Words by Ed King
Last week we were counting ‘reported cases’. This week we’re counting ‘deaths’.
I was in India, a country relatively (at that point) unaffected by Coronavirus – there were pockets of contagion in the far north and south, with quick containment, and neither the virus nor the fear had spread very far – the ‘reported cases’ were just tipping 30, whereas the UK was pushing 400.
My return flight was with Air China, including a four hour layover in Beijing. So, each day began with a pot of curd, several cups of chai, and a scan of online news reports to see what airlines were affected – my biggest fear was missing my transfer and getting stuck in China, having been held up coming into Beijing because a Swiss man had lost his jacket. Over 40 minutes on the tarmac, in December, with the bus doors open. I travelled through the UAE when SARS struck and we spent hours in Doha airport being questioned and swabbed – my faith in the Civil Aviation Authority of China, who present themselves like the Ministry of Love when there isn’t a global pandemic, was limited. I needed to readdress my route home.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, from Bangalore to London City. Booked, packed, and ready to go. But by then I was stuck in the daily news cycles (a wagon I’ve been falling in and out of since leaving the world of PR agencies in 2006) and followed the Coronavirus story from CBS to Al Jazeera. Where had the virus been found, who was responding in what way? What public statements of blame and tacit panic were coming from the podiums of what countries? Europe was infighting; North America were wearing slogans on caps. China was silent. The Daily Mail even found a way to blame it on immigration. It was fascial, in my mind, and I braced myself for the circus of panic buying and ignorance that would undoubtedly greet me once I landed in London.
On Tuesday my niece was sent home from school with a fever. An old friend of mine in London is seriously ill. My mum is too afraid to hug me and every handshake I’ve had comes with an air of suspicion. Professionally, I lost near £5,000 in 24 hours and I’m in a better position than most. Every day we huddle round our iPhones to hear Uncle Johnson’s latest fireside chat and watch the doors of our social outlets close until further notice. It’s not a circus; no one is laughing or cheering. There’s no grand finale. Not a fun one, anyway. And the hubris I carried around for the first few days has turned into embarrassment and shame.
Don’t get me wrong, I still see the cracks in the story – the quiet announcements that pave the way for privatisation of our front line services, where ‘strain’ will become ‘support’ from the private sector. The selfishness of consumers and the arrogance of a designer facemask. The special measures being passed through parliament whilst we’re distracted by body counts. The contracts waiting for Big Pharma, who will be painted as ‘pioneers’ and ‘saviours’ as they make billions from a global cough. I’m still skeptical. But, curiously, now, I’m hopeful too.
There’s something else that’s palpable, aside from Google led health concerns, armchair assessments, and crumbling economies; there are other waves washing over the country I both defend and despise. Compassion. Community. A sense of mature camaraderie, that regardless of whether you’re red, blue, yellow, green (or heaven forbid even purple) in your politics this is something beyond the ballot box. And I’m not talking about taking Whitty and Vallance verbatim, which is another conversation, but more the small decisions people are making to simply support one another.
Since Monday, I’ve had conversations in two supermarkets because the men beside me wanted to know “…are you already mate?” My housemate is currently downstairs batch cooking curries for our neighbours. Professional peers are paying my invoices early, where they can, and the largest tour operator in the country has told me I can settle up whenever. I have a WhatsApp group with my family, where we’re sending my sister jokes, gifs, and memes as her household stay under quarantine – I went to bed last night after sharing a video of goats jumping on a wobbly sheet of metal. We haven’t played like this since we were children.
I’m changing too. I’m swapping the self-import analysis of the public domain for community spirit. I’m not Gandhi (Gandhi wasn’t Gandhi) and I’ll start with my own love list first, but I’m going to pitch in. I’m going to do the right things at the right tie, to plagiarism our premier. I’ll probably still go to the pub, until I’m forced not to, but I’ve shut down all my events until August and I’m watching the briefings from Downing Street with a clearer sight. I’m listening. I’m not picking them apart. Well, not as much anyway.
And whilst I will hold onto my belief that there is manipulation in the media, because there is, I’m choosing not to fight that this time. My energy is can be better spent. Rightly or wrongly, people are scared. My friends are scared. My family are scared. Part of me is scared too. And there’s only one way and one emotion I know of to fight fear.
Ed King is Editor-in-Chief of Review Publishing – you can follow Ed King on Twitter at www.twitter.com/EdKing2210
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