This is a horrible disease no matter where it comes from. And then we have this horrible political landscape where it’s all about ideology so caution seems to be tempered by ideology. I am pretty sure you cannot fight a disease with an opinion no matter how fantastic it is. One thing that totally preoccupies me is anti mask people. I find it really weird that they frequently share a platform with the brexit/trump supporting nexus and that platform is bolted to ideas about the self and place that are either grounded in fictive histories or a deep suspicion of any other person who doesn’t map closely to themselves. I think that will be a thread worth tugging on, when it safe. When this has passed, or at least mostly passed as nothing so seismic simply dissappears, but events frequently take on new forms according to the needs and perspective of the person recounting them.
Which gets me thinking about how I grew up in a household with parents who had survived the bombing of Birmingham in the 1940s and whose parents had lived through and served in the very worst parts of WW1. About the first war, there was nothing, no stories, not even many images related to it where I grew up. The second war was passed to me through my mother’s voice, and it’s mostly a mashup of Enid Blyton and Noel Coward and an unconscious tad of Patrick Hamilton, without the interesting seedy under belly. Sure there were air raids and shortages, but they made people creative so small time scams of low consequence, such as two petrol tanks in a car, one for normal, one for dyed agricultural fuel added to the general hail fellow well metness of the whole shebang. Plus, there were handsome GIs – but you needed the older sister, Valerie for the lowdown on them – there was gravy browning and eyeliner to fake up stockings (dances must have been meaty affairs) or parachute material for a wedding dress, perhaps a very hurried wedding or mother and baby home stay: meaty, spicy dances. For me growing up, it was all on TV where there were war movies which were generally the allies (mainly with americans in charge) shooting at axis who I understood as the opposite of allies and they were generally palpably worse at shooting than us. I grew up thinking that most nazis were basically well dressed robbers with interesting facial scars. Smart crooks who used the war as a smokescreen to steal gold bullion or paintings. Occasionally they were making heavy water whatever that might be. WW2 was basically The Italian Job. I had absolutely no idea about the Holocaust. No notion of the Anschluss or why it occurred, no understanding that there were other events that had led to that point on a late summers afternoon in 1939 when we invited the germans to a war, or they invited us, it was never terribly clear. But it always sounded like a thing that had been put in a diary, not the inevitable collapse of some very fucked up history that had a habit of repeating itself. And as for the war with Japan, The Bridge over the River Kwai may well have a stoical Alec Guinness as a proto Obi wan Kenobi but he was never going to have the insouciant swagger of the earlier, whiter Steve McQueen, so basically, it passed me by completely.
Of course reading, watching, talking, going and living in the places where the bloodshed happened and in most cases had been brewing for centures made me understand. Armed with these changes in understanding I came back and found my mother’s rosy view immovable and shored up by the various anniversaries related to WW2 that came in thick and fast, which was weird. She wasn’t alone in this, in 1995, one german friend described the anniversary of the end of WW2 as the liberation. Yeah, well, I guess that’s where my ring fence is because I found that pretty offensive; though in my defence, I was fresh out of three years living cheek by jowl with a lot of signs on buildings that catalogued murder and obliteration on such a scale as to beggar belief that the entire country wasn’t infested with furious vengeful ghosts. Meanwhile, back in blighty, any anniversary related to that terrible terrible time will mean some knuckledragger will think it is a good idea to drag an 80 year old aeroplane out of its hangar and buzz the Queen’s gaff to the theme from the dambusters because a Lancaster is a fabulous thing. I’m not knocking the way a Lancaster looks, it’s a handsome piece of aeronautical design, it’s what it’s for that bothers me, why does the awful significance of these things get dropped.
Now I’m wondering how we will be remembering this seismic shift in the way our world works. When I’m my 80s and subject to whatever kind of social care I can expect as a childless old woman, what are the adverts on the back of whatever the contemporary version of the Lady are going to be. Which bits will I be misremembering, misquoting and misrepresenting with dotty abandon. I wonder if I will sigh and say, we all got on so well, we had a wonderful time, which to be honest, I really really did this summer past. But I had fun when all around me, people lost their jobs, got sick, drowned in their own bodies, were over worked and exposed to the harrowing sight of wards of people struggling to breathe, dealt with hundreds of people whose recovery from the illness was never complete, who boxed each other in the supermarked aisles for toilet paper, or just lied to the press and thus to all of us about checking their gimlet shit stained eyes when what they were really doing was living out their own entitled exceptionalist bullshit. Ahem, but that Dominic Cummings and his lying harridan of a wife really are two of the most dreadful people in the country, and that’s quite a feat considering the company they keep.
So I thought about how to express all of this, the slippage of memory, the fear, the relationships I have and the relationships of others. I thought about what things unify us and are also tinged with sorrow because of this catastrophe, the inability to travel, which reminded me that this clusterfuck of ambition and being a sub par human had diminished the meaning and purpose of our passports. I looked for an object that signifies this state and immediately thought of the mask and wondered if people who wear them now who had earlier abjured the niqab square it with themselves and if they will go back to their old ways when the coast is clear. I thought about ideas of belonging to a group where it is difficult to tell one individual from another. And decided to commemorate that.