Let me start by stating the obvious: of course I - like everyone else - want to see Covid-19 over with. Of course I want the constant threat removed to our most vulnerable in society and to our amazing NHS workforce. Of course I want to see a vaccine that gives us all protection and reduces the virus to nothing more sinister than a common cold. Of course I want to see the end of work restrictions, family separation, social distancing and travel bans. And an end to all the financial worry, the increase in domestic abuse, the isolation, the fear. Of course I – like everyone else – want to see the lockdown over with. It’s just that I don’t quite want to go back to exactly how everything was before.
We all know the difficulties lockdown brings, from frustration and boredom at one end of the spectrum to depression and despair at the other. But there are upsides: there’s more time, the pace of life is definitely slower – what doesn’t get done today, well, there’s always tomorrow. There’s opportunity to stop and savour the moment. On a daily walk, others seem more inclined to pause, say hello, call across the two metres ‘how are things with you?’ We may see the neighbours in the street but there is something comforting that everyone is around, everyone is home.
I’m not ready to go back to the congested commute, the ticking clock that demands deadlines, the formal wear for an air-con office regardless of the weather outside.
Another upside? For XR and the rest of us, this is what real climate-crisis action looks like. Carbon emissions have fallen, cities report cleaner air, significant numbers of planes are grounded, the number of cars on the roads are at (I’m guessing) 1950s levels. Yes, it has come at huge social and economic cost but wasn’t there always going to be a cost?
Mother Nature has not hesitated to breathe into the quiet spaces of human inactivity. We may not have wild goats trotting into our neighbourhood like Llandudno but we’ve been watching the red kites and buzzards circling high over the house, we’ve been listening to the bird song and noting the busyness of nesting in the ivy on the wall. Perhaps they’ve always been there, we’ve not had the time to notice before.
The BBC runs a news story from Cumbria: the Lake District is to be policed and closed this sunny, warm Easter weekend. I imagine the scene, an earthly paradise with the sun glinting off empty lakes, the air shimmering across hills, silence except for the bleat of sheep and lambs, and birdsong. It’s a Romantic imagining because obviously I won’t be there but, in my mind, it will be glorious without traffic queues snaking through Keswick and the like, the thrum of boat engines, the bustle of the business of shopping and browsing and eating out and getting a round in.
An imagining of an earthly paradise - the Lakes, the Highlands, the Peaks - all the beautiful empty landscapes. Like the start of Genesis or the opening to ‘Of Mice and Men’, it’s an imagining of what is possible, a glimpse of harmony, of the natural world at ease with itself. It is temporary and fleeting of course; God creates man and the problems start, Steinbeck introduces George and Lenny who barge into the quiet oasis. This glimpse of the imagination won’t last and perhaps it can’t last, but while it is here, I want to savour the moment.