Sunday 28 June 2020

Who remembers Val Guest?

We have been here before. In literature or in film at least. Who remembers Guest’s ‘The Day the Earth Caught Fire’? or Shute’s ‘On the Beach’? 

These stories do not consider the impact on earth of a pandemic or the plague, in old money, but the devastation of unwise political decisions on our planet ie the bomb.

It’s not just nuclear destruction that causes ruin for the earth. My current  read is ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree. I have reached the chapter where she relates that the stag in Scotland, known for its grandeur, is clearly much less heavy than its Norwegian counterpart. Why? Simply that the cause of the Monarch of the Glen’s low weight is the destruction of shrubs and diverse plants which has led to thin feed for wild animals in Scotland. Norway doesn’t have it quite right, according to Tree, however, as the most diverse landscapes are less forested than Norway but also less empty than Scotland.

In the film ‘The Day the Earth Caught Fire’ the planet is warming dangerously quickly. Universal weather patterns shift and there are floods in some areas of the globe, terrific gales in others and heavy snow falls where snow is rare. In the film water is scarce in the UK and, here’s the contemporary link, after chaos and panic, young people go mad in the street. They are tired of fear and being told what to do. However they don’t rush to the beach. Following doom-laden newspaper headlines youths spill out on to the streets, creating water fights, turning over parked cars and terrorising people trying to take a bath. Water in some areas has become bad, carrying disease like cholera or typhoid.

The film, in which Val Guest was the screenwriter, is not a disaster movie with a pandemic-lockdown theme but the behaviour of people in the streets is similar to those rushing to Bournemouth on the hottest day of the year. The message in the film and in reality is that lockdown and behaving cautiously will be tolerated for only so long. 

In ‘On the Beach’ the threat of nuclear annihilation drives Australians to spend their last few healthy weeks playing and relaxing on stretches of sand and swimming in the sea. Nuclear sickness has spread across the world and Australia is the last major country to be affected.

In February and March this year we knew coronavirus was heading our way. I recall knocking elbows, instead of kissing, with friends in town in the week before lockdown. We smiled. We still thought it funny. My optician was less humoured. He said he was dreading the pandemic reaching our shores.  

‘On the Beach’ is set in that pre-crisis time. The population knew death and sickness were coming. The film is a study of how the well folk cope, and prepare for almost certain death, in the weeks before doom. 

We may not have visited a pandemic in the above narratives but the dread and ‘last trips to the beach’ before it reached us in March are experiences familiar to us. I was in Devon, at a beach, in the week before lockdown. 

Letting off steam ie the lemming-like rushing to Bournemouth last week is a human response to feeling trapped. 

There are many novels written about the plague, as an historical record. And there are, of course, dystopian novels set five minutes into our future. We don’t, in the 2020 pandemic, have to suffer the scavenging and cannibalism of ‘The Road’  in the search for food, thank goodness. But in the novel we see the after-effects of a cataclysm and how mere humans react to a catastrophic present and a very uncertain future. This much we share. In our quest for an escape from lockdown reading about disaster may not be the answer. But death, disease, destruction are part of the human experience.

In literature and film we have been here before. 

Tuesday 23 June 2020

Lockdown brain

When (younger) friends of mine have a baby they are happy, blithe and, naturally, new-child-focused. And when they forget the £25 they owe me - several times - they blame their forgetfulness on ‘baby brain’. Highly convenient. (You can tell I haven’t ever given birth nor brought up children.)
I’ve been casting around for a suitable event when I could also refer to my shortcomings as a feature of my foggy brain. I refuse to be old and will not use the phrase ‘senior moment’ but lockdown gave me my escape route. How about lockdown brain?

It is certainly true that, after several weeks of staying in, taking short walks and visiting about one shop in all that time I have lost some of my vocabulary. I can tell that chatting over the garden gate has not made up for the usual bouts of discussion and discourse with mates over a drink in the pub. When I’ve been to the chemist to collect a prescription I have managed to forget the one item I also went in for. Lockdown brain.

When I’ve ordered groceries over the phone I can’t remember to have my bank card ready to pay. Did I think it would all be free? And when I’ve opened up the gate or shed or garage padlocks I become obsessed about where I’ve put the padlock keys. Why? When I want to close up the padlocks snap to. No key needed. Lockdown brain.

When I’ve got Henry Hoover out I manage to get the cord twisted around my feet. In tying up the rambling rose after the winds of a few days ago my ability to tie in stems and use a pair of scissors ended up in my being scratched to smithereens. Did I bother with gardening gloves? No. Even when dealing with huge whips of a rambling gallic rose? No. 

And this lunchtime I rushed around making a bean salad, tuna, lettuce and tomato relish and smeared most of it on my shorts.I stripped down to my knickers and put my shorts in the washing machine. But I noticed the cat wasn’t just playing with his cat-nip toy but a real mouse causing me to dash outside with the very scared creature. I forgot I was in my saggy pants as I held the mouse aloft on a dustpan at a half metre distance. Beat that for social distancing Boris Johnson. Then I panicked that I’d left my iphone in my shorts and turned the washer to drain. By that time the phone would have been ruined. Lunch certainly was. And the phone had been on a chair all along.

But worst of all is that I can’t remember friends’ names. It’s ok when emailing as I have time to think. But over the phone or at our gate my mind goes blank. People I’ve known for forty years become no-names. Lockdown brain.

I haven’t had time to binge-watch or get bored as I’ve been busy keeping house, cooking, gardening, cleaning and being a carer. I’ve never been so domesticated. And when I do go out it’s still very quiet on the lane. Although yesterday, towards the main road, there was certainly more traffic. But my general at-length art of conversation has become rusted. Friends of mine and I have been ringing each other every few days during lockdown. These are people I’ve known since 1970. And I forget their names. Lockdown brain.

Unlike many I don’t mind the peace and quiet that accompanies lockdown. I only felt bored on one day in the last 90 and that was because it rained continuously for over 24 hours. But I’m so concerned to wash everything down after a delivery that the little things, like where I’ve stored my deliveries, gets forgotten. I ordered four coin-batteries for my kitchen and bathroom scales. After the old ones finally failed the new ones were not in the usual cupboard, nor hanging on a hook, nor in a drawer or container in the bathroom or kitchen. Where had I put them? Goodness knows. Two deliveries and replacement batteries later I saw them in a tiny pot. Not in their plastic display sleeve but separate and lying in the bottom of a tiny ceramic ornament just waiting to be used. I can’t remember sanitising them nor cutting them out of their plastic packet or dropping them in a handy container. Lockdown brain.

One day, expecting 12 eggs in a delivery, I received 36. And a friend had just brought round another twelve. I had more in the fridge making a grand total of 54 eggs. I gave them away. Then didn’t have enough for the two of us. Lockdown brain.

When I’ve gone to our studio at the top of the house to follow an online arty challenge it’s been baking hot. And I’ve been certain that I’d opened the windows. But I hadn’t. So I’ve been forced to sit over my Bockingfords and watercolours sweating. Lockdown brain.

I could go on about the daft things I’ve done with gravel, bark, compost, cuprinol and other gardening mishaps. But I won’t. It’s not as though I’ve been disturbed or forced to rush to get things done before going out. But I am distracted. I’m not concentrating properly. Lockdown brain.

To ease things we’ve had friends round in the garden at an acceptable 2 metre distance. And conversation hasn’t been too ‘institutionalised’ ie I’ve not reverted to someone who had forgotten how to do small talk. But I suddenly find I can’t remember the word for... and it’s gone.

Lockdown brain. 

I’m surprised I’ve managed to write this without referring to a spell checker. But writing gives me time to think of the words required. Talking doesn’t. I need to get a grip if we’re able to go out for a socially-distanced drink at the pub from July 4th.

And for how long can I blame lockdown brain for my fogginess?