REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL: Notes from an author in lockdown …

Troops enforce the Estado de Alarma in El Médano

Monday, 16/03/2020. Here in El Médano, Tenerife, we have the army on the streets to enforce the Spanish government’s ‘Estado de Alarma’, imposed yesterday.

Two days ago, I was on the ocean, windsurfing (El Médano is famously one of the best spots in the world). Yesterday, a couple of windsurfers ignored the lockdown. A few were jogging, cycling, strolling around. The mood on social media was upbeat, semi-jokey.

Today we’re effectively under house arrest. People are taking a dim view of anybody enjoying themselves. My Facebook friends are resorting to bleaker, blacker humour; and toilet paper is the new cryptocurrency.

The lockdown (or “martial law” as one FB friend insists on calling it) is about ‘flattening the curve’—minimising the numbers to allow the health system to cope with them. At this point, the UK hasn’t imposed a lockdown and there’s much discussion of conspiracy theories and the politics of ‘herd immunity’. It’s possible that the longterm economic effects of the remedy could prove worse than the disease. But in the short-term, an overwhelmed health service would be catastrophic. Imagine how many more patients could die from other problems if the health service was dysfunctional.

This, from Dr Francesca Cortellaro, an Italian doctor, puts our current lack of liberty into perspective …

“Do you know what the most dramatic feeling is? Watching patients die alone, listening to them begging you to greet children and grandkids. Covid-19 patients walk in alone, no relative there can assist and when they’re about to leave they can tell. They’re shiny, they don’t go into narcolepsy. It’s like they’re drowning, but with plenty of time to figure it out. Last one was tonight. She was a granny, wanted to see her granddaughter. I pulled out my phone and called it on video. They said goodbye. Shortly after she left. I have a long list of video calls by now. I call it a farewell list.”

Today the wind is howling, the waves are working, and the forecast for the next few days is for epic conditions … But most people tend to think twice about disobeying the law when there’s a tank pointing at them (although, of course, there’s that famous photo taken in 1989, in Tiananmen Square).

To keep spirits up (and to distract me from staring out of the window at the unridden waves) I try to come up with some reasons to be cheerful. It’s tough, and maybe these thoughts are just clutching at straws (pissing in the wind?) but here goes anyway …

1 – Perhaps this crisis will one day be seen as a wake-up call for the even more serious, long-term problems facing our planet. Forcing everybody to travel less, slowing down the economy, paying people not to work … All stuff we’re going to have to get used to eventually. Satellite pics have already revealed less pollution in China’s cities. There are fish again in Venice’s canals. The air in Tenerife is noticeable cleaner and sharper. I live 3km from the airport, right under the flight path—and I can hear the birds sing now.

2 – Maybe the crisis will bring us closer, in a we’re-all-in-this-together Blitz spirit, and result in a new-found sense of community. Maybe. Maybe not. Vamos a ver. I remain an optimist (albeit a pragmatist, who enjoys healthy sarcasm and even occasional cynicism).

3 – Hopefully, under lockdown I might write a few more words than I would have if I’d been allowed out to play. We writers have always self-isolated and social-distanced. We’ve always been antisocial buggers. Now’s the time to escape to the writing cave and into a separate reality. Perhaps it takes a crisis to focus on what’s really important (especially when one lives in ‘paradise’). No excuses now.

4 – Lockdown = a good chance to catch up with some reading. So many great books waiting to be discovered. Every cloud, silver linings etc

5 – I can’t imagine anybody I’d rather be locked down with than my partner of thirty-seven years, my wonderful artist wife, Nikki. If ever I needed a reason to be cheerful, she’s it!

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