A Journal of the Plague Week 23

Sunday, August 23rd, 2020

In the middle of the week, Jeremy came in and said, “Richard has asked if we want to go around to their place for dinner and board games on Friday.” And I looked at him and said, “Do we want to?”

Do we want to? was the easy question. The answer, obviously, was yes, of course we wanted to. Even before All of This, it had been far too long since we spent social time with Richard and Wendy. We’ve been friends with them for 17 years(!), and in that time we’ve shared many meals at their place and ours, and we’ve gone out to dinner everywhere from nice local restaurants to the freakin’ Fat Duck(!). In recent years, as work and travel and kids have changed the shape of our lives, we’ve most seen each other socially at Clearleft parties. But it was fitting, somehow, that Richard was the first friend we saw in person after two months of lockdown, and the first friend we went for a socially distanced walk with a month after that. So the prospect of dinner was extremely enticing.

But Do we want to? was not really the relevant question. The questions that mattered were Can we? Should we? and Will we?

Can we? was fairly easy to answer as well. Technically, yes, we are allowed to “meet indoors in groups of up to two households …. This includes inviting people from one household into your home or visiting the home of someone else with members of your own household.” So Jeremy and I could have dinner at Richard and Wendy’s without violating any of the current coronavirus rules.

But Should we? was perhaps the most pertinent question, and also the hardest to figure out. Every time we face a new social situation (like having dinner on the beach last week), I start obsessively checking the “Covid-19 key statistics for Brighton & Hove”—and specifically the “confirmed cases”—to see where we currently stand. And where we stand has been pretty much the same since the end of June, with an average of between 1 and 2 confirmed cases each day, with a happy week in early July when there were no new cases, and a little upward blip in late July, possibly a consequence of the pubs opening again at the start of that month. So, that’s good—unless, of course, you happen to wind up sitting right next to a future confirmed case at a busy bar.

I know that humans are bad at realistically assessing risks, and I know that we can become desensitized to chronic risks over time, but I don’t know how else to figure out what we should or shouldn’t be doing right now. So we look at the stats, and the stats seem to say “you’ll probably be fine,” and little by little we creep out into the world again—but without ever definitively answering that should we question. Because the answer, almost inevitably, is a vague and ultimately circular “it depends” (namely, on how much risk you’re willing to take).

Should we? still hasn’t been answered. But Will we? was eventually answered in this case, and the answer was “yes.” So on Friday, we picked out a bottle of wine and trundled down to Richard and Wendy’s lovely house, where we enjoyed a G&T in their front room overlooking the stormy sea, and then delicious steaks from the grill, and a lemon tart, and board games, and all the conversation you have when you haven’t had a conversation for so many strange, isolated months. It was after midnight when we finally called a cab (our first taxi ride since the Before Times) and went back home, feeling happy and social and strangely hopeful, like maybe there’s a light at the end of this tunnel after all.

And if the disquiet of the unanswered Should we? still lingers, then I reckon that’s just how things are going to be from now on. You never really know if you should until you already have.

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