Wales Arts Review asked some of Wales’s top writers to pen some thoughts on the future. This new series brings together a wide variety of perspectives and ideas in a vibrant array of styles and forms, expressing hopes for a new way of doing things when the Covid-19 coronavirus is finally overcome. Political, personal, sociological, ecological, cultural – this is an evolving tableau of ideas. Here Hayley Long sees hope in a unifying symbol.
2020 always had the promise of something special about it. It was one of those years that I logged in my head as a child and looked forward to as some kind of momentous landmark: How old will I be in the Year 2000? What will life be like in the Year 2020? The answer to the first question was a simple act of mental maths. The answer to the second required imagination. Maybe I saw a sci-fi fantasy of flying cars and time travel? Maybe it was a future love paradise of world peace and eternal youth? Whatever I had in the back of my head, it certainly wasn’t Coronavirus.
A global pandemic has put the world on pause. For all of us, our regular routines have been thrown out of the window. Our freedom to go where we like, see who we want and do as we please, has been abruptly taken from us. As a result, 2020 has become a time to sit in your back garden and think.
I think about how much I love my little garden and how grateful I am to have it. I think about how I can hear the birds singing with a clarity that I never could before. I think about how — when I leave my house for a very early morning bike ride — my home city of Norwich looks more peaceful and beautiful than it has ever looked before. I think about the fact that — in the midst of all this awfulness — it is never likely to look this beautiful ever again. Sometimes, I even think of enormous mind-boggling questions that I can’t possibly begin to answer. Questions like this one: Does the human race have to get dangerously sick in order to give the Earth a chance to recover from us?
And all this back-garden-philosophising would be fair enough except that not everyone has a garden to sit and think in. And many millions of others can’t afford to eat and drink their way through this crisis with comforting slices of home-baked cake and huge glasses of wine. In spite of what we’re being told, we aren’t all in the same boat. Coronavirus is highlighting the inequalities in people’s lives like never before.
With every day that passes, I feel increasingly uneasy about that. I feel uneasy when I clap the key workers and remember that many of them receive no more than the minimum wage. I feel uneasy when I consider that the minimum wage in the UK isn’t even recognised to be a living wage. I feel uneasy when I hear the constant claims of hospital staff and care workers that they are being asked to work without the protection that they need. But probably the greatest sense of uneasiness I have, comes each time I hear the daily death toll in the UK. Because it didn’t have to be quite as bad as this. I’m sure that nobody dreamt that 2020 would bring us a deadly disease — but they didn’t have to dream. Covid-19 announced itself to the world in December 2019. The first death in the UK came the following March. Nature gave our government two months’ grace to arm the NHS, inform the masses and prepare the fight against Coronavirus.
Why that preparation didn’t happen and why we are now seeing some of the highest mortality rates in the world should, one day, be the subject of a public inquiry. But for now, we must look for whatever small positives that we can find. And they are out there. On this morning’s bike ride, I spotted a cheery rainbow chalked on to the walls of a white-washed cottage. Underneath — in wonky letters — were the letters NHS. The rainbow worked its magic and I cycled home feeling hopeful. The immediate future is our own mess to sort out, but — in the longer term — we can share the big decisions with our young people. Let’s hope that the thousands of children who are chalking rainbows on walls and putting pictures in windows will retain their huge love for the NHS and think very carefully when the time comes for them to vote.
Hayley Long is a Tir na n-Og award-winning and two-time Costa shortlisted children’s author.