We knew it was coming: we watched in horror as the Covid-19 revealed itself in Italy, then Spain. No one should be surprised with what is now happening in the UK. We have spoken to family, friends, heard their stories of themselves, their friends. These become our stories too. Everyone if affected. Everything is changing; everything will change, and so very rapidly. I woke up early with these thoughts spinning in my head and needed to write them down.
Through work we saw with clarity and immediacy what was happening in housing, in universities. Colleagues and friends grappling with what to do, thoughts swinging from helping others to helping self, despair and hope, front line services sifting their focus to something else, something more important, that helps. Watching out for others. Things that mattered so much now have little meaning.
We learnt new skills, refined existing ones, found other ways into people homes when we were physically stopped from doing so. New conversations on Skype and Zoom, obsessing with wanting to know and not wanting to know. Revelling in the fact we had success in doing some of these for the first time, thanking the situation for focusing us on to new things and simultaneously hating the same situation for making us do this when we are already exhausted with too many chores to fit into each day. We wonder who to align with, which webinar or group to sign up to somehow discover new facts, should it the one that is delivered by our professional body, the one our subject, or should we simply be pragmatic and help our neighbours get through?
This beautifully sad piece unfolds this confusion and conflict. Francesca Milandri tells us what she knows about our UK future in her letter from Rome. For me this part if particularly striking: “Class, however, will make all the difference. Being locked up in a house with a pretty garden or in an overcrowded housing project will not be the same. Nor is being able to keep on working from home or seeing your job disappear.”
I believe she is right on this and feel immensely thankful for my own home and at the same time immensely guilty for those who do not have this, especially now.
This time captures things suddenly and there is much in the news about new home realities; we obsess about and then try to avoid the news because it is too awful to bear, and then obsessively seek updates again. We are repeatedly told to stay at home with some exceptions, which become strange, anxiety inducing luxuries; a supermarket shop, a walk steering wide of people regardless of whether they are strangers or people we know.
But staying home has other implications; unintended consequences. Milandri’scomment about class is correct and unavoidable. For some staying home is not a safe space, it is overcrowded and risky. For others there is fear of increasing, hidden, domestic abuse and there is new, rapidly produced government guidance on this.
One of the saddest situations has to be the alone-ness at the end of life for those who should not be alone. The last indignity and the sorrow surrounding it. The paid carers who remain when we are not allowed near, those who should be there at the end but cannot be. The ironic fact that as carers risk their own health, we have to stay away, not even able to visit, to know, to share those last private moments at their home together.
The cases affecting massive numbers of the poor internationally are particularly tragic, from a Nevada car park to those living in informal settlements. What will become of them? It is so overwhelming that it is almost impossible to start to comprehend.
I wonder why I am writing this, but I also know that this is a moment in history. I read a book on creative writing once, and the author simply said that we write about things because we feel compelled to do so: we simply have to.