Going Batty by Frank Kusy
11th April 2020
Three weeks into lockdown and while a large part of the UK is going batty, we’re doing quite well.
Madge is doing particularly well: ‘Up till now, and this may sound selfish or smug, but I haven’t found this difficult at all. The weather’s been fantastic, I’m getting a lot more sleep, and I don’t have to get on a bus six times a week to go to work.’
‘It’s a cinch, isn’t it?’ I gave a short nod. ‘We spend all day long playing cards, reading books, and taking long walks in the park. Not to mention cooking healthy home-made meals, hosting Zoom film quizzes, playing online bridge, and standing in sunlit supermarket queues.’
‘And the birds are so loud!’
‘Yes, with no traffic around, you can really hear them! They’re tweeting their little socks off!’
‘But Sparky is upset,’ Madge referenced our nervous little cat. ‘That scarecrow you made is really frightening him.’
‘You made it,’ I accused her. ‘You cut up that square of aluminium foil and made it into a frilly wig. All l did was plonk it on a garden fork and stick it on the lawn.’
‘Well, you didn’t want those fat pigeons eating all that lawn feed you laid down, did you?’
I shot my wife a dangerous look. ‘How did I know it wouldn’t rain for a week? It said, “Fast Grow” on the packet and it hasn’t grown at all.’
‘Sparky hates your scarecrow,’ Madge laughed in reply. ‘He thinks it’s Satan on a stick or an alien from another planet. It took him a whole day to walk past it, casting it furtive sideways glances as he went!’
To be honest, I feel like I’m on another planet myself. No gym, no cinema, no bridge club, no Buddhist meetings, and no frothy cappuccinos. The whole of Kingston upon Thames, where I live, is shut down. It took me two weeks to adapt to this, and during all that time I had the worst flu in eight years. It may have been the virus, I don’t know, but I was coughing, running a fever, and sleeping so badly I didn’t know if it was day or night. I was also smoking and drinking a lot more, which, when I come to think about it, means that I was just in ‘adaptive shock’. All the routines of my life had been snatched away and my body had reacted as if suddenly plunged into solitary confinement.
The worst thing was, as a writer, there was so much going on that I didn’t know where to start. ‘There’s nothing dramatic to have as a starting point,’ had been my lament to Madge. And she had come back with: ‘There’s nothing more dramatic than a global virus. It’s dramatic enough to write about the change of the whole lifestyle – what they call the ‘new normal’. You have to completely rethink your life. You can’t meet any friends, you can’t catch a train or a plane, you even put your life at risk by getting on a bus.’
She was right. With social distancing replacing the earlier UK policy of herd immunity (leaving all the bars and clubs open so that everybody got sick at once), people were now crossing the road to avoid each other. It reminded me of a childhood game called British Bulldog, where you dashed to the other side of the playground to avoid being tagged as ‘It’.
The most prominent casualty of herd immunity, of course, had been our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Having gallantly shaken hands with lots of Covid-19 victims, he had come down with the virus himself. But not before telling us all to wash our hands thoroughly while singing ‘Happy Birthday to You.’ Twice.
‘My friend Rosemary sent me a funny video about that,’ Madge said today. ‘Boris Johnson is on the telephone to the Queen. He says: “Your Majesty. I have contracted the virus. What shall I do?” And the Queen says: “Go forth and embrace Donald Trump.”
12th April 2020
Boris Johnson came out of hospital today. He thanked all the people of the NHS for saving his life. ‘It could have gone either way’, he said. What he did not say was that the doctors who were most responsible for his survival – who are putting their own lives on the line every day – would be rewarded in terms of increased status and remuneration. No, they would remain the lowest of the low, along with carers, teachers, nurses, and all those who contribute the most to society. The new norm needs to get a whole lot more ‘normal’ before government will take heed.
Not long ago, we all went out on the street to clap for our doctors and nurses. Then we went out to clap for our carers. But it is not claps they need. They need PPE (personal protection equipment) when they are on face-to-face contact with virus contractors. They also need more pay. In short, less claps, more cash.
Someone else who deserves more cash is Madge. She gets paid a ridiculous £120 a week, minus 20% tax, for six hours teaching at an adult education college in Richmond. What she does not get paid for is the twenty or thirty hours (by my estimation) preparation for these classes, which are now taught ‘virtually’ – i.e. by Zoom. ‘Why do you do it?’ I quizzed her, and she said: ‘The students have paid already. What else can I do?’
Not that she, or I, should be complaining. We’re both retired, I just got my first pension check, we own a large 3-bedroom house, we have no dependents (apart from a cat), and we’re both in good health. Madge enjoys teaching, despite being grossly underpaid, and I enjoy cooking (on just one hob since the oven packed up 9 years ago) and preparing film quizzes for the class Madge taught last term on European cinema. It’s a whole new world and we have the time and the inclination to tune in with it.
By way of light relief, we plugged into the Now Show on Radio 4. ‘When you’ve spent a whole month going no further than your own house,’ opined one presenter, ‘holiday plans don’t have to be so exotic. So, I asked someone, “where do you think you’ll be going this year?’ And they replied, “Well, we were looking at East Croydon. It’ll be great to have a break from West Croydon.”’