What memorabilia would you save from the ongoing Corona crisis?
The Museum of London is asking people to set aside items that could help to tell the story of life in lockdown.
Though most of us don’t live in London, many of the things that end up in that collection will evoke shared memories. For instance, all UK households will have received a letter from Boris Johnson, our current Prime Minister.
The contributions don’t have to be valuable. Paper artefacts can become rare because they are common and easily disposed of in the recycling.
My example of the letter from Downing Street is, as you can see, charmingly dogeared. Perhaps someone else will have kept a pristine copy.
What items will be of particular interest locally? Bridport Museum might one day display a copy of the Corona-era leaflet published by Bridport Town Council. People of the future may study or skim these words about Bridport Community Support – what’s available, how to volunteer, the numbers to call for help and advice – and note the guidelines on how to behave. Will they pass on to the next thing, a bit bored, or really wonder what it was like to live through such strange times?
Paper rainbows drawn and coloured by children who are staying at home appear in windows across the country: support our NHS; Keep Safe; Save Lives. Such messages are everywhere.
There are so many intangibles too: the eeriness of empty streets, the sight of queues of single people spaced 2m apart outside supermarkets, food shops and pharmacies, what it feels like to go out when everyone avoids everyone else as if repelled by magnets.
Yet there is more eye contact than before, as we negotiate who goes where. That is, as long as we trust each other to do the right thing and keep a distance. If someone comes too near we might put up a warning hand, say, ‘Don’t!’ or turn our heads away for fear of catching something. The sight of someone spitting in the street becomes a deadly threat.
There is so much bad news we are told we aren’t to listen to it all day long. We’re to keep ourselves mentally as well as physically well. Social distancing is a term now embedded in our culture despite attempts to call it what it is: physical distancing. We have replaced physical contact with virtual contact.
There are so many funny pictures and videos going around, Zoom has suddenly become a household word, and we are getting used to new standards of broadcasting as familiar voices speak to us from their own homes, perhaps from inside a tent made of pillows, or a cupboard under the stairs. Some of them sound as if they’ve got their heads in the biscuit tin.
I don’t know any writers who have complained of being bored: we’re mostly desperate for more hours in the day since writing makes time go by so quickly. Introverts guiltily welcome the saving of energy now they aren’t donating so much of it to extroverts. As always, for some of us, it’s important not to be overwhelmed by social media.
But a dip in the ether here and there can bring forth something just a little different: perhaps adding something new to concentrate on for an hour. Perhaps something like this colouring and folding of a butterfly. The instructions came from an Instagram post by Ink and Page of Bridport.
I’ve probably seen more real butterflies than usual, on more walks: what is it about a restriction that makes me want to take all of the ration of outdoor time I can get? And I have learned to cherish my small garden as a place of refuge and consolation. They say what a garden needs most is the shadow of the gardener. Knowing that I am lucky to have any kind of outdoor space to call my own has erased all my usual resentments about working in it when I might be doing something else.
On the street where I live the lack of traffic on foot and by vehicle brings a welcome silence and more space for birds and birdsong. Blackbirds warble from the rooftops, or perch on dusty cars; goldfinches feed among the bushes in front gardens, only moving when disturbed by a rare pedestrian with dog.
When ‘this is over’ will we miss the blue of sky without con trails, the cleaner air in villages and towns devoid of traffic? Nature carries on regardless of our troubles, filling in the gaps we leave for wildlife. While we are learning that life goes on without travel and professional haircuts, we’re reminded that we are natural creatures too – for the hair we have just keeps on growing.
DIY haircuts will feature on a global as well as a personal experience: my donation to a museum collection would be hairclippers. Specifically these, offered with a brief extract from my diary:
My friend made a terrible hash of cutting his hair with clippers. I had tidied up the back for him but he went at it again and left himself with a sort of half Mohican.
But he was quite cheerful about it and said that it would grow again.
At least we can offer his discarded hair to the birds as nesting material.
Reader: they took it all …
Have you tried to cut your own hair or someone else’s?
What’s the biggest change for you about life in lockdown?
What artefact(s) would you donate to a collection, local, national, international or global?
Finally, my thanks to everyone working on the front line, and condolences to those who have lost a loved one to Covid-19.