Wednesday, March 18, 2020

This Too Shall Pass

An inner monologue with myself.

“Your flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle has been cancelled”. We were supposed to be playing in Paris tomorrow night. And then Lille on Friday. And then Aalst on Saturday. But a week ago the world turned upside down.

This time last week we took the very tough decision to cancel our trip. We spoke about it with Zoli, our booker, he’d brought it to our attention as the “Elephant in the room”. Until then, we’d been planning ahead as usual. Practicing the set, arranging merch and the van situation with the Bleakness guys in France. Just kind of hoping this virus thing would stay away. Stay in some part of the world, that, as awful as it is, didn’t affect us over here. That was only a week ago. Since then Italy, France and Spain have implemented a nationwide lock-down. Other European nations will surely take the same drastic measures in due time. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after. I don’t know. Time has taken on a completely different perspective. Everything's happening so very fast.

Two weeks ago we were on a skiing holiday in Norway. The virus was already all over the news, but it was mainly contained to Hubei in China. And there were a few cases in Italy, which was slightly worrying. But at the hotel, on the cotton white slopes that gleamed in the sun, it was easy to push it back to the nether regions of your consciousness. Then came the news of a boat in Japan being quarantined with thousands of tourists on it, and then over a thousand in a hotel in Tenerife. I imagined waking up in the comfort of my Radisson Blu hotel bed and finding a note on the floor, pushed under the door, “STAY IN YOUR ROOM”.

The scary meter was ever-so-slowly starting to creep up a notch or two. But it still hadn’t come to Sweden, or Scandinavia for that matter. Containing this thing would still be possible. But imagine being fucking quarantined in another country, unable to get home. That started playing on my mind. There were no drastic measures being taken by France yet, or the UK. Two places we had booked in over the next couple of weeks. It’s just a fucking cold, a flu. How many people die of the flu every year? The things they’re talking about are going to destroy the global economy. Has the world gone mad? When Jen hinted at us cancelling our trip to the UK I reacted angrily. It was my dad’s 70th birthday! There were only a few cases in the UK, a few cases in a country of over 60 million. Don’t be ridiculous. If there is one person on this earth I knew wouldn’t be worrying about this shit, it was my dad. Not that he would be silly about it, he would act accordingly, but he’s never one to panic. He’s never let me see it, anyway. Which is the number one job of a parent, right?

We made it to the party. It was fine. It was a really nice do. A lot of my dad’s old friends were there, people I hadn’t seen for a long while, but people I was very close to. Or had been when we were kids. There wasn’t that much talk of Corona, although it was by then dominating every news channel. We were watching in the morning, and the evening, but I was trying not to let it bother us. I didn’t want Polly to have to deal with this, I didn’t want to have the news on all the time when she was around. She’s seven years old. She has the right not to to have to worry about this shit. The party was really nice, though. As were the few days at my sister’s, and the couple of days at Kev’s in London before that. I was happy we went. Although we had been sat across from some woman on the train who was coughing into her hand the whole time. And the flight home was packed. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t playing on my mind.

That was only a few days ago. Sweden has closed the borders now. As have the rest of the EU. And the USA. And Canada. The aviation industry is at a standstill. That tough choice we made last week about cancelling the gigs this weekend seems abstract now. It was all cancelled anyway.

This is the most dramatic thing our generation has been through. You could say this is our World War. Except there are no bombs dropping on our heads, we’re not hiding in metro stations with the terrifying sirens wailing overhead. We’re being told to stay and work from home, if possible. Of course, it’s a bizarre situation, life at a standstill, of sorts. But it also shows you what a privileged generation or two we’ve been. We in the western world that is. There are parts of the world where this is the reality of life, all the time. You know that war in Syria that’s been going on for ten years, the one that none of us can longer bear to engage in, look at on the news, because we’ve reached a saturation point with it? The lives of those people have been put on hold for over ten years. No job? Lock-down? Queing for food at the grocery store? This has been their reality for over ten years. Plus bombs. At best, we might have to put up with this for the next few months. And we might even get sick, we might lose loved ones, which would be awful, the thought of my dad being isolated at home kills me, but it will get better. When the Syrian war does finally come to an end, the chances are they’ll still have Assad dictating their lives. Or some other equally heinous asshole. As will many other people around the world. There are conflicts everywhere, but they only ever enter our lives in fleeting moments on the broadcast news, or in the newspaper whilst we drink our morning coffee. Our lives will return to normal a lot sooner than those in Syria, or Palestine, or those living through one of the fifteen wars currently waging in Africa. In fact, they have no “normal” to return to. Living in constant worry over making it through the day is their normal. Our normal doesn’t even exist in the same dimension as theirs.

That doesn’t mean to say that this virus is not causing me anxiety. Of course it is. And the hell that healthcare workers are going through right now in the countries worst affected I can’t even imagine. But my personal anxiety is over how much this will change the world we live in. The economy, not the virus, as for everyone else I know, is the biggest personal worry. But again, we have to remember, this will get better. We’ll recover. This too shall pass. My friends like Kev, who work in the service industry, or Tove, who work in the film and entertainment industry, are in real trouble if this lock-down goes on for too long. But governments all over the world will have to work out a way of helping millions of people like them. In a strange kind of way, the one thing that reassures me, as far as the economy goes, is that we’re all in the same boat. All over the fucking world. The world will have to get back to normal. No government on the planet fails to understand that a lock-down is unsustainable in the long run. The only winner here, is of course, the planet herself. It does make you wonder if Mother Nature has simply had enough. Or if Malthus and his theory of positive checks had a point.

What causes me anxiety more than anything, though, is the feeling that “It’s happening”. As I said, our generation and the one before us, in our part of the world, the privileged part of the world, has never gone through a societal crisis of this magnitude. Almost every other generation before us has done. Plague, famine and war have been the norm for as long as humans have existed on earth, yet it only takes a generation or two to confine them to history books and con yourself into thinking that it will never happen to us. It’s easy to cast it off as something that happened before. Fuck, even my dad’s older siblings were children of the Second World War. We really are, or were, the first generation to have thought we were saved from something so dramatic that it affects the entire planet. I have anxiety that Polly is only seven years old and it’s already happening to her. It feels so unfair. But then I remember that it’s our job to hide that anxiety from her and protect her from this. I think about what my dad always says, something that still comforts me. “In a -insert amount of time-, we’ll look back at this and think about how long ago it seems”. In less grave matters he would say that we’d look back and laugh. But I think about Polly, and about ourselves, and think about how we’ll be watching a documentary about the Coronavirus in ten years time, and it will once again be in the abstract realm of our consciousness. It will all have seemed like a weird dream. Unless, of course, we extinguished ourselves fighting over shit roll. 

This too shall pass. Life will go back to normal. This is not the first pandemic the world has seen, and it won’t be the most deadly. Far from it. This is the third of its kind my mother in law has lived through. We’ll adjust and we’ll survive. I’ve already spoken to friends in Spain and Italy, and they are all on board with the lock-down. It’s a bummer, but they're doing okay. Their biggest concern is for the old and infirm. As should it be. It seems to me though that they almost feel like, once the decision is made for you and enforced, it’s easier to deal with. Then you’re in the stage of it being “just the way it is”. When it’s beyond your control I think it’s easier to deal with. You just have to get in with things. If the lock-down comes to Stockholm then we’ll deal with it by watching Netflix and reading books, playing Mario Kart and thinking of every way possible to keep Polly entertained. We will have to put a daily limit on YouTube, though. There is only a certain amount of Tic Tac Toy I can tolerate before throwing myself off the balcony. And I’ll have to start some sort of exercise program. I’ve been social distancing for only a few days and already I’m consuming far too much sugar. The thing is, in two weeks I start my new job. And then I won’t be isolated anywhere. Social workers will still be going to work. I imagine how strange it will feel, biking through a deserted Södermalm on my way to work, and then walking through the doors and into the world of heroin addiction. What a strange reality that will be.

That is still two weeks away, though, and much will happen before then. It will probably get a lot worse until it gets better. They seem to think Sweden will be hitting some kind of peak around about the time I’m due to start my new job. What a happy way to start. But after the peak, it will get better. Restaurants, pubs, cinemas, airports will open again. Maybe the holidays I’ve booked for the summer will still be put to use. And we’ll start playing shows again. We already agreed to play the festival in Aalst on whatever date it is rebooked for. I look forward to walking out on that stage, whenever that will be, and feeling the joy that we finally made it there.

Until then, I’m gonna write a bunch of tunes, read a load of books, and try and be the best parent I can be to Polly. I’m hoping that when she’s older she’ll barely remember this. I’m also hoping that we, the adults in the room, learn lessons from this and maybe give Polly and everyone else her age a future worth living. It’s a nice thought, at least.