For two weeks now I’ve been trying my hardest to limit my movements outside the tiny (yet very comfy) flat I currently call home; a sheltered eerie perched above the Frinton High Street. I have watched from above the queues of Boots customers lining the footpath below my bedroom window, waiting patiently 2 meters apart to be granted permission to access medical supplies. I’ve queued outside Lidl with others; patiently waiting for permission to enter to collect the necessities, taking no more than I need in order that others might have what is necessary for them. I have limited my teaching to online tuition; patiently waiting mid maths lesson whilst students loll in their beds, pointing their device’s camera up their nose or down their throat just to see what it looks like. I have curtailed my exercise outside the flat to one run along the sea front each afternoon; swerving in unison with fellow walkers and runners as we attempt to maintain an appropriate semblance of social distance. I know I am not alone in this; so many of us are sacrificing things we value so that we might do our bit to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
Yet, each afternoon this week I have been surprised to find people down at their beach huts. Not hordes. Just one person or couple each day. Not conducting essential work. Not just stoping by to check the locks whilst they conduct their one bit of out of home daily physical activity. They had the chairs out, a side table ladened with contents from the drinks cabinet, the dog dozing in the sun by their side. I get it – the weather is perfect for a sunset aperitif, the vast tide-swept beach here is beautiful, the company and easy following conversation of a lover at ones side are all things we long to be able to experience at the best of times – even more so in the midst of a global pandemic where, as a result of their denial, the desire for the simple pleasures of life have been turned up to 11.
I mulled over my feelings of disappointment, judgement, self-satisfaction; self-righteous anger rising all the greater as I pounded along the sea front with a little more vigour than usual.
In his Times column yesterday, Matthew Parris argued cogently for different language to be used in the public discourse around the government’s pandemic advice. He urged ministers to be honest and concede that what we are experiencing is way short of quarantine, instead suggesting they speak of planting a windbreak: the wind will still blow through but not so hard. Pondering this more forgiving metaphor helped ease my rising, unseemly, self-righteousness anger.
The sad thing is those beach-hut owners I’ve run past are in the categories that are of higher risk to succumbing to this silent killer. The gaps in the wind break that their actions are creating may well mean they are the ones whom it will not be able to protect.