They always say, “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”. This year, with Christmas, that is certainly the case for me.
I believe there are two sides of the coin for perfectionism. Some people strive for perfection out of a longing to achieve the very best that they can. Others strive for perfection out of fear of what happens when things go wrong. They are terrified of the consequences of a misstep and, even more so, of the reactions of other people to their ‘failure’.
I have certain expectations of how the government should behave during a crisis. They should consult a wide range of experts, carefully weigh up the pros and cons of the available options, and then choose what is best for the country as a whole. That choice having been made, they should clearly communicate the decision and their reasoning to the public, then do what is necessary to ensure cooperation. Basically, I expect the government to behave like an ideal parent, caring and listening but also decisive and in control, knowing exactly what is going on and what the right thing to do is.
We are now living in the 1.5m society. Or, depending on where you live, the 1m, 1m+, 1.4m, 1.8m or 2m society. In any case, ‘social distancing’ is de rigueur. The WHO now calls it ‘physical distancing’, as psychologists have warned that it is essential for our psychological wellbeing that we maintain our social relationships, even at a distance. Relationships can successfully bridge the miles, as I well know, coming from an international family. In that regard, we are lucky to live in an age in which we can make video calls around the world at the drop of a hat, compared to my father who had to ring the operator and then wait for an available slot in order to speak to his fiancée in Finland. Nevertheless, physical distancing inevitably takes its toll on our sense of connection.
In 2000, the artist Marco Evaristti exhibited an artwork consisting of live goldfish in blenders. Visitors were free to press the button to switch the blenders on, if they chose. Of course, the inevitable happened, and someone pressed the button, killing the fish. The museum director was convicted of animal cruelty, but his conviction was later overturned, as the fish had probably died almost instantly, and not suffered. Most likely, they lived quite happily in their blender up until that fatal moment, totally unaware of any danger. I used to be like those fish – that is, until corona turned up.
Previously, my experience of propaganda fell, broadly speaking, into two categories. There was ‘What the Other Side Does’: Russian military parades on the Red Square, Hitler Youth songs, exaggerated productivity claims in Maoist China, American campaign advertising. Utterly absurd and utterly chilling. Then there was ‘What We Did in the War’: ‘Dig for Victory’ posters, humorous films teaching people to behave, sentimental songs that exhorted them to hold on until better times. Also utterly absurd but somehow sweet and nostalgic, with ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ products even enjoying modern-day popularity. In either case, propaganda was something far removed from my daily life, either by distance or time. Not any more.
As a student in Germany, I once came across a window display of radio-controlled clocks. I was absolutely fascinated to see row upon row of timepieces, all changing time at precisely the same moment, as if they registered the heartbeat of a giant organism. When I returned home, it was with one of these clocks in my suitcase, and I have had one ever since. It is my mainstay, never running too fast or too slow, and switching automatically from summer to winter time, so I am never embarrassed by turning up an hour too early or too late. Now, in times of corona, my clock is still ticking away, measuring the hours, minutes and seconds, as reliable as ever. For the rest, however, I am lost and drifting in a weird wasteland of time.
After a sweltering heatwave, the weather has hit its seasonal turning point and the first signs of autumn are appearing. In the mornings and evenings, darkness is drawing in, and I am glad to snuggle into my coat. There are chestnuts falling from the trees, mushrooms springing out of the ground, and blackberries ripening in the hedgerows. And, of course, there are coughs and sniffles. Usually just part and parcel of this time of year – but now, in times of corona, they have suddenly become ominous.
On 1st August 2019, a controversial law was passed in the Netherlands. This forbade covering your face in certain places, including while on public transport. One year on, and the law has been turned on its head. You are now explicitly required to cover your face while on public transport, by wearing a mask. Since the start of the corona crisis, our lives have been turned upside down by a deluge of new guidelines and rules. What amazed me was how easily these new restrictions were accepted, despite being so drastic.
‘Homeworking remains the norm for the Netherlands’, announced the Dutch prime minister this week. I’ve always been a great fan of homeworking. It offers a degree of flexibility that is very welcome in a busy life. It makes it possible to have a plumber come to visit without having to take a day off. To accompany a group on your child’s school trip and make up the time in the evening. To attend a late meeting and still be on time for dinner. Nor is the benefit only on the home side. For tasks requiring undisturbed concentration for a long time, homeworking (assuming the absence of children) is ideal). Also, heavy snowfall or gridlock don’t have to prevent work, and meetings with colleagues or clients in different time zones are more feasible. All in all, I think it benefits both sides to be flexible about homeworking, and I’ve always been stunned by how much trouble friends and family have in persuading their employers to allow them to work from home. Since corona, however, I find myself in a strange position – that of advocating a return to the office.