A Journal of the Plague Week 27

Monday, September 21st, 2020

A fun fair recently opened in a nearby park. When Jeremy and I saw them setting it up, we agreed that it was either very optimistic or very foolhardy. (Or both.) Granted, it was outdoors, but it would also lead to crowds of people of all ages rubbing shoulders, breathing down each others’ necks while waiting in line, and touching the safety bars, seatbelts and steering wheels on various rides. I grimaced inwardly at the thought, but shrugged and hoped for the best.

The fun fair shut down this week, earlier than planned, at the city’s request. When I walked past on Friday, the burger stalls had disappeared, the rides had been dismantled, the bumper cars packed up and trucked off. No more fair, no more fun. Brighton is now at “alert level yellow,” with our COVID case numbers just about doubling by the week. Maybe encouraging people to go to bars, restaurants, offices, schools and fun fairs wasn’t such a great idea after all?

The numbers are looking bad all over England, so some pointless new national restrictions on social gatherings went into effect on Monday. The upshot is that you people can’t gather in groups of more than six—unless you’re in a gym, a bar, a restaurant, a theater, a church, a classroom, an office, at a children’s playgroup, a youth club, a wedding, a sporting event… So an indoor spin class with 20 people huffing and puffing without masks is fine, and shouting at five (5) friends in a crowded pub without masks is fine, but our Saturday morning tunes-in-the-park gathering—where we sit outdoors, widely spaced, playing stringed instruments and not even talking all that much—has been curtailed because we’ve got between 8 and 10 people who want to play, and that’s a no-no.

This rather suddenly imposed rule may be refined in the weeks to come, and there are some exceptions for performing arts groups, but right now we’re struggling to come up with a workaround that gives everyone a fair chance to play. That gathering has become a/the highlight of the week, and not having even that little thing to look forward to is a miserable thought.

Frankly, just about everything is a miserable thought right now. Ever since this “rule of six” was announced last weekend, my brain has been stuck in a deeply pessimistic rut. I think about the weather changing, the nights drawing in, the outdoor activities ending, the coronavirus cases rising, and the long, long months of winter stretching out ahead of us. There are no trips to get excited about, there will be no Nutcracker performances, no cozy pub sessions, no restaurant meals or gigs or anything else to break up the monotony of a wet, grey, windy winter in England.

But who knows? I read an article arguing that Britons would do well to adopt the hardiness and tenacity of Scandinavians, who continue to enjoy outdoor activities even in the depths of winter—just put on some extra layers, grab a blanket and get on with things. Maybe all the sidewalk dining opportunities that have sprung up over the summer (giving Brighton a decidedly and delightfully “continental” feel) won’t disappear after all. Maybe Jeremy and I can get a fire pit and smoke out all of our neighbors over the winter. We planted our “winter crops” this week—winter lettuces, kale, chard—and we certainly don’t intend to stop barbecuing just because it’s gotten colder, so maybe we can hang on to some of the outdoor living we’ve enjoyed this summer.

And maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about everything in the midst of these unrelentingly dark times. As if some winter lettuce is going to save civilization.

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