North Essex
A. L. Kennedy, Autorin

By A. L. Kennedy

A. L. Kennedy © Robin Niedojadlo

What would you say are symbols of your current situation or the current situation in your country?

As the days pass, like many other people, I have this strange blend of fear and fury in my chest. I think we are all feeling worried about loved ones and about all these strangers we are suddenly meeting on screen, online, across the world. In the UK we watch our government do nothing in good suits, listen to it lie and deflect when we need truth more than ever. We see – once again – huge policy differences and differences in public health between regions of the UK. And every day now, people die who do not need to be dead. Every day we learn more about offers of help and equipment refused by our leaders on behalf of all the regions. Ministerial stupidity, narcissism and laziness combine to crush us. There are also these surges of extraordinary love for human beings we have never met, of admiration for their bravery and sacrifice. I am not in Scotland just now – I miss it more than ever. I miss Glasgow intensely. The skies are almost entirely clear of aeroplanes, our gardens and streets are filling with animals and birds our presence used to banish. Suddenly a single flower can be important and uplifting. The sound of birdsong breaks the heart as it never has before. We enjoy watching celebrities looking untidy and talking to us from their homes with a new honesty and urgency. Behind it all is the image we can’t reach – the figure in coma with machinery making their breath.

How will the pandemic change the world? What do you see as long-term consequences of the crisis?

When we emerge in the UK we will have fewer rights and our government will have more arbitrary power. There will be more impatience over Independence, but great damage and incertainty. It is still not unlikely that the injury of a No Deal Brexit will be added to the wounds of Covid – 19. Slowly the true death toll will be revealed. The half-empty elderly care homes will open, the temporary morgues will close. Perhaps we will have the capacity to mass test for Covid and Covid resistance, releasing some of us from seclusion. There will be immense anger, immense shared pain. Schoolteachers, nurses, porters, bus drivers, shop assistants, cleaners – so many people we now know are essential will be missing. Fear of infection and laws brought in under Covid may stop us rioting, but they may not. The death toll amongst policemen and military personnel given no protection against disease may mean certain parts of our communities break down in the absence of forces who can protect our peace and our appalling Westminster leaders. Our infrastructure, health and care services, local government, civil service and national resources will be in ruins, supported by a loose network of volunteers and civic-minded companies and organisations.

What gives you hope?

In the After Time, we will have learned to love each other – black, white, Muslim, atheist, Jewish, Christian, male, female, Trans, gay, straight, old, young – all the labels that have been used to divide us have become meaningless. We have seen people who help and people who do not help. We prefer the helpers. We are already remembering how strong we are. Our UK leaders are overwhelmed by learned helplessness, idiocy and self-obsession – we already no longer glorify these things as fashionable attributes. The Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh authorities have performed better, but are often invisible in the UK press. Kindness has already returned to us. We are hungry for it, to offer it and receive it. The adulation of cruelty as strength is already fading. The idea that money could ever be more important than human life already seems absurd. The idea that we can ever be safe while any of us are unsafe – even the most despised – already looks like a pathway to mass suicide. The thought that we can’t take mass action to defend nature against Climate Change will seem laughable. We are ready to be different, happier, more useful, more loving to those we love, more able to love many.