Masked

When I was quite small my mother told me, in the melodramatic way she would often speak about such things, to make sure the bedroom window was open when you slept, otherwise, she said, you might die in the night. I didn’t want to die in the night so, ever since, I’ve made sure the window was open even just a little. Now our bedroom window is only closed when horizontal snow is blowing in. For a long time the window was broken,anyway, so we couldn’t shut it. My mother’s advice at the time was a wee bit over the top as we lived, for most of our young lives, in old manse buildings where the draughts at times would resemble Atlantic storms. If we happened to die in the night it would not be due to lack of oxygen.

In school I remember the rather potted science lesson that we needed oxygen to breath and we expelled the burned-up oxygen, the carbon dioxide. Through the beauty of nature the plants did the opposite which made for a good balance. Inevitably it is more complicated than that but the principle is still intact. Anyhow, I knew, soon enough, that there would be plenty oxygen even in a small bedroom to see me through the night, but the need for fresh air was vital and the lack of it very unsettling.  I know I shouldn’t be, but I am always surprised when I get over the door and the fresh air hits me and my mood and temperament and the feeling in my gut can change so quickly and I am thinking  “So that was what was wrong.” I noticed this especially amongst children who can be cooked up in at home, bad tempered and unbearably irritable but immediately out in the fresh air all of that changes and they can become different poeple.

So I knew, when the call came to stay home and save lives, that it was quite wrong, that it was thoroughly bad health advice and a horrible imposition to force on an otherwise healthy population. To quarantine the healthy must be one of the most foolish things for any government to do. But they did it. No doubt, they will admit to this and other mistakes, in time, as they are already doing. They will fall back on the useful crutch of saying they were following the best scientific advice at the time, or as Matt Hancock bizarrely claimed, the guidance was “really strongly interpreted”, but by then the damage will be done.

Now we are faced with the next phase of governmental insanity with the compulsory wearing of face masks in shops and public transport. Now we are mandated to breath in our own carbon dioxide, just what my mother warned me about. It is true that fresh air will be pulled through the mask but it is inevitable that a  good deal of the air we breath in a mask will be recycled carbon dioxide. It is effectively breathing poison, liable to make you light-headed or dizzy and even sick.   We know that standard medical masks can barely filter out coronavirus yet to use a mask made from an old shirt or sock, or a scarf or a buff, or whatever seems to be ok. It doesn’t make any sense.  The effectiveness of these coverings has never been tested nor could it be. There is so many variables and so many ways in which a mask could be used or misused – touching it, taking it off to drink or use the phone, not sterilising it properly before reuse, and a thousand other things that we see people do all the time. It is totally absurd, but we have to go along with it.

Tomorrow, I leave early for a nine-hour return train journey. I am not looking forward to it. I used to love long train journeys but this looks to be singularly unpleasant. I can feel the claustrophobia already. Now, I am not a rebel and always try my best to obey the law and not step over the line, But, if I do lapse and someone picks me up, I reserve the right to roll my eyes. That is one part of my face they will still be able to see.

Crawford Mackenzie

The Feeling of Doom

Before we were grounded, I used to meet up with a couple of other guys every Monday morning early, to spend an hour praying together. We could have continued that digitally but it was not something I wanted to do and for me it came to a natural end. But, while it lasted, it was special and the perfect start to the working week. Before we prayed, we would chat about things that were on our mind, things across the world, events in the news, local situations as well as our own personal concerns and worries. It takes time to build up a level of trust but when that trust is won it is astonishing how easy it is to share often quite intimate things. Sometime last year, when asked what was on my mind, I spoke about a deep unease I had, a sense of foreboding and premonition that something big was coming that would shake us to the core, that would undermine all the things we relied on, the things we felt secure about and we were just not prepared for it. When it came to Coronavirus, one of the guys reminded me of that morning and said “Remember what you said? …Well this is it”.  The trouble is I am not convinced that “This is it” nor do I think that when the virus has past, that the crisis will be over. It has probably just begun and I find I “can’t shake this feeling of doom”.The line is from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Age of miracles”

“We can fly through space with the greatest of ease
  We can land in the dust of the moon
  We can transform our lives with the tap of a key
  Still we can’t shake this feeling of doom”

It is not of course, about me. In many ways this period suits me to the ground. I like staying at home and have no particular desire strange places to see. I like my own space and my own time to plan out my day. I like pluttering about doing small jobs, tidying up, cleaning, the odd sketch, working away on tunes on the guitar, learning Arabic, trying to make something creative with the left over vegetables in the cooler tray, sitting on the bench reading till the sun slips over the roofs and writing the odd letter. I can hardly complain. My depravations: not being able to work, to see my family, to play football, to go for a swim, to join in worship or share with my church family, except in two-dimensional, pixelated boxes, are nothing. Compared to what others have to suffer it doesn’t register on the scale.

No, it is not about me. And it is not about the worry over my children, my grandchildren or my family and those I Iove and care for. It is not worry over what they may have to face in a future unlike the one I have known. They will have the resources to survive and prosper, of that I am sure. They will know better than me. I have entrusted them into God’s care and know they are secure in his hands. I have complete peace about it.

No, it is the sense that you can see a terrible disaster unfolding before your eyes and you watch helpless and unable to do anything about it. And that terrible disaster is not the dreaded virus itself but what will come from the fear and suspicion that has been sown and the panicked suspension of the very lubrication that makes our society function. When an engine has ceased up for lack of oil it is no easy matter to get it to turn again, as our leaders are finding out. Once you sow fears in the population they grow and become extraordinarily difficult to root out. Once you tell people to stay at home to save lives it’s hard to turn round and tell them to get back to work, this time to save them from starving.

Now, I know that this extraordinary measure is only meant to be a temporary one, but temporary has a nasty habit of lasting a long time. It has already been extended twice beyond the original timescale and this gives me the jitters. It is likely to be extended again. Now it is over the anxiety of a second peak, but it could be for a third or a fourth. My confidence in those running the show, which was already pretty shaky, has taken a severe battering, especially when we discover that some clearly didn’t even believe in the anti-social policy, they were promoting, themselves. I think we are in danger of killing something it might be impossible to resuscitate. In Joni Mitchell’s words, “We won’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone”. Without realising it, it could be gone with the wind.

That is what brings me the feeling of doom, that I cannot shake. But it is a feeling and it is not what I know. What I know is hope. A hope not in politicians, nor national institutions, nor in the church, nor in people nor in humanity itself, but in God.   And that’s what keeps me sane.