Like a bouncy castle when the air is turned off, the world I knew is folding in on itself. Cities fall silent, their shops, restaurants and cinemas shuttered. Police cars and ambulances roll down mostly empty streets. A few shoppers wait, two metres apart, to be ushered into chemists and supermarkets. On their permitted daily run or dog walk, people nod as they pass, but don’t speak. Many have covered their mouths anyway.
We are obedient, mostly. We accept this confinement for our own good, for the good of all. But it hurts. Livelihoods are collapsing. It’s horrible for those without a regular salary, but it will touch everyone. Small businesses nurtured over years face bankruptcy; large ones turn to government. We were told during the Great Recession that we were all in it together, but it wasn’t true. It is now. A virus doesn’t discriminate, and the globalised economy needs money like a bouncy castle needs air.
Isolated in our homes, we wave from windows, reaching across empty streets with music and song. We share videos, jokes and feelings on the Internet; we write emails and blog posts. Musicians play in empty halls and artists exhibit their work online. We swap ideas for creative activities and run garden marathons. We stand on our doorsteps to applaud the brave who care for the sick. On the phone, we tell small stories and hope for good news. Tearfulness is unexpectedly present. We take comfort in one another – and old TV, familiar food and poetry. In times of trouble, we turn to culture with a new urgency. It’s the inexhaustible resource we invented to make sense of the exhilarating, terrifying, wonderful, inexplicable experience of being alive. Now, we ask more of it than usual. We might find, after a month of Sundays, when we eventually coming up blinking for air, that our culture has changed as much as we have.