30th March 2020

By yonde Betany, as Y yew telle,
Joachym wt schepardys dyd dwelle
Forty days and fowrty nyhyte,
Vnto he sey an angel brhyte.
By yonde ys a wyldernys of quarentyne
Wher Cryst wyth fastyng hys body dyd pyne,
In that holy place, as we rede.
The deuyl wold had of stonys bred

– William Wey, “Holy placis to Flum Jordan”, Itineraries, ([1470] 1857) p.14

Well, as a country we’re in almost-full lockdown now. “You should only leave the house for 1 of 4 reasons”:

  • shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
  • one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
  • any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home

These 4 reasons are exceptions – even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are 2 metres apart from anyone outside of your household.

From the back window, we can see those on their “one form of exercise”, passing each other on metre-wide paths, or those undertaking that emergency shopping trip – where they’d have to comply with distancing enforcement and queues to limit congestion: black-and-yellow-tape squares taking the art of queuing to new levels of orderly everyday fetish. We also see the police patrols exercising new wide-ranging powers of surveillance, command, and detention.

In this climate, it is very hard to get any kind of work done. I have two book chapter deadlines approaching, as well as a book proposal to redraft. And yet, the shear apocalyptic weight of it all makes it hard to think straight. I begin thoughts that trail off into stasis, walk into rooms and forget why; these suspensions broken by breaking news or innocuous memes that can send me spiraling. I can’t put my finger on it.

The earlier lockdown of university campuses embarked us on a frantic journey to online learning. This has meant continued disruption and anxiety for students and staff. Instead of a live performance, my lecture on Julia Phillips’s Disappearing Earth – some tentative probing of immediate thoughts, critical reading, and early research – is now exposed to all kinds of scrutiny and dissemination that normally would have been reserved for its published form. Meetings are now carried out through grainy portholes into homes that feature houseplants and housepets prominently. Emails with scary capitalisations – URGENT EMERGENCY CORONAVIRUS UPDATE – pour forth endlessly.

Off-campus, at the frontlines, trenches are dug and already bleak. Emotional and reasoned calls for medical volunteers jar with demands to keep each human ecology isolated. Loved ones in the fight at the hospital; loved ones in hospital, fighting. Shut the door; the draft will come.

And it is Spring. There is blue sky and sunshine.

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