Posted on: August 25, 2020
By David Cohen
There was an ad when I was in 20s which said ‘You’re never alone with A Strand.’ If the brand still existed, those cigarettes would have done well.
Back to serious. The Black Death killed a quarter of the world’s population and the feudal system died; the Renaissance changed culture and, at the same time, Columbus ‘discovered’ America. It would be astonishing if this virus (which will kill far fewer people, based on even the worst predictions) provokes such profound changes.
But there will be changes – and changes we cannot predict.
We will travel less, having discovered the wonders of Zoom and video conferencing – although negotiators on the Brexit deal insist it is much harder to negotiate when you cannot have a cup of coffee with your ‘partners’ at the end of a session. Or insult her or him face to face.
If we all wear masks, it will change our perception of speech and body language. Good subjects to study.
We have and will continue to learn more about isolation, and isolation in small groups.
William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies, which became a seminal text, in 1951. In it, a group of middle-school-age boys become stranded on an island without adult supervision. The ‘nice’ boys descend into violence and chaos. But 15 years later, in the real world, an event cast doubt on how universal Golding’s vision was. In 1966, Captain Peter Warner was sailing by a small uninhabited island named Ata. And noticed something odd. Peering through his binoculars, he saw burned patches on the green cliffs. Then he saw a boy. Naked. Hair down to his shoulders. This wild creature plunged into the water. More boys followed, screaming at the top of their lungs. When the first boy reached the boat, he said; “My name is Stephen,” in perfect English. “There are six of us and we reckon we’ve been here 15 months.” The boys claimed they were at a boarding school in Nuku‘alofa, the Tongan capital. They took a fishing boat out one day, only to get caught in a storm. Likely story, Peter thought. He called in to Nuku‘alofa. “I’ve got six kids here”, he told the operator who said: “You found them! These boys have been given up for dead. Funerals have been held. If it’s them, this is a miracle!” The boys’ story was quite different than the one in Lord of the Flies.
I have been isolated and changed but how much?
I have become a bit more patient.
I have lost weight because I have been eating less. None of the mounds of pasta that I used to consume.
I have smoked far less, even though my cigar merchant, Smokers Paradise, mails me cigars.
I have worried more about my son and his mother. Sane anxiety is a sign of love.
I worry about money, as my Airbnb sideline has collapsed along with the hospitality industry.
But am I the same person I was pre pandemic? I think so but them I’m stubborn. Some people will be very different in the new not so normal.
I hope readers will find my book Surviving Lockdown useful and timely. The most sobering statistic is that worldwide 787,000 people had died of the virus by 17 August 2020. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if we had been prepared and learned the lessons of previous pandemics. For that we will need us to be tough with ourselves.