Heads up for another important date in the diary: Friday, 8th May, when the nation will commemorate VE Day with a national doorstep singalong to Dame Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’.
Jotted that down? Good. Now you’ve had fair warning to lock your doors by eight and be in bed before the public displays of exuberance kick off…
You see, one of the unforeseen consequences of this lockdown is that the nation seems to have been taken hostage by the extroverts. You know the type: stuck inside all week thinking of moronically dim ways to make loud noises. It’s like they’re incapable of passing the time without needing to batter their Tefal Titanium Fusion Non-Stick in the name of a good cause. We can only be thankful that the cables to most power tools are too short or these people would out in the street recreating the Dam Busters March by grinding sheet metal.
Lockdown for an introvert might not be fun but it also isn’t a huge jolt from the normal. It’s not all stamp collections and afternoon sonnets but the privation of staying at home isn’t a far cry from my usual working week. I have certainly not yet reached the stage where I want to play a drumkit naked in the street or dress as Elvis as part of my 12-week residency on my balcony (both which happened to others recently, as seen on social media).
A relative tells me that in their area, they already have a street choir, which sounds hellish. If there is a reason for this lockdown to end soon, then street choirs are surely it. The only good to say of them is that they afford us a good reason to keep the windows shut that doesn’t involve the thought of the coronavirus barebacking particles of pollution (thanks to The Guardian for that particulate nightmare).
As for ‘We’ll Meet Again’, there might still be a generation for whom it reminds them of World War Two, but anybody younger might immediately think Kubrick. I know I can’t hear the song without thinking of the Doomsday machine that ends Dr Strangelove along with the rest of the world. Kubrick clearly rejected the even more apocalyptic vision of a nation standing on the doorstep in their slippers mumbling through a half-hearted singalong.
There comes a point where I simply feel the need to stand up, cough politely (into my facemask, of course) and remind people that we are British and we don’t do these things. Or, at least, not all of us do. Leave that nonsense to Bono who thankfully comes with an off-switch. As Susan Cain wrote in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, “Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” And speaking as somebody who is unashamed at being both a disappointment and a pathology, these clapathons and singalongs are becoming a social nuisance to those of us who are unsociable.
They wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t feel so obligatory. This is the fundamental problem with “clapping for carers”. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the NHS but clapping has started to feel like the fuss around Extinction Revolution, another convenient place for the worst polluters to hang their guilt. My neighbours who clap the loudest (pans, air horns, screaming babies) haven’t followed any of the government’s advice regarding staying at home. If they’re not off visiting relatives for the day, they’ve had the extended family around for barbeques and paddling pools before launching into their weekly celebration of the NHS.
And that, surely, is the point. What began as a touching gesture has become swollen by the same mobbish sentimentality that has started to make Remembrance Day so political. Locally, we still have the poppies up on streetlamps (I’m writing this at the end of April) and large black silhouettes of soldiers placed around town that are still there from the Remembrance before last. Obviously, nobody dares to remove them lest they upset somebody, yet they render the whole purpose of remembrance mute since we are constantly reminded of the very thing we should be choosing to remember.
And having the choice to remember is important. These events are only meaningful if people approach them from a place of individual freedom. There was a story in the Manchester Evening News last week of a woman who had been bullied on her Facebook page because her neighbours had noticed that she was the only person not to emerge at 8 pm to join in the clapping. Said the poor woman: “The post said everyone else turned out and I showed the street up and if I can’t spend a minute showing my appreciation I don’t deserve to use the NHS if I or my family get ill.”
That, perhaps, gets to the root of the problem. These ostentatious displays of feeling are sometimes a sign of impotent fear rather than proactive defiance. In the face of a pandemic, an environmental crisis, or more broadly, the passage of the egotistical Now into the numbing enormity of the forgotten Past, it sometimes feels like there’s nothing we can do but make a little noise. It might make us feel better and the noise will certainly stop us thinking for however long we can keep it going. Yet it’s much like Comic Relief when the very least funny person in the office will often be the one to tell us that we have no sense of humour because we won’t pour a tin of beans down our trousers. It’s not about us being funny. It’s about them forgetting their unhappy job.
That, ultimately, is why it’s so regrettable. It leaves us with such a wasted opportunity. The American response to coronavirus has been so typically upbeat yet with room for introspection. People are learning how to make masks. The British used to be great at the belt and braces approach to difficult problems and it would also have the virtue of being the perfect introverted response to the pandemic. We already have the uptake in reading which needs to be cherished and celebrated, especially given that it is happening among children. Some parents will complain that school is more important than anything but the most important thing for any child to learn is that education isn’t a chore but the best part of living. Rather than fearing a generation losing important time, witness a generation gifted with the space to discover themselves. Don’t fixate on the child wasting their time watching TV but think of those learning to code, speak foreign languages, or master an instrument. Extroverts might be suffering but this is the time for us introverts to shine. Just not sing on the bloody doorstep.