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Corona Diaries: the great equaliser

April 28, 2020

Today the rains have come in my part of the United Kingdom. They will likely be with us for the next week. Which causes me to reflect that the rain is an equaliser. When it rains, we don’t want to go out.

Over the past month, the outside has been largely warm and sunny. For millions who have no access to outdoor space other than public areas, and for whom any attempt to enjoy the weather is greeted by passing police, sometimes polite, sometimes officious, warm and sunny is a mixed blessing. If not the police, you have to deal with neighbours and passers-by, who swerve away if you’re jogging, give you dirty looks if you sit on a park bench and tut-tut if you take out a ball and start throwing it to your kids. Not normal.

For those, like me, who have gardens, be they the size of a postage stamp or rolling acres, life can almost seem normal, especially if you’re not particularly gregarious and you’re not in the habit of hosting large gatherings week in, week out.

Did anyone imagine that dystopia might look like this? Hollywood’s dystopia is Mad Max, The Handmaid’s Tale, marauding gangs, the rule of the gun. Or, in a time of plague, the walking dead, bodies on the street, puke and pus everywhere.

Ours is a quiet dystopia, perhaps more of the mind than the physical form. Before the pandemic, we thought of the haves and have-nots in terms of money, and what we can do with it. Right now, owning a Chelsea tractor, a yacht and two country homes is irrelevant. So is having the time and money to go trekking around Vietnam or even camping on the coast of Cornwall.

Right now, the biggest difference in experience is having a garden – your private space outside – or not. That, at least for now, is the new equality gap.

You might tell me that money still matters. Of course it does. It determines how you eat, what distractions you can buy online, whether you sleep on the streets or in a bed and where your booze or weed or heroin are coming from.

Of course it does, but the vast majority of Britain’s population have a place to stay and are not going hungry. I suspect that for most of us, worries about the future have gone from an initial explosion of shock to a continuous low hum as we incorporate uncertainty into our daily reality.

What makes a difference to our ability to deal with the worry is our access to the outside. Sunlight brightens the heart. And those of us who have our own outside are lucky indeed. Except when it rains. If we have gardens, we might be looking on the bright side, and saying to ourselves well we needed the rain, and the farmers will welcome it. But when it’s pissing down we’re reduced to looking out of the window. Just like everyone who lives in a first floor flat or at the top of a tower block.

It’s a strange kind of equality in a strange, quiet, dystopia.

That’s not to say that even in our orderly little country, other more dramatic dystopias aren’t raging. The daily pandemonium in hospital ICUs – as doctors and nurses struggle to keep people alive – is as Hollywood as you can get. So, in a grimier, even more distressing way, because it doesn’t have an upside, is the increase in domestic violence. So also, though quieter and more insidious, is depression.

When we imagine dystopia, we often think of it as a universal condition. A wrecked world as opposed to patches of broken society. Our little corner, for most of us, is utopia compared with others, where civil war rages, sectarian bigotry rips the fabric of living apart and poverty provides an open invitation for the virus to wreak havoc.

But we each have our own realities. When stuff happens our outlook changes along with our reality. I expect a darkening of the national mood over the next week or so.

Who would have thought that rain might make such a difference? That it would be the great equaliser?

From → Social, UK

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