Due to Covid 19 we’ve pulled up the drawbridge and dug a shark infested moat around Bedford Towers. No, we’re not sick, but I’m diabetic and my other half has suddenly become classified as elderly. How scary is that? Our main reason for self-isolating, however, is my mum, who lives in the interconnected granny-house next door. She’s 95 and getting increasingly frail. She’s definitely elderly, and definitely at risk if Coronavirus comes knocking.
There are advantages to self-isolating, especially if you’re a writer.
Best Beloved and I work from home. He’s had to cancel upcoming bookings in the recording studio, but since I drive a desk for a living, and talk to people by phone and email, I can keep going. As well as my writing, my day job is arranging gigs for folk musicians (British and foreign) and issuing work permits for musicians coming in from outside the EU. As you can imagine, most of my work is currently taken up with cancelling gigs and trying to rearrange them for next year. As for work permits… just no (at least not until we’re over the peak and theatres and venues are encouraged to reopen). The government seems to have closed all venues, at last, after merely advising people not to go to concerts, theatres and suchlike. A lot of the venues are suspending operations for the time being. Government guidelines are changing daily, and though there are signs that some venues are flouting this, they’ll probably make it law pretty soon. Don’t ask me why some young people are still congregating. Haven’t they got grannies they need to protect? (Note: as I’m writing this the PM has announced an official lockdown for three weeks. As I said, things are changing daily.)
To be honest, though my day-job income has taken a hit, I can ride it for a few months at least – though I’m worried that a lot of performers are not so lucky. They live the very definition of ‘gig economy.’
I’ve just had to cancel a whole tour for Canadian performer, Dan McKinnon. He actually flew in to Heathrow, caught the train up to Yorkshire, stayed with us for a couple of nights and then went down to the West Country for two gigs. And then the Canadian government advised all citizens abroad to get home while they still could, i.e. before there were no flights, and before Canada closed its borders. Dan’s not only had to pay the normal tour expenses, but Air Canada charged him $2500 for a new ticket home, despite the fact he already HAD a ticket home in April which will now be unused (and possibly not refundable). I’ve been heartened by one folk club offering him a cancellation fee, and another offering to buy 15 of Dan’s CDs to help offset the gig fee he would be missing out on. How lovely is that? If you want to buy his CDs this is Dan’s website. I can promise you his music is lovely. (Intelligent songs, great voice.)
Since I can’t do anything about Covid 19 and its ravages on the music industry, my writerly thoughts turn to two things:
- What can I do with the spare time?
- How can I get a story out of this?
Time. Lovely time. I usually don’t have enough of it, but once I’ve sorted out the tour cancellations (Dan’s and others) I will have time, no visitors, and no commitments. So what have I got to do? Well, I have edits on two books which I’ve started but not yet finished, plus edits on a short story which has already been committed to a small press anthology, and when I’ve finished those, a new first draft to get to grips with. Plenty of things to occupy me. I’ve never been the sort of person to sit around saying I’m bored, and I like being in the office in front of the computer screen. And if I’m stuck I can even catch up with some knitting.
And how can I get a story out of this? It’s almost too science-fictional already isn’t it? I want to write science fiction, not live in it. Does anyone remember Survivors, the TV series from the 1970s? It’s about a bunch of disparate people who come together in the wake of a pandemic which started in China. In this case it was a bioweapon that escaped and spread rapidly, leaving only 1% of the population alive. The series was created by Terry Nation, inventor of the Daleks, and ran for three seasons. (Note: there was a remake but it wasn’t as good as the original, which is still available on DVD.)
Global pandemics, from bioweapons to zombie apocalypses have been done and done again. We’ve read about them, watched them at the cinema and on TV, and now we have to deal with the reality.
However, to take a different story tack, how would our politicians react to losing (mostly) the elderly, the sick and disabled? Those are the people either receiving state pensions (which they’ve paid for all their working lives) or some kind of disability allowance such as the Personal Independence Payment. A few days ago our prime minister (don’t blame me I didn’t vote for him) said that to achieve herd immunity 60% of our population would have to catch Covid 19. Our current population is (2019 figures) 67,530,172, so 60% works out at 40,518,103 people. If just 2% of that 40.5 million die, then we’re looking at a UK death toll of 810,362. (Don’t forget they are people, not just numbers.) Our politicians might put on a glum face, and yet be secretly rubbing their hands together. Basic state pensions are £6,718 per person per year (yes, a pitiful amount and many will get more than this). Multiply the basic state pension by the likely number of deaths and that’s an annual saving to the government of £5,444,011,916. What’s not to like? And at the same time the government can blame any financial disaster onto Covid 19 instead of the whole Brexit debacle, and continue with punitive austerity.
Hey, I’m speculating here because I’m a speculative fiction writer!
The other tack is that with 40.5 million sick and maybe 2 million of them needing hospitalisation, our society is going to go into meltdown. Not just the NHS workers who are on the front line without adequate protection (plus the army medics standing by to supplement hospital staff), but people self-isolating for 14 days if one member of the family comes down with symptoms. It’s not simply 14 days of lost work, but if a second member comes down with symptoms on Day 13, the 14 day quarantine resets. Those in isolation rely on grocery delivery drivers (who are not immune). Supermarkets are already struggling because of the numbers of people ordering groceries online, and over-ordering because everyone else is panic buying. I don’t know how long Amazon will continue to deliver on time, but their drivers and warehouse staff are not immune either. We’re looking at severe staff shortages in all major goods and services industries – medical, transport, food, power. Maybe even water. Perhaps all those buying spare toilet rolls and bottled water know something I don’t.
I paid for a new-to-me car last week to replace my little 13 year old runabout, and the salesman asked if I would like to pay in toilet rolls. I laughed, but there was something about it that sits uneasily. (Of course now I have a lovely little car and nowhere to go, but I paid him in pounds, so preserved the toilet rolls in my cupboard..)
So where do we go from here?
I don’t know. You tell me.