Kandida Purnell By: Kandida Purnell
Assistant Professor of International Relations
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26 May 2020 : Weekend, Interrupted

It is Tuesday. I should maybe be feeling refreshed but the UK's three day Spring 'bank holiday' weekend that just past was hijacked by a news story which became quite engrossing. The story 'broke' on Friday and is about a 500 mile round trip from London to Durham and back made by Number 10 Special Advisor Dominic Cummings during the British 'lockdown'. The drama finally peaked yesterday afternoon when Cummings offered an explanation for his actions in the form of a live broadcast address to the nation from number 10 Downing Street's rose garden. In dominating the weeekends' news cycle, this story pushed from the front pages and air-waves news that the UK’s death toll has become the highest globally per capita and that the Government have re-confirmed that British schools will re-open on 1st June. I felt like shrieking. Once again I also found myself living uncomfortably in-between two co-existing worlds. In one, the one I am physically located in, it at least appears on the surface that no-one cares. I know some do, but the infirmed and the people staying home in fear of catching and/or spreading COVID-19 can't be seen in public. The ones taking up public space though, seemingly have better things to think about than some Government 'spad'. This weekend priorities have been enjoying the sun, BBQing, meeting up with friends and family, going out for activities including cycle rides and kayaking and swimming in the River Thames (all things I have witnessed in my vicinity). Social distancing is a thing of the past and I get looks for even attempting it anymore.  As I anxiously pace laps around the meadow just over the famous river I live so close to, it is indeed a surreal experience and uncanny and I am reminded of something that James Duesterberg (20/05/2020: par. 2-3) said in The Point magazine recently. It is about the look and feel of things (in a time of pandemic):

‘It is a mood, an atmosphere: everything looks fine, and yet something is wrong, off, uncanny. People and animals, houses and trees, strike us as so many pasteboard masks and mechanical dolls. It is hard to describe it, but it radiates out of the screen when you watch David Lynch.’

Meanwhile, in the other world I inhabit, the world of journalists, politicians, and academics, people work straight through bank holidays and take the pandemic very seriously - it is our job to. Indeed, I am writing a book about it. This is the world that I mostly experience online and in this alternate reality and UK, the Cummings story is very important. It means so much, in terms of our ‘democracy’ and for the current Tory leadership, we think. I'm not going to go into the Cummings story here. In fact I could barely bring myself to tune in yesterday and then sit there while he kept the 3.2. million like me waiting for almost thirty minutes. Instead, I am dedicating this diary entry to the interruption which took place during the broadcast. Made with a Vuvuzela horn by a single protester, commencing almost the second Cummings opened his mouth, and lasting for minutes, It was a noise so terrible that meant I could not take a single word in, and that's what made it so brilliant. It sounded like the shriek that I wanted so badly to make and brought the two worlds that I exist between into collision by making audible and un-ignorable the stress, distress, and frustration which goes normally unseen, unheard, and is seemingly unfelt by others in the the physical spaces visible to me. At least for a moment, this sonic interruption also literally managed to drown out Cummings' distracting tale as the gravity of the competing but overshadowed news stories mentioned above ought to have. In doing this, the interruption was a moment of real politics that I will be forever grateful for.

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