Expat Chronicles: Fall Is in the Air, and So Is COVID

Fall arrives quickly over here in London, dragging its short days, drizzly skies and general air of resignation along with it. Soon enough the clock will turn back and you’ll see darkness around 4 p.m. The temperature will hover between 35 and 44 degrees Fahrenheit for months at a time, and the ground won’t dry out until sometime around late April, if then.

The pigeons will still hang out in the trees and on the fences, dropping their little pigeon presents, and the foxes will still roam around in search of whatever it is they roam around for. In fact, just two minutes ago I was straightening our back patio tent when a fox hopped out from behind it, scrambled up the fence, and hustled into the neighbor’s yard.

All in all, a good time for COVID-19 to make an encore performance over on this side of the pond.

The first coronavirus wave hit back in March, during the beginnings of the most glorious spring you can imagine. Mild, sunny days for weeks and weeks on end, dazzling blue skies, succulent air, all making a perfect mockery of a city forced indoors by the lockdown. Summer followed with its equally sunny days and occasionally blistering temperatures, reminding us that those little portable air conditioning units you have to buy in this AC-challenged land are no match for the July sun.

We can mostly go about business as usual these days. Our local subway station finally opened for full operation recently after having restricted service during the lockdown. Just about all of the restaurants are open, and have been for a while. Those that aren’t open probably ain’t opening again, ever.

Stores are open. Some museums have re-opened. School is back in session, and kids are going to classes. Offices have crept back open once or twice a week. Live music may soon follow, which means I can finally bounce out for another jazz show after a six-month hiatus. On the bright side, our oldest daughter has helped fill in the gaps by learning some jazz standards on the piano and playing them with more feel and skill than I would have thought possible in an 11-year-old who was born nearly a century after the first jazz age.

Nobody knows how long semi-normal life will last this go-round. COVID has spiked of late here in the UK, along with much of Europe. UK cases have been doubling every seven days, leading the government to impose new restrictions that look an awful lot like the old restrictions. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a ban on indoor team sports, and plans for a partial return of sports fans to stadiums have been paused.

Wedding celebrations will be limited to 15 guests – half the number previously permitted. On the bright side, funerals can allow up to 30 mourners. Yes, that’s the bright side.

Masks will once again be mandatory for retail and hospitality staff.

Pubs in England will now have to close at 10 p.m., which sounds pretty early to us wildass Americans but isn’t really that big a change. Most pubs close around 11 p.m., anyway.

London: The City That Never Sleeps…Before 11 p.m.

You hear the usual howling about the new restrictions. A Daily Mail editorial opined: “Depressingly, this authoritarian nightmare is likely to drag on for another six months.”

These anti-authoritarian voices are not as loud here as they are back in the States. To my knowledge, no Rambo-impersonating closet cases have stormed UK government buildings armed with automatic weapons, the way they did in Michigan, Kentucky and other bastions of civilized behavior. But you do hear quacking and chirping from the oddest corners.

For example, Northern Irish music legend Van Morrison, one of my all-time musical heroes, caused quite a stir here in the UK with a trio of planned anti-lockdown songs. One, cleverly titled “No More Lockdown,” features these lyrics:

“No more lockdown / No more government overreach / No more fascist bullies / Disturbing our peace …

No more taking of our freedom / And our God-given rights / Pretending it’s for our safety / When it’s really to enslave”

Van later issued a message on his website urging his “fellow singers, musicians, writers, producers, promoters and others in the industry to fight with me on this. Come forward, stand up, fight the pseudo-science and speak up.”

Now, Van the Man has never been what you might call blessed with a multitude of personal charms. He has a well-earned reputation as a grouch and a contrarian, be it with the media, fans or anyone else he considers a buck eejit (Northern Irish slang, google it). From everything I’ve read and heard, he sounds about as much fun as a sledgehammer to the nuts.

His rant against “pseudo-science” and the tyranny of closing an hour earlier is neither surprising nor worth all the attention it’s received from the British press. One Belfast municipal official suggested that authorities revoke Sir Van’s “Freedom of the City” award, whatever the hell that is.

Do I agree with Van’s expertise on science and viruses? Well why wouldn’t I, fer Chrissakes? He’s a brilliant musician! Have you heard him sing “Moondance,” “Cypress Avenue,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “He Ain’t Give You None,” “Here Comes the Night,” “Tupelo Honey, “Madame George,” “And It Stoned Me,” so many others?

With a voice like that, why would I doubt his expertise on novel coronaviruses? Or doubt that he has many valuable insights to contribute on enveloped viruses with a positive-sense single-stranded RNA genome and a nucleocapsid of helical symmetry?

Plus: I give Van mad props for managing to rhyme “rights” with “enslave” in the sublime “No More Lockdown.” Inspired, I wrote my own anti-lockdown song, free from the tyranny of words that actually rhyme:

I’m fed up with the lockdown, my pub closes as ten / And those cloth face masks give me an allergic react-shen

I had tickets to see Burnley play Chelsea at Wembley / Not it’s only on the telly, and the stadium looks lonely

Don’t let the fascist scientists play tricks on your mind / I took science in high school, and dozed off half the time

OK, it needs a chorus and a bridge, and I can’t decide whether to do it in a minor or major chord. But if I can get a remix version with a rap part feat. Nicki Minaj, it’s climbing the charts, folks.

Happy fall, ya’ll.

3 Comments

  1. Autumn greetings, from those of us who don’t “fall” 😏.

    Hopefully the spike will calm there. The only real impact for us on this side would be the suspension of football…but of course, when the First World starts panicking again, our government will likely follow suit.

    These are strange days, and hopefully they’ll pass by year end – with or without vaccines.

    I’m happy to see you’re staying in good spirits through all this 🙃.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think here in the UK the restrictions will probably last for a fairly long time, until there is a vaccine. I don’t have a problem with it as long as they figure out a consistent plan. But in many ways they seem to be improvising as they go along. As you say, strange days.

      I prefer the lyrical “autumn” to the pedestrian “fall,” and I’m not even sure how or when the latter began to usurp the former in my corner of the world. Although I guess where you are it’s moving into spring? One of my niece-in-laws is from South Africa, and during her first few years in the States I think her seasonal world was a little topsy-turvy.

      No matter the season, hope all is well with you.

      Like

      1. Yes – spring has sprung down here, though the cold is still quite biting. We’re all in good health – other than the usual allergies acting up at this time of year.

        It’s somewhat comforting to know that your government also exudes an air of incompetence, in that we’re not alone in our frustrations. To be fair, though, since we hit the lower levels of restrictions, there’s been far less worry about the level of control, as life is more or less back to normal – albeit with precautions.

        The borders are opening again soon, though, so that’s a pretty big risk…but hopefully we won’t import too many new cases.

        Liked by 1 person

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