Expat Chronicles: Tough Love, Earth Style

Let’s say you were a naughty kid and the world wanted to punish you. What’s the most dastardly punishment that could be dished out?

Outside of excruciating physical pain – or, worse yet, having to sit there and watch someone you love endure excruciating physical pain – the worst punishment might be seeing something you crave right in front of you, but not being able to touch it. Like if you were starving and chained to a chair, and some evil genius put a plate of delicious food just out of arm’s reach.

That’s what it feels like in London right now.

It was about 70 degrees (Fahrenheit) here today, sunny and clear, a slight breeze kissing the air, the sky such a lovely shade of blue that it was practically trash talking all the blue skies that came before. It might have been the nicest day we’ve had all year. Tonight is one of those gorgeous Spring evenings when you just want to sit there, close your eyes, and will it to last forever. Tomorrow is supposed to be even nicer. Every day the weather gets better and nicer and sunnier and lovelier here in Old Blighty. We’ve had about two straight weeks of it.

You know what else happened about two weeks ago? London and the rest of the UK went into lockdown because of the coronavirus. Residents are advised to stay home, inside, out of sight and out of harm’s way. The lockdown was a little late arriving here, giving the virus a chance to claw its way into the most unlikely of places. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles have both been infected. BoJo is still in intensive care, and we’re all a little spooked.

Anyway, the weather turned nice at precisely the moment when you’re not even supposed to go outside and enjoy it.

This is when you normally curse the evil fates that always seem to conspire against you. Prior to the recent run of blue skies and warm temperatures, we had about six straight months of pure, unadulterated crap weather – from early October right on through to the ass end of March. Week after week of cold, wet and gray putridness. It was constant, oppressive, tyrannical. I’d never been through such a lousy fall and winter, and I’m not a young dude anymore. Not during my years in Connecticut, or New York, or New Jersey. Only here, in London.

And when the weather finally turns as nice as I can remember after 27 months in London? We’re not supposed to go outside.

(OK, now is probably a good time to pause and point out that we’re among the lucky ones. We have a private backyard, and most Londoners don’t. The backyard is small, but we can still step outside and enjoy it at our leisure. And I can hop on my bike for my once-a-day exercise as allowed under UK lockdown rules without coming near anyone else.).

So: the weather. England is not blessed with an award-winning climate – unless your idea of a splendid day is when it’s 39 degrees outside and it drizzles constantly and every so often a strong wind comes along that nearly blows your windows open. Even during the short stretches when it turns hot outside your house gets char-broiled because there’s no A/C here, so all you can do is open your windows and hope for a breeze to come limping inside.

So when the weather turns nice, London gets a serious case of the itches. It is not the kind of city where people want to stay indoors. Normally on days and nights like this you’d see a massive battalion of people out and about, playing in the parks and playgrounds, walking the streets, pouring out of the pubs, jamming the outdoor cafes, making merry and tripping the light fantastic.

But now? It’s quiet and still. Not too many people out and about. You see the occasional parent stealing a few moments outdoors with their kids, hoping to keep them from climbing the walls. You see a few joggers, walkers and cyclists. But none of the pulsating sea of life that normally overtakes London this time of year.

There’s a certain sadness to the empty streets here – and the rest of the world – because people have been cooped up for months and they just want to go outside and blow off some steam. You can almost feel the apartment doors pushing back, doing their best to keep everyone inside.

At the same time, you have to admire (most) everyone’s commitment to doing what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re staying inside, social distancing, following the rules, banding together for the greater good. This is not something the world sees very often, if at all. When was the last time most of the world was told to stay indoors, and much of the world shrugged and said, “OK, fine. We’ll play along.” Maybe never. Probably never.

There have been pandemics before, but never before has the globe been so connected. You can fly from here to the far ends of the globe in a matter of hours, for the cost of an expensive bed. It takes a lot less time and effort for a virus to spread around the world now than it ever has in the history of the world. The only solution is for everyone to play along. Most are.

In a normal world, our family would be in New York right now, bopping around Manhattan during the second day of a 10-day trip to the States that would also take us to the Carolinas. We planned the vacation a few months ago to align with the two-week school break for our kids. We had planned to see friends and family we don’t get to see very often. Instead, we’re stuck here at home. The weather outside is delightful, but we mostly enjoy it from a small, square, fenced-in back yard.

And we’re among the blessed, because others just have a porch or balcony. Some don’t even have that. Many have to go to work so the rest of us can be safe and comfortable.

The weather doesn’t much care about all that. That’s the main lesson here. We’re all just passing through, and the world’s gonna do what it’s gonna do, whether we like it or not.

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