If you’re here for car nostalgia, and to escape Coronavirus (COVID-19), this is probably one post you can skip. But if you accept that we’ll come out of the other side, and that we’ll all learn something from this, you’ll understand why I’ve written this one.
‘May we live in interesting times’. It’s an oft-quoted saying that seems to have been attributed to the Chinese. However, cleverer people than me have already researched this more fully than I ever could, and it’s most likely to have originated in Yorkshire. A report in a 1936 edition of The Yorkshire Post is said to be the most likely source in a fairly innocuous event report.
‘Sir Austen Chamberlain, addressing the annual meeting of Birmingham Unionist Association last night, spoke of the ‘grave injury” to collective security by Germany’s violation of the Treaty of Locarno. Sir Austen, who referred to himself as ‘a very old Parliamentarian,” said: ‘It is not so long ago that a member of the Diplomatic Body in London, who had spent some years of his service in China, told me that there was a Chinese curse which took the form of saying, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ There is no doubt that the curse has fallen on us”.’
Whatever, the source of this quotation, it’s clear that we are indeed living in interesting, tragic and unprecedented times. The world economy has been in a partial state of shutdown for weeks now, with the UK being almost completely locked down since 23 March 2020. As I write this, more than 2000 people have succumbed to Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK, with approaching a million confirmed (and many, many more unconfirmed) cases globally. What is clear is that this virus is public enemy number one, and the growing pandemic is proving hugely challenging to get under control.
Right now, it’s difficult to see the end of it. But we must all hold on to the hope that there is an end in sight and, if it’s not quite in view yet, at least the green shoots of recovery in China and South Korea prove that it can at least be brought under some semblance of control. However, even as the numbers are rising, and the death toll increases, I really do hope that we’re all beginning to think about how the world will look when we finally do recover from the pandemic. That’s why I’ve put my fingers to my keyboard to spell out my own hopes – a list of hopes and aspirations for what the world has learned from this creation, transmission and our response to this virus.
Here’s my list of what I hope are the things we’ve learned from Coronavirus (COVID-19):
- Be nicer to each other
There’s been an encouraging amount of positivity among people in the wake of this pandemic’s spread. Communities applauding the NHS Heroes, neighbours looking after neighbours, and others rallying around the weak and vulnerable. Increasingly, more people are connected than ever before, and are checking in with their friends and relatives more often. It would be good if we all continued that. I know I will.
- Properly invest in the NHS
Perhaps if we’d not been underinvesting in this vitally-important service, the resolve and ingenuity of the system wouldn’t be put under such a stern test as it has been in the past few weeks. We’re short of nurses, ventilators, beds – and, although being better funded wouldn’t have made this problem go away, it would have certainly meant we’d have been more prepared…
- Start buying and producing more locally
I don’t suggest for a moment that we should go back to the era of Baird TVs and Austin Allegros, but an evolution of that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Currently, our world’s economy is powered by the free flow of goods, which has inevitably seen so much production transferred into a low-wage economies. That’s all well and good if you’d rather spend £300 instead of £800 on a television, or £200 instead of £1000 for an HVAC or Infotainment system in that European-built car, but low-wage economies generally mean the people who’ve made all this stuff have far fewer rights than us – and there’s an ethical question that urgently needs addressing. Especially around living standards, food regulations, human rights and safety in these low-wage economies. We’ll all have to pay for it, but it’s probably a small overall price – which leads me on to…
- Reset the world’s finances
With the world economy in stasis, countries across the globe are having to support businesses and individuals. This is costing each country mind-bending amounts of money – or more correctly, each economy is committing to borrowing mind-bending sums of money. If the UK is frozen until June, it’s going to cost something like £600bn to see us through in terms of employee payouts, tax freezes, additional investment in the NHS and the like. And that’s just the UK. This isn’t 2008, Part 2. This is far bigger, and is a sum of money that’s absolutely unprecedented. And the likelihood is that we’ll be paying back this borrowing for 50 years or more – maybe 100. Multiply this acceleration of debt across the globe, and it’s a game-changing shift in financial thinking. So, maybe it’s time to reset the banks’ chronometers and reset all the counters to zero. You know, cancel all world debt. Imagine if China did that for one. How different things would be. I doubt that’s even possible – but considering what’s been achieved in the past few weeks, much of which was considered impossible before, you never know.
- Know that we can achieve more than we ever thought possible
The speed in which things have been accomplished in response to the pandemic has been astonishing. Hospitals have been built, communities have reconnected, companies saved from bankruptcy and the list goes on. Now we’ve established a new level of pace for what mankind can achieve, it will be difficult to go back to how things were before. Car companies are gearing up to build medical ventilators a matter of days – yes, days – since they stopped churning out cars, and that’s a heartening lesson. Things that used to take months and years to be done, can now be done in days and weeks. Let’s hope we can maintain this on the other side.
- Live on a cleaner planet
I’m sure you’ve all been enjoying those quiet walks in once busy places, and really appreciating how much noise modern mankind made before the pandemic. Will we end up reappraising how we use our resources? With so much of the UK now working from home, will it ever be the same again? Will these employers who sent their workers home consider making this a more permanent set-up in the future? For those who have no choice but be somewhere else to earn their living, the quieter roads should be easier to commute on, while those who are now working at their computers at home – and probably never thought they could – have their lives improved as a consequence? With all those commuters off the road, how much cleaner is our air, and how much quieter our villages, towns and cities?
- Be more prepared
The world’s Governments have learned a lot from the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). Let’s hope that the next time a pandemic looks to be heading our way, we all lockdown earlier, react more quickly, and treat the threat a whole more seriously. And, yes, let’s hope the shops stop people panic-buying much sooner than they did before.
- Do we need so much rampant consumerism?
I suspect the way in which we all buy our good might be taken out of our hands somewhat. So far, with the shops closed and online deliveries slowing right down, we’re learning to live on less, and live a little more thoughtfully. The world’s economy, of course, is powered by growth, and once we’re out the other side, we’ll be once again encouraged to get back on the horse and buy, buy, buy. But will be need to? Will be be able to afford to? Will we want to? Maybe it’s time to learn how to maintain our cars, keep hold of them longer and feel less inclined to have the newest, shiniest motor on the block. And manufacturers of white goods and tech – it’s time to make them fixable and upgradable again…
- Realise the importance of people
By this I mean stop paying low wages to warehouse workers, delivery drivers, postal workers, carers and all of those people who’s jobs have assumed such importance in recent days and weeks. Without them, the country would literally grind to a halt. They all need to be treated better and be paid a wage commensurate to their contribution to society. I suggest capping bankers wages to make that one work. Sounds like Socialism? Perhaps, but I see it more as humanism – and, besides, the current Government bailout of so many companies and workers right now shows that centralised intervention can be a very good thing. We are a civilised society, after all.
- Adopt a different approach to national boundaries
Although borders are closed right now, and it feels we’re all fighting this on a country-by-country basis, there’s a great deal of international cooperation going on at the moment. This is not a war as some politicians like to say. We’re fighting a common enemy, and the whole of mankind is united in defeating it. Hopefully, when it’s over, we will be closer as a species, and more willing to cooperate more closely in the future. The virus hasn’t respected borders, and I hope, in time, our attitude to crossing them will be different – it’s a privilege to enjoy freedom of travel, and we should never forget it.
Stay safe out there, remain indoors, and keep your distance!
Apologies for that – normal service will be resumed now. Here’s a picture of a 1970s petrol station.