society, Stefan Zweig writes that Jewish families such as his were misunderstood. The desire for financial security lasted just two of three generations, and once it was achieved a new objective took its place within the family; the attainment of intellect. The professional and artistic callings became all-important. The next generation became musicians, artists, writers and professionals with higher callings. The assumption was that humans would evolve steadily like climbing the rungs of an endless ladder.
But they don’t.
Several comfortable generations toward the end of the 19th century were enough to lull Zweig and his kin into a false sense of security, so that when the rug was brutally pulled from under them by the assassination of the Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand, the outbreak of war came as a shock that shattered their world. It seemed to them that everything they had trusted vanished overnight, but of course the political situation had been slowly eroding for a decade; they simply had not noticed.
Zwieg’s plunge from order to chaos was far greater than ours. We have experienced a calibrated reduction of freedom. We can see what we should have done. Every day the press covetously explains how New Zealand beat the virus. New Zealand admirably did the right thing. But their entire population would fit into the London of 1880.
The Black Death wiped out 60% of densely packed Europe. Of all the developed countries, the US approach to the present plague has been the most disastrous, suffered by ordinary working men and women, many of whom will continue to vote in favour of a morally bankrupt ruling elite.
At the moment for me life involves being in a double-Lockdown. I start each day in a busy London hospital. Most government booklets designed to inform patients have been rendered hilariously impractical and out-of-date by the virus. The juggling of virus, cancer and other underlying conditions can be managed if you concentrate. They say I’ll suffer mood swings. Not me, I laugh, and proceed to have a furious argument about…bread.
A routine has evolved – after the hospital we stop at a bakery. Coffee and cake on the terrace, then work. The best advice a medic ever gave me was; Don’t talk to too many people. I learned to avoid certain ‘friends’ who took a creepy pleasure in explaining what could go wrong. When I was 41 and on a ventilator in an ICU, a complete stranger managed to get through on the phone and explain why I should ‘just let go and be accepted into God’s hands’. I am not a vindictive man, but I hope she’s dead.
When I read Zweig’s description of his ordered old world I realised he was right; it did not come back. It changed out of all recognition. That particular evolutionary ladder had reached an end.
All of which is enough to make you think I’m not writing. But I am. Each morning, just for a while, I step back into the offices at 231 Caledonian Road and shake hands with the members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit (no social distancing here). Then I start chatting with Arthur Bryant and John May. They may be fictional but they are constant. The world around us is not.