Spot the difference
There is so much to notice that’s different right now and yet, I believe, if we don’t make the effort to write about the changes they’ll seep into the subconscious and this moment will be lost forever.
Take this photograph, taken at the Tempelhof airport in Berlin over the weekend. Yes, yes, we just ‘went somewhere’ for the first time since the coronavirus changed our world and made it suddenly so much smaller. Built by the Nazis in 1927, Tempelhof was once one of the 20 largest buildings on earth but closed in 2008. It’s a desolate yet imposing place where silence echoes in the abandoned arrivals hall, the corridors and the hangars. That the departure board showed no departures and no arrivals was no surprise. That the 20 of us taking a guided tour had been asked to used hand-sanitizer and don our face masks on arrival felt stifling and strange in the airless indoor spaces thick with summer heat. I found it challenging and hated how breathless it made me and how flustered. I frequently had to lift the metal strip at the top away from the bridge of my nose and let the heat escape. Unless I was careful to arrange my glasses so that they sat onto of the cloth they’d steam up. Every now and again I’d check no one was looking, turn my back on the group, and pull my mask away from my face for a few moments to remind myself how to breathe normally again. I felt wicked.
In the Netherlands, where I live, facemasks are currently only compulsory on public transport. In Germany they must be worn every time you go inside a café to pay or use the loo, in shops, service stations, museums and galleries. Dropped facemasks litter pavements like hastily removed g-strings; they hang from bicycle handlebars and rearview mirrors and drape from the branches of lime trees. I noticed them because this is currently a new phenomenon but soon these discarded cloth masks will become so normal they become invisible. Like we no longer notice how plastic bags litter the roadside, that graffiti now decorates the trains and that Mars bars are much smaller. Everyone has a facemask to hand over there and as we sat at pavement cafés for every meal, we were no longer startled by having to scan a QR code to see the menu, to fill in a form with our address for contact tracing purposes or that the wait staff wore masks while the customers were spared.
In the beginning each time you encounter the handgel, the masks, the duct tape dividing lines on the pavement and the signs on every shop door declaring whether you need to take a basket and how many people are allowed inside, your heart picks up the pace. You learn to live with a heightened level of anxiety and panic rises each time you realise you rubbed your eye without washing your hands first. But soon it won’t be like that.
It’s too easy to take elements of ‘the new normal’ for granted. I have become used to queuing outside the supermarket and never using cash. But it won’t be long until the day I leave the house without wearing my face mask like a necklace will make me feel strangely naked and I’ll be mortified.
So write about it in your journal, scribble a poem, write your own Life in The Day account of your typical working day. Be mindful of what has changed. Pay attention. Notice things and please write them down while they are fresh. Consider what the discarded facemasks look like, take photographs, keep a record. That’s what writers do.
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer