LONDON - British people love to talk about the weather. Never more so than when they’re locked in their houses, it seems.
With perfect irony, the sun hasn’t stopped shining since the coronavirus lockdown began on March 23 – and everyone’s talking about it. It’s been unseasonably warm, with temperatures in London topping 25 degrees Celsius. For those with gardens or with easy access to the countryside, the fine weather has been a perfect antidote to the mind-spinning news headlines; nature, at its finest in spring, has been a tonic for many. For those living in cities, particularly in high-rise apartments, the sunshine has only underlined the claustrophobia of confinement.
Across Britain, the skies have never been clearer. I live not far from Gatwick, London’s second biggest airport, and normally the sky is crossed with vapor trails. But there are just a few high cirrus clouds amid the deep blue. There are far fewer cars on the roads too. Instead, families cheerfully cycle past, enjoying their daily hour of exercise. The air smells cleaner. You can hear more birdsong. There are countless stories of wildlife slowly re-colonizing towns and cities as humans enter their own hibernation.
All these might seem like trivial observations in the face of a devastating global pandemic. But it’s inevitable that people will look for positives after such disruption to their lives. And it has a lot of people talking about what kind of country we all want to emerge from this crisis.
Millions of people are working from home. Can commuting be cut down to save carbon emissions and allow workers to spend more time with families? Are those international business meetings really necessary when it’s all being done by video link? With scientists warning repeatedly that climate change is an even bigger imminent threat to humanity, can we afford to go back to life as it was before?
There are other changes to life on a more personal level. Out of concern, I’ve been in touch with family and friends whom I haven’t spoken to for many years. We’ve set up a weekly video chat with close family. Everyone is talking about the parties and reunions we’ll have when this is all over. After years of relationships being conducted through social media, the world is craving human company. Maybe we’ll value those close bonds even more in the post-coronavirus world. And in Britain, which has been torn apart by Brexit in recent years, many people crave some kind of healing.
There are clouds on the horizon. Another Brexit deadline looms at the end of the year as the transition period ends, with the threat of even more economic disruption. And it’s quite possible, perhaps justifiable, that the world will rush back to its old ways after the lockdown to recover the vast economic losses.
But in my neighborhood, and in communities across Britain and beyond, the same question is being raised: what sort of world do we want to emerge when this is all over?