Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Aye, Corona

What a time to be alive. There is no time to punctuate thoughts. Information flows through without stopping to latch itself to anything resembling an opinion.

We are not good at doing nothing. It defies all expectations we have of each other and of ourselves. Late stage capitalism demands hustle, and the devil in our deep-seated Lutheran work ethic niggles at us until we get up and do something. Anything. Now. But this is a time when inaction is the only acceptable action.

Sit tight.

The news from Italy is disturbing. I listened to the Talking Politics podcast where a respected political commentator described being stopped by police for taking a stroll with her partner in the woods. She was threatened with a fine. Is there any scientific evidence that walking in the woods is a likely means of transmission? At the same time people are going to work in enclosed factories to create non-essential items. This seems upside down.

The Italian PM , Giuseppe Conte now has a 70 per cent approval rating.

Some version of a lockdown has finally arrived in the UK. We can go out to exercise once per day, non-essential shops are closed and we’re being asked to do grocery shopping as rarely as possible. We are asked to work from home if possible, and interact with no one outside of our own household.

As a runner, this is an interesting time. It’s making me realize how at odds we are with the communities we live and work within. When the authorities say ‘stay home’ they’re working on the assumption that leaving the house invariably leads to social interaction.

That’s not the way runners live their lives. We leave the house alone, begrudge stopping for anything, and limit social interaction to a curt nod, or a lifted finger as means of acknowledgment.

We have perfected the art of being alone, together.

Life under UK lockdown reflects my life pre-Corona pretty accurately. Get up, take kids to school, work from home, run solo, work from home, buy groceries, collect kids, spend the evening at home as a family. I never knew I was missing out on essential freedoms until the government told me my freedom was being sacrificed for the greater good.

The big difference is that I have the youngest with me now - the 3yr-old gets to go to pre-school as Laura is considered a key worker. He’s nearly 14 months old, not quite walking, but silly and adventurous all the same. It’s been nice to spend some time together with him, just the two of us. As a father, when your second child comes along they are naturally tied to their mother at first, so you find yourself spending more time with the eldest child. With their needs being so different, it’s not easy to break that routine, and natural division of labour becomes the norm. This disaster has given us the opportunity to bond in a way we never normally would.

I quit drinking at the end of 2019 and I’m so glad that I broke the habit in advance of a pandemic. I can imagine that if alcohol was still on my radar I would find it all too easy to justify drinking every night. If you’re interested in quitting drinking, Allen Carr’s Easy Way book helped me put it in perspective.

Speaking of alcohol, there’s a letter doing the rounds purporting to be from F Scott Fitzgerald on the outbreak of Spanish Flu. The author makes a gag that Hemingway has dismissed it as just flu. That was the giveaway for me. Having worked in a field hospital, Hemingway wouldn’t have been so flippant, surely?

Spanish Flu became known as such because Spain, which was neutral in WW1, was one of the only countries reporting properly on the pandemic - the partisan press in the UK, Germany and France was still censored under so covered up the deaths. The comparisons to Trump and his ‘Chinese virus’ are obvious, but even here in the UK, where testing is non-existent unless you end up in hospital, there’s a very real comparison. How can you know how widespread an illness is if you don’t test for it?

The sooner we have a cheap antibody test the better.

I was listening to a Radio 4 show on existentialism and cinema on Saturday night and it got me thinking about Dada, the deeply political, absurdist art movement that came about at roughly the same time as the Spanish Flu. In fact, Guillaume Apollinaire, the mentor to Andre Breton, one of the founding members of the group, died of the disease in 1918. Breton was a writer, poet and anti-fascist, and the group he was part of was staunchly anti-war, radically left wing, and anti bourgeois. What movements will this pandemic inspire? In the UK, the suffering of WW2 led directly to the Attlee government, social welfare and the NHS that we enjoy today. Will Covid-19 lead to a new era of as-yet-unimagined creativity and greater funding for socially just causes? Even from the confines of our homes, you can feel the mood changing - America is gradually beginning to demand healthcare as a human right and here in the UK, it’s beginning to be understood that you can’t pare services back to a minimum and expect them to be world leading in times of crisis.

Change is coming.

Now more than ever running is a privilege. Strava recently conducted a survey on why we run and I was asked to contribute. This current situation reminded me of one of the questions and my answer:

Sometimes running sucks – but we love it anyway. Can you tell me about a time when your relationship with running felt especially strained and how you managed to get back in the groove?

Honestly, I don't think I've ever felt like that. To me, running is a privilege. Not everyone has the capability or the time to do what I do - even if that's only a few miles at 9pm on a Saturday night when the boys have gone to bed, I can't help but feel grateful that my wife is happy to stay at home with them while I do something for me, or that I'm a middle class white man and I feel safe to go out running after dark, or that I'm nearly 40 and - touch wood - my body is still able to do this. The older I get, the more I recognise that I'm extraordinarily fortunate to be able to do this.

A month later, I feel even more fortunate.
I hope you’re able to feel so fortunate too.