Monday, April 13, 2020

No looking back...

Did you know that if you are a member of certain libraries you can read their stables of digital magazines online? I have a Westminster Libraries card, as it's my go-to resource for reference books, the music collection at Victoria and more, so nowadays when I have read every last word of The Guardian I can log in online and read The New Yorker instead. And I look at its font and imagine what life might have been like had I taken the other road of my Great 1997 Fork and moved over there for a job with a firm of music publicists. (I didn't. I stayed in London, got married and stuck with the writing. But I acknowledge that NY was a big dream and I didn't follow it.) COVID-19 lockdown is a strange place from which to contemplate the What-Ifs, which as ever are pointless. I had several chunks of What-If reflections in Immortal; the editor has gently suggested removing them and she is absolutely right.

Spring oak trees demonstrate social distancing

I am relieved not to be in NY, where lockdown must no doubt be claustrophobic and alarming. I admire my friends and family there who are positive and capable and full of good humour, as they always are. Every day I count the blessings of our life here: we have a garden, there's a large and beautiful park nearby for walking at safe distances from other people - and as it is now gloriously free of planes, cars and bicycles, you can hear the skylarks. There's a supermarket three minutes' walk away and if the queue to enter looks over an hour long you can go home again and try again at a different time. The other day Tom did a dash to try to locate eggs and matzah for an elderly neighbour who can't go out of his house and has never in his life had Pesach without a seder.

This week The JC announced it was going into liquidation. I've contributed on and off to that paper for about 20 years and have always appreciated the chance to cover in depth musical stories that fit its niche but might be, well, passed over elsewhere. Some of my favourite assignments over the years have been for its pages: my visit to Vienna's centre, the interview last year with the remarkable Erika Fox and in 2016 with Zuzana Ružičková in Prague are all up there with the dearest. I hope there is still a chance it will find some way, shape or form in which to reconstitute itself, but we'll have to see. At times of strain, sometimes you can hear the ropes snapping.

On Thursday nights everyone comes out and makes a heap of noise to thank the NHS and essential workers. A couple of empty doorways, however, betray an ache of sorrow: two elderly people on our cul-de-sac have died in the past six weeks, though neither from COVID-19. Each had lived here for more than 50 years. (One house is now for sale - if you want to be our opposite neighbours, this is your chance).

Looking back is too painful, because you think about everything you should have been doing and everything that has been postponed or bitten the dust and it can slice you up to remember you were supposed to have a premiere at the Berlin Philharmonie on 1 May and you were meant to go to Australia and the Beethoven celebrations should have been in full swing. You can try planning ahead - some events, such as the youth opera I've been working on for Garsington with the wonderful composer John Barber, will probably happen next year instead, as will Australia, but we cannot see into next year right now because we don't know how this one is going to progress, let alone end. So no looking back. No looking forward. We must live in the present and deal with each day as it comes. There is a lesson in this, somewhere.

Living in the present has its challenges as well, notably the amount of time I'm spending trying to dissuade people from believing conspiracy theories. Today there were two before 8am. Everything from "Boris Johnson didn't really need to be in intensive care" to the suspicion that someone had faked a music video, to which you can only point out "of course they're going to take extra care of him, he's the flippin' PM," and "but why would they pre-record and sound like that?...".

My years freelancing with newspapers have shown me a few little truths. First of all, what you see is probably not what's really going on, which is almost certain to be worse. Secondly, never underestimate the number of slips that are made twixt cup and lip. Thirdly, your imagination is just your imagination. The world is not going to change its reality merely because you're believing only what you want to believe. There is such a thing as empirical fact, so get used to it.

Get it? Got it? Good.

So don't look back. Don't look forward. The present is where we will find the pleasures that still make life worth living.