Twenty six days in isolation and we find outselves around two weeks ahead of the majority of people who are around the 10-14 day period. Interestingly, I’m starting to spot comments and trends on social media that we experienced about the same time into our isolation following return from Milan.
I remember at around day 12 both Vaughan and I had to check with each other occassionally to make certain today was in fact the day of the week we thought it should be.
It struck me that the temporal blurring that began to feel more the norm than the exception was almost the same as can occur over the Christmas and new year periods blend one day of limited activity into the next. The levels of food consumed are also pretty Saturnalian if you don’t remember the plea from our collective digestive and cardiac systems
Step away from the fridge. You’re not hungry, you’re bored.
I was reassured to find it wasn’t just us that had experienced this time-blurring quality of quarantine. I had to smile in recognition of the post sent to me by a Belgian of our acquaintance.
The whole period has reminded me of childhood Christmas celebrations with a northern parent and family. (Those from the south won’t really get it but consider it a glimpse into the north-south divide). My mother would treat Christmas as a time to relax, recharge and spend (limited) time with friends and/or family.
You were at liberty to do what you wanted, no ‘organised fun’ but plenty of drop ins for mince pies. watching old films, catching up on those books you hadn’t read, seeing what was left at the back of the drinks cabinet and other of course food. Down time was perfectly acceptable but only if accompanied with something to eat, drink or both. Those poor souls who visited with no experience of Yorkshire hospitality were often shocked that ‘no thank you, I’m fine’ didn’t prevent the cold meat, mince pies, Christmas cake or other yuletide loveliness arriving – it was purely a rhetorical question.. the food was coming anyway.
It occurred to me that if we all continue eating at this rate over the next two weeks, there will be no need to plead with us to stay in our homes. Most of us won’t be able to get through the door by next Thursday.
I have taken a little time to reflect on the scale of change we’ve seen in the UK over the last two weeks. If at the end of February I had suggested that millions more people would be able to work from home, routine doctor and nurse practitioner appointements and prescriptions could be done by video and electronic means or the justice system would move to video hearings, judgements and even appeals, I may have been laughed at as an idealistic fool. Had we envisaged whole sectors of industry mobilising to create improved key materials (whether that’s internet backbone infrastructure or medical kit or creating new means of providing PPE equipment to those needing it, I would have been considered an unrealistic dreamer. But that’s what has happened.
Several political theorists have suggested that real change only comes through revolution. In this context, revolution needn’t mean the storming of the winter palace, but does mean mass mobilised forces with a single/clear goal rather than small incremental change at the edges.
I would encourage people to consider not what the next two weeks might look like, but what the first two months after the crisis should look like.
Several academic lawyers (both here and in the US) have pointed out that powers taken in emergencies by government are very often not relinquinshed after the emergency at hand has passed.
Examples of this aren’t too difficult to find. The most profound is perhaps the emergency powers taken by William Pitt the younger in 1799. These were introduced to fund the Napoleonic Wars which were at the time perceived to be just as existential threat. Within those measures were a strictly temporary measure introduced with assurances that it would last for as short a time as was practicable. The measure introduced was called income tax which is still in force some 220 years later.
Similarly following 9-11 in the United States increased surveillance and data access rights were granted to the Federal government covering people’s movements, big data tracking and the like. These have not been relinquished despite the war on terror being won at least twice.
When considering the powers taken and being considered in this light it might be concerning to understand they include limiting jury trials. We must ensure temporary restrictions and erosions of freedoms are just that – temporary.
However, I suspect this degree of change is unlikely to return us to 2019. Banks that wouldn’t accept email signatures now are, certain court proceedings (competency hearings in the court of protection) are being heard and pronounced upon by video with email notification to all parties concerned. Home working is being considered normal – many potential rubicons appear to be in a state of being crossed.
Many of the limitations we have been told were insurmountable have been surmounted. I doubt people will accept a return to being told these solutions are once again problematic. Even if they do, there will be those who disrupt markets by offering these continuing innovations. Even in the public sector, the genie is now seen to be out of the bottle. Good luck with getting it back in there.
This post’s title is taken from Les Miserables. For those who like to hear the associated music track, it can be played on the control below.