One Month On

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Yesterday, 24 April, we in the UK reached the one month mark in our Covid-19 lockdown. It’s a rather odd experience – are we all in it together, or in isolation…? I’m lucky. I live in a place which is not very densely populated; going for a walk or even doing a shop in the local supermarket doesn’t cause great social distancing problems. And I have access to some garden space so most afternoons at the moment are spent sitting in the sun getting on with my crochet while listening to a podcast. The crochet is a rather complicated shawl in case you’re wondering, one of those projects you put aside until you have enough time for it. Well, if not now, then when…?

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I’ve got loads of podcasts downloaded on to my phone, and I rather enjoy just sitting there listening while my hands are busy. For example, the BBC World Service’s 13 Minutes to the Moon, all about the successful Apollo 11 landing on the Moon in 1969, and then series 2 about the rescue of Apollo 13 when that mission went disastrously wrong. It’s escapism literally out of this world! I’ll be listening to Death in Ice Valley next, if you want another recommendation, and The Doorstep Murder looks good too.

This all makes it sound as if I’ve entered a kind of dreamlike state within my own personal lockdown, and of course I haven’t. I’m not one of those people who report going stir crazy because they can’t go out, but I greatly miss physical contact with my children and grandchildren even though I do catch the occasional glimpses of them on Zoom. It’s just that the sun makes it all so much more bearable than the early weeks when you were quite glad not to go out because it was cold and wet most of the time. And you would listen obsessively to 24-hour media to hear the same old news and opinions being rehearsed over and over again, as if hearing it for the umpteenth time would somehow change the basic fact that there is a global pandemic and the world is in quarantine.

I don’t do that any more – I catch up morning and evening, and the rest of the time try not to allow the Coronavirus to take over my every waking thought. I’ve learned over the past month that I need to strive to set my own agenda for the day – if I let the news do it I just end up getting all hot and bothered about what should and shouldn’t have been done, is being done now, will be done in the future. The trouble is that everyone has an opinion, from the US President who seems to think that if we injected ourselves with cleaning fluid we could make this whole thing go away, to the great British public who have largely adopted a kind of Dunkirk spirit embodied by the marvellous 99 year old veteran, Captain Tom Moore.

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I remember the moon landing being the go-to news the minute you got home from school in 1969 (I was 15 that year), rather in the way Covid-19 is now, or at the beginning of the year Brexit – remember Brexit? –  before the world changed and we became obsessed with something rather bigger. Back in the sixties families would huddle round our wee black and white televisions watching events in real time, along with, it seemed, most of the rest of the world. There really was a huge Earth-wide collective holding of breath until those Apollo astronauts finally touched down safely after their perilous missions. That’s the way I remember it anyhow.

We tend, we humans, to come together at times of great triumph and disaster – royal weddings, sporting victories, wars, natural disasters, the death of a much revered personage. We remember those events, we remember where we were when we learned of the death of Princess Diana, or JFK, or John Lennon – insert your own iconic figure here – and the memory of them becomes a shared cultural experience that we use as reference points as part of our very identity. Funny thing is we often feel as if we were actually there when in reality all we’ve done is watch it on television.

So with the Coronavirus. There will, eventually, be life after lockdown. We will be like the Londoners emerging from the Underground Stations after an air-raid warning in the midst of the blitz, blinking and coughing in the daylight, battered and bruised but glad to be alive.

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In the meantime, I suppose we just need to do what it takes to get past this. We can’t see enemy planes flying overhead, but the peril is no less real, casualties heartbreaking, those on the front line heroic.  I have misgivings about the curtailment of our civil liberties,  questions about exactly WHICH science it is the politicians are following and what seem like broken promises over PPE or testing. We must continue asking these questions, but for now we are largely suspending our disbelief and focusing on the bigger picture. 

And I am finding a genuine sense of us all being in it together – when you venture to the shops or walk along the street, most people nod and smile as they neatly step off the pavement in order to stay 2 metres away, or chat as they wait in line to be allowed in to the supermarket. When we go out and do our Thursday shout-out for the NHS, neighbours grin and wave at each other – in fact I’ve seen people from across the street that I’d never even met until all this started.

I’m learning to be less hard on myself now that I’ve finally accepted that left to myself my two favourite pastimes are sleeping and eating. Any day is a success which consist of more than just getting up, having breakfast and then going back to bed until it’s time to eat again (I’m not kidding!). I try to write every day, box sets are good, but really, it’s knitting and crochet that are getting me through. Sometimes the only thing that helps is to get the hook out and make yet another rainbow….

 

Here be Dragons

It’s 50 years since man first stepped out on the surface of the Moon. Scarcely anyone will have missed that fact as it’s been splashed all over the news and social media. As one of the millions who watched the whole thing on telly first time around, I’ve enjoyed the coverage, the remembering. In particular there’s been a fascinating  podcast by the BBC World Service called 13 Minutes to the Moon which gives you all the inside stories on every aspect leading up to the momentous moment when Neil Armstrong made mankind’s “giant leap” on to the lunar surface on 20 July 1969. Here’s the link https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w13xttx2/episodes/downloads – it’s well worth a listen!

I guess it’s in our nature, our very DNA, to want to explore our world and beyond. To find out what’s just beyond that bend in the road up ahead or what we’ll be able to see from the top of that hill – or from another planet! That urge to know can lead us down an unfamiliar lane just to see what’s there, or at the other end of the scale take us on mighty voyages of discovery to encounter whole new continents. Our maps have evolved over the centuries from drawings of shadowy lands marked “here be dragons” to the marvels of pinpoint accuracy we have today. Today WE can explore other continents from our armchairs just by typing a location into Google Earth.

A little voice at the back of my head suggests it’s not the same as actually going there, breathing the air, smelling the smells, feeling the ground beneath your feet. No, it’s not, but it’s what we do. We imagine. We explore the whole world, the whole universe, just by closing our eyes and imagining. Our brain is like a Tardis. For non-Doctor Who fans, the Tardis is the Doctor’s ship that can take him anywhere in time and space. The point about the Tardis is that it’s bigger on the inside than the outside. Just like our brains. Just like our ability to imagine places we’ve never been, futures that haven’t happened yet. And then we can come right back down to earth and go and sit in the garden to enjoy a sunny day in the here and now.

Neither are our explorations confined to filling in the unknown areas on the map. We also delve into the past, constantly trying to piece together the elusive history of mankind, not to mention of the very universe itself, right from the Big Bang until a projected point in the future when it will all presumably come to an end. We want to know. We need to know. And it’s not just the universe, there’s a whole world of self-discovery to be explored too. When things happen to us, when we go through big challenges in our lives, we often need to dig deep into ourselves in order to process these events and if necessary overcome them. And even without those challenges, most people have an insatiable curiosity to know more about where they came from, about the influences that have made them who they are. It’s all part of our human need to understand ourselves and where we fit in to the grand scheme of things.

So, when President Kennedy announced in 1961 that America would send a man to the moon and bring him safely back home again before the end of the decade, he wasn’t just expressing a vague ambition. He was tapping in to that never ending desire of mankind to be forever expanding the boundaries of the unknown. (Not to mention the USA’s obsession with getting ahead of the Russians in the space race!) JFK was in effect committing the resources of a nation to what was at the time an impossible aim. Whatever it took to develop the technology and the systems to reach the goal were devoted to the task – millions and millions of dollars, thousands and thousands of people hours.

There were many successes and failures along the way, including the tragic fire which engulfed Apollo 1 and claimed the lives of the entire crew. But the setbacks only made Nasa all the more determined to learn from their mistakes and do whatever it took to make things work. Until finally man did succeed in escaping the shackles of earth’s gravity and walk on another world.

BUT… however profound and wonderful that achievement was – and it was truly an unforgettable moment when the whole watching world heard the words “the Eagle has landed” and breathed a great collective sigh of relief – think of this… What if an American President, or some other world leader, announced an intention to eliminate hunger or pollution or homelessness by the end of a decade? What if there was no limit to the resources that were poured into fulfilling even one of those aims? In that case, it could be that if and when mankind ever again stands on the surface of the Moon watching Earthrise, we could do so in the knowledge that our home planet has become a fitting haven for all the souls that live there. It’s not impossible, after all look what we can achieve when everyone works together towards a common goal

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