With the general easing of lockdown restrictions, I almost feel as if this past week I’ve had a punishing social schedule. I’ve had visitors, and been able to show them my secret deep pastoral haunts, my broch, my lake isle of Innisfree. I dined al fresco with friends in the local Biergarten on the day it reopened. On Sunday I barbecued under the flightpath along the extended centre line of runway 23 into Glasgow. (The traffic on the roads and in the air was heavier than I’d expected.) And, at long last, my piano tuner has conducted a compassionate home visit. His patient was in a bad way. An A flat in the lower register had fallen silent, and a C sharp in the upper register had gone AWOL. Not surprisingly the piano was ill-tempered. But now, all is concord. Next stop, for me, a haircut.
The Prime Minister is being characteristically bullish. Back to normal by Christmas! When he said that, I recalled that the troops were saying something similar in August 1914. Next stop, Berlin, and home for Christmas. Yet, when we look at the facts, there is little cause for such optimism. The only reason the picture is improving is that we have cut down the rate of transmission by social distancing. But nothing else has changed. Same pathogen, same host, no vaccine, questionable antibody protection, no silver bullet therapies. If we start to mingle, we can expect the R number to rise again. Also, the worldwide picture, particularly in the western hemisphere, is not good. The PM must know that a second wave is very possible. This is why he has pledged more money to the NHS. The idea of a second lockdown is as unpalatable to him as it is to the rest of us, so the contingency planning has been for local lockdowns, as hot spots spring up. We may have to live with this thing for the foreseeable future.
The Scottish people have accepted the compulsory wearing of face coverings in shops without demur. No one that I can see is flouting the law. I was reminded of the banning some years ago of smoking in public places. That also was accepted by common consent and rapidly became second nature. If I may say so, young ladies have quickly seen the potential of face coverings as a fashion adjunct. They are worn with a certain allure. It’s all in the eyes. The First Minister wears a rather fetching tartan mask and, inevitably, one of her fiercest critics wrote in to The Herald to complain. It’s no accident that mask is tartan! Everything’s political! Such letters used to make me splutter into my cornflakes but now they just make me laugh, they are so absurd. There’s a cabal of Nat-bashers. I think they have a roster. Whose turn is it to tell The Herald that Scotland is a basket case?
All this week I’ve been reading Anne Frank’s diary. It is the ultimate lockdown memoir. It’s terribly sad – but only because we know the outcome. Ms Frank’s last entry in the diary was on August 1st 1944. She was not to know that she, and the rest of the occupants of the warehouse’s secret annex on the Prinsengracht Canal in Amsterdam, would be arrested on August 4th. She knew about D-Day and the advance of British and US troops from the west, and she knew the Russians were advancing from the east. She knew about the July bomb plot against Hitler. So the entry of August 1st, albeit introspective, is full of hope. Reading Anne Frank’s diary is poignant because it turns the usual relationship between writer and reader on its head. Usually it is the writer who knows what is going to happen in a book, and it is the reader who is kept guessing. With the diary, precisely the opposite is true.
For those of us lucky enough to steer clear, thus far, of the virus, it must surely be self-indulgent to compare our situation with the plight of Anne Frank. Certainly we have a sense of uncertainty about the future, but at least I am reasonably confident that if I go out for a walk I am not going to be arrested by a bunch of gangsters in long black leather coats. At the BBQ under the flightpath yesterday we were talking about the surveillance, overt and occult, via multiple apps and platforms and under the auspices of various governments and multinational companies at home and abroad, which we must endure, assuming we recognise its existence. One of the group didn’t care what was known of them by “the authorities”. After all, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.
But what if the bad guys get into power? And what if your views, or your activities, or your provenance, or your appearance, is unpalatable to them? It can all turn on a sixpence, and change overnight. Before you know it, you are in secret lockdown, dependent on the goodness and courage of a few beneficent souls, wondering how long you need to live like this. A week, a month, a year? Forever?