Here's a question for you: if you read Peepo by the Ahlbergs, do you notice the baby, the sisters, the park? or do you notice the military uniform, the barrage balloon, the fighter aircraft? Are the smiles on the faces of the parents pure happiness at the baby they have brought into the world, or are they of the kind of desperate sadness caused by fear on behalf of something - someone - else innocent and beautiful? Do you read about Bear Hunts and find yourself lamenting the lost innocence that can imagine a bear in a cave, and the entertainment that can bring to a whole family? Or is it just a good adventure? I watched the animation of it today with the little man, and that's got that same bitter-sweet sadness thing to it. The girl who makes friends with the bear can't find him in the end, but that doesn't diminish the time she spent with him. Our lockdown may be the strangest thing that will happen to most of us over the course of our lives, the moment when the world was different. But the things that happened to us in lockdown were probably not, for the most part, the ones we would have otherwise remembered. I doubt many people have experienced falling in love with someone over the course of lockdown, for example. A large number of people will have experienced the grief of the loss of a loved one, but that large number is still quite a small proportion of all the people out there.
Do I mean by this that I advocate coming out of lockdown as soon as we can? No, definitely not. I don't think the people making the decisions take remotely enough care over those decisions to be trusted, and I think erring on the side of caution would have been the better approach. I also think that the high-handed manner of those decisions, taking very little account of the scientific advice and, seemingly, none whatsoever of the advice of professionals from within sectors that are affected by the easing of lockdown, the way that these decisions are presented to the public and the professionals at the same time at press briefings, all rolled together these factors suggest that the people in charge don't really know what they're doing.
And in a way, that's fair enough. If they came out and said 'well, we're not quite sure whether to open up pubs, so we'll do it slowly, on a Tuesday, and then for a couple of hours only', you'd think they were serious about figuring it out, particularly if they added 'and then we'll survey a bunch of publicans and patrons to see what it was like, and make some subsequent decisions on that basis.' But they don't. Heaven only knows what the Northern General will be like at midnight. If it even takes that long...
Anyway, I digress. I have always been susceptible to sentimentality, I suppose. I wrote some time ago about how Christmas adverts, which at one stage of my development would have washed over me without me engaging in the slightest, had gripped me and made me feel that happy-crying thing that's so unhelpful when you're trying to navigate the world with a stiff upper lip. The sad-smiling thing is of a piece with it, I think. I'm not old enough (yet) that all my choices are behind me, but sometimes life just brings up one of those things where I felt it right in the core of my being, whether that be loss, or making a terrible decision, or making the right decision but at great cost. Those things - which I understand young people have taken to referring to as 'the feels' - can be absolutely crippling at the wrong time. But the flutter, as George Ezra describes it, the shine whenever I remember your sweet smile... I wouldn't choose to lose the bad bits at the expense of the good.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought