All through the Celtic Tiger years and for most of the resultant austerity, most informed conversation centred on the economy. Indeed most uninformed conversation did also. We moved from discussing life in terms of millions to using billions instead and soon no doubt that will be trillions.
But there was the elephant in the room always. That elephant was society itself. The social issues of family breakdown, drug dependence, vandalism, homelessness, overcrowding in education and health and growing social isolation were ominous. These and many others were the ills of our society and the politicians didn’t want to know about any of it. They appeared to presume that the society would always self-adjust and survive while the economy needed all of our care and attention all the time. It’s telling now though after they’ve shut down the economy that all we actually have left is our society. It is no longer about, “The economy stupid,” because the economy is useless in the face of a pandemic.
So what is lockdown like chez-moi? I haven’t been in a pub for over a month nor have I travelled more than 1.5Km from home. We had a death in the family during this virus, (not because of it),and I didn’t shake anyone’s hand, hug any fellow mourners nor go to any church service. I’m told our city centre is deserted but I have to take their word for that. I have not met any of my four sisters either nor actively socialised face-to-face with anybody. Our own daughter has only called to us twice, (she lives thirty miles away) and if our son were not living with us I doubt we would have seen him at all. It is all just so damned awkward.
I know it is the same for millions of us on the island and if you think about it, it means that society is also more or less shut down or travelling on fumes at best. From inside this cocoon looking out, the main road outside is eerily quiet. There are no more rush hours, no gridlock, much less heavy trucks passing and after thirty years here, the relative silence is spooky. People at the shopping centre across the road are queueing yards apart from each other either outside the Post Office, Chemist’s shop or Doctor’s surgery. People are just not moving or mixing and that’s unnatural. Even the usual trail of drunken piss-heads passing through the park after midnight are gone. It makes you wonder what everybody else if up to?
Here at Chateau Mallon we have some semblance of routine. I get up between 0600 and 0700 every morning including Sunday. I boil a kettle, make a large coffee in my travel mug and then leave a teabag in a cup for herself to trot down to while I’m out. I drive the mile or so to the riverside park and try to get a three mile walk in before 0830, sipping my coffee as I go. For the past three weeks there’s been a Garda checkpoint just down the road from the park and everything gets stopped. If the uniform isn’t satisfied with the purpose of your journey, you’re turned around and sent home. Anyway when I get home after that first walk of the day there is evidence that herself’s been up and tea, toast and her iPad have gone back to lie down. Favourite son can be heard on his phone upstairs as he works from home now. Morning papers and news generally are read on-line by all three of us and little chores get done too. Herself then goes out for her morning laps around the tank field as I switch from the western press to the eastern press to balance my news intake, (and rarely fully believe either).
I think the saving grace in all of this is the internet. While I do take three walks each day there is little else to do so I have even begun watching Netflix series to pleasantly while away the hours. By keeping alcohol for the weekend I have something to look forward to all week. I’ve also delved into some book reading, doing research into things I used to have an interest in but knew little about and I have the time to pursue other topics I am keenly interested in but now I can do so in more depth.
And yet this lockdown is soul destroying. Things like the absence of a coffee in the city and the chance of running into old friends. A drive in the car to the coast for a picnic or a meal out with good company are all life’s little compensations. Even my few pints on the weekend now must be had at home and that’s simply not the same thing. The one job we can and must do is grocery shopping and while this has always been an unwanted chore, now it involves a long queue outside the supermarket as well, nine feet from each other.
Tonight the main evening news headlined with a Garda announcement that 2,500 police will be out on the roads from tomorrow in preparation for the coming long weekend. Maybe it’s the cabin fever but to me the announcer tried to make it sound menacing, as if a foreign army were amassing on our borders for rape and pillage. You don’t get news anymore, instead you are served up breathless sensationalism, all to a narrative from someone else’s agenda, (the mushroom treatment).
However, I can say that my sanity is not yet tested. I have managed to maintain a calm equilibrium, avoiding fights and rows but then again, there is really only two others I could have a go at. The death I referred to was the wife’s brother and it has certainly left a pall of sadness in the home. So all-in-all, this pandemic is a downer but my light in the tunnel is that it will end. I’ve heard it might take another six to twelve weeks and even then we should see just the beginning of the end of it.
Personally though, I think it will end quickly no matter what Public Health wants. You see 25% of the population is now on social welfare and the money to meet it is, we are told, is being borrowed. That’s a well that will dry up and when it does, all bets are off. It’ll be business as usual and society will have to just fuck off and get on with it because in the end, “It IS all about the economy stupid!”