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Barely Coherent Muttering

Article by Steve Harvey, Director Impromptu

Until Wednesday 11 th March 2020, I was coasting along very nicely, thank you. I can be precise about the date because it is when Jude and I returned from our most recent trip to Australia. During our trip, and until that day, we had been insulated from ‘outside’ events, relatively untouched by the emerging global catastrophe, which was only really apparent from the gaping gaps on supermarket shelves where the toilet rolls used to be.

We touched down at Manchester Airport at 06.45. And then the world began to fall apart.

That was ten weeks ago. Ten weeks that have been a slow-motion blur, tinged with heightened anticipation, and littered with the debris of now forgotten expectation.

It’s been a funny old time, as they say. Like a pocket full of confetti tossed up in a dimension where gravity and relativity invent their own rules. Where are the constants, the familiar reference points, the nodes of meaning? It’s been a good time. It’s been a terrible time.

Who would have thought that the IS leadership would issue a directive to terrorists not to come to Europe because it is too unsafe? What about the Yakuza, who’s traditional ‘business activities’ have been decimated? What about sex workers who fall through every safety net? What about Bolsonaro? What about Trump? What about Johnson? What about trust? What about truth?

Imagine the stress of carrying on an affair during lockdown, those long spurious, sweaty cycle rides?

What about the half-hidden, almost unspeakable questions? A Bristol University study models that a 6.4% drop in GDP will cause more years of life lost than will be lost as a result of Covid-19. So what about GDP? So what about the neo-liberal obsession with economic growth, as if economic growth is an indisputable universal truth – never mind wrecking the planet in the quest for capitalist nirvana.

Doesn’t is say something about society, that places of retail worship will open before places of spiritual worship!

What about women national leaders? Merkel? Ardern? Mette Frederiksen? Erna Solberg? Katrín Jakobsdóttir? Tsai Ing-wen? Sanna Marin? Silveria Jacobs, the prime minister of Sint Maarten? Does their apparent success with orchestrating Coronavirus response in their respective countries, presage a new epoch for women in leadership roles? Leadership that combines vision, clarity, assertiveness, caring, benevolence, collaboration, pragmatism, resilience, courage, flexibility, humility and compassion. Oh, and integrity.

And what about Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist? Anders who has influenced his government along a counter-trajectory, one that is out-of-step with Sweden’s neighbours and the rest of the world. Is this an exemplar for superhuman courage, or foolhardiness, or an extreme example of cognitive dissonance? What must it take to stand firm on a path that has taken Sweden’s per capita death rate right to the top of the global league table; and to hold the line?

There are some hills near us, a short bike ride away, where my son Tom and I have been mountain biking nearly every day during lockdown. The car parks have been closed. We have had it to ourselves. They are our hills. It has been idyllic. Now the car parks have opened, and the people have returned. The hills are not ours anymore.

What aspects of now are we going to hold onto, as the spectre of a return to ‘normality’ presents itself? Slowing down and pausing for thought? Identity theft of key workers so we can be first in the queue? Speaking to our neighbour? Fighting over the last chicken fillet in the butchers? Clean air? Violent attacks on East Asians? Reduced consumerism? Coughing assault? Applauding those who risk their lives in the pursuit of saving others? It feels like the whole world is holding its breath, waiting for this to be over, so we can carry on. We’ll look back and this will be an aberration, though our children’s tax bills will serve as a constant, nagging reminder.

Zoom have done well. As have Wahl. And home exercise equipment suppliers. So have Amazon, Citrix, Netflix, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Proctor & Gamble, Stitch and Story, Campbell Soups, Clorox, Laithwaites, Wayfair. So have cycle shops. So has hypocrisy. So has Alcoholics Anonymous. And the Samaritans. So too the National Domestic Abuse Helpline and Childline. As has the Zero Suicide Alliance, with 503,000 users completing the on-line training during lockdown.

So has loneliness.

And, as for the future? And as for business? And community? And Brexit. And social inequality. And the refugee camps. And Sino-US relations. And HS2. And poor nations with fragile health infrastructure. And acts of human kindness. And drought. And Captain Tom. And rising global temperatures. And the prospects for world peace. And immigrant care workers. And biodiversity. And justice. And hope.

And, as for you and I……