Yesterday, we came home from our afternoon exercise to find the scent of fish and chips wafting from the shop round the corner. In the time before, you could smell the fish frying every day from the back door. I’d almost forgotten what that was like.
There’s more traffic day by day, and not everyone is keeping their distance. People sometimes push past the children now, rather than waiting for me to herd them out of the way. Out here, relatively in the sticks, the rules have always been more relaxed than I suspect they have been in the big cities. There’ve been little late-night gatherings of carousers huddled round cans of Stella on the theatre steps opposite my house. Knots of teenagers in the edges of woods. People taking advantage of the emptier roads to drive like idiots. But now, things are really falling apart.
For context, this is the kind of small place where, on 24 June 2016, people cheered in the streets (quietly, but discernibly). So when the newspapers now tell them that we’ve beaten this thing, that lockdown freedom beckons, chances are they’ll believe it. By now I should be used to the pain of living in a regime in which those in power routinely lie to stay there, but then I suppose it’s also better never to get used to that.
Although I want the lockdown to end as much as anyone, in truth I’d been beginning to come to terms with it. I’m fortunate, I know: I still have some work, and of course it’s entirely unchanged in its nature. I’ve lived with financial uncertainty connected to my income for more than a decade, so this is nothing new, even if it’s scarier. There are quiet green places nearby to walk. No one I love is ill. I don’t feel I’m doing an especially brilliant job with schoolwork, but the children are surrounded by books, and resources, and adults happy to talk to them about any number of subjects, and they have enough to eat.
Lately I’ve been observing green shoots in my own adaptation to the crisis. We can get used to all sorts of things. Learn to see them as normal, as just how things are. A few weeks ago my concentration was much reduced, but it’s improving again now. While I could only focus in ten- or fifteen-minute bursts I started learning Spanish using Duolingo, which actually works quite well in a pandemic with its gamification of learning, in tiny and manageable chunks. This morning I awoke from a dream in which I was speaking (very basic!) Spanish to a market stallholder, which I take as a sign of progress.
I’ve also accepted that my usual work is slower for now, started putting out feelers for work in slightly different areas, and have signed up to do a plain English course (as I won’t be getting my annual dose of CPD at the CIEP conference this year; at least, not in its usual form).
This is what freelance life is always like, even in calmer waters. A series of small and large advances, and small and large setbacks. The only way to keep it going is to spread the risk, watering a whole array of little seedlings. They won’t all make it, but some will, and that’s enough. And you adjust your expectations according to what takes root. You make peace with things. You have to.
So this is what I can control. This is what I’m working on in my own backyard. Meanwhile, I’m terrified of the negligence and the callousness taking root outside, the ignorance and the ideological fervour of this shambles of a government. Hundreds still die every day, people caring for the sick are unprotected, the poorest and most vulnerable are hit harder than ever, the press tell us we have won, and they are getting away with murder.
The past is alterable. The past never had been altered.* We all have our own small stories from this time. We’ll tell them to our children, along with boring them silly about outmoded concepts like going to the pub or the cinema. But what is the larger story we will be told of what happened here, in the months and years to come? Will we be so weary we learn to believe it?
Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and freelance since 2008. She’s learning to adapt, but is also thinking that some things should never be adapted to.
*From Nineteen-Eighty Four, obviously.