‘We don’t talk about the war.’ Yet those of my generation and older reference it daily. The coronavirus is an unseen enemy but for every-one not in military service, so were our past enemies — Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia — invisible mainly because the mainland was never physically invaded by any of them, so the only sightings were on the newsreels. All we can see of the virus is that horrible furry ball with round-ended spikes sticking out of it, which is what it looks like under a microscope, but this is still a war, the same as any other.
We were not actually quarantined then but travel was both difficult and discouraged, and fierce men on posters asked: ‘Is your journey really necessary?’ We had food shortages, which continued in the form of rationing well after 1945. We were also encouraged to ‘Dig for victory’, of which I was reminded when trying to buy our usual French bean seeds this week. They are like gold dust and, when you do find some, are sold in half dozens for an extortionate price.
And that’s another thing rearing its ugly head — profiteering. In an online pharmacy, I saw the children’s medicine Calpol priced at £11.75 for a small bottle, instead of under £4. Thank God we do not have air raid sirens, whose terrible wail still makes my heart contract, nor do we have the blackout, but remembering that strange thing brings me to something else unpleasant — snitching. That is a Harry Potter sort of word, which makes it sound like a game. Substitute ‘informer’. If there was a sliver of light showing at your window and the blackout warden didn’t notice, a neighbour would soon tell him.
During the first few days of this lockdown, a few second-home owners were here-abouts, until MPs wrote public letters asking them to stay away for now.