2020. One hundred and sixty eight days since I stopped going to work on March 22nd. Lockdown was introduced a day later. We were told, as a country, to “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.” Luckily, the next few days were nice enough to sit in the garden and read a book. Over the next six weeks, before I officially retired (again), I had a few days busily sending emails to students but most days were the same. I even kept a record of my daily activities. Reading, writing, walking, speaking (to friends on the phone or on Zoom/Houseparty), listening (to podcasts), playing (cards with Roo until she said she was fed up with losing), watching (TV). Every day was pretty much the same. Every single thing that I liked doing was cancelled. I spent a long time, not just “deleting event” on my calendar but “deleting all future events”. It wasn’t especially unpleasant but it was a real shock. My record of daily events had a tick in every row for every day.
Now my days are more varied, especially since I’ve re-established a link with Samaritans. Every day is not the same. Actually seeing Peter in person once or twice a week to discuss music has been a blessing. Pete has been to sit in the garden for a couple of hours on three occasions. I’ve walked Bruno with Steph three times. My weekend away seeing Paddy in Norwich was glorious. I’ve sat in The Hassocks pub garden with Dave on a couple of occasions. Ben, Anne, Ron and Sue have been to visit and sit in the garden. Sport has started. Life is not returning to how it was, but there is more variety now. There are events in my calendar other than Zoom calls. The phrase “variety is the spice of life” was first seen in 1785, in William Cowper’s poem “The Task”: “Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour”.
As Steve Forbert sung, “it sure was better back then”. Obviously, it was better before 2020 when all we had to worry about was Boris Johnson, BREXIT and Donald Trump. (Not everything political about 2020 has been terrible – Black Lives Matters and Marcus Rashfords’ food taskforce initiative have highlighted injustices). But was it better between March 23rd and, the end of April when life was simpler? Every day was the same and we all stayed home, protecting the NHS and saving lives. This week, I’ve spent time with some of my friends who are venturing out more with varying attitudes towards their own safety. I’ve spent time on the phone talking to and listening to friends who have plans for the future introducing a semblance of normality into their own lives. Two of my freinds are venturing into the cesspit of virus that used to be called a school. It was easier when every day was the same. Now there are decisions to be made. Shall I go away for a few days again? Shall I meet people in a pub? Shall Roo and I go out for a meal? What am I going to do when Brighton and Lewes open their gates to spectators? A voice in one ear says “Be careful”. A voice in the other ear says “All (but one) of your friends are going out, enjoying a more normal life”. Which voice should I listen to more?
It’s very hard to get good advice from our esteemed leaders. Why would I trust Boris Johnson and his Bullingdon Club chums? Even the best government imaginable would have an obligation to attempt to restore the economy and encourage people to return to work and support local businesses. And this is not the best government imaginable. Now I realise that the official death figures that are released are in three parts. People that have died having tested positive for Covid-19 in i) the last 28 days, ii) the last 60 days or iii) ever. Over the past six months, in different parts of the UK and in different countries in the world, reporting has oscillated between these different ways of counting. The number of positive tests has increased but so has the number of tests carried out. More tests are carried out in areas with a greater prevalence for the virus. How is anyone meant to process and make sense of these figures? What does it mean? Is it safe to travel on a bus? Is it safe to go shopping? Can I go to a pub? Can we go away? Who knows? It sure was better back then when every day was the same. Or should I rephrase that? Was it better back then when every day was the same? Not exactly the same but when life was like one continuous note with small subtle variations.
Talking of which, “Metal Machine Music” was Lou Reed’s fifth studio album. It was a double album lasting over an hour and consists of one long note on a guitar punctuated by feedback. It’s a pretty good representation of how I felt in the first few weeks of lockdown. There is little variation, it all sounds the same and it makes me want to scream. I’ve never listened to more than five minutes of this album although my friend David, who bought it when it came out, claims to have listened to it all.
Reviews of this album include the following descriptions. “The tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator” and “as displeasing to experience as a night in a bus terminal” (Rolling Stone). “Ear-wrecking electronic sludge” (Rolling Stone Record Guide). “The spin cycle of a washing machine has more melodic variation than the electronic drone that was Metal Machine Music” (MusicHound Rock). “It displays a sick, twisted, dunced-out, malevolent, perverted, psychopathic integrity” (Lester Bangs). “An impossibly cacophonous screech of electric torment” (Q Magazine)
I agree with all of those. As descriptions of this album and of how I felt when everything that defined me was taken away in March. But is it easier now?
Here is the whole album.