Can there really be a New Normal?

As part of the Guardian’s A New Normal series they have a short online survey where you answer questions about your post lockdown attitudes towards flying, and travel generally, and to what extent lockdown may have impacted on those attitudes. I decided to fill it in, just because there was still coffee in the pot and I couldn’t be bothered to start the day properly yet. 

But as often happens with me, a simple question (and the first one as well – fresh coffee may be required) sent me off into a range of emotions.

Here’s the question – see what it does for you:

Tell us a bit about yourself (e.g. age and what you do for a living)

 

Where do I start with this, Guardian? Do you want a sentence, or a short paragraph? I’m a writer, for goodness sake. I can answer that in 10 words or 70,000. And the prompts don’t help… do you want an exact age, or an approximation? Will middle-aged do, or do you want forty seven and three quarters? (Not the right answer, by the way)

And what do I do for a living… oh dear. This is me you’re asking. Oh to have a life – to have ever had a life – where I could have  simply said “shop assistant” or “plumber” or even “teacher” which was for a few years at least a part of the truth. And in any case, why are those three questions of what do you do, where do you live, and how old are you always considered to be the most important ones? What about ‘what makes you happy?’, or ‘what moves you to tears?’, or ‘how do you want your next five years to be?’. Now those are questions worth answering.

I could tell by my belligerent attitude, something was shifting internally… more learning being delivered!

So, I decided it was worth answering as a conscious piece of work, rather than just as something to do for five minutes in order to put off doing something else more useful. 

This was my answer: 

I’m an elder: definitely not ‘retired’, ‘pensioner’ sounds horrendous, ‘senior’ too American. I do more being now, rather than doing, but I read and write a lot, engage in environmental voluntary work and still practice as a psychotherapist.

Second question was:

Are there things about lockdown that have changed the way you think about travel, flying, or the way we think about the environment looking forward?

 

If you have more than one brain cell, surely lockdown (oh and what actually happened to cause lockdown…) can’t not have changed you? And not only whether you’ll ever fly again. Almost every aspect of day-to-day life has been – is being – impacted by this virus. Not only is there no return, ever, to normal, but even envisioning a new normal is not radical enough for what we are facing on individual, family, workplace, wider community and organisational levels, and ultimately planetary.

But I answered the question anyway. Like this:

I’ve never been a keen flyer, and have felt conflicted about certain aspects of the travel industry since my environmental epiphany, several years before the pandemic, but now I have made a commitment to not fly again, and to reduce my travel within the UK. The pandemic has prodded me to review my own position in respect to travel and also to do more to raise people’s awareness about the connections between the pandemic and the environmental crisis. I can say more, if you want to hear it.

Third question:

What are your biggest hopes for the future around travel and the environment? Do you think they can be achieved? If so, how?

 

This question really took me metaphorically travelling. If I were to hope for anything from this pandemic it would be that as many people as possible make as many links as possible as often as possible between the pandemic, the amount of unnecessary local and global travelling, and the local and global environmental crises. This blog is not the place to get specific, but there is a wealth of quality writing and research being done (and accessible online) to start your ‘travelling’ into this new world. Here’s just one brilliant place to start. But yes, I admit that the best grains of wheat have to be sorted from the piles of chaff. Be a questioning consumer of what you read.

This is how I answered the question:

Personally, I have let go of the need to ‘see the world’ even though I still fantasise about so-called green travel and holidays.  I simply want to spend whatever time I have left raising awareness about using our potential as human beings in the best possible way and my greatest hope is that more of us can see more of ‘the right way’ more of the time. 

I have no idea (has anyone?) what can be achieved, but I do know that as a species we are good at keeping on keeping on. Let’s hope though that we keep on keeping on in the way that is best for the planet – not the way we have been functioning for the last however many years.

Again, I can say more… I know you ask for ‘as much detail as possible’ but I am a writer, thinker, nature lover, and knower (also gnower) of humankind, so I have plenty to say – probably more than you need here.

The final open question was this:

Do you miss travelling? Where would you most like to go if you could travel freely?

 

Another big question, turning me inward once again. I have yearned to travel (specifically, to ‘go abroad’) all my life but apart from a honeymoon on the Costa Brava in the late 1960’s when the package holiday industry was in its infancy, and a few trips to France when my children were small and I was studying French as a mature student, I hadn’t been anywhere ‘exotic’ until I went to Uganda in 2001 with a group of friends, one of whom was setting up a charitable organisation there. Subsequently, I have travelled a little more, sometimes as a tourist, sometimes as a voluntary worker, visiting Egypt, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and having several longer stays in different parts of Spain, as well as extensive travel in the UK, but I still consider myself to be someone who has not travelled much outside of the UK. 

Before the pandemic I had not made a decision not to travel overseas any more, but rather suspected that for a variety of financial, health, and choosing to do other things reasons, I probably wouldn’t travel other than within the UK. So it’s perhaps easier for me than others to commit to no overseas travel. And certainly easier for me to commit to no flying, when I hate it anyway. So I won’t criticise anyone who wants to continue travelling – I have my own bad habits and environmental transgressions.

This was my answer:

I do miss it. I haven’t travelled much outside of the UK and I have been massively impacted when I have travelled abroad. A part of me would love to experience more of other cultures, and especially to see different landscapes, living creatures, and plants. But in lockdown I have missed even more not travelling to nature reserves and the wild(er) places of the UK. 

Ironically, I decided in my personal review of 2019 to make 2020 my Year of British Nature and I had visits and ‘wildlife spectacles’ planned for every month. I managed my January and February events, and had started writing my book about the year, but the pandemic put a stop to that. In theory, I can now travel again, but apart from any anxieties I might have about catching or spreading the virus, I am learning about how much my desire to seek experiences is simply just that: a personal wish to see x, y, or z and I must question what that is about, and how useful or not it might be for the greater good.

Re-reading, I realise that last sentence sounds rather pompous and do-good-ish, but it is a genuine personal learning. I have had a lifetime seeking new experiences – occasionally, I fear, hurting others in that process – so now is the time to do what I say I’m doing in answer to the first question: doing more being, rather than doing doing. And I’m getting my ‘new experience’ fix by living that being, rather than living the next doing. 

 

But I’m not quite an enlightened being yet: I still long for that next exciting event in nature, and I still want to see more of Britain’s wildlife and landscapes. Now living once again in Yorkshire, there are a lot of old stomping grounds to visit…

 

 

 

PS The last question in the survey asked if I’d be interested in taking part in a video about my answers…

Now there’s a new experience. You can guess my answer.

 

 

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