‘Please leave in Porch’

‘Nothing,’ a journalist who had stolen the idea from someone else once told me, ‘is ever as good or as bad as we lot make it out to be.’ Thirty years later, I still agree.

I make it about 100 days since we were locked up, or down, or away, and it worries me that I have nothing useful, let alone earth-shattering, to remember about it. I don’t even know if it was good, or bad. I am a bit embarrassed about how we’ve done, to be honest, as the UK used to be rather good at real crises, and clearly isn’t any more. And, rightly, nothing should be written about this period without grieving for the many who have gone before their time.

If you live in a small village in a roomy cottage with a garden, you have no right to tell someone, say, in an 8th floor tenement block with sealed windows how lovely it’s all been, if indeed it has. If you haven’t been ill, you mustn’t second guess how it feels. And if you have an income of sorts, you will find scant sympathy when you tell the world how inconvenient it’s all been to your recent book launch. Better by far to admit that, with surprisingly few exceptions, I did roughly what I was asked to do and toed a line that I haven’t been comfortable with from the start: it has been a weird, sometimes magical, often peaceful, frequently irritating and always anxious time. And I imagine it has only just started.

The long-running highlight has been how much more time I have spent with my children and their girlfriends, even though I know that it is at the expense of them getting on with their lives. Such differences as there have been have been gentle and short-lived.

Underneath it all, I am extremely grateful not to have got ill, been hospitalized and died. Yet, at least.  And equally grateful to those ICU workers who put themselves in serious harms’ way day after day, night after night, and have been simply magnificent. And, in a rare act of balance, it has been my privilege to be embarrassed by both my government, and the BBC, simultaneously.

As we take our unsteady steps into the next bit, blinking at the harsh-lit freedoms that we are yet to fully understand, I find myself mystified that the whole thing has come down to a couple of defining phrases that echo and re-echo round my brain like the sound of quiet voices in an empty village hall.

I had a horrible feeling that the lasting expression would be ‘the new normal’, which everyone correctly laughs at now, and recognizes as something that millennia of human progress would just laugh at, too; or ‘I’m just going for a drive to test my eyesight’. 

No, it’s much more mundane. What is left in my brain when the residue of Covid stuff has been riddled out into the ash can below are ‘Press unmute’ and ‘please leave in porch’

I have an uncomfortable feeling that we haven’t heard the last of them.

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