Roughly a week later, in the same places but the world has changed. The disease is hitting hard, panic is setting in. It is strange to think that something as automatic and as simple as proximity to other people can be dangerous. Several countries have closed borders, schools and universities. People have been told to stay at home for the duration, possibly weeks or months. Italians have been singing from apartment balconies across streets in unnerving scenes of patriotism, solidarity and control.
Here, we are 1-2 weeks away from this scenario, I predict. Everyone I speak to has a different prediction. I’m put in mind of Elizabeth Delafield’s 1940 volume of her semi-fictitious diaries The Provincial Lady in Wartime, and it’s assortment of side characters populating the echelons of upper middle class London society, stating with their own intrinsic brand of self-importance that they believe, even know with certainty that the war would be over in a few months, would not really even start for a year, would last a decade or more, would involve every major power in the world, would mainly involve Germany and France. We are all waiting for something to happen, we know something is occurring, we have a heightened anticipation for news, in the absence of which we are using imagination to create scenarios, creating an illusion of calm, of understanding for ourselves, or propagating fear amongst others. I don’t know if we do this to impress others or to reassure ourselves. What drives the human instinct to portray worst possible scenarios.
Transport is noticeably less crowded, commuter trains don’t feel like the cramped necessary punishment they usually are. Presumably many people are working from home if they can. My employer is making shadow plans for this. The core function of our business relies on people gathering in a purpose built physical place, something which can’t be replicated by remote technology. We can do the admin parts, the numbers on cards and letters on coloured circles at home, but without people in the spaces the demand for that will quickly diminish, there would just be tidying up, winding down, looking for zeroes on balance sheets to do. The business assets would go into “mothballed” status until safe to resume. We are already seeing parts of society entering voluntary hibernation. Public events in the fringe art world – book launches, exhibition openings, anything involving mingling with olives and competitive attitudes – are progressively being cancelled.
So, it seems likely we will move to a society where we stay at home. This seems daunting, imperceivable, futuristic, Orwellian, scary, fun. It could be a once-only opportunity to isolate existentially, to redefine purpose, priorities, leisure, ambitions. I don’t do too well without any human contact at all, but too much frivolous easy distraction means I seem to not get done the creative, productive self-developing things I set myself. Always a handful of never ending, always growing “projects” waiting for me when I get home at 9pm.
In an act of uncharacteristic generosity, perhaps also fear of the unknown, and without a blueprint to refer to, thew government has stated that it will underwrite a proportion of salary for everyone unable to work. I could plausibly be paid a modest but sufficient sum to live, not be required to work, and could use the time to roam the deserted streets with a bike and a camera, gathering material, writing something substantial, a journal of the oddest year to date. Times of day and night will no longer matter, as the daily structure no longer has to fit around the requirement to be at the workplace at a certain time. I could even accommodate short work tasks of a few hours, interspersed with roaming the streets. I wonder if I’d need opium and wine for energy. I’ve long thought it would be enriching to create a Debord style map of London based on lesser-known passages discovered whilst in an altered state.
It’s enjoyably reckless, but I’m already planning activities for next week on the assumption that I will be home based, and am thinking of nocturnal trips with cameras. I’d be assured to discover the presence of a secret breed of night interlopers emerging from the shadows for silent contemplation, gazing at the city lights reflected on the river, whilst the virus does its job of keeping the normal people inside.
For now though, we just wait for the call, wait for the action to stop, wait for the void to emerge, and for us to fill it.