So where are we now? Unlocked? Loaded? Nearer the ludicrously named “Freedom Day”? Buying masses of lube for the forthcoming summer of love? Moaning about holidays? Don’t ask me. I just look at data not dates, as robotic ministers intone.
The data I value most does not correlate to graphs. It comes from within – though not in any mystical sense. It is about watching ourselves and others. To not acknowledge the nerviness of this current moment neglects another D word: disappointment.
It’s difficult to admit the disappointment that sits uncomfortably between our expectations and reality. It is about sadness and loss, and the fact that just as we are all meant to go back to “normal”, for which there is relentless cheerleading, something is not right at all. There is real loss, and then there is another kind if we cannot take this chance to rethink everything.
Mother and child reunion
A reunion with my youngest was a botched acting out of disappointment. We were desperate to see each other after months, but her journey from Ireland was fraught because, though we are in the bloody Common Travel Area, airlines require you to have an expensive PCR test for the passenger locater form. She arrived late and tired, and instead of the imagined affectionate, huggy greetings, we argued about the ridiculously expensive taxi fare. The pent-up love ricocheted. The next day we went out for dinner and had a row about the meaning of genocide, so we are getting there.
Another maladaptive coping strategy is the incessant babbling we do when we socialise. Having said I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to a restaurant, I managed a 13-hour lunch. Moderation in everything but moderation.
The puritanical aspiration to joylessness is now rebranded as “self-care”. The more the outside world became dangerous, the more crap was sold to us. I should apparently buy something to “micro needle” my face, for firmer skin, or get some sort of laser removal for “unwanted hair”. What I actually need to make my skin less aged, since it would remove a lot of anxiety, is a Taser.
No one is getting on my nerves more than that Michael Mosley. Is he a doctor? Of what? Misery? He is always on the telly or radio instructing people how to get thin in three weeks and endorsing meal replacement shakes. He gets fat, depressed people, starves them, warns them about links to cancer and dementia and now, of course, they have to get in the sea, as cold swimming is the new fad.
It reminds me of last winter when I was in a vegan spa in a field in Essex, having decided to leave the Guardian after the way I had been treated by them. Part of the package included a cryotherapy chamber. Supervised by a gorgeous and ripped young man – obviously, because such places are full of exhausted middle-aged women and we have to have something to look at – I had to wear a swimming costume, gloves, Crocs and ear muffs and stand in a cubicle at -120°C or something for three minutes while ice formed on my arms. Christ.
“Ronaldo,” said the trainer, “does this.” Sure! Our lifestyles are so similar. “Will it even work?” I shivered, and he admitted it only really would if you did it every day. “So that’s a no then.” Even worse, as the winter lockdown was approaching, I was the only person left in the place. At night the wind howled and, although I had run away from my real life, I found myself in The Shining, only with facials. It was the furthest from “relaxed” I have ever been.
The power of language
The pandemic has changed my life completely, as my middle daughter and her toddler have moved back in. I love that age: the acquiring of language is never not amazing. Every day new words and an obsession with turtles. My other grandson talked of “a dragon palace”. He claims to have seen a fair few. It turned out he meant churches, so he finally got to visit one to search for the dragons that sleep under the floorboards.
Now that Stonewall has suggested employers stop using the word “mother” and replace it with “parent who has given birth”, how does the charity feel about grandmothers? Am I “the parent who has given birth to the parent”? That’s a mouthful for anyone. The littlest one calls me Ra-Ra.
The ambivalence of motherhood is something a new generation of women is speaking about. Billie Piper does it in her new film Rare Beasts. The movie doesn’t always work, but when it does it is bleak, jangly chaos. She inhabits the damage women are expected to hide. What a blazing, fearless talent.
Injury to insult
Having changed jobs, it’s a relief not to be asked to deal with the comments underneath what I write. There was so much abuse I tended to ignore it, but one day one of my kids became outraged. “Mum, it’s really bad what they are saying, I have had to reply.”
As I am used to being called everything from a murderer to a whore to a Tory, how bad could it be?
“Mum, they are saying you live in Chiswick.”
One lovely message I received during “the great unpleasantness” was an enquiry from a local Haredi rabbi to see if I was OK. I am not Jewish; we had simply met at a bookshop years ago. He asked me to tea the other day. Rabbi Herschel Gluck, founder of the Muslim-Jewish Forum, has travelled and mediated all over the world. I left his house with my preconceptions challenged. He’s a man you don’t meet every day.
A person who, whatever their faith, practises what they preach and remains open can indeed lift the heart. Such a meeting, I am happy to report, is the very opposite of disappointment.
Suzanne Moore writes on Substack and is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph
This article appears in the 09 Jun 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Covid cover-up?