The Lockdown Diaries 4: Breathe In, Breathe Out
1. The Joy Of Illness
I’m wary about the oversharing. To my mind Vivienne Haig-Wood could have just listened to her husband’s poems and gone to bed with a hot water bottle. To lower the paywall of the conscious mind and admit something serious to a fellow being is to impose upon them, however slightly. If I discuss a personal issue it needs must elicit a response, usually in the form of commiseration, and it upsets others. This is what documentarian Adam Curtis called ‘Oh Dearism’ – the only possible response to bad news one cannot do anything about. Job’s comforters have been banished to Sheol and replaced by hand-wringing Oh Dearists. That’s the trouble with being rendered powerless.
As Curtis pointed out in his documentary ‘Hypernormalisation’ (iPlayer) our only job now is to shop and preen on social media. We were behaving exactly as instructed when along came the pandemic. Illness is a disrupter. We started breaking patterns by reaching out to others and creating new plans from scratch. Look out, we could even become real influencers instead of social ones.
2. Keep It Clean
Virginia Woolf, the heron of Bloomsbury, thought that it is ‘strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature. Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia, lyrics to tooth-ache. She had a point. Illness has changed our future, but even though we see the evidence before us, will we take notice?
London’s air quality figures have massively improved; hundreds of lives are being saved. This has been a shavasana, the only yogic position everyone likes, a lacuna, a breath in and a breath out. The reduction of diesel is clearing rivers, cleaning streets, restoring trees, bringing back an ecosystem. What’s the betting everyone with a diesel truck will be running it the second lockdown ends? Or can we learn to make essential trips only?
I had some meds delivered and the driver told me he had visited London, Manchester and London again in a day, that trucks were delivering single boxes containing an eyebrow pencil or a plastic tube of glitter. Will we rethink this or will advertising agencies start shoving rubbish at us again? For clues we could look at one ad exec interviewed in the Times last week who wondered; ‘Is it too soon to start making pandemic jokes in our ads?’. In the latest issue of ‘Monocle’, the magazine touts ‘hot new luxury brands’, also including an article on business dinosaurs without any sense of irony.
3. The London Nobody Remembers
A London research question. Why are there a few weirdly random market stalls tucked beneath the Bridge at Charing Cross Station, just before the footbridges? Google couldn’t help so I did an Arthur Bryant and searched through old books.
I stumbled across an answer quite by accident. Until 1669, Hungerford House stood on that spot and allowed a market on its grounds. That’s why the bridges is called Hungerford Bridge, and a few stalls still have rights to pitch there. So many of London’s secrets lies in the crevices and corners of the past.