July 6, 2020, by Issy

A Tale of Two Cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”

For me, those two cities in the time of COVID-19 are Nottingham and London. On March 19th, I drove back home to London from Nottingham for what I thought would be only a couple of weeks – a month at the most – but has in fact turned out to be 3.5 months, and counting. So. It’s got to that point where I’m voluntarily reading Dickens. I came across this quote from Dickens’ own Tale of Two Cities, absolutely loved it, and thought it fit quite well with what is going on at the moment. Here’s how:

“It was the best of times”

Controversial, I know. Because, no, it really isn’t the ‘best’ of times. But, it would be wrong to say that there are not at least some positives gained from this situation. A sense of national pride in our fantastic NHS, and the rallying cheers we had every Thursday evening, instilling both a sense of community and even a routine to the week. (My sister said this was the only way she could be sure of the day of the week at one point!). The incredible reductions we have seen in levels of CO2 emissions worldwide, as industries reduce their output, and air travel has dropped dramatically. And, for those introverts out there like myself, a ready-made excuse not to go out and stay wrapped up cosy, warm and safe in my duvet.

“It was the worst of times”

There is no escaping this. I don’t have to mention how catastrophic this pandemic has been globally, with hundreds of thousands of deaths, families losing loved ones, and being separated from others they love for months on end. Economies are crashing, children are being denied a face-to-face education for their own safety, it’s not unheard of to have hour long queues to get into shops. These simple pleasures in life, that we may have taken for granted before, suddenly taken from us. I wrote a piece for this blog a couple of months back highlighting how abrupt and disappointing an end to a university experience this must have been for final years here in Nottingham, and worldwide, people are losing out on similar experiences as well. We never expected this to happen.

“It was the age of wisdom”

When we had the government’s coronavirus daily briefings, it was really interesting to see experts presenting their viewpoints on the evolving situation. From faces like Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, to his deputy, the University’s own Professor Jonathan Vam-Tam, to revolutionary vaccine trials, to Jacinda Ardern’s leadership of NZ through the crisis, the intelligence and insight so many people in different sectors hold is clear to see. Personally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this exposure to the academia and research inspires a generation of budding epidemiologists and public health officers.

“It was the age of foolishness”

Without getting into politics here, it’s safe to say that there definitely have been some questionable acts carried out by both those we look up to, and our peers. It’s so disappointing to have seen people disregarding the measures put in place to protect themselves and others. It’s been pretty obvious locally here in London – large groups of people all crowded around one picnic in the local park; to images in the news at the UK’s beaches during the late June heatwave and of Soho the night the pubs reopened. None of us want this to happen again any time soon, or ever, for that matter, and this sort of behaviour makes that hope seem less likely.

“It was the epoch of belief”

Belief in the fact that wider, systemic injustice towards Black people is finally being noticed, recognised and hopefully, eventually tackled sufficiently by those in power, and have the ability and resources to make a change. From social media activism to socially distanced protest, it seems easier to hold the belief that change is in the process of being made, although it is imperative that the realisation is made that it must not take something like the murder of George Floyd for this belief to be instilled and developed within our communities, nationally and globally: we should be reminded that it is a basic human right to be treated equally, no matter the colour of our skin.

“It was the epoch of incredulity”

It’s simple, this one is. Who would ever have guessed that all our globalisation, all our development, all our internationalisation could lead to this. It honestly is incredible how something so small, so tiny, that we can’t even see it can stop the world in its tracks. Just like that.

Posted in #WeAreUoNIssy