Last weekend, the Saturday morning market in Martel returned to its customary medieval setting. For the previous three weeks or so, it had pitched up on the boules terrain underneath the sheltering plane trees. You entered through a makeshift checkpoint where it was advised to put some cheap and nasty chemical wash on your hands before following the hazard tape in an anti-clockwise direction to the exit via as many stalls as the shopping list demanded. Masks were obligatory.
Last weekend, the hand wash and the hazard tape were gone. Masks were at the wearer's discretion and there were as many without as with. Already, it seems, people are becoming more casual about it all. After a hundred days of effective solitude, they're desperate to get out and mingle. My childhood in Belfast taught me all I need to know about the way we adapt to a situation. One day the place was like most northern industrial cities, the next day there were armoured cars and soldiers in camouflage everywhere. To access the city centre, you had to pass through turnstiles to be frisked by a member of the military. Very soon it became the new normality. You simply adapted to the new restrictions placed on your everyday life.
So if – and it's a very big 'if' – this current scenario is part of a master plan dreamed up by the omnipotent elite, reptilian or otherwise, and if martial law follows social mayhem triggered by the biggest financial meltdown since records began, then we will shape our daily lives around it. Artists and radicals will probably flee to wherever they can find refuge, as a whole generation of Brazilian musicians did when the military reigned in the late '60s and '70s, but the rest of us will stay put and get on with it.
Just what that might involve, I was discussing with my friend the tree surgeon while helping him prune the tops of some trees that were obscuring the view from their holiday home across the eastern Lot. Help in this case meant tidying up the debris, while he did the donkey work. He's a major conspiracy theorist. If he were American, he'd be a survivalist, holed up with his automatic weapons and tinned food in some underground bunker. We shared a picnic lunch together and were closer than social-distancing recommends. It's all bollocks to him, but there's still enough doubt within me to generate unease. Even with a friend that I've known for 20 years. Has it come to this?
Even kith and kin, for that matter. Tilley the Kid was restored to us mid-week. She travelled all the way here in a mask on various trains. Her mum was waiting for her at the clinic, but instead of running into each other's arms after a six-month separation, our daughter felt the need to take a shower and wash away any potentially lethal germs before the real mother-and-child reunion could begin. When the kissing and cuddling had to stop...
We watched the three-part dramatisation of the Salisbury poisonings, which was harrowing in the extreme and made this whole coronavirus kerfuffle seem like child's play in comparison. Not the least harrowing aspect of it was the fact that such an appalling nerve agent could have been developed by human beans. Only creatures with a complete absence of compassion – and my friend would no doubt make a reptilian link – could have dreamed it up, then developed and tested the compound. Just thinking of it makes want to curl up in a dark corner and die of shame for my shared humanity. Anyway... this stuff was so much more contagious and virulent than any virus that the fact that only one person in Salisbury actually died from contact with it is nothing short of a miracle – and a testament to the dedication of the public officials who conducted the clean-up operation. As the Good Wife suggests, it's a damn good job that the Chief Public Health Officer was a woman. If man's instinct is to hunt, gather and fornicate, woman's instinct is to protect – and protect, this one certainly did. The dedication to duty of some people is remarkable. No wonder I managed only 15 years as a public servant.
The new norm for the citizens of Salisbury must have been very, very scary. Here, there's still a vestige of fear, but the Chief Medical Officer or whoever pronounces on these things has now stated that France has got things under control, so it must all be OK. No worries, mate. The Good Wife has gone back to work – on a limited basis – and even massaged one or two clients. With masks on. We've been out on a hot afternoon at the home of friends for a yoga class under the sheltering lime tree. We've celebrated our joint 30th wedding anniversary, again al fresco, with other friends. And Dan has been over here to play records – just as a friend would come over during primary school and we'd singalonga Beatles in front of my dad's gramophone. Tennis racquets for guitars (then, not now; I've put away foolish things). So, gradually, things here have been slowly getting back to some kind of normality.
For how long? There's the rub. France has opened its borders, presumably for FOMO. Fear of missing out on the great tourist influx every summer. Pragmatic or unwise, homo sapient? Only time will tell, my son. Already the Chinese are heading back indoors. So will we even get the summer off before the next lockdown begins? Now that the football season has restarted – behind closed doors, which must be eerily weird – I think I'll have to resort to the clichés of football managers faced with pundits intent on extracting some rash prediction. At the moment, we're not even thinking of the title. We're just focused on one game at a time.
One match down and I'm back to checking the sports news again (and, in the process, glimpsing the global headlines. Already my dad and I have started bemoaning the ineptitude of the current Arsenal team. We spoke after their mid-week match against Manchester City and the pater familias sat there looking very glum in his reupholstered Parker-Knoll armchair draped in the Arsenal scarf I bought for him, curiously, at the local bring-and-dump emporium. Things weren't helped by the fact that he'd fiddled with the settings of his telly and he thought that his sound-bar was no longer functioning. He told me quite emotionally how much he depends on his technology, deep as he is into his form of self-imposed purdah.
Actually and metaphorically, he and I are focused on one game at a time. I can't predict the future. I figure that if extra-terrestrial reptiles are in control of our destiny, then there's very little I can do about it. Rise and shine; take each day as it comes. Smile and like thy neighbour. Or how I stopped worrying and learned to love potential social breakdown...
So today, for example, I got back from the local shops and sat down in the sunshine on the back balcony, sipping a supplementary coffee while listening to The Hissing of Summer Lawns and flicking through the regional freebie to read about all the assistance being offered to local enterprises. It gave me a warm glow. Or was it the mid-morning sun? A darker thought furrowed my brow. Who the hell is going to pay for it all? And when?