Friday, 27 March 2020

Lockdown for Dummies

Welcome, everyone! Welcome to lockdown-land! What took you so long? Those of us in Italy have been waiting for you for over two weeks. Never mind! It's great to see you all! Forgive me if we don't shake hands.

There's no need to be frightened. You're much safer here. What's that? You're worried it will be difficult? Maybe a little challenging to your mental health? Ha ha! Nonsense! Your mental health will be fine -- unless of course you try to stay sane.

It can be difficult in the beginning, when everyone has a positive attitude. Video classes for the kids, virtual meeting rooms for work, WhatsApp messages in emoji overload, sourdough in the oven, collective singing and applause from the balconies. I assure you it will pass. For now, it's for your own good. The more of it you endure, the faster you'll reach a pleasant state of lunacy.

Social media is invaluable. If you're one of those unfortunate individuals of an especially robust temperament, unflappable, taking everything in your stride, then fear not: you can rely on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to relentlessly pulverise your mind. You might keep it together through the first forty articles of tips to organise your day, lists of books to read and documentaries to watch, boastful posts on the glories of lockdown zen, and whizz-bang science experiments to impose on your imprisoned children -- but eventually you will crack.

Do not go outside. That only prolongs your grasp on normality. Be thankful if you are in one of those countries where you are not allowed outside, except for food. It is like that in Italy. At first I found an excuse to go shopping every day. I also snatched at every opportunity to take out the trash. The rubbish bins suddenly became one of the most popular Italian travel destinations.

Thankfully Roman rubbish collectors have embraced the new trend. Once upon a time, garbage collection was a citywide disgrace. Over Christmas, our bins went weeks without being emptied. The food waste bin was full within two days, and after that, my desperate neighbours piled their green biodegradable bags on top. I watched in horror as the oozing pile of bags grew higher. In the New Year, the situation improved. Rubbish collection became regular and then, to the astonishment of all -- frequent. Was it a Christmas miracle? Did Babbo Natale pay attention to all those parents who shoved past their kids at the shopping mall to climb onto Santa's lap and beg for better waste management, and bring the city a brand new recycling plant? Or was it just some old-fashioned busted kneecaps? Whatever it was, it was nothing compared to their current fastidiousness.

The trips to the bins soon end. Human avoidance becomes instinctual. Leaving the apartment feels unnatural. Now taking out the trash feels as furtive and despicable as robbing my child's piggy bank. The sooner the edge of the universe shrinks to the walls of your home, the better. There is nothing going on out there that you want to know about.

Except that you want to know everything! You re-load the news pages relentlessly. You bounce fitfully from one virus tracker to another. You spy a brief glimmer of global hope when you read about dolphins in the Venetian canals, only to discover a minute later that the story was fake. Along the way you read countless articles advising you to limit your news intake. Pish and posh! Repeated news overdoses are your ticket to the mental nirvana of drooling and gibbering. Once you're there, the next two months will go by in a blur.

Just a minute, you protest. What about the children? Who will look after them while I am rocking gently back and forth in the bathtub? I'm glad you brought that up. It is essential that you practice nervous collapse responsibly.

There are many ways to fast-track them to your own state of mental mush. Tell them it's the zombie apocalypse. ("You think I'm joking? Look at those figures shambling down the street, in face masks. Zombies!") Pretend that lockdown is officially defined as being locked in the closet. Tell them that the coronavirus has infected Minecraft. If none of that works, you may just have to be patient, and wait for the cumulative effects of distance learning. Soon you will envy them their catatonic state.

If you are having trouble "adjusting your attitude", it can help to give yourself something even worse to focus on. You could hack off a limb, but that is risky; remember that the hospitals are already full. Fortunately the internet once again comes to the rescue, in the form of exercise videos. After two weeks of doing nothing more nutty than trying to put myself into cryogenic storage by climbing into the freezer, I was saved by the beginning of lockdown back in the UK, and the arrival of PE Joe.

PE Joe is a sadistic bearded bastard who provides a daily half-hour exercise routine on YouTube, direct from what purports to be his bland pastel-coloured living room, but is more likely a movie set deep in his Fortress of Pain, erected inside one of his more spacious dungeons. Joe delivers the standard chipper lobotomised fitness instructor spiel while leading you through a series of deceptively easy exercises. "I've got a sweat on," he lies, half way through. "Give yourself a clap. You're going great!" At the end of the half hour, I believed him. I felt fantastic! For the first time in two weeks, my heart was pounding, my lungs were full of air, my mind was fresh. "Here's a shout-out to Mark, in Rome!"

It was not until the next morning that I understood what a vile trick he had played. My muscles had seized up. I could barely move. When I went to the bathroom, it took me five excruciating minutes to lower myself onto the toilet seat, and I could not get up again before lunch time. It was no use when I did: my trousers were still on the floor, and whenever I tried to bend down to pick them up, my tendons caught on fire. I had to stay there for the rest of the afternoon. I held teleconferences with the video switched off. "Another shout-out to Mark, paralysed on the bog!"

But it was all for the better. They say I'm not allowed to leave the house? Who cares! I no longer wanted to leave the house. I didn't want to leave the bathroom!

Was it all a genius move by the World Health Organisation? If PE Joe's YouTube channel goes viral faster than covid-19, the world will be saved. Billions of people will be frozen, rigid with pain, with no intention to leave home before July.

I'm afraid Joe may be too annoying to be seriously contagious. If so, it is up to us, on our own, to achieve a truly vegetative state. Or, if we keep sharing our prodigious output of vacuous idiocies, perhaps it is a goal we can reach together.


Previously in Rome

B.C. (Before Coronavirus)
A Letter from Rome
Certified Mail
All Roads

A.D. (After Doomsday)
March 10, 2020: Rome Goes Viral
Marcb 18, 2020: Locked down, and going out

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Locked down, and going out

Greetings from Rome, which is very excited its nation is leading the Western World for the first time since 476AD. It's a week since the full coronavirus lockdown began here, and finally the neighbours are catching up. If your government has not yet adopted the lockdown craze, fear not; it is impossible to resist for long. At least, you'd better hope so. Even the most stupid and incompetent leaders, meaning of course Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, will get the right idea eventually. The only question is how badly their countries will be hit by then, especially since both nations are already weakened by both woefully unprepared infrastructure, and vast swathes of the population severely immuno-compromised by shame.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Rome Goes Viral

When I started my sabbatical in Italy, I was afraid that it was at the expense of the full immersive experience of Brexit pandemonium. I need not have worried. The true Brexit D-Day has been kindly postponed until after my return, and in the meantime -- wow! -- I find myself atop Europe's coronavirus geyser!