This is a dystopia, please pass the Soylent Green™
Updated: Jul 29
Last week it was my mother's birthday and, like a good son who doesn't currently have a job and thus has no excuse to stay at home midweek, I took a train to London to see her and my sister for the afternoon.
It was the first time I'd gone more than a mile from my house since the country went into Lockdown and I expected to feel particularly weird travelling such distance, like a stray cat wandering too far from home. Something inside me (probably guilt) has been telling me that, given that there was no need for me to leave my neighbourhood, it was inherently wrong of me to gallivant around Britain like Bill Bryson researching a travelogue while we remain a continental hot spot for Covid-19 deaths.
But as my quarter-full bus carried me towards the quarter-full city centre, I realised that it didn't feel like that at all. It felt normal. It was easy, almost boring. There were so few people around in Nottingham, even at lunch time on a Wednesday, that it was no difficulty at all to avoid people. I wore my mask, so did other travellers. I gave everyone their prescribed 1m+ space. I used hand gel when I touched any common surfaces. And nothing bad seemed to happen.
I took my quarter-full train to St. Pancras around lunch time and met up with my family. We walked through a quarter-full London to a restaurant where we sat outside a quarter-full restaurant and ate a lovely Lebanese lunch. We went to a whole bunch of quarter-full shops to look for stuff and, for some horrendous reason, we even walked down a quarter-full Oxford Street.
However, as the day wore on, I realised that something was wrong. It wasn't me being out that was the issue, it was that the "quarter-full" version of this world was totally full of desperation and emptiness.
You know when you pop out to the shops late on a Sunday to pick up some healthy snacks and only the corner shop and the takeaways have any sign of life? Or when you go into a run down shopping arcade where the only shops that seem to be thriving are the Poundland or those weird discount book stores and every shop has a member of staff looking longingly out the windows in the hope that you might break the monotony of their day and come inside?
THAT ENERGY IS EVERYTHING NOW! No matter what time it is, it's 7pm on a Sunday and no matter where you are, you're in the mall from Dawn of the Dead.
On the bus and the train, passengers watch each other with open suspicion, doling out to everyone the "fuck off" eyes we used to reserve just for those most hungover journeys where we really couldn't be bothered to move our bag off the seat next to us.
In the stations, everyone takes a wide, exaggerated path around everyone else. Gone are the days when it was fine to brush past someone in a hurry, now we're all like a bunch of magnetic monopoles repelling each other as we glide by.
And the weirdest part is the shops and the restaurants. It's all well and good Lockdown being lifted, but I fear for the health of our economy when our government has done such a bad job of managing the spread of Covid-19 that 62% of the UK population is still scared for the health of their friends and family and acts like it.
Every shop we went into was, bizarrely, fully staffed, while, even in the most centrally central part of central London, we were often the only customers. We went into one clothes shop on Oxford Street, looked around for a good 20 mins and only for a few fleeting moments were the five customer service staff bothered by the presence of anyone but our little rag-tag trio of mask wearing Shredder impersonators.
On top of the masks and the missing millions, every shop window was plastered with warning signs, all drawn up in fetching style in line with the branding budgets of the different retailers. At least, if I am to be constantly reminded of the requirement to take action to protect everyone around me from a deadly virus, the shops had the courtesy to tell me about it in the same font they use to tell me about the 30% sale they're currently having on men's underwear. It's the little things.
After we'd had enough of the quarter-full hubbub, I set off for the train station. I had a 30 minute wait before my train left and sitting in the hauntingly vacant and echoing St. Pancras only compounded the dystopian nature of the day.
As I waited on the pre-approved section of a heavily taped bench, public safety announcements boomed at an unnecessarily loud volume. Emotive messages recorded from various characters who ostensibly worked at the station and wished the best for all travellers and staff played one after another:
"Hi, I'm Beth and I work in this station. Your safety is really important to me as it's my job to make sure everybody gets home safe at the end of the day. Please, check the information boards for safety advice on wearing your mask..."
"Hi, I'm Andy and I have a disease which makes me extremely vulnerable to Covid-19. Thank you for wearing your face covering and only travelling if your journey is really necessary..."
"Hi, I'm Jerry and I'll fucking scream if see your lips..."
Don't get me wrong. I am in full support of face coverings in public, especially in enclosed spaces (i.e. I believe in science). But when there is no hum of hustle and bustle to battle the PA resonating through the building and barely any bodies to act as acoustic dampening, I couldn't help but feel the Orwellian nature of the scene seeping in around the edges of my earphones.
My hope is that this dystopia fades sooner rather than later so I can get back to happily bumping shoulders with strangers and hugging my family without fear. The disappointing thing is comparing the UK with places like New Zealand, who have continued to trust the success of their science based approach and where regular things like going to gigs is normal again.
(Oh how I miss gigs. I promise every promoter in Nottingham I will attend every single sweat box gig, northern soul club night or death metal all-dayer you put on in 2021. Hell, I'll even go to your acoustic open mic nights if you promise there will be people and beer.)
The one silver lining is the excellent progress being made on vaccines that might just bail out our international laughing stock government. Once they're ready, they might signal the fall of these Orwellian nightmares we live in and stop the Tories before they manage to finally bring in laws about hunting the poor for food.
I can't wait to close the final chapter on this terribly written dystopian novel with entirely unbelievable baddies that we're all living in right now. And, despite what the anti-vaxxers will have you believe, I'm not falling for some gibberish about microchips. As previously mentioned, I'm on the side of facts. So you know I'll be first in line for any mass immunisation.
Jab me up doc, I've got pits to mosh.