As one day rolls into another and we admit as much shamefacedly to one another, we need to be reminded of each other as humans even more. I was on my way coming back from getting the papers, a neighbour emerged from her flat, frowning and looking puzzled. I asked what was the matter ? “Have the bin men been ?” she asked. I said I didn’t think so. “But they’ve been there – look – and there” she pointed “but not there. I don’t understand.” I said “The bin men come on Wednesday.” She looked at me and asked what day it was ? I said Tuesday and she put her hand to her mouth. I had the great and illicit pleasure of the touch of my hand on her arm. “Is there some gin in that bottle ? “ I asked grinning and she grinned back.
A couple of days later, I went to get a bus and there were three children – a girl about 11, a boy a little younger and a smaller boy who may or may not have been younger – lined up as if to sing – and a pretty woman in black with masses of coppery curls blowing the slight wind. “Are they all yours ?” I asked – she looked impossibly young – and she folded up with laughter. Only the taller boy, she explained, the other two were neighbours’ children. And we launched into a feeling better conversation, about the light and laughter and exchange and the acceptance of death at which point I asked where she was from, and although born here, the family was from Eritrea. The continent of Africa has much to teach us before the Chinese completely subvert it into a second colonisation.
Acceptance often sounds like the end of everything but my favourite American saying is “Three sure things in life: birth, death and taxes.” With all the medical advances of the last 100 years, speeding up exponentially, what the pandemic leaves us facing is who is going to live, who is going to die and what are we going to do with the plastic ?
When I apologised to Beverley in Waitrose this morning for using an M&S bag (the first I have ever bought), she said “I don’t care as long as you don’t buy another one ..” explaining that she was shocked (her word) by the number of plastic bags she had amassed, which she might never have investigated except for some home time during lockdown. “And where are we going to recycle that ?” I asked. She nodded vehemently. Disposable masks are already being dropped in the street, watch any programme about Covid treatment or prevention and you’ll see the level of discard – and what are we going to do with it all ?
Whether it is the PM’s own idea or that of doppelganger Dominic Cummings, I am less concerned about being polite to cyclists (what I want to know is when they are going to be polite to me – let alone to the rest of the travelling public ?) than I am about the plastic. Couldn’t Carrie Symonds put her baby on her hip and start an initiative for the new world – the world her child will inherit – because if somebody doesn’t do something practical soon, Covid will just become an excuse to give up. And that much trumpeted normality an excuse for not very much.
I can no longer watch the endless home made stories of what’s right and what’s wrong in the response to/treatment of/survival from Covid-19. I want to be told where to put the plastic, how it is going to be broken down and dispersed to keep it away from the fragile beleaguered environment which serves us all and needs all the help it can get. I want to be told how much can be reused. Not in an interesting hour’s documentary which won’t be watched by enough people to make a difference but in a series of public health announcements, short and sharp, judgemental and directional. If I thought he’d read it, I’d write to the Prime Minister, as he bounces up and down pompously with yet another ineffectual slogan.
*PC = post Covid