I live in a quiet English country town. It’s even quieter now. Pretty much all I can hear outside my window is the chirping of birds and gusts of wind.
I’ve been listening. I’ve only heard 3 cars in the last 30 minutes. Normally it’s 5 or 10 times that. And normally there’s the sound of lawnmowers and hedgecutters and the distant sounds from the new estate being built half a mile away. And occasional greetings exchanged. Children calling.
I have a neighbour who normally steps outside for a cigarette every half hour or so. I hear the clicking of his lighter. No sign of him today. Everyone is staying indoors, it seems. So is he smoking indoors now, or has he stopped smoking? I know he’s at home, because I’ve heard his dog bark once or twice: if he’s not at home the dog barks non-stop all day.
I haven’t been outside for weeks, since I started getting food delivered. And since I only ever shave when I go out, it means that I’m growing a beard.
In fact, shortly after food started being delivered by the local Tesco supermarket, it stopped being delivered. You have to book a delivery slot online. When I started there was next day delivery. Now all the delivery slots are booked solid for the next 3 weeks, despite Tesco doubling or tripling the number of delivery slots. My online delivery shopping days seem to have ended as soon as they’ve begun.
But I found that there’s an online pizza and kebab and burger delivery outfit in town. So I’ve been buying hamburgers and kebabs and pizzas, and (wonder of wonders) milkshakes that I haven’t bought in decades. So right now I’m living on reheated pizzas and burgers, with added milkshakes. I could happily live this way for months.
Another slight change: I’ve started drinking water, plain simple tap water. It’s partly because I’m finding that the milk that gets delivered goes off more quickly than usual, so I’m cutting down on using it. It means that when I do make a mug of tea, it tastes like ambrosia. Tea has never tasted better in recent days.
The aim of the lockdown is to prevent transmission of the new coronavirus. And if the rest of Britain is like it is round here, it’s going to stop it dead. And this is something that people are doing of their own volition: there’s no police or army presence, no loudspeakers ordering people around.
All the same, it must be a shock to most people to find everything shut: pubs and cafes and restaurants closed, shops closed, cinemas and theatres and art galleries closed.
It’s no shock to me. It’s the way life has been for the past 13 years. British smokers have been under lockdown for 13 years since 1 July 2007. They’ve had no pubs and cafes and restaurants and shops and cinemas and theatres and art galleries – none that they’re welcome in, leastways – for nearly 13 years. It’s why I never go anywhere: I’m unwelcome in my own country.
And now everybody is experiencing what smokers experience. Now everybody knows what it’s like to no longer have a local friendly pub or restaurant to visit, because that’s closed to them too now. Now everybody knows what “social distancing” is like, as they no longer see any of their friends.
One difference is that when (if?) the UK lockdown ends in few weeks time, the smokers’ lockdown will continue, and intensify. And that’s because the coronavirus lockdown is a response to a genuine (if slightly exaggerated) sudden health threat, while the smokers’ lockdown is a carefully planned piece of social engineering. The aim of smoking bans isn’t to protect anyone from anything: the aim of smoking bans is simply to stop people smoking.