My mornings begin in roughly the same way. I wake. I climb from bed. I descend the stairs and I boil a kettle. God forbid if this virus interfered with that. Earlier this week, one news article grabbed my attention by the horns. It was a video-report from a hospital in Lombardy and it needed little hype.
There were rows of hospital beds with patients laid flat on their stomachs. They had ventilators attached but were showing no real signs of life. Here, it definitely wasn’t business as usual. For these people, not really patients because they could not really be cared for, the end was definitely nigh. A doctor explained through a facemask that nobody was expected to survive. This was a ward that had become a morgue and these bodies were waiting to be officially pronounced DEAD. The doctor suffered from sleep deprivation; she could not really sleep, when she did, she dreamt, nightmares that were refugees from reality. The doctor was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder yet she carried on, her Hippocratic oath persuading her onto the wards.
This morning, when I woke up for real, it was the ordinariness of the day that struck me. It was Tuesday, my least favourite of the week, Tuesday that had become associated with visits to the dentist, cocaine and extractions. That was in the days when they used cocaine and my mates would compare pre-filling or extraction trips. It was the concentric circle images that stuck in my mind; like Saturn and its rings –spaced out. This was not one of those Tuesdays, this was a trip of a different nature. Spring was still managing to throw some light perspective onto the coming days, but it seemed to be nature just shrugging its shoulders and exclaiming that ‘shit happens’. The Prime Minister had said as much in a briefing. We would have to be prepared to accept that we would probably lose loved ones, before their time.
It was coming yet, in a surreal way, it was bringing calm. Before going to work, when I am working away, it has become a tradition that I take coffee in one of the overpriced coffee chains. I sit with my colleague and we generally chat about the matters of the day. In weeks so recently past this would include simmering debates about our membership of Europe. He has become a convert to the Leave campaign whilst I think the union is worthwhile. At times the simmer has boiled over so we have left this topic alone. On this Tuesday morning, the topic had been pre-decided.
The market town was particularly empty. It could have been a Christmas Day with everybody too busy unwrapping presents to wander into town. It was not Christmas Day and the thing that was beginning to unravel was not a gift from a loved one. The only gifts in the air were hungry microbes seeking a host. The virus was invisible and silent. It could come from any direction and it could be presented by a person who was loved or close.
The market square was too full of rural hardiness to wear masks, or take overt actions to avoid contact. Its inhabitants were never prone to dramatic overreactions. It would be right, they would get through this. It would be right. But still it was mightily quiet this morning whilst a storm was gathering soemwhere close.
My friend and I watched the tiny world from the sanctuary of a coffee shop. In truth, we should not have been in a place that put us in close proximity to others. There were four of us in the place and that was including the woman who served the coffee. We were ignoring guidance.
Work was relatively normal, apart from fewer people being there. The kids seemed to have got the message, they are all crying off, fading into the background, calling parents to pick them up. I moved round this morning like a ghost in its new abode. I was sure that this was just a set, a scene that somebody had written for me to reach a final realisation, an epiphany. No such luck, it was work and the slow playing out of the thing that precedes a pandemic that will, I am thinking, take a lot of people off with it.
I think that we British are not the types that believe in catastrophes. We don’t do panic. We don’t mass-react, unless we are told to buy toilet roll or pasta. All the shelves are bare. I have seen people shaking their heads at the space that has been left by so many ‘bog’ rolls and pasta shapes. What’s bloody going on, they mouth, without actually saying it. Fucked if I know, I say without actually mouthing it, or even muttering it. As Brits, we read each other’s mouthing, even if it’s not there.
We are aware yet, at the same time, in denial. Some things will never be denied.