Monday 20 April 2020
The start of week four of COVID-19 lockdown in Scotland and the wider UK.
I’m luckier than most when it comes to lockdown. Although living in a city, I’m close to the sea and harbour. Walks along the sand have quickly become a staple of daily life. One of the many things I’m sure I’ll look back on and reminisce about when social distancing is a distant memory and we come together again to share our stories, experiences and the way we see the world.
Daily walks, a sea that looks cleaner, air that seems fresher, dolphins that swim closer to the shore are all part of a prolonged enforced moment to pause, remember, re-evaluate, re-assess and, when the time comes, re-build – individual lives, livelihoods, economies and the world in general.
In the spirit of remembrance, today I pulled out an old photo album of early poetry slams in Bristol – the start of a spoken word scene in the city over a quarter of a century ago. The old friend I started the scene with now dying in hospital – cancer not coronavirus. An old friend influential in me believing that I could be a writer, have a voice, that what I had to say mattered, that the written and spoken word could change the world and that there is a poet and artist in all of us. I believed then that days of living on poetry, coffee and in roof top bed-sits could, and should, last forever.
They didn’t of course. But in posting old images I remembered not only old friends and the days when poetry felt like rock ‘n’ roll, but also a part of me I’d lost touch with. A voice I’d let fall silent.
I’m sure I’m not alone when it comes to re-evaluating life. In the sprit of remembering the voice of confidence and optimism that scene gave me and others, I’ve started to dust off old notebooks, re-thread creative thoughts and once again piece together words and sentences inspired by the past, informed by the present, but speaking to, and of, the future.
One of the most powerful things writers, artists, everyone can do is witness. As a witness you have personally seen something happen. You have a version of events, knowledge of and a memory. At a time, like any in history, when powerful storytellers on world platforms take control of narratives, the act of witnessing and sharing what we witness is an act of re-claiming our lives, our version of events, our story. And not have it told, or mis-told for us. Our voices and what we have to say matters.
At a time when many aspects of our lives we once had control over is taken from us, our story is one thing we can keep hold of. We can tell it as it is, as it was and how we’d like it to be. At a time of re-assessing and soon to be re-building, we have the potential to create narratives based on hope for making our lives, the communities we live in, the climate we depend on and the world we call home a better place. As narratives of fear, the second pandemic to be sweeping across the world, threaten to take over the our stories, hope becomes our antidote, our empowerment and our resistance. Hope is infectious and, like viruses, reminds us that there is more that unites than divides.
So this is where I am on Monday 20 April 2020 during the coronavirus lockdown and this is what I’m witnessing.
A wide open sunrise. A beach, like every morning, washed clean by the North Sea. Light so strong it hurts the eyes. The retreating sea quiet and calm. The community I live in starting to clear space to grow our own vegetables. Clean white sheets blowing white against the ragged grass of the shared drying greens. Greens where generations have hung out laundry to blow dry in wind fresh from the North Sea and the tenacious sun that brings light to north east Scotland. A line of people standing two meters apart at the one take away van open on the water front. Pumping out fumes from a generator and the smell of fried breakfast into the cold, sharp, salty air. Walkers, runners, dogs and cyclists pounding the sea front. Patrolled from the road by parked and passing police cars. Patrolled from the sea by a police boat close to the shore.
Preoccupied by thoughts of an old friend near the end of life. Memories 25 years old. How does time make the passage of a quarter of century seem so fast, and the three weeks at least left in lockdown feel like an eternity? I discover an old 35mm camera in with the old photos. And unlock another store of memories, people, places and events witnessed. ‘Good times’ is the story I tell myself about the past. ‘Strange times’ I reflect on the here and now. ‘Time to start planning’ I tell myself about the future.
The day rolls into evening. Indigo skies. Tides turning. The ferry to Shetland steams out of harbour and into open sea. Lives roll on. Just a day. Like, but very different, from any other.
The other stories of today
Oil prices slump. The first negative price for a barrel of oil recorded in the US. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52367052
Trump to suspend immigration to the US due to the coronavirus pandemic https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-52363852
Facebook take down events that violate social distancing rules. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52352073
World risks biblical famine due to the coronavirus pandemic. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52373888