Our first outing since last incarceration was to Specsavers. There was a barrier thing to stop you walking in with a masked flunky releasing the catch. As we were one of the first appointments the rest of the staff seemed to be standing to masked attention. It felt a bit like Phantom of the Opera.
We had to wait on our square until a girl, first one in, had filled in her necessary form. We were glad to see when she left the chair it was disinfected as she was wearing short shorts and her exposed bottom bum cheeks would have left an imprint. After G finished his form they seemed to pay even more attention to the chair seat than before, but I may be doing him an injustice there. I do that quite often.
It was a waste of time going for eyesight check as nothing had changed and he doesn’t need to go again for 2 years. He had been convinced he couldn’t see anymore. I said it’s probably your glasses steaming up all the time!
Trouble is with all the mask malarkey, you can’t tell what people are saying, and everybody has to speak twice as loud which is exhausting. We found when we went down the street looking into shops and cafes but not actually going inside we were like unelected mask police saying ‘they’ve got no masks on’. The other remark we make to each other like a warning bell is ‘it isn’t covering their nose’. If we were employed in this capacity, we would be vigilant and have cameras and a megaphone. We could dress up as Pearly King and Queen.
Told G he can hug who he likes this week. He said ‘do I have to?’ I wonder if it will be called Hug a Mug Day and be a national holiday. Wonder if you will have to disinfect yourself after each hug or just wipe your cheek on the back of your sleeve. We await the precise rules of hugging.
G wants to know when we can laugh in public. All this hugging could cause so much excitement people will want a wee and the toilets are all closed. Such a lot to think about.
Sick to death of the words ‘woke’ and ‘snowflake’. Why do some words grate? I wish people would just say what they mean instead of going round the houses. Will never use either word again but it seems they have a place now in the English language. Wonder what the next ‘it words’ will be.
Now cafes are open inside and out, everybody seems to be very merry, almost like Xmas, which of course was cancelled. Surprising what a cup of coffee with bacon on a panini can do for people’s state of mind. If you throw in a chocolate cake for afters things could get out of control.
We have been on our first long journey in the car since lockdown. Found the whole experience exhausting. G said he had forgotten how to drive. Motorway traffic was as bad as ever, and didn’t enjoy any part of it. Maybe being cocooned for so long, feeling safe, has turned us into nervous Nellies. A delivery van driver gave me the finger, don’t know what for as I was only the passenger, so obviously people’s manners haven’t improved. He looked very fierce so didn’t respond, just stared ahead looking scared. I saw the people in front of us waving their arms about so he must have had a go at them too. I suppose we must get used to this after so long away.
Hell is Other People
So, it’s come to this. We can go out and do even more ‘stuff’ now it’s been three weeks since our second jab. I shall of course try not to start any more sentences with the prefix ‘so,’ that massively irritating adornment which portentously announces the onset of a new sentence while adding nothing whatsoever to what follows. Rant of the day over, but the possibility of being thought ‘on message’ is anathema to me.
The Black Death or Bubonic Plague took the lives of up to 200 million people and lasted from 1346 to 1353. Seven years! We’ve ‘only’ had this COVID-19 pandemic for just over a year. How did they ever manage in the Middle Ages without newspapers, radio, television or the Internet to bring them breaking news stories, each more dismal and depressing than the last? There’s a ceaseless barrage of doom-laden imbroglios ‘on the box’ of course. Never a shortage of people who like the sound of their own voice. No wonder I seek solace in reading.
‘That’s one small step for man,’ I announced as I set foot on an actual road for the first time in ages. Marigold ignored me. It seems like only the other day – an expression I’ve come to accept as having wide variance; the other day could easily refer to last Tuesday or some random point in the last year or so - I gained a riveting nugget of information relating to astronauts. Not Neil Armstrong this time, but Buzz Aldrin.
The very first man to urinate on the moon – unlikely to attract a host of challengers for that claim to fame - was Buzz Aldrin. Inside his suit, obviously, using whatever high tech contraption those suits contained, but he made a big point of talking about it later. He also took a photograph of himself* (the first ‘selfie’ in space) on that mission.
Not of him urinating!
First man to walk on the moon? That’s nothing, Neil Armstrong. What about my own personal ‘call of nature’ claim to immortality?’
Buzz Aldrin was born Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr. on January 20, 1930, in Montclair, New Jersey. He earned his name Buzz, as a child when his little sister mispronounced the word ‘brother’ as ‘buzzer’. His family shortened the nickname to Buzz and he would make it his legal first name in 1988. Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s name, before marriage, was Marion Moon. Yes, really!
Poor Buzz, he never got over only being the second man to walk on the moon. Better to be second than the unfortunate Michael Collins, who was the command module pilot and therefore ineligible to go ‘walkies.’ Nobody ever mentioned him at all until his death was reported the other day. Or was it the other week?
In the years following the moon walk several fellow astronauts have come out and said NASA wanted Armstrong to have the ‘first man’ honour rather than Aldrin because they thought Armstrong’s ego could handle it better than Aldrin’s.
I never thought of Neil Armstrong as being especially reticent. Despite him insisting that his famous first line was spontaneous and only settled on in the moments prior to the walk, his brother claimed Armstrong’s famed ‘one small step’ line was pre-planned. Months before the launch Armstrong showed his brother a piece of paper on which he’d written, ‘that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’
His brother said, ‘fabulous’ and the rest is history. Pre planned or not, that’s a great line. Stealing it for such a mundane act as merely setting foot outside my house was pretty pathetic, but context is all.
Our first serious outing was to have my eyesight checked. Almost a military operation these days. After being grudgingly admitted on the premises, following the arrows of a one way system I was directed to a booth presided over by a young woman seated behind a Perspex screen and wearing a mask and clear plastic visor. This was face to face contact many times removed.
Meanwhile the sturdily built and inadequately clad young woman who had been in front of us in the queue outside was shouting and gesticulating wildly at other staff members after being asked to desist from wandering around, removing glasses frames from the racks, trying them on and replacing them. Exactly the system that was in use until the onset of Covid-19, but long since superseded by a rigorous cleaning regime immediately after any frame had come into contact with a human hand. The staff were firm but polite, the customer was equally firm and very far from polite. At least Marigold had a front row seat of the drama to keep her entertained while I was off having bright lights shone into my eyes.
As for the sight test, they didn’t actually say, ‘Your eyes are fine, no problems, but the rest of you needs replacing,’ but I did at least get a pass mark as regards eyesight.
‘See you in two years for your next test,’ my jovial examiner said as if she was counting the days until we met again. I may have been misreading her pleasant tone for adulation of my perfect vision, but I said, ‘thank you’ and meant it, sincerely. After all, ‘see you in two years’ has to be the nicest and most uplifting phrase anyone has offered up to me for ages. I may have had a Gold Star awarded by Matt Hancock for my vulnerability to viral infections, but that technician in Specsavers obvious saw a potential centurion lurking behind my eyeballs. I feel better already.
It’s very strange, this going out lark. We entered a shop, one of those offering gullible shoppers everything they could possibly need along with a plethora of items for which they would have no possible use and all at bargain prices. Poundland, but without the uniformity of pricing. We were the only customers wearing masks, there were no helpful arrows to denote a one way system, the aisles were crammed and the only member of staff, seated at a counter lacking screens and hand sanitiser facilities was guffawing into his phone while eating a slice of pizza.
We didn’t bother to look for the advertised bargains. Marigold’s acceleration from a standing start from shop interior to pavement outside was reminiscent of UsainBolt.
Face masks are like school uniform for adults, a great leveller. In many cases a face mask may be an improvement. It certainly works with me. Or so Marigold tells me. I’m a tactile person, hugging is in my DNA, but I still aren’t rushing out to embrace all and sundry.
Lockdown has been okay, in the main, and avoiding Covid has had the useful added effect of allowing both of us a whole year free from colds, ‘flu, chest infections and just about every other transmissible nuisance. Avoiding other people makes you healthier. That’s the obvious conclusion. Hell is other people, as my favourite French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in his distinctly existentialist play Huis Clos (No Exit) way back in 1944.
On first glance, taken in isolation, many people have misread the meaning of this quote as reflecting a rejection of other people, advocating a life of solitude and isolation. A retreat to a deserted island, removed from all contact with ‘others,’ but it is the actual concept of ‘others’ that fascinated Sartre and illustrates the nuanced levels of human consciousness.
The theme of No Exit is a group of three strangers in a mysterious room and it gradually becomes apparent this will be their home for all eternity. They’d come to terms with the concept of Hell, but instead of pitchforks and flaming coals they’re confined to this room where each individual in the room will become their own torture device for each other. They wish to escape the room, as they wish to escape the judgemental gaze of the others. But they cannot – because that is what Hell is – and this inability to escape other people and their judgemental attitudes will dominate their lives for ever.
In modern times, the same concept – hell is other people - could be applied to social media. The opinions of other people, even those complete strangers who only exist in a virtual sense, have come to dominate what we say, even what we think. It’s pretty scary.
Maybe I’m developing a morbid fear of the afterlife, undoubtedly a hitherto unknown byproduct of Covid-19, as the name Dante Alighieri cropped up in conversation yesterday. (Yes, I do have the odd, some may say very odd, friend who like nothing better than to discuss 13th century literature.) In Dante’s Inferno, Virgil passes through the gates of Hell, which bear an inscription ending with the famous phrase ‘Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate,’ most frequently translated as "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’
I suspect the motto, although perhaps not in the original Italian, could find a home above the doors of a certain bargain shop chain.
More to follow, the much delayed final leg of our road trip around New Zealand, but first a few photos.