Humans find it impossible to avoid close contact and touching. We are just not wired to stay far apart from each other. As much as I wished, in pre-lockdown days, that I could insist that shoppers behind me in the line would stand behind floor decals 2 metres away from me, or imagined ramming my trolley back onto the toes of halitotic queue creepers, such violent fantasies are no longer necessary. And we are struggling without the contact now.
The Maestro and I enjoyed a breakfast at Mugg &Bean this morning and while he enjoyed tasteless and tediously titivating TikTok after his sausages and eggs, I people-watched:
Besides the responsible types who remain masked and greeted their friends from across the wasteland of a coffee shop table (amazing how clean the tables are mind you – sprayed and wiped between each sitting) with an elbow bump, the majority of patrons meeting family and acquaintances, could not resist a hug of greeting. I witnessed hand-patting, arm-stroking and kissing. Shocking.
So much for social distancing.
But it’s not their fault. We humans need touch. According to Professor Robin Dunbar who is an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford, primates are reliant on the endorphins and oxtytocins (the good hormones, not the street drugs) that are released when we touch each other. It’s part of being ‘social.’ That’s why, when you add ‘distant,’ it seems so impossible for us to maintain.
It’s one of the things so hard to control at school, or any workplace. It’s why it is so concerning that the nation’s children were sent ‘home’ from school to avoid contracting the virus; yet have been roaming the malls and streets, in packs, unprotected by masks and hanging onto each other. Expect a spike in the stats when they return to school and infect each other and their teachers some more.And it must be really hard for those who live alone or are confined to care homes during the pandemic.
“The effects of touch are physiological, bioelectrical and biochemical,” agrees Tiffany Field, founder of the Touch Research Institute at Miami Medical School. “Moving the skin (as, for example, in hugging, massaging and exercise) stimulates pressure receptors which are transmitted to the vagus nerve, the largest cranial nerve that has many branches in the body. Increased vagal activity calms the nervous system (e.g. slows heart rate and leads to EEG patterns that accompany relaxation). It also reduces cortisol – the culprit stress hormone – that then saves natural killer cells that kill viral, bacterial and cancer cells.”
Helen Coffey, quoted in The Independent
So, tactile stimulation heals us; losing it can reduce our ability to fight disease.
Except with COVID-19.
Prof Dunbar reckons we’ll be ok in the long run, but in the meantime, many of us are struggling to stay connected… laughter is apparently good for producing the happy hormones as does visual stimulus, so keep those video calls going with family members in old age homes or those who live alone.
Perhaps there is method in my husband’s weird social media tastes after all.
Several people I know have lost loved ones during the Age of Corona to both the virus and other causes. Our particular lockdown levels have strict limits on mourning though: funerals are limited to fifty persons, wakes and night vigils are prohibited even under Level 3. You can’t hug the bereaved or cross provincial borders unless you are close family. I have not attended funerals of a few people I might otherwise have gone to to pay my respects.
It is bad enough to face the sudden or even expected death of someone you have loved, but not to be able to celebrate their lives and be comforted is especially hard.
Two deaths of famous people this week brought home to me how difficult it must be to grieve in the middle of a pandemic, as well as how sad it is that the lives of two people who spent their whole lives dedicated to our country should not be commemorated with appropriate ceremony at their passing.
Both Zindziswa Mandela and Andrew Mlangeni have passed away this month and I am moved by the fact that both have lost out on the kind of farewell that would be fitting – because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wrote about them in this week’s school newsletter:
I have often wondered about the childhood Zindzi endured as her parents sacrificed so much for the freedom of the nation. Yet she proved her mettle time and time again, missing out on her schooling in the struggle, advocating for her mother to the United Nations (when she was just 12!) and boldly defying PW Botha on her father’s behalf.
Mr Mlangeni stood at Madiba’s side at the Rivonia trial and suffered with him on Robben Island for over twenty years. Our flags at school are flying at half-mast until Wednesday to honour his quiet strength and life of sacrifice for us all. But it doesn’t seem enough.
Our children can learn so much from his wisdom:
“One of the biggest prisons we were afraid of being locked up in though, was the jail of ignorance.”
Andrew Mlangeni, ‘The Backroom Boy: Andrew Mlangeni’s Story’
What power there is in learning from the great people who gave up so much for freedom. To our learners I say, respect the education that comes so easily to you now. Those who made it possible studied sporadically, far from home and, in many cases, in prison.
How small these deaths (and their lives) make me feel about moaning about corona-stress; and how sad I am that neither of these two leaders who fought for us with such courage and wisdom can be publicly celebrated as they deserve because of the enemy-virus.
But I take from their lives the knowledge that a life relinquishing selfish goals and focused on the greater good will make a difference; will have an impact and will change the world.
“We need to live in a world that is ego-free and humble ourselves to talent, wisdom, and courage, when it reveals itself.”
Mourners have only the comfort that Cicero referred to when he said that the life of a person is implanted in the memory of those left behind, and the knowledge that their passing changes us and becomes part of us too.
The Maestro and I had a delightful over-fifties (his comment) stroll along the beachfront today. (Well, he ambled, while I jogged to keep up – it sucks to be short.)
What we noticed on our route march was how many good citizens of Bloubergstrand are not wearing masks in public at all. (And I’m not talking about just pulling it down to defog your Armani Sunglasses, or when you are dying of heat behind it, when no one is close) It’s a bit scary especially with the wave of new infections washing over our country. Beds are filling up around the country’s field hospitals and ministers are whispering about reversing lockdown levels. Yet ordinary Joe Soaps are tired of it all, perhaps because the invisible virus doesn’t seem realistic to most folks, or we’re just bored of the regimentation caused by COVID regulations.
Yet anyone who has been to a doctor’s room recently will have noticed how different everything is. My son, Michael, suffers from regular, intense migraines and last week had to be rushed to the emergency room at our local hospital. He arrived while the migraine aura was just starting, normally plenty of time to get heavy painkillers and sleep it off. This time though, in the middle of a work day, the queue to be triaged was out the door. So, poor Michael, while not dying, certainly suffered a great deal standing outside in the sun, and reached the vomit stage of his attack before being allowed in, fortunately making it to the loo and not the flowerbed.
The problem is not just corona cases, it’s the protocols requiring complete decontamination of every emergency room cubicle before the next patient can be taken. But what Michael said afterwards, resonated with me: He said he didn’t mind having to wait, even though it was horrible for him) because at least two people bypassing the queue were a small child who couldn’t breathe and a cyanotic, old man … (or 2 COVID-19 patients?) neither of whom could have their family in with them, because of the new rules…and the nature of the disease.
The World Health Organisation says this pandemic is still in its infancy. Yesterday marked 6 months since the WHO was first alerted to a cluster of COVID-19 cases in China and now, with over 10 million cases worldwide and 500 000 deaths, they are saying it is far from over.
I’m just not sure that the good people of the Blouberg quite get it. It’s insulting that people don’t wear their masks to protect other individuals. My mask protects you; your mask protects me. So will you please flippin’ protect me!
My sister says that people are crazy to go to restaurants during this time – I didn’t dare tell her that we visited our home-away-from-home, News Café after our beachfront dash. But they are being conscientious about hygiene that’s for sure: Patrons are screened, tables are sterilized and marked as such, and staff are masked and gloved. Eateries the world over are trying creative ways of controlling social distancing like this Parisian restaurant which is using giant teddy bears to occupy banned seats:
This German establishment also decided to have some fun to remind people to keep apart:
A Dutch diner is using robots to do screening checks and serve customers:
This restaurant, also in the Netherlands designed little cabanas for each table:
And clever masks are also being designed: Gotta love this one which allows you to open it when you want to eat:
It seems that restaurants are really trying to protect patrons as they begin their post-lockdown life.
The question is: what are Jo and Jozi Public doing to protect themselves?
According to health officials, this virus is quite a wuss when it comes to Jik and sanitizers. And masks work. But the WHO reminds us that the pandemic is speeding up. It is not even close to being over, so we need to get over our boredom with the rules, suck it up and think about each other. Because next time it could be one of us in the queue at the hospital.
‘Beware of the half-truth. You may have gotten hold of the wrong half.’
The Western Cape is no longer testing patients who present with flu-like symptoms. So sick people have to assume they have COVID-19 until they are well and are often quarantined for up to 14 days, even though they only have normal flu, because those other nasty germs haven’t gone away because Big Brother Corona is on the rampage.
Consequently, a week or so ago, we had so many facilities staff members absent and booked off for a significant period that we were forced to contract with a cleaning company for a few days, for additional staff to ensure the school was clean, given all the additional hygiene routines that are required with the new protocols connected to protecting our school community from the COVID-19 virus.
Although this was mentioned to a small group of staff, the reasons behind the move were not understood or properly explained (I realise now) to the staff in all three schools on campus. The next week we began hearing rumours that our facilities staff were looking into signing up with unions and there appeared to be general unrest on the staff, which surprised me because we have had a peaceable, open relationship with our staff in the time I have been at the school. It was only at a routine meeting a few days later that one employee eventually spoke up and asked, ‘What is this with these other cleaners?’
In a moment of clarity, I saw the cause of the misconception. The staff thought we were planning to outsource our cleaning function permanently. Fortunately, I was able to explain the misunderstanding easily enough and reassure them that their jobs were safe, and our institution’s relationships returned to normal. However, I realized then how a simple misunderstanding can have massive consequences whether at work or at home. Trust takes ages to build up and one miscommunication or misunderstanding can destroy it.
In other news, my child who shall remain anonymous, was instructed last week to give away packets of old clothes I’d collected from the early days of lockdown when I was gung ho about tidying. ‘But not the coats and evening dresses in the cupboard,’ I said (several times). Needless to say, I got home on Friday to find the entire cupboard bare of not just the old clothes but all my winter and evening wear.
What I learned from these two experiences were the following three things:
Communication is so important – and, as leaders we should consider in advance how decisions may appear, in order to forestall possible panic (not to mention losing one’s coats).
Honesty and transparency are essential for trust.
Get the whole story.
Fact check everything – surely Trump’s aversion to the truth has taught us that!
Apologise when you break rules one to three.
And forgive others when they get things wrong.
If only characters like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Othello, to name but a few of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes had had the benefit of hindsight and an opportunity to make good. Then again, what the appearance-reality theme illustrates in so many of his plays is precisely how ruinous misunderstandings can be.
The magnitude of Shakepeare’s genius is in his depiction of the genuine human condition. Unfortunately, we often react (and overreact too) before checking whether we have been properly informed. It’s not necessarily the equivocations of our enemies which cause such misunderstandings, it has also happened that major events in history have resulted from misinterpretations caused by mistranslations:
Did you know that the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan at the end of World War II, because of a mistranslation of the Japanese word ‘mokusatu’ (‘We withhold comment’) as ‘We are treating your message with contempt’ (in response to ‘Will you surrender?’). You’d think they would have checked such a thing, but President Truman essentially ordered the deaths of a quarter of a million people because of that!
History is littered with such poor translations, from Krushchev’s Russian as more threatening than he was being, to the Maori’s being shafted at Waitangi by the Brits. Mars was identified as potentially having intelligent life after the ‘canali’ (which an Italian astronomer mapping the planet’s ‘seas, channels, continents’ called them) were translated into English as ‘canals.’
We all know about the concept of ‘broken telephones’ where hearers repeat a story slightly differently each time in the retelling, sometimes to the point that the original meaning is completely distorted. It’s how rumours spread and very few check with the original speaker to corroborate the accuracy of what has been quoted.
‘Nice guys finish last’ is a misrepresentation of what a baseball manager (Leo Durocher) actually said and Sherlock Holmes never said, ‘Elementary, dear Watson.’ Nobody says, ‘Play it again, Sam’ in Casablanca. The much-maligned Marie Antoinette probably never said ‘Let them eat cake (‘gateau’)’ although the person who did, used the word ‘brioche’ which is a type of bread enriched with butter and eggs so the intention was the same, but still.
One has to ask how many men have felt encouraged to explore their baser instincts because of that inaccurate reflection of Leo Durocher, who was not encouraging negative behaviour when he pondered aloud that an opposing team had really ‘nice guys in it.’ How many patronising mansplainings or putdowns have concluded with ‘Elementary, my dear Watson?’ I wonder how many wannabe seduction moments have included the faux quote from Casablanca.
Sometimes of course misunderstandings are just incorrect use of grammar: Neil Armstrong’s famous ‘one small step for man; a giant leap for mankind’ is nonsensical and should have been ‘one small step for A man; a giant leap for mankind.’
Computer algorithms are not exempt. The Mariner 1 crash in 1962 was caused by a missing overbar (a small line placed above script). I wonder if that’s what happens to the bank code when I use my card at the grocery store?…
One of the problems facing educators in this Age of Corona teaching is the inability to read the faces of our students, because of the mandatory, ubiquitous masks. Unless a person has extremely expressive eyebrows, has expressive forehead furrows, or crinkles their eyes up when they smile, it’s really hard to know what they are thinking and we cannot tell how they are feeling. Since relationships are so important to us in education, I think it’s time we encourage bushy eyebrow exercises in Life Orientation classes to accommodate the need to project and interpret brow gymnastics.
Life is so fraught with miscommunication, one could be forgiven for feeling paralysed by indecision at times. Take marriage for instance, where we often end up in arguments over silly misunderstandings. But there is another way to look at it: in the words of Oscar Wilde,
‘The proper basis for marriage is mutual misunderstanding.’
The Maestro thinks I’m beautiful – I’m going with that…
Aristotle believed that there are seven causes for the changes in human behaviour.
COVID-19 has certainly been a major disrupter. I saw a TED Talk once about how to form positive habits in just 30 days. So, I thought, ‘Ok I shall make some positive changes while we’re incarcerated at home.’ Some have been good changes; others… through no fault of mine, I declare… not so much.
This is what has changed since lockdown for me:
1. I’m writing
On the plus side, I am writing again every day, which is for me like going to gym…without the gym. I feel rejuvenated afterwards, and it’s fun.
I have ring-fenced me-time slightly better, although I can see this resolution slipping since the return to school process has started. I have enjoyed getting more sleep than usual and hope that I can try to limit the number of nights I burn the midnight oil.
Traffic is better -I am hoping that more companies have realized that they can in fact trust their administrators to work from home. Please. I’d like to be able to sail through as we are able to do now – gives me an extra 15 minutes sleep every morning.
Unfortunately, I have given up reading books temporarily. Well of course that’s because the library is closed and I just cannot do online books. Not with our wifi. Just when you get to the end of a page or an exciting part of the narrative, damned if it freezes and then when it finally reloads it’s back at the point you were when you picked it up. And it’s hard to get quality books for free on the internet, and I just can’t get myself to spend money on a book which I am only going to read once. I’m tightfisted like that. Having said that, If I can solve my data issues, this could be a revolutionary change in my life.
5. My car is dirty
This is a sad story. Car washes are not yet open so picture my excitement when the oil change light came on. ‘Oh good,’ I thought, ’I can get my car cleaned at last.’ Not so lucky: the service centre was operating on skeleton staff and so no non-essential stuff (like car valeting apparently) was happening.
I got even though. Unintentionally I swear…
After dropping off my car and having to rope in my husband to transport me further, I received a call informing me I’d been in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 (Fortunately all is now well with said-person, so I can tell this story). As a good citizen, I now needed to inform the garage that there was a chance that I had contracted the virus and that I’d send in my husband to collect my car later. Well they weren’t having any of that – they delivered the car, hooted and left the keys on the roof… It was a little disconcerting I must say, although I can totally understand their temerity to come anywhere near me, but it did make me think I should buy a bell while I was out having a COVID test so I could yell ‘unclean’ as I walked. Of course, I didn’t need to …I was driving for one, and secondly my car was also still ‘unclean.’
Not even all this rain has sorted it out.
I guess I could wash the car myself; but, well…perish the thought.
Spending so much time at home has made me realise how inhospitably cold it is in our house, so I have allowed the heaters to go on. We’re spending a fortune on electricity, but it is so cosy – at least we shall be warm and poor.
7. Grocery Shopping
… because we are going to be poor. Has anyone else found they are spending so much more on food? My grocery bill has skyrocketed with all of us at home constantly. I used to be able to buy clothes every month. No more. I’m barely breaking even. Now it’s biscuits and chocolate and other exotic snacks I don’t usually buy, along with fancy juices and lots of everything in case we need to hunker down again… And that darling little suit I nipped into Zara to purchase just before lockdown, is never going to fit me now!
Education will never be the same again. There will be a clear BC (before Corona) and AV (After Vaccine) in the timelines of every organization. At this stage, at my school, we are adjusting to a hybrid form of teaching and learning with some learners and others logging onto our livestreams from home. With no gatherings in the immediate future, events like valedictory and matric dances present real challenges, which we shall have to meet with some creativity. The coronavirus has single celled dragged us into the 21st century technology-wise and that’s a good thing, but I am sad to see us reverting to industrial-age rows in an effort to social-distance and losing the collaborate hubs we were using. We have to be creative about that too going forward.
I just hope that all the positive changes that have taken place in our society, like appreciating medical staff more than celebrities, lower data costs, families revelling in their home activities and banks being kinder on debt repayments, will remain, but I fear that once things return to some semblance of normalcy I fear that selfishness and sloth will return… just as the urge to exercise has diminished now that it is no longer forbidden fruit to jog.
I’ll leave you to decide which of the above changes fall under each of Aristotle’s headings. But, no matter the cause behind the positive changes at least, it is definitely time to turn some into excellence:
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.”
We’ve had a hectic few years but at least we’ve learnt some science and a few new words.
How I have loved the storms of the last couple of days! As a Capetonian, there is nothing quite like snuggling down in your warm bed as the tempest rages beyond. Hearing the rain lashing the windows when you are warm and safe indoors heightens the sanctity of your haven. At last we are having the winter storms again that I remember from my childhood, with thunder and lightning, and driving rain .
At home, where I sit at my desk, I look out onto our front garden and the road beyond it. Yesterday as I worked on my laptop in the late afternoon, the storm winds were propelling the deluge across the balcony and the road was flooding from the many sudden downpours that had already dumped more rain in one day than we had the whole year in 2017 when we had such a drought in Cape Town.
Remember when ‘Prevent Day Zero’ was the rallying cry to save our province from running out of potable water and we came within a month or two of doing that? We had to change the way we did things at school then too. Who remembers having to work out how to wash all those aftercare dishes without covering the earth in the plastic and disposables we’d been avoiding up until then, (because we’d always ensured we ‘re-used’ rather than chucked); or figuring out where to sink a borehole; learning words like ‘reticulation’ and learning how dams are made. We showered with a bucket (we still do, good citizen teachers that we are); and of course we didn’t flush! But we got used to it. And we survived to stand in delight under the first showers which broke the drought.
Then came that euphemism to beat all others; ‘loadshedding’ (It’s a ‘power failure‘ damnit!’) And we learnt terms like ‘grid’ and ‘overloaded;’ we tried switching off the geysers to save power and got into trouble with the landlord for damaging the switch. We discovered the horrors of the Eskom financials and at school we installed solar lights in our driveway and sourced generators to ensure we could run a school dependent on technology, not to mention examinations. That is what I was busy with when COVID-19 sashayed across the globe.
And suddenly, we were thrust into a world of epidemiology and virology and have learnt about face masks and what the correct concentration of alcohol in hand sanitizer should be (70%); and terms like ‘social-distancing,’ ‘flattening the curve,’ ‘floor decals ‘and ‘lockdown,’ not to mention my own worst one: SOPs.
What do these crises all have in common? Us. People that’s who. Humans over-farm; crooks rob our state-owned entities blind and if we didn’t invade animals territories we wouldn’t have viruses jumping species (We won’t get into that the little corona bug could have been manufactured, because there’s just no way someone would do that… is there?… is there?)
It’s one thing to have these crises in successive year, but since we’re talking about storms (well I was, but became horrible sidetracked), what it happened that a perfect storm of events resulted in
What do these crises all have in common? Us. People that’s who. Humans over-farm; crooks rob our state-owned entities blind and if we didn’t invade animals’ territories we wouldn’t have viruses jumping species (We won’t get into that the little corona bug could have been manufactured, because there’s just no way someone would do that… is there?… is there?)
It’s one thing to have these crises in successive years, but since we’re talking about storms (well I was, but became horrible sidetracked), what if it happened that a perfect storm of events resulted in all of these things happening at the same time: you know a deadly virus, running rampant around the country, in the midst of a drought and then we run out of electricity…You think it can’t happen?
Well almost exactly one year ago we were watching Notre Dame burn; then three major reports published in journals “Nature” and “Nature Geoscience” declared that global warming is the fastest it’s been in 2,000 years and scientific consensus that humans are the cause is at 99%; exactly a year ago, tens of thousands of people began to riot in Hong Kong; just six months ago the majority of Brits voted for Boris Johnson. And you think it’s not all our own fault?
We’ve brought it all on ourselves.
For now I’m just happy to have a good old Cape squall. How much worse can 2020 get?… Perhaps I shouldn’t ask. But then again:
‘Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart.’
These are 10 things I’ve learnt about wearing a mask for up to 10 hours a day.
1. Beware of bad breath
Invest in breath mints, especially if you are a garlic aficionado – you’re going to be far more aware of yourself and you don’t want to survive COVID-19 only to succumb to Halitosis.
On the plus side your mask will protect you from the onion odours of other people too.
2. Perfume is best kept for romantic evenings at home.
Don’t waste your time wearing perfume – it will be diluted by Eau de Sanitizer. And if you’re hoping to lure someone closer with it, he can’t smell it if he’s wearing a mask, so save it for after a vaccine is found or for a love fest at home..
For perfume enthusiasts, do not despair, Louis Vuitton is making hand sanitizer now. The bad news is: it’s not perfumed, merely an effort to re-purpose their factories to assist the French war effort against the virus. But still…
3. Lipstick sticks to your mask
Lipstick is optional, but you may need to remember the face paint for Teams meetings, or opt for ‘no video’ and claim to be saving data. Uploading a pretty picture to your profile will keep people thinking you are still at your pre-lockdown gorgeous. (This also helps if you need a cut or colour). Just a heads-up though, if you do wear lipstick, be careful it doesn’t smear the lipstick all over your face: you could end up looking like the Joker when you do switch on your video. And you have to wash it all off your mask later.
4. Focus on eyes
Eyes are the windows to the soul they say (Well, Shakespeare suggested that in both Romeo and Juliet and Richard III) so we are going to become more literate in each other’s souls when speaking, because that is all we have to look at – worth noting for the daily make-up regime too.
5. Watch out for eyebrows
Eyebrows are important for communication now. As a redhead who doesn’t have eyes without an eyebrow pencil, I am working on remembering to draw them in each day. Possibly trim the unibrow if that sort of thing bothers you; otherwise this is a grand opportunity to chuck the gender-oppression of make-up entirely.
If you’re wanting to learn a new skill, work on raising one eyebrow at a time for effect – it will help to prevent boredom during off-camera Teams meetings too. Just remember to switch off your video!
Remember people can read many things into your expressions above the mask; make sure your face is saying what you intended it communicate.
6. Masks mist up glasses
Wearing a mask that’s snug over the nose and wearing your specs over the fabric helps. But if you breathe like Darth Vader, expect to be fogged up often. And don’t believe those life hacks about shaving cream and other lens cleaners. Soap and warm water cleansing of the lenses works best, but you’ll just have to try to prevent sending out so much hot air (double entendre intended). The good news about being bespectacled though is that no one can sneeze coronaviruses into your eyes.
7. You’ll get more exercise
You’ll get in more steps in the day because inevitably you will have to dash back to collect the mask you left behind when you left for work/school.
8. Look after your ears
Make sure the mask is not too tight or we’ll all end up with ‘bakore’ by the end of this pandemic.
9. Keep your social distance
If you’re slightly deaf like me (my mother warned me about all that rock music), you may have been unconsciously reading lips for years. It’s harder to hear someone through a mask and one has to be careful of inadvertently stepping closer to catch the gist of the conversation, especially if someone has an accent). Remember to keep your social distance and own up repeatedly to not being able to hear – blame it on the mask.
10. Look after your skin
Skin allergies from washing powders or merely teh fact of having something over your face for long periods can affect your skin. I discovered to my horror, that you can still get pimples in your fifties! So, watch out for skin irritations – teenagers guard against outbreaks of acne by careful cleansing and drying of skin to prevent bacterial infections becoming acne. Perhaps bring spares to school and change mid- schoolday to prevent dirt building up.
On the plus side a mask is a good way to hide those pesky random zits.
Notwithstanding all of the above, if you want to live and save lives, consider your mask your superhero costume: Up, up… and away!
Acronyms and abbreviations are the next contagion. They’re the next-generation viruses.
I’m not sure about you, but I’ve kind of had enough of the latest alphabet soup of acronyms. SOP is one I spent much time with today.
SOP is not the Afrikaans word for what I am having for supper, which is delicious vegetable soup.
SOP actually stands from Standard Operating Procedures and it’s what most schools and businesses around the world are grappling with in a post COVID-Lockdown world. Every institution and enterprise globally will be enacting innovative ways to navigate the new society we find ourselves in.
The Health and Safety SOP may have something in common with my daughter’s homemade sop. It’s also a careful blend of a mixture of ingredients, all aimed at making us strong and keeping us alive. Our family dinner fortifies us against the cold, and in the same way, all our planning will offer protection.
But what I can’t get used to is the hand sanitizer. It’s true that after the alcohol fumes have evaporated, some of the sanitizers actually smell okay and the one we have at school doesn’t dry out your hands either. But to be honest I’ve stopped putting on perfume to go to work, because one squirt of Eau du Désinfectant and my Yves St Laurent (fifty bucks a droplet) is overpowered and I am… Germex Girl! What worries me more though is that I drink an enormous amount of tea and I am wondering how many cups could put me over the legal limit from the hand sanitizer I’ve just used before touching the teabag!
They can be found in every conceivable place now, these ubiquitous little bottles of Virus Vanquisher. I wonder whether one day when COVID-19 has been defeated by vaccine cocktails, they will fall by the wayside like swords did when we stopped actually clutching our enemies’ hands and dropped our swords at peace parleys. What will the universal gesture of greeting become, sans spray bottle? A little touching of the forefinger to the thumb in a cute spraying gesture?
The other acronym that is starting to grate is PPE. It sounds like a horrible combination of needing the little girls’ room and my least favourite lesson at school. Don’t get me wrong, but burly women in bulky, padded jackets (long before K-Way dahling!) blowing a whistle in my face until I leaped into an icy swimming pool was not my idea of intellectual pursuit. After school, I promptly gave up swimming and now only dip my toes in the shallows in late Feb, if at all. Mind you, I live in Cape Town: if you dip your toes into our ocean on any day they are likely to come back seconds later as pre-packed frozen pork. But I digress…
We’ve always had Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) but now the term conjures up images of hazmat suits and gloves, which is not far wrong of course. While it may save us on lipstick, it is playing havoc with my hearing as I can no longer read lips – clearly something I have been doing unconsciously for a while. My mother always said I’d go deaf from playing all that rock music so loudly!
It’s a weird kind of formal dance we are developing: first the spray-bottle greeting, then we do the chicken neck extension as we lean in (keeping 1.5m apart of course) to catch what someone is saying and finish the sequence by doing the double-take shake as we try to ascertain whether we actually do recognize the masked ‘stranger’ before us. The COVID Tango.
Even COVID is an acronym : CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ for virus, and ‘D’ for disease. Idnkt. (I did not know that!)
They’re everywhere these nasty little acronyms and abbreviations of words. Acronyms are the more evolved of the two because they have really taken over the sentence by swallowing up the nouns. They are spreading fast and attacking the nervous system, causing sudden bouts of uncontrollable screaming. (Often patients can be heard yelling, ‘WTF!’ at inopportune moments.) No need to wait for a vaccine against these critters though – tea, chocolate and a good book in bed – that’s all it takes to cure the Acronym Virus.
Post-2004 in the US, this mnemonic became the FBI’s standard protocol in response to ‘active shooter’ situations or other general emergency attacks. And the ABC is used to train employees and school children across the US (sad, but true).
In many ways, this is what our COVID-19 response has been:
Avoid: social distance, wash hands, sanitize
Confront: Emerge from Lockdown and face the virus down, by re-opening
It’s a good modus operandi for many dangerous situations. I knew a black belt karateka who was a South African All Styles Champion, whose sage advice was always: run and only fight when you’re cornered.
But it does suggest that sometimes in life there is a time to come out fighting. Sometimes we can’t hide or just avoid battles and sometimes we have to come out and face down the enemy.
I’ve peered into the nasty visage of several enemies: disease, divorce; unemployment, toxic bosses; single parenthood, depression… and no chocolate.
My solution is a little simpler and less likely to get you killed:
Wearing body armour and coming out shooting, both literally and figuratively may be necessary at times, but the nature of the ‘fight’ or ‘confrontation’ doesn’t always have to be violent or aggressive. To me, the best revenge is to be happy and sometimes a benign response is better.
Oncologists will testify to how a positive attitude benefits cancer patients; Oscar Wilde says to ‘forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.’ Killing ‘em with kindness can be way more kick-ass than being a bitch. Even lack of chocolate can make you smile when you look at your ass in the mirror.
Not everything needs to be a fight. Sometimes you win by smiling.
I heard a report on the radio yesterday that the #1 item being bought by South Africans on Takealot since online stores could sell anything (except sinful things like cigarettes and alcohol of course, but we won’t go there!) is… drum roll… vacuum cleaners.
Now really! I’m all for cleanliness being next to godliness and all, but really, if I were to go to all the trouble of ordering something online, it wouldn’t be a cleaning appliance. To me those are grudge buys, like underwear, stuff you need and which is important, but no one really sees.
Not that I am into lowering standards mind you: I wear lipstick under my mask and I have a chart for the resident elves who (in my fantasy) would clean the house like small, useful, versions of The Borrowers, but who, despite their loud, haunted-house-like groaning, do in fact assist with cleaning the Mad Mansion.
But it does leave me wondering about the hygiene of South African homes pre-lockdown. I mean, did people not clean up after themselves before? Or, worse, were they expecting someone else to do it for them without the proper equipment?
The rest of the list is pretty understandable, with folk working from home and having the littluns needing school stuff, so: electronic devices and stationery supplies, including #3 (after laptops) which is gaming equipment, as sports and entertainment go virtual.
#4 takes on a more whimsical note (treadmills and home gym equipment), however I am rooting for these gym-bunnies and hope that their initial eagerness for self-improvement doesn’t result in yard sales of dejected, white elephants by December. On the plus side, I am looking forward to seeing all these folk on the beachfront in summer, sans tops please, as we clean up all the usual blubber and slothful strollers from the boardwalks. Clearly these are the types who cannot stir themselves before the 6:00 – 9:00 exercise window on Lockdown Level 4, or else they are the same ones who placed their orders during Level 5 and haven’t even opened their toys yet. I suppose it is possible that there might be some lunatics who do both, but those are just worthy of my couch potato pity. (We all know I believe working out is a little rash though, so perhaps I’m biased.)
#10 is just sad: non-alcoholic beer! I mean, non-alcoholic wine is fine – it’s grape juice which I prefer to drink anyway, but a good lager surely requires a bit of kick? Otherwise, you’re just drinking starch, and frankly, in that case, I’d prefer a toasted cheese sandwich, thank you. Unless beer drinkers have become devilishly clever and have found a way to infuse this supermarket sludge with raw alcohol or something.
Whatever happened to online clothes shopping? These items didn’t make the list, possibly because they have their own delivery systems. I have targeted a couple of darling little items for purchase from the Zara electronic store (yes, of course I subscribe to their online magazine, although Zara models are a trifle intimidating and rather aggressively emaciated, clearly have Elastigirl genes.) But it’s not the same as the chance to see the majesty of the whole boutique in front of you, with quality lighting (dimmed to make us look better of course, along with carefully angled mirrors to make us taller and slimmer) and the hours to wander at one’s leisure, and appreciate the beauty of it all. (I think I may have a little problem, arguably worse than the country’s drinkers going through the DTs).
I suppose it’s because shopping for clothing is an experience, not a mere practical function, along with attendant cappuccino-sipping.
I bought a new phone the other day, my last having had an overnight cerebral haemorrhage (which was sudden, and came as a huge shock to me, taking with it all my treasured memories and telephone contacts, with no time to say goodbye.) I had to shop online to check out the latest devices and I found it a rather stark experience. I like the sensate experience of shopping (to the chagrin of The Maestro, who constantly parodies my wistful path through such stores, which is why it’s better to leave him in Exclusive Books while I satisfy my frivolous leanings). Perhaps it’s the difference between men and women because Andrew was thrilled to help me the opening of the box and the setting up of the phone. I’d rather have been trying on winter boots.
Online or not, Lockdown is costing us, but as Oscar Wilde said in a foreshadowing of a capitalist’s dream sap.
“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”