This ludicrous life
is most easily ended
with a simple kiss
This ludicrous life
is most easily ended
with a simple kiss
I’ve been thinking about what life will look like ‘afterwards’, the thing people are calling the New Normal. Wouldn’t it be good if this New way was better than the Old way?
What made me wonder about this was a lockdown re-reading of one of my all time favourite books. John Steinbeck wrote many wonderful things but, for me, Cannery Row is almost a parable on the glorious faults in all of us. Consider this small excerpt:
“The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success.”
So from now on, let’s be kind. Let’s be nice. Let’s be honest and generous.
Let’s be failures.
Adrift upon a sea of troubles,
where all the bad things seem to double,
but raise your head and look around,
look at the sea above the ground,
the bright blue, cloudless, jetless skies,
the sun so bright it fills your eyes;
breathe, and smell the grass so green,
and see the blooming cherry trees;
hear the soft sound of the wind,
the flutter of a starling’s wings,
feeding its new darling things;
the voices in the neighbour’s yards
unlaboured now, and working hard
to get through yet another day
that’s just like every other day.
But all days end and this one will
we don’t know how or when but still
the end will come and when it does
what world will there be left to us?
A different one than this, for sure,
one harder, darker, less secure,
but even then this bleak new world
will still be full of pretty girls
and boys, and all the sights to see
will still be there for you and me.
They always were the dying breed,
these older souls, they’ve always been
here just for now but not for long,
and very soon they will be gone,
though sooner now for some old codgers,
the sickly ones, the coughing dodgers,
the ones whose race is almost run,
whose final song will soon be sung.
They’re dying now in herds and droves
in helpless homes with caring folks
who sit with them and let them know
how loved they were, who let them go,
then wonder if that final kiss
has left them, too, a dying gift.
We saw them all, our old grand farters
together with our great gross mutters,
we saw their crimped-up pastry faces,
the saggy bums held up with braces,
the runny eyes and dewdrop noses,
the accidental fly exposures,
the legs held in parentheses,
the martyrs to their chuffin’ knees,
the orificial sproutifoliage,
the clothes that wore the morning porridge;
we heard their shaky, cackled words
and could not make out what they were,
we smelled that ancient trailing stench
that followed everywhere they went,
we tasted bleach in every kiss,
these are the things you’re going to miss.
I miss them now, I miss them still.
I always have. I always will.
Locked down together.
For just a moment alone
I could kill someone.
These are such interesting times.
In a few weeks, the world will start to emerge from the lockdown imposed in response to this first outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic. This is what might happen.
In a few weeks, we will see the beginning of the end of cash. People will have become used to not using it. It is a habit that will grow. The promise on the banknotes from the Governor of the Bank of England is his promise to pay the bearer of that note the value of one pound sterling. That promise will become irrelevant. The value of the future will be your credit rating, which is effectively your promise to pay others. Your promise will become the new cash. Your credit rating will become the way you are measured in society.
In a few weeks, the high streets will reopen. The shops will be shut. Department stores will have departed, become fond memories for the millennials in an old age that they cannot imagine with even a modest amount of optimism. Our idea of the shopping experience will be consigned to the past. Shops, restaurants, all consumer-facing businesses will become risk-averse, low investment, come-and-go entities. They will work on short-term leases and focus on short-term profits. Horizons will become lower, ambitions smaller. Supply chains will shorten, with the more distant links being the first to be removed. Made in China will become a derogatory term. There will be a push for localisation, for the home grown, for self-sufficiency, for recycling and reuse, and for the rejection of built-in obsolescence. we will make do and mend, and be happy to do so.
In a few weeks, the whole world will slowly go bankrupt. Every country will be in more debt than it can manage. Everybody will owe more money to everyone else than they could ever hope to pay back. Nobody will be unaffected. Nobody will have the courage to do the right thing, to make the big decisions that could begin the financial healing, though there is opportunity here. Creating sovereign wealth funds out of the monies loaned to business and individuals by governments would be the first step. This would distribute the burden across the widest base and at the same time create an investment shared by the government and the individual members of society. For that is what we will need – a vision of a future we can all share in.
In a few weeks, a vaccine will appear. There will be rancid fights and arguments during the period of manufacture and distribution. Reviews will begin, looking back at what happened and how, and people will begin to search for the culpable. We will find some, though they will not be guilty, and their punishment will be disproportionate and unfair. Governments will fall.
In a few weeks, the madmen will appear. They will tell you how we got here and whose fault it all is. They will claim to know the solution, and they will also claim to be the only people capable of delivering that solution. We have seen these people and their solutions before. We know what they are. We know what to do with them. We defeat them with love, honour and truth.
In a few weeks, we will look around and see the spaces where there used to be people. We will remember them. We will miss them. We will honour their memories in ways that we have never done before. We will create memorials to them, made of our flesh. There will be a baby boom in this coming winter of the discontented.
In a few weeks, we will pause. We will think of what we have endured. We will think of those who comforted us and cared for us and protected us during these dark days, the nurses and doctors and carers and social workers, the police and firefighters and ambulance workers, and especially of those who gave their lives to preserve ours. We will wonder what we can do to recognise these people, to reward them and honour them. We will think long and hard about that, and then we will realise that nothing we do will ever be enough.
There are interesting times to come.
This thing has a sound.
It is the sound of distance: of unseen tyres of unknown trucks
rolling on a near-distant road; of half-heard words
spoken in gardens by close strangers that we know;
of listened-to whispers of winds in trees that we hear
for the first time in a long time, for our own time
filled our whole time all the time before now.
This thing has a smell.
Barbecued people, cooked in the sunshine,
eating at home on their own, making things,
baking bread that they read from a screen
how to do; garden flowers, scented, presented
to us like a gift, as though for the first time,
given the time to smell them that we always
never had before; the smell of your other,
your lover, never closer than now, nor for longer,
stronger together somehow.
This thing can be seen.
It is there in the spaces between us, the grace
that we give to each other in passing, walking
and shopping but not stopping to catch up
with anyone, or any thing. It is there in the look
from the old ones in masks as the deadly young
pass far too close. It is there in the unwalked paths
and emptied roads, in the full jetless skies
and the endless, unpeopled seas.
This thing can be touched.
For each one of us
our National HeroeS fight
and risk their own lives
But life still goes on.
The swallows will all return
with the May blossom.
Looking at my hands, fingers,
wondering at all the things
that linger there. These hands
have touched so much,
held on and let go, and
now I know that they may hold
the end of those I love.
So I will pray, though not to God.
My hands will meet
just as they should,
in supplication to the greater
good, for hands together touch
each other and no other.
Touching me untouches you.
leaves you isolated, inviolate,
and safe. Keep it that way.
Don’t touch me now, don’t
ask for trouble. Keep your
hands to yourself.
I am untouchable.