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You can loosen the straps now, Nurse Ratched

September 25, 2020

There are times at the moment when I wish I could go to sleep and wake up in a different universe. One without COVID, without Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Novichok, public health slogans, forest fires, melting glaciers and people encouraging my neighbours to inform on me.

But then I realise that if I did go to sleep for a long time, it might not be a pleasant experience. Ventilators aren’t really my thing, and I’m not ready for a permanent sleep just yet.

So onwards and upwards. Let’s ride the second wave, avoid any references to the Second World War, be kind to each other and encourage those who are dictating our futures to do the right thing.

I do find it hard, I admit. The wall-to-wall COVID coverage in the media last time round was acceptable, because here was a phenomenon that in many different ways was grimly fascinating. Now it’s just grim. Not so much because we keep erecting the equivalent of flood defences at vast expense that the waters flow around or breach with careless violence; more because in the spring the crisis brought the best out of many of us, whereas now we seem to have lost our patience.

We carp, we curse, we blame with abandon. The old blame the young for their house parties, their gaggles in the park and their hugs outside the pubs. The young blame the old for being the reason why they’re losing their jobs, their freedom, their future. And the middle-aged are just bitter: sod masks, sod everyone, it’s all a conspiracy.

And afraid, of course. Whether we admit it or not, we’re all afraid for one reason or another, aren’t we?

So what’s to do? Far be it for me to trot out a few meaningless platitudes. Everybody’s situation is different, and this is not a self-help blog. I can only say what I do. If that sparks off a few ideas, fine. If not, well, you’ve only wasted a few minutes reading this.

First off, I do stuff. It doesn’t really matter if what I do is trivial, repetitive, of short term or long term value. Doing stuff fills my personal reality and stops me from being sucked into that of other people. The stuff I do can usually be associated with some purpose, profound or otherwise. I play golf to keep a level of fitness. I write this blog because it helps me make sense of the senseless. I read books for the same reason.

Second, I try and remember that the past, the present and the future are different places. The past is gone but not forgotten, the future is unknown and full of possibilities, good and bad. The present is what I have to deal with. If times are hard, what matters is a sense of purpose, informed by the past, grounded in the present and in tune with a future that I want to see. No purpose, no point.

Third, I try to focus on what I can do rather than rage about what I can’t. Perhaps this is function of getting old. While the positive thinking gurus encourage you to believe that there’s nothing you can’t do, that’s fine when you’re young enough to surf eighty-foot waves or ride cycles over cliffs, but not fine when, as I am, you’re in your sixties and your physical powers aren’t what they were.

And finally, I find it helps to think of the current situation with COVID as a collective recuperation. There are setbacks, good days and bad days. There are also plenty of quacks who will offer conflicting advice that may or may not aid recovery. We, as a human collective, don’t always behave in a way that speeds our recovery. But we will recuperate, even if some of our commerce, institutions and ways of living do not.

It may even be that when all the political, economic and cultural ramifications of the pandemic have played out, we find that positive qualities that have been at a premium in dealing with the event – adaptability, creativity, improvisation – have re-wired our societies and made it easier for us to deal with future crises.

That’s not to say that there won’t continue to be moments when I want to scream with frustration at the stupidity, recklessness and sometimes outright malevolence that crops up at every turn, especially in my country and in the United States, and most especially as Donald Trump does his utmost to cling on to power and our gang stumble into Brexit.

But when the anger has subsided, at least I can reflect that while the supply of make-believe drama on TV is slowly dwindling, real life is more than making up for the shortfall. For those who keep their eyes open and manage to maintain a level of personal equilibrium, the next few months should be endlessly fascinating.

That all sounds very logical, calm and sensible, doesn’t it? In fact, much of it is nonsense.

The bit about doing stuff, and seeking a sense of purpose is true. But it’s also true that I spend much of my time curdled in fury at the incompetence of my government. So much so that I can no longer watch the news on TV because the first fifteen minutes is usually about COVID. Is that because materially I’m relatively unscathed, physically I’m still plague-free, but I feel guilty that so many people are suffering so much more than I am? Possibly. Is it also because the blizzard of information coming our way from every direction is so pregnant with uncertainty that the only thing one can conclude with much certainty is that the blind are leading the blind? Most likely.

I’ve also switched off on Brexit, because the same incompetents, so in thrall to their feckless ideology and the absurd optimism of our joke of a prime minister will do what they will do, and there’s not the slightest thing that I can do about it.

And then there’s the land of the flea, the home of the plague. If it were not for the fact that what happens in America matters to all of us who live beyond its borders, I would also be tempted to close my eyes and cover my ears while the country is tearing itself apart. In fact I scour the media for even the slightest suggestion that Trump’s demise is coming ever closer.

I have become the most biased of the biased. To give him credit for any achievement is hard for me to do unless that credit is laden with poisonous cynicism. The thought that we must all put up with another four years of that horrible man is only leavened by the possibility that my bile might send me to an early grave, thus releasing me from the need to pay further attention to the orange monster.

But other than that, everything’s good. Rational man prevails. I haven’t thought of COVID, Brexit or Trump for several hours. A good splenetic outburst keeps me going for a while.

And yes, more medication please, Nurse Ratched. You can loosen the straps now.

From → Politics, Social, UK, USA

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