“Ausnahmesituation” is one of those portmanteau words which the Germans find so handy. “Ausnahme” means exception, and the word describes exactly that: an exceptional situation, an unusual place we find ourselves in. Here two museum team members offer their impressions of the current Ausnahmesituation, and how they sometimes struggle with what has become our “new normal”.
For Museum Volunteer Bob Frampton, the familiar town has become an eerie place – part of his take reads like something out of John Wyndham:
The Market Square, busy, crowded. Many familiar faces. But not today. There is an eeriness about the town. Far too few people in the centre. Not enough traffic. It’s like that filming technique in reverse, you know, Day for Night, so that film is shot in daytime but treated so it looks like night. Here now, it’s as if someone is filming in the night and showing it for daytime. It seems like night time in town, where a small number of people are present, shops, pubs are closed. Few cars…
It’s as if some dreadful change has come to the town. Things are horribly different, unfamiliar. I ask around, and approach a chap of about 30 years. As I do so he leaps back out of my path. Has he spotted some awful stigma only he can see? Even those I do not speak with steer well away.
The masks are worst. Have these people been chosen for a special reason? What’s different about those who do not wear them? Are they favoured by some extra-terrestrial agency? Children of school age with parents – why are they not at school?
Why do I not know what’s happening here? I have been in hospital until this morning, and signed my own release, jumped in a taxi and came straight to Abingdon. No chance to speak with anyone in the meantime. The taxi-driver was wearing a mask and asked only for my destination, no other conversation. Finally I paid her and walked quickly into town.
Strange signs in shop windows, apologising for not being open. Have the staff died? I try to enter a supermarket. “Hang on! One at a time please!” I leave again and join a queue, everyone standing several feet apart. I listen to snatches of conversation: “Old Fred’s gone”…. “Italy’s tally is up to 4,000 now!” … “When are the pubs opening?” and much else.
It seems to me that the town – is it only Abingdon? – is now part of some sort of isolation zone or prison camp.
I buy a newspaper to read the situation. I finally gather that there has been some kind of plague nationally, coming along the trade routes from China, just as the Black Death once did. The sense of being in a kind of concentration camp is intensified by the name ‘Lockdown’.
These are some initial thoughts on this very strange situation. It came on suddenly in March with a crisis in Italy, then suddenly it’s in the UK and Europe generally. Only shops selling essential food items can open. Schools close, together with workplaces and places of entertainment and hospitality. We are strongly urged by the government to stay at home, to prevent spreading the disease.
Sport is cancelled generally. Holidays abroad are forbidden. Then members of the government are taken ill, especially the Prime Minister. There is an initial hoarding of loo-paper and some basic food items.
Finally I go to my flat in Ock Street. My friend Bill will give me all the details of what’s happening. I enter the building and knock on his door. A shout from within: “What do you want?”
“Bill, it’s me, John. What’s happening in town?”
“Don’t you know? The virus is here! You can’t come in. I think I may have it already, as I can hardly breathe and I ache all the time. I have to self-isolate for a week at least.” He coughs again and is clearly having a problem breathing.
There it is again, a new expression not heard here before. “Self-isolate”. I’d noticed another in town: “Social distancing“. It’s as if I’ve entered a different town altogether. How long will it all last?
I ‘phoned my workplace. No reply. On a Tuesday at 11 a.m. ?
Most of us feel seriously deprived of large bits of our comfort zones. We cannot at present go to a pub or club. Restaurants are closed except maybe for take-aways. Schools and many work-places. Much of our concern is uncertainty as to when this will come to an end.
It’s the sense of unreality which dominates our emotions. We desperately want normality to return. We want to visit family, grandchildren and elders. No doubt such devices as Zoom and Skype are booming. Even the NHS would prefer to contact you via ‘Attend Anywhere’ video communications, rather than getting you to visit hospital.
For now the sense is that we are living in a kind of semi-permanent half-light, neither day nor night. We want badly for government to turn the lights back on as it were whilst we know at the same time it must not be done too early.
No doubt time will reveal all. Until then, it’s Day for Night.
Café Manager Emma Rose worried about her family:
When lockdown first began almost 11 weeks ago, I thought it would be easy to be away from my family. My mum and sister already live hundreds of miles away so I am used to only seeing them a few times a year, most of our communication has been technology based for a long time. I am also a single parent so having my boys at home isn’t completely alien to me, although trying to motivate them for GCSE studies is a whole new challenge!
What struck me this week though was the impact it has on people outside of these family members already mentioned. I have been doing some shopping for my Grampy and generally checking on him as I am the only local family member he has, my Mum and Uncle normally visit him regularly but they both live in Wales which is currently still in lockdown. As our visits have continued over the weeks it always hits me how lucky I am to have the boys and my partner at home so that I am not alone. This week, my Grampy voiced that he hasn’t been able to sleep as well as usual and he will find himself up around the clock and sometimes doing a word search at 3am just to be busy and not sit and clock watch or stress about his insomnia. I am hoping and praying that lockdown can begin to ease soon here and in Wales so that my Grampy can have more than just me checking in on him. I know that I am generally ok with my own company and I am lucky enough to be kept busy with two jobs, two children and the honour of checking in with my Gramps. But what about the rest of the elderly community who are also cut off for various reasons? I am thankful that my Gramp is a tough soul and will always find something to keep him busy, this does not stop me worrying about him though. This lockdown has taught me how important family is, I knew they were a precious bunch before, but I have even more appreciation for them now. Even my mum and sister, who although we used to video call, I have found the calls have increased to almost daily just to know they are ok.
Over these 11 weeks I have also been lucky enough to see my partners family come together for a weekly ‘Zoom’ quiz, something that has been a new experience for a lot of us. It has been lovely to see my partner get some time with his family thanks to technology, unlike my family, his are all fairly local so it is nice to know that families of all shapes and sizes can find ways to stay connected.
Hopefully after this is all over, we can all have a deeper appreciation for the short time we usually get to spend with our loved ones. Life is short and memories are precious.