One night last summer I was walking through the streets of Hastings old town, and I remember I particularly slowed my thoughts to take in the atmosphere of the place. As usual, every pub was packed, and from each pub emanated a different kind of live music from R & B, jazz, singer-songwriting duos, blues, folk. Pubs spilled out onto the pavements, people shouting in revelry and ribaldry, smoking, laughing hysterically, flirting, enjoying life. Celebrating life. Living life in joy, community and conviviality. Each pub was like a Kienholz installation with individual colour, lighting, sound. Each one different and unique. When my kids were little I hardly ever went out at night but as soon as they were old enough, just a few short years ago, I embraced the new to me, night life and music of Hastings, My Mum said that back in the sixties when my parents first were married they chose to live in Hastings because my Dad was in a jazz band and Hastings had the best live music outside of London. It continued to be so. I would go and see live music about twice a month, and sometimes once a week, if I was feeling especially sociable. Dancing too. I embraced that with a passion unmatched even in my youth. The sheer joy of dancing with my friends, or seeing Hexagonal at the FILO was so exciting I would feel myself vibrating in my feet, so enthused was I by the music. I would attend Jazz Hastings with world-class musicians about once a month. We were so lucky to see these great musicians for so little money. A glass of Sauvignon Blanc in my hand and such happiness in seeing friends and acquaintances, I was quite the social butterfly sometimes.
Early on in the lockdown I worried that by the time the pubs reopened everyone would have fallen out with their friends on social media. We are wired for connection, community, in- person community, conviviality and touch. The alienation from the lockdown is having a terrible effect on many people’s mental health and behaviours. The polarisation social media causes is real and has created an acceleration in the events surrounding the binary thinking. There is now literally and metaphorically war in black and white. From the written word to the colour of skin. I am seeing cries for help on social media. We need leadership and of course the British government is bereft of that.
I can’t believe that the pubs are empty now. They are ghost ships. The musicians all unemployed. Some of them are great friends of mine. I know many of them are suffering not just financially, but psychologically. One of my friends, a world class musician, is now caring for his wife who has cancer and no one has been able to visit them. He is isolated at a time when he needs the most care. Not only is he alone in caring for his wife, but he is unable to even play his music, which has sustained him and would no doubt help lift him occasionally. They both do, of course, need care, but it takes a community to help. I leave bags of veg on their doorstep sometimes. I just ring the bell and leave. Not that I want it that way, but they are fearful..
This lockdown has resulted in enormous collateral damage: fear and distrust, polarisation, binary thinking, tribal mentality, the end of nuanced conversation, enmity, virtue-signalling, confirmation bias, grandstanding, and more. George Floyd died through police brutality as a direct result of losing his job, using counterfeit money. All for a fake $20 bill. Because he was poor. People have died alone at the end of their days, when they should have been surrounded by loved ones. We have pathologised life and pathologised death. It worries me that to question the lockdown has become something considered the domain of the alt-right; that to worry about the economy is somehow right-wing. Well, I am sorry but the economy is ‘the people’. Most people live hand-to-mouth and very humbly. People on zero-hours contracts, in the service industry have become homeless. The precariat are the most vulnerable to lockdown. The poor are suffering the most. People, women in abusive relationships are suffering. The list is endless. I have written this before. My thoughts and questions feel heretical compared to some who unquestionably believe official narratives. One only needs to watch the Adam Curtis documentary “Hypernormalisation” to understand how our perceptions have been managed throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, with the sinister and murky world of geopolitics and big business. What are we sacrificing now and at what cost to reasons to live?
The W.H.O. has now said that asymptomatic people are very unlikely to ‘infect’ other people. I have read numerous studies stating that many more people have had covid than previously thought and that it is possible that the antibodies are not present in tests for very long. We have become hypochondriacs, sanitising and disinfecting everything in sight, when it is still unclear how viruses are actually transmitted in the first place. I think I had a very mild case of it back in January. So many people in Hastings had ‘the cough’ which lasted weeks and kept coming and going. One of my friends had it very badly. It is no wonder, considering how sociable we were. How easily we have become programmed to ‘social distance’, including myself. Meanwhile everyone is addicted to technology which through social media leads to divide and conquer situations. It also leads to suppression of consciousness and no space for meaningful contemplation.
Walking on the cliff top, and elderly lady was asking other walkers if they had come far. She asked me, and I said ‘no’ to which she replied ‘good.’ But I was incredulous. I had never seen her before, and I walk there every day, and she decided to ‘police’ the cliff path. I was furious, and I said nothing else, but never in my life have I been asked that question with such forced and feigned superiority on the path where I in fact live. Another neighbour shouted (not too harshly ) ‘two metres’ to me when I was standing outside his gate talking to him from about five or six metres. We have pathologised life itself. I don’t know how we will get over this. How utterly simple it is to programme a human being. If I were a true conspiracy theorist I would believe this was a very successful psyop. No doubt about it, our perceptions have been managed and manipulated, whether deliberately or by default.
Pretty soon, we will be terrified of a sneeze in public of of clearing our throat in public. Pubs are trying to figure out how to re-open, but how to keep to the rules. Will life ever be sociable again? Will we be able to hug our friends again? Of course some of us will, but we will no doubt ask permission. I am sympathetic to those who are afraid. In all honesty I am more afraid of what the virus as a concept has done to us, and our friendships, and ability to co-mingle, our ability to love each other. Thank heavens for painting, family, nature and the good friendships I have. I have every sympathy for people suffering, but I do not know one person who has not suffered psychologically as a repercussion. Even the most resilient of people.
It’s true what they say, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone’.
I’m going to put that memory of Hastings old town one summer’s night in a gilded box and never forget it. Memories are like treasure. I can only hope that one day we will be able to socialise without self consciousness again. I don’t know what the answer is, but I just pray that this too shall pass, like the virus itself.