Reading time: 3 minutes

In the short space of a phone call with my brother last night, three more emails landed, subject: ‘Update from GOV.UK – Covid-19’. Each one means more legislation. More rules. Each one makes you think what else can’t we do? Is there much left we can do?

And yet, curiously, there’s also the sense that the ‘rules’ that keep us sane and grounded are ‘out of the window’ – as was I, at eight o’clock last night, for example. We do things we didn’t do before, and can’t do things we took for granted before. The old order of things is becoming obsolete as we adapt to new behaviours, and the burning questions are ‘When will we return to normal?’ and ‘What will the new normal be like?’. 

I allow myself a twenty-minute ‘essential’ excursion every evening, partly for ‘essential’ exercise and fresh air, and partly to top up on ‘essentials’ (I didn’t stockpile – see ‘Update from GOV.UK – COVID-19’). Firstly, in preparation for that, I have to grapple with the idea of how ‘essential’ something is. And, is how ‘essential’ something is, relative? Am I, say, allowed to sit in judgement of my neighbour, for asking me to get her a lottery ticket, when in fact I am buying cigarettes?

Is ‘essential’ a question of ‘what could I go without’? I could, for example, have tea without milk. Technically, I could go without cigarettes, but that’s on another level, and that would mean that the thought I had in my head when my neighbour texted me about her lottery ticket would not have stayed in my head. It would have translated into my reply. And we’re being told (not necessarily from ‘Update from GOV.UK – COVID-19’) that we should be even kinder today than we were yesterday.

Mental jousts like this are ‘essential’ as they prepare me should the police stop me and ask me where I’m going, and if it’s ‘essential’. Maybe the response is ‘Who can say? These are unprecedented times.’ So, what would once just have been a trip to the shop and not worthy of mention has become an unprecedented experience.

Firstly, outside the shop, are two boys NOT standing two metres apart (maybe they are from the same household? See ‘Update from GOV.UK – COVID-19’) BUT wearing dust masks. Yes, actual decorators dust masks. Inside the shop there is a new ‘zone’ in front of the counter, a ‘customer zone’ marked with black tape on the floor. As a real served customer steps out, I can step in.

The owner behind the counter has plastic gloves, a REAL face mask and a plastic apron, looking more like he’s about to tackle a blocked drain than serve me. But there I go – that’s the old order – once you might have dressed like that to unblock a drain, and I’m reminded of books I studied long ago, like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘The Heart of Darkness’ where characters are tormented  in their brave new worlds, and even ‘The Time Machine,’ going ever further into alienating and probably, unprecedented times.

The fiction continues to become our reality. One minute I’m in the world of espionage as my neighbour’s COPD and one kidney has her drop an envelope over the garden wall containing her lottery numbers and the payment, then texts me to say the coast is clear – that she’s back inside and closed her door, I can now go and collect it.

The next minute I am Sherlock, standing to the side of the front window trying to figure out what an elderly man is doing there – he’s dropped something? No, he’s putting a toilet roll on the pavement. (!?) Then he walks off. Then he shouts. Then a little girl from the other direction comes to pick it up. I can only deduce that a parent or sibling back at home is waiting for said roll. 

And in this whirlwind of changing times, maybe in a few days’ time, how would you be waiting for the roll? With frustration as you would in the old order of things? Or will it become more like Scrooge’s elation at once again discovering the joy of Christmas? Maybe we will each learn the answer sooner than we think.

Written by Colin Hall, Senior English Teacher at EDLounge. For more information on EDLounge, and how it can be used during the Covid-19 pandemic, click here.