One of the advantages to living in rented accommodation is that, should any of the fixtures and fittings require repairing, they will be repaired free of charge. The expensive headaches of broken boilers, faulty radiators, leaky guttering and all the other recurring failures that cost home-owners a small fortune are not issues that the renter has to lose any sleep over. Of course, the rapid reaction of the landlord or letting agent can depend on what sort of landlord or letting agent they happen to be. I recall one property I lived at for several years which boasted an intercom system for callers, though it ceased to be operational about eighteen months into my tenancy, and despite repeated requests for it to be attended to, it never was. However, I can’t really complain where my current address is concerned. Repairs are seen to pretty promptly, as are the legally-required annual inspections of all gas appliances. This was attended to last week and the repairman – who has been doing the job more or less all the time I’ve lived here – became only the second person to enter my humble abode since the first lockdown got underway last March.
Okay, so a repairman examining the cooker and the gas fire doesn’t really constitute receiving a visitor, but it’s the next best thing when you haven’t received one for so many months. Therefore, I was eager to inquire as to his personal ‘lockdown experience’. He told me his workload hadn’t diminished since the country embraced a Soviet system of governance, but it was a different story re his girlfriend, a hairdresser by trade and naturally not making much in the way of a living now. Chatting to someone outside of your own small circle and eliciting their response to the situation is far more accurate method of gauging the real feelings of the public than weaving your way through the alternate reality of social media. This is someone whose profession precludes working from home and requires him to gatecrash social bubbles on a daily basis; in a way, he has a unique insight into the damage being done to households confined to quarters, more so than those passing judgement on Twitter or gutless hacks reluctant to criticise government policy lest it should jeopardise their future prospects of being employed by Downing Street.
The repairman and I were in agreement that, for all its surface familiarity, the latest lockdown – as with its regional Tier predecessors – hasn’t really recaptured the atmosphere of the original. Weekdays no longer feel like childhood Sundays. He openly admitted he enjoyed the ambience first time round – the absence of traffic; the sudden disappearance of the usual urban soundtrack and its replacement with a more rural vibe; people finding themselves with rare time on their hands in a nation that, up to that point, worked some of the longest hours in Europe. Yes, last springtime was a unique public holiday that, on paper, should have served to ‘flatten the curve’ along with achieving all of the other naive aims of an administration that was flapping around in the dark; but the novelty vanished when, as with the tortuous Brexit process before it, this thing just kept going and going and going way beyond what we were promised, and the people got stir-crazy. Last summer’s eruption of public disorder was an early indicator of what placing a population under indeterminate house-arrest can do as social media discourse spilled out into the real world. Those who indulged still had enough energy stored away to release it then; six months on, most now just seem too miserable, too weary, too scared and too browbeaten by an excuse for a life lived with no end in sight to even bother kicking up a fuss.
The shopping list of ramifications is as unnerving as it is depressingly familiar by now: The collapse of the economy and racking-up of debts that will take generations to pay off; the unnecessary destruction of the hospitality industry along with small businesses and the final kiss of death to the high-street as the online giants clean-up; the over-zealous tactics of the police that have alienated the institution even further from those they profess to serve; the damage done to the young with the suspension of education; the deaths from illnesses edged aside by Covid’s preferential status; the incursion of the classroom and the workplace into the private home space; the prolonged separation of loved ones; the incalculable impact on mental health. Hell, I even read the other day that pet-owners making that agonising decision to put their ailing animal companion to sleep aren’t even allowed to be there and provide comfort in their final moments as the vet does the deed anymore. Yet perhaps the scariest aspect is the fact we’re getting accustomed to the restrictions; however much we may resent them, as a means of controlling the public and forcing people to adhere to any curtailment of civil liberties, they work; and governments won’t forget they work. They now have a default system in place that they can instigate at a moment’s notice because they’ve seen for themselves how easy it is to condition the public into compliance.
Criticism is deflected with the same cop-out techniques the Woke crowd apply when shouting ‘racist’ in order to neutralise debate. Oppose the restrictions and you’re a Covidiot, midway between Brexiteer and far-right activist; question the viability of the vaccine and you’re to blame for every Covid-related death; repeatedly find fault with ‘the science’ online and your account will be closed; stage an orderly, socially-distanced protest against the restrictions and you’ll receive the kind of treatment from the police that BLM are mysteriously spared. The heavy-handed policing of perfectly natural responses to the first snowfall of the winter a few weeks ago seemed to characterise the state of play after ten months of this; and if we appear to be valiantly combating the coronavirus, have no fear – another mutation will be gleefully announced to justify further clampdowns.
I’m lucky to have a platform and to have the ability to articulate all this in prose. The repairman I spoke to last week was just a regular guy, but he was no less convinced of both the futility of, and the danger in, stringing this policy out indefinitely. He’s in the community far more than I am and he can see for himself just how catastrophic the effects are proving to be. Outside of the false hope served up to pacify those still gullible enough to believe this is all being done for our own good and that it will eventually resolve the problem in a few months, the general (and more plausible) consensus now seems to be that this year – not even quite a month old – is effectively a write-off and we can forget any real return to normality before it’s over. 2021 already feels like the shit sequel to the blockbuster movie, the piss-poor follow-up single to the No.1 hit, the early exit from European competition after a title-winning season – and we haven’t got to February yet. It’s like being on honeymoon and belatedly realising the person you married is an arsehole; the glorious life you envisaged sharing has barely begun and yet you know it’s going to be a long, drawn-out waste of everybody’s time.
On Saturday mornings I walk a friend’s dog through some neighbouring woods, which is always a welcome respite; on Wednesdays I do my weekly shop at the supermarket round the corner and also indulge in an extended stroll along the same dreary old streets that were briefly beautiful in the autumn and have now reverted to type. These are my only first-hand exposures to the world outside my window and the only real way I can size-up what’s actually happening. During both fixtures I see plenty traffic on roads I was able to stand in the middle of (and take photos of) last spring without fear of being hit by a passing car, and I see more pedestrians than I did back then too, even if most are distinguished now by covering the lower half of their faces in nappies. A small handful of cafés soldier on by selling takeaway cuppas to those prepared to queue up at the door, but most places that could easily open without super-spreading remain mothballed, maybe for good. Never mind. It’ll all be over by Christmas – though precisely which Christmas is difficult to determine…if we’re ever allowed to have a Christmas again, that is.
© The Editor