As teenagers, my best friend and I spent many hours discussing our ideas of the perfect boyfriend. Piercing blue eyes or gorgeous deep brown ones, a warm smile, a good sense of humour, intelligent, considerate… it was a long list. At the same time as I dreamed of meeting this paragon of perfection, I held out no real hope of ever finding any boyfriend. They would undoubtedly have their own list of ideal traits in a girlfriend, and I was acutely aware of how few boxes I would tick.
Back in March last year, when this all started, I didn’t hope that it would be over soon. I expected it to be over soon. As time went on and the seriousness of the situation became apparent, my expectations subsided into hope – or rather, a string of hopes. The hope that the schools would soon reopen. The hope that we could celebrate my father’s 70th birthday together. The hope that a vaccine would be developed. The hope that the developed vaccines would quickly improve our situation. The hope – once the schools had reopened – that they would never close again. Save one, all of these hopes were dashed. And now, I am finding it very hard to frame any sort of hope.
The last few days, as we cycled around our town, we regularly passed heaps of Christmas trees lying at the kerb, waiting to be collected by the council. It’s always a sad sight: the trees that we glimpsed through windows, decked with lights and ornaments, now lying drab and discarded on the pavement. This year, with only gloomy prospects of dull lockdown days ahead, I completely understand the people who are keeping up their decorations for longer, trying to bring some light into these dark times. But I won’t be one of them.
I always find the start of January a difficult time. The house seems dark and dull with the Christmas lights returned to the attic, the living room has an empty hole where the Christmas tree was, the tree itself lies forlornly out in the street awaiting the binmen. This year the bleak prospect of at best a lengthy lockdown (and at worst, who knows?) makes 2021 gape like an endless black hole, ready to swallow me up.
Presents are much more than just presents. Presents are our way of expressing our love for each other. You see this in the stories of people’s sorrow at being unable to give each other presents this year. Faced with the loss of jobs and homes, caused by the omnipresent threat of corona, you would think that Christmas presents would not even feature on the list of things to worry about. Yet they do, because of the emotional weight we give them.
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.