Day 66 – Friday 29th May 2020
“The rules!” shouted Ralph, “you’re breaking the rules!” “Who cares?” Ralph summoned his wits. “Because the rules are the only thing we’ve got!” But Jack was shouting against him. “Bollocks to the rules!
So, who is in a quandary? At the peak of the crisis, when we were all very tucked up and locked in, checking the statistics of new Covid cases everyday and feeling raw at the numbers of deaths, it was all very straightforward. The message “Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.” was very clear. It was less a slogan, more a direct call to action and it felt important. My daily shopping /exercise trip had the feel of something very much out of the ordinary. I peered into shops to make sure there were not too many people, ensured no one came too close, held my card at extreme arms length when I was paying and sanitized my hands as I came out of every shop or if I touched something. As I walked home along an almost deserted High Road I met no one I knew. The lobby to my block was empty and I used a tissue to open communal doors and to press lift buttons. Once home, I washed my hands vigorously and then went back to sanitize door handles and key fobs. Even then, on zoom calls or on messages, having read the description of my excursions on my blog, several of my friends thought I was taking too many risks and should not go out. The whole atmosphere was of a shared crisis and everyone I spoke to was clear about, not just protecting themselves but being considerate about others.
Today, the situation is very different. There is a wide disparity of views amongst my friends and neighbours. There are still those that are as particular as they ever were, particularly those with identified vulnerabilities. There are some that have gone completely the other way and believe the lock down rules should be relaxed or even just ignored completely. Whether it is a conscious decision or just a kind of communal reduction in attention the streets are now full of those that act as if there were few restrictions. There are fewer adherences to distancing, more impatience in queues, more traffic on the roads, more and larger groups on open spaces, more pockets of friends having conversations on the street and shop assistants are noticeably less careful when serving. I have avoided them but I have heard of several pubs and cafes in the area that serve draft beer to be drunk outside their premises but with the clear expectation that you will not be taking it home and will be hanging out close by and coming back fore another. Many people I know have driven to visit friends and relatives for social reasons and have barbeques and garden parties. Media photographs of beaches right across the country attest to the rapid change of mindset.
So, instead of a clear communal approach we are divided in our interpretation of …….. of what ? Are they rules or just guidelines? I am not going to talk to the Cummings affair because if I start then I am unlikely to avoid a full rant but the papers are full of police reports of people using his actions and the government’s failure to condemn them, as an excuse or a justification for their own lock down breaches. What constitutes the ‘British Common Sense’ so highly regarded by our Prime Minister? ‘Stay Alert’ is less compelling than ‘Stay Home’ and the sublimal replacement of the originally red arrow/triangles to green says what exactly? If you are meant to take your children to school you are less likely to return home and more likely to revert to your former coffee mornings with the other ‘Yummy Mummies’ on the High Road. Today ‘Track and Trace’ is being rolled out with instructions that any one who has been in contact with someone who has tested positive must self-isolate for 14 days even if they show symptoms but it will take five days for people to get the results of their tests. Whatever your political inclination, that ‘self-isolation’ rule has taken a bashing in the public perception and it will be impossible to enforce and we are back to the ‘Great British Common Sense’ that I personally have little confidence in.
So, what are we folks somewhere in the middle who want to get more fresh air, catch up with some of our friends and family, support local businesses and feel slightly more human but still want to be protected and protect others meant to do? How about someone with vulnerable people in their household, possibly living in a small flat with three generations of family, who now feels under pressure to go back to work but needs to catch a bus and a tube to do so? How about the owner of a small business that sees that the government’s financial support will soon be reduced if not cease altogether but knows that if he re-opens his staff will have to run the gauntlet of public transport. How about the grandparents whose daughter cannot return to work unless one of them child-minds? The rules say no but ‘but Mum, everyone else is doing it and I need to get back to work’ is a tough call. The absolute lock-down created its own mental health issues but I feel potentially that this halfway house will be even more stressful. For many, the previous guidelines made the safe option perfectly clear. Now the onus is on individuals to decipher the less than clear messages on how best to behave. Undoubtedly, this would have happened in any case as transition is always more stressful than absolute and as everyone’s circumstances differ this would always have been the time when behaviour would start to reflect those different circumstances. I saw one commentator use the analogy of air travel: the take off and the landings being the most dangerous moments of a flight. In a pandemic the most critical moments are as preventative measures are imposed and then as they are relaxed. The family I saw today, strolling down a sunny Turnham Green Terrace with ice creams from Foubert’s, seemed oblivious of the dangers of a second wave. South Korea has just re-imposed many of their lock down restrictions as real signs of a second wave of infections have become apparent. A major second wave in London would severely hamper any economic recovery and put people under a great deal of personal pressure.
So, how have I responded? I have done little to change my behaviour though I have made distanced visits to sit in a friend’s garden via their back gates. On one occasion by bus wearing a facemask and with regular use of sanitizer. I actually found that trip more stressful than I expected and was strangely exhausted by what would have been a routine outing prior to Covid. I had both my sons to stay, which was technically against the rules but they came in a car from one locked down home to another and we stayed in as they ‘were working at home’ anyway. My shopping and exercising regimes have not changed nor my hand washing on return. Possibly the one relaxation has been to pop out in the evenings occasionally to order and collect take-away food by person. My sons and I did try the new Tex-Mex Restaurant, D-Grande, that has just re-opened on the High Road. Our experience was a positive one. The food seemed to us to be ‘More Tex than Mex’ i.e. it is American rather than Mexican, as can be told by the style of the Quesos options. We only ordered vegetable dishes though they do have an impressive selection of offerings using beef brisket. We really enjoyed what we had and were also highly impressed that all their take away containers were made from fully biodegradable materials – a major plus in our book!
I am also pleased to see my local wine shop re-opening as I walked past this morning. I am strongly of the view that we need to support any local independent business as it re-opens. If that means having to have an extra glass of wine then it would be churlish not to!
Talking of churlish – there was no doubt that this and any other epithet you can think of have been leveled at today’s Vinyl selection.
If you have read this week’s blogs on my website you will have seen that some of my neighbours have shared their Vinyl collections with me. “Never mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols” was actually given to my next door neighbour, Shea, by his Mum, which says something about my age and possibly his Mum’s state of mind. Hugely controversial at the time the album has now gone down as one of the most influential of the modern era and one of the few that genuinely merits the term ‘Iconic’. I was at the latter end of my student days when it was released in 1977 and was aware of The Pistols’ skirmish on television with Bill Grundy but didn’t take much notice until these weirdly coiffured kids started kicking off everywhere in Brighton. I enjoyed the music that emerged from the footsteps of pure punk like the Stranglers, Ian Dury & the Blockheads or Elvis Costello but wasn’t a fan of the movement itself. It was actually pretty unpleasant when going to gigs and the front was full of pogoing youths who ‘gobbed’ at the stage to the extent that between every act roadies had to come out with buckets and mobs. Nevertheless, though not a fan I do appreciate that Punk’s anarchic approach opened up the music industry to new music and broke down some of the traditional reticence towards innovation and experiment. In addition, for the purposes of this blog, it should be recognised that several of those associated with it are local lads. Two of the founding members of the Pistols, Steve Jones the guitarist and Paul Cook the drummer, were born in Shepherds Bush and went to what was called ‘Christopher Wren’ back then and is now called ‘Phoenix Academy’. In fact, there was originally an additional school friend of theirs, Wally Nightingale, in the band that was originally called ‘The Strand’ and then ‘The Swankers’ but when McLaren took over as manager he sacked him for not looking rough enough. The music PR would have it that The Sex Pistols were a product of McLaren and Westwood’s ‘Sex’ clothing shop in The King’s Road but there was an argument that says it all started at the school in White City.
In addition to the band members, the Producer, Chris Thomas, is a local lad, from Brentford. It was only when researching for this blog that I came to be aware of him, which is pretty amazing seeing his catalogue of artists includes The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Procol Haram, Roxy Music, Badfinger, Elton John, Pete Townsend, Pulp and The Pretenders. It turns out that he prefers to avoid the limelight though that list suggests one of British pop and rock music’s greatest producers is ‘one of ours’. I would love to ask him how he coped with working with Paul McCartney (on ‘back To The Egg’ by Wings) and the Sex Pistols at the same time. That’s a challenge for another time.