The question is looming larger every day: how the hell are we going to pull out of this strange hiatus? For most of us, these last few weeks have been like the weirdest sort of dream, those full of a swelling unease that lingers throughout the following day. Lit by a spring so saturated – the skies so blue, the flowers so bright, the blossom so frothy – our days, and indeed our nights, appear to have been directed by David Lynch.
Our heads are full of noise, but above the discordant racket I’m finding a few themes that are cutting through most insistently. They’re mainly worries, of course. First is a terror that our dislocation from each other, something that was clearly gathering pace throughout the last few years, has been turbocharged and pathologised by the crisis.
I dreamt last night of meeting an old neighbour on the lane. We continued walking together, though she was way too casual about keeping the required physical distance between us. The increasing stress of it was so great that it jolted me awake, dry mouthed, and with heart and brain already racing. I cannot imagine how we are going to row back from that.
There’s another theme that keeps slicing through the din, and thankfully it’s a glimmer more hopeful. It’s what our towns and villages might look like in the post-crisis world. Of course, the fear of loss is great here too: who knows how many cafés, pubs and shops, even theatres, cinemas and so on will never get to reopen? It will be a struggle for so many.
My hope though is that the crisis will go some way to rebalancing our communities, and that this will start at their most basic level: the houses, flats and cottages that comprise them. We are so out of kilter there. If there’s one phrase that sums up the worst of the last twenty years, it’s ‘affordable housing’. Even just putting the words together seems psychopathic, as if the concept of earning enough to house your family is something to be ringfenced as separate, abnormal even. As phrases go, it’s as oxymoronic – or just plain moronic – as ‘friendly fire’ (or perhaps ‘adult male’).
Once things have calmed down a little, one high street business that I’d like to see rushed off its shiny shoes are our estate agents, as they deal with a glut of second homes being put on the market. We’ve learned a great deal, and none of it terribly surprising, about the kind of people who keep a second home. Yes, some of them are sensitive to their adopted locale, and yes, some have rescued tumbledown cottages that would probably have otherwise collapsed back into the nettles. Good for them, but they are not the majority.
It’s the sheer sense of entitlement of too many second homers that has stuck most painfully in our collective craw; the unambiguous ‘screw you’ that, when it mattered most, they showed to the communities that have played host to them for years. “But we bring money into the area,” they squeal, as if that were a justification. (And even that is often only nominally true. Many sidestep council tax by declaring the house as a business, and hardly use local shops or services, as they bring everything with them.)
No surprise that the gobby Brexity crowd of second home owners think nothing of risking us all; to them everyone else, everywhere else is subordinate to their needs and their unshakeable superiority. But – and here we are again – it’s the intelligentsia, the progressives, those that only ever light their wood-burner with copies of The Guardian, that end up acting much the same way as the people they so loftily look down on. And from our point of view, it makes absolutely no difference if our surgery is overrun, our few ICU beds taken up or our meagre shop shelf is stripped bare by a paid-up fan of Farage or a confirmed Corbynista. Same empty shelves. Same empty villages.
Something’s changed. At the beginning of the crisis, the self-appointed gatekeepers of liberal London were all merrily Instagramming pictures of themselves in lockdown at their country houses, ostentatiously tending veg plots and carefully curating rustic selfies. That’s all gone now; silence and, at long last, some sense of self-awareness, perhaps even shame, has crept in. Has the penny finally dropped that their playgrounds are real places, full of real people and with an identity and culture all of their own? Or is that just another fevered dream?
Read more in Mike Parker’s series for Nation.Cymru below: