Jilly: Life, But Not As We Know It

Yesterday Michaeline reported that Hokkaido is no longer in a state of emergency, so she and her family are free to socialize and celebrate the spring equinox. Yay, Hokkaido!

In my corner of London things are…strange. In true British fashion we’re not ordered to stay home, just strongly requested to do so. Pubs, clubs and bars are closed, ditto theaters and cinemas. Public transport is running a reduced service, and consumer stockpiling has stripped the supermarket shelves. We’ve been strongly requested not to panic buy food and toiletries, but so far that request has been more honored in the breach than the observance.

So far I don’t know anyone who’s had the illness, but I know lots of people who’re suffering the financial consequences of avoiding it. Friends who’ve lost their jobs or fear they may be about to; business owners who’ve lost everything almost overnight; pensioners who’ve seen their retirement savings devastated. The government is undertaking a massive program of financial intervention, and we have to hope that will mitigate the effects for the worst-hit people.

This week Eight Lady Jeanne and I spent almost all of our regular weekly Skype session discussing real world issues. One subject we touched on is the lasting effect that living through a world war had on our parents. It impacted my dad both physically and mentally. He damaged his back working as a Bevin Boy in the coal mines and lived with the pain of that for his whole life. And during my childhood he was incredibly touchy about chocolate—on some subconscious level he regarded it as a rare commodity, to be eaten sparingly and with great appreciation. He got seriously upset when he saw his kids scarfing it down as a casual treat.

Which set me to thinking about the current crisis. Even if the worst of it is relatively short-lived (current thinking here seems to suggest three to six months), the economic and social consequences are going to stay with many people for a very long time.

Mary Wesley, the upper-class British writer whose bestselling novel The Camomile Lawn depicted family life in rural England during World War II, said “War freed us. We felt if we didn’t do it now, we might never get another chance.” (If you’re looking for reading material, The Camomile Lawn is well worth a few hours of your time, as is Wild Mary, Patrick Marnham’s fascinating biography of the author’s own unorthodox life.)

I wonder what Coronavirus will do to us? Perhaps, if we’re lucky, it will make us kinder and more aware of others. In our street most people live busy lives and stay in their own big-city bubble. We say hello and smile, but we’ve always been socially distant. Privacy is valued. After more than 20 years of living here I’ve set foot in one house other than my own precisely once, a couple of months ago. So it was a big deal this week when one of my neighbors set up a WhatsApp group and leafleted every house in the area inviting people to join if they wanted to ask for or offer practical support or just reassurance. That gave me hope that some lasting good may come out of this crisis. I hope so, anyway.

Do you think this epidemic will change us?

13 thoughts on “Jilly: Life, But Not As We Know It

  1. If history is any guide, the crisis, like every crisis will intensify human characteristics — people WILL become much kinder, even some people who aren’t usually very kind (checking on neighbors, or even greeting a stranger in the street). But other people will get much meaner — we’ve already seen greedy hoarders hoping to turn a big profit, and I think at least a few of us have silently cheered when their selling platforms have been shut down and stores like Costco has started refusing returns of certain hoarded items. (“You wanted 30 packages of toilet paper, so don’t bring it back to us!”)

    And I think it will be temporary. We’ll go back, remarkably quickly, to being the normal amount of kind and mean.

    However, some things may linger on — the internet connections, the neighborhood Zoom chat, the people who discover they really like videoconferencing with distant friends and family. The crisis has pushed us to learn. (Note: I haven’t really learned anything during the many weeks of the crisis. Just lots and lots of YouTube.) I hope we’ll discover new ways of doing our lives that never would have occurred to us before, and I hope we’ll gain some appreciation for why certain things that seemed like antiquated hassles were done, and we’ll continue them for the next crisis.

    It’s really interesting to think about these things. Keep healthy, and keep safe, Jilly, and all our Eight Ladies families and friends!

    • All of this makes a lot of sense, Michaeline. I hope we gain some lasting good things out of this challenging experience–and I wonder if some of it may be rediscovering value in things that seemed (as you say) like antiquated hassles.

      I haven’t learned anything new yet, but before we reach the new normal I expect to try my hand at bread-making and possibly other kinds of baking. And I’ve never tried cooking Indian recipes, or Vietnamese, or Thai, because there are so many great restaurants in London that it’s nicer and easier to eat out. The restaurants are all closed right now, so I’m going to have to extend my repertoire.

      • Oh, I have to add — see if the restaurants have take-out or delivery. It’s a great way to support them without actually going out. I think there’s still some risk, but if you order things that can be reheated (curries, for example), then I think the risk is super-minimal.

        I did get some take-out from my favorite fast food place, and didn’t even bother to microwave it for safety, LOL.

        But yeah, cooking it yourself is sure to be an experience. Either you’ll learn something new, or you’ll gain new appreciation for the work that goes into it! LOL.

    • That’s funny–I have a bunch of stuff that I haven’t used for ages and was planning to Marie Kondo away but hadn’t yet taken to the charity shop. I was looking around the house this morning and thinking maybe that was for the best.

  2. Last night I was sitting on my sofa and I heard from next door the raucous singing of “Happy Birthday” from what sounded like many, many people. What is this? I say to self. Either a party—which is Not Allowed—or a group handwashing session, probably also Not Allowed. I look out the window, and I see maybe a dozen people in my next-door neighbor’s front yard, all sitting in lawn chairs six feet apart. And to talk to each other, of course they have to yell. I must say, I was impressed. They had a party, and they followed all the protocols.

    Also, I’m confused about the continuing lines at the stores, and the continued lack of items on the shelves. I live in California, so we’ve been staying home for about a week already. Hasn’t all the hoarding happened that needs to happen? Don’t people run out of shelf space? Who needs 30 packages of meat? I try not to be judgmental, because you never know if someone is shopping for multiple families or their eight children are home from college, or whatever. But at some point, everybody doing massive shopping seems like overkill. I had been planning to go to the grocery store tomorrow, but the veg lasted longer than expected, so I think I’ll put it off for another day or two and hope for the best.

    • Oh My Goodness. I got to thinking about the math of “eight children home from college” and my mind went immediately to twins, spaced one year apart each. That’s more of a nightmare than Coronavirus!

      Hope the stores settle down soon. Here they aren’t so bad, but in the bigger cities, I heard there are still some bare shelves, and some people are STILL complaining about a lack of toilet paper. I feel like I want to organize a “TP from Hokkaido” campaign for the poor souls.

  3. A protocol-compliant birthday party–kudos to whoever organized that!

    The grocery thing is crazy. I read an interview earlier today with someone in Italy who said panic buying continued there until the grocery stores managed to set out so much stock that the shelves stayed full. Once people could see for themselves that there was no need to hoard, their confidence returned and they began buying normally again. I hope that happens here soon. I’ve been using the same delivery service for maybe fifteen years, and this week they had to take it offline because the demand was so overwhelming. I got an order–of sorts–today, but I have no idea whether next week’s delivery will happen or what will be available. Good luck for your forthcoming venture to the grocery store, whenever you decide to brave it!

  4. Really hoping one lasting effect of this crisis is a broader cultural understanding of the basics of germ theory.

    About a decade ago, lunch at a busy museum café with three kids under the age of 12:

    Me: OK girls, here’s the hand sanitizer, everybody clean your hands before you eat your sandwiches and fries.

    MIL: What? They don’t need to wash their hands. They haven’t been to the bathroom.

    Me: I know, but they touched every button and rail in the museum, plus the floor when D dropped her coin purse.

    SIL: MIL is right. You are such a germaphobe. If you want to make your daughter clean her hands, fine. Mine doesn’t need to. Go ahead and eat, girls.


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