Well, this is all really bloody interesting, isn’t? Absolutely shitbiscuitly fascinating. Words, in fact, fail me when I attempt to describe how spafftwuntingly mesmerising every facet of life in the shuntspackled UK has become. I mean, who knew it was possible to run so many thought experiments simultaneously in the real world? Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of sci-fi and stories that begin “What if?” But did we have to run all of this, all at once? And did we have to make our experiments in thinking involve non-theoretical, living (at the moment) and (currently) breathing human beings? I may be a caffeine-addled hermit swaddled in army surplus lockdown athleisurewear and have a drunk marmoset’s haircut. I may be only partly sustained by brief Zoom views of unattainable domestic interiors and smiles other than my own. I may now speak mostly to my dead-eyed sourdough starter. (Yes, I know the eyes are just stuck on the jar, but sometimes... it judges me.) Still, even in my degraded and manifestly twitchy condition I can still count: one sheet of toilet paper, two sheets of toilet paper, far too much toilet paper... See? I can studfracking count. And by my reckoning we are currently running at least 10 experiments of the kind that give thinking a bad name.
1) What if we hand all power – apparently for ever – to a clammy handful of sociopathic narcissist sex pests who are threatened by facts and harbour sadistic fantasies which somehow combine TV variety specials and forced sterilisations in basements under bloodstained sports arenas?
2) What if we decide all facts aren’t facts, but simply negotiable expressions of political affiliation so that two plus two might equal four, but might also equal 28 minutes of spittle-flecked screaming, or approximately 12 in three days’ time, or just A Big Flag.
3) What if every time anyone does anything pleasant, we accuse them of having the worst possible motives?
4) What if every time someone lies, cheats, steals, bullies or squirts uncountable spermatozoa and unfeasible statistics in reckless directions, we unfailingly endow them with all the moral and martial virtues of Mother Theresa’s ninja lovechild?
5) What if we create a public discourse based on paranoid loathing, aspirational recipes and rage tweets?
6) What if we only elect and indulge governments with a stated hatred of government and governing?
7) What if we vandalise and remove every social and legal safeguard and instead erect monstrous and monstrously expensive structures composed of layered bureaucracy, wilful ignorance and punishments specially calibrated to weaken the weak and sicken the sick?
8) What if we try to ensure every significant organisation – whether financial, educational, therapeutic or commercial – rewards only inefficiency and malevolence – and does so in only the most unsustainable ways possible?
9) What if we stare irreparable ecological damage in the face and respond by ramming plastic drinking straws into squirrels, setting fire to car tyres and forcing children to drink battery farmed hens’ blood with a petrol chaser?
10) What if we throw an entire population into a vast sewer of psychological nudges and mythology, until every apparently safe handhold is revealed as just another clump of virulent shit?
11) No, I’m wrong – it’s 11. At least 11. I forgot one of our longest running trials – What happens if we never trust anyone who has any kind of expertise in any area. Why shouldn’t we let shake-and-bake celebrities expound on racial science and hand national pronouncements on epidemiology to spivs who wouldn’t cut it as spokespersons for bargain yoghurt? Let’s hand our controls to jam-crazed toddlers and shred all oversight.
I had red eyes, a strangled cough and something I visualised as a tiny rabbit kicking about in my chest
Don’t get me wrong, I’m arsepastingly OK – absolutely goveing fine. I may or may not have been ill with It. I could have been ill with some other, smaller it. I may never be sure, because God knows when we’ll have antibody testing, or the chance to donate plasma. In this, as in every other matter, our national motto is now apparently Embrace Ignorance And Die, You Lucky People!
For a few weeks I had red eyes, a strangled cough, an invisible shovel repeatedly hitting my head and something I visualised as a tiny rabbit kicking about in my chest. But I’m not dead, thanks to austerity and all those thought experiments, that’s now a wonderful luxury, an unlooked-for plus in British life. I locked myself away, just to be sure I didn’t share the plague (sorry, Dom) and I’m OK now. I function. Or maybe I was never ill, because any prolonged reflection upon our national circumstances produces identical symptoms. I suffer from fury. I beg your pardon, The Fury. Or, indeed, THE FURY.
I mean, it’s not just anger any more, is it? It’s not any kind of emotion on a familiar human scale, not after all this. Not after the tens of thousands of avoidable deaths. Not after the nurses, teachers, doctors, bus drivers, carers, checkout staff, warehouse staff – the whole army of the useful now declared expendable. Not after people who know their jobs may kill them, may send them home infected, but they go to work anyway to keep everything running, to save us, and still they don’t get adequate pay, or equipment, or even respect. Not after our leaders always have time for racism and PR, but never for even the level of planning you’d put into a sandwich. Not after millions of us have lain awake, just hoping the people we love won’t die. Not after the drowning on dry land alone, after the mourning. Not after the Brexit cult’s insistence that no-deal Brexit must still be imposed, so hop into the wood-chipper, everyone still standing. Not after Stay Alert.
We’re quiet now – we’re trying to save each other, staying home, not forming crowds, thinking, planning. But un-isolated life will eventually recommence. We’ll remember our wounds. We’ll remember who helped and who harmed. And, pardon my language, but our government is fucking terrified of what happens then.
We Are Attempting to Survive Our Time by AL Kennedy is published by Jonathan Cape (£16.99)