I am Robert Neville, the only human left on earth travelling around a deserted city, the setting sun casting its golden light across the still streets and buildings on a warm summer’s evening. There are no cars on the road, no people on the once busy footpaths. The shops are all shut, the restaurants are all closed and I am alone, the only person in a deserted metropolis. As the sun continues to set, I am reminded that I must get back to the safety of my fortified home by sundown or the nocturnal “ Family” of Albino Mutants will hunt me down and kill me.
But this is not March 1975, it is April 2020. The human race has not been wiped out by a biological warfare pandemic in a fictional movie but the world is in lockdown due to a deadly and highly communicable virus of pandemic proportion. I’m not driving around the streets of L.A in a
Ford XL Convertible but am riding around central London on my pushbike. All is quiet as I speed down Regent Street onto Piccadilly, then down past the dark theatres on Shaftesbury avenue. I turn right into an eerily silent China Town, then through Leicester Square and onto the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square, under admiralty Arch, then down The Mall, stopping to look at Buckingham Palace. I feel free and happy, unencumbered by the usual noise and crowdedness of a busy capital city. This is my city now, silent and fantastically empty. Just for me and no-one else. I don’t have a curfew of sundown but I am restricted to an hour’s exercise per day so I cycle around the abandoned roads, up through Covent Garden without impediment, acutely aware that this is an extraordinary situation, the likes of which have not been seen for a century.
As I zoom around the empty capital I ruminate on the people hiding away inside the buildings from an invisible enemy. I think about what I’ve seen on the news and social media feeds, how people are experiencing and adapting to this radical and unimaginable life change. Wide spread job losses precipitating an ailing economy, challenges around working from home combined with home-schooling and domestic issues coming to the fore in confined places. On the flip-side, it’s been reported that pollution is down, animals are roaming the people-less streets in true tapocalyptic
film style, working from home has been said to have reduced stress levels and our nation has been inspired by the indomitable centenarian Captain Tom.
An article I read somewhere reported that a study had been done that concluded people who were fans of disaster and apocalyptic movies were ‘better prepared’ to deal with this pandemic. I’ve watched a few in my time but I’m not necessarily a ‘fan’. Whether or not my exposure to
disaster films has ‘prepped’ me, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m one of the lucky ones. Many have lost so much.
Pausing my ride home along Charring Cross road by the Hippodrome, I see a solitary figure carrying plastic bags, presumably groceries. What is the deal with toilet paper?
My journey nearly over, I approach the sanctuary of my home. Like Robert Neville, I have what I need in my bubble and have come to realise that I can live without the trappings of consumerism. Life has become simple. I do miss hugs though. As we all deal with lockdown with varying
degrees of hardship, I wonder what life will be like on the other side. Selfishly for now at least, I don’t want to go back to ‘normal’. I want the streets and roads to myself, I want the animals to roam freely, I want nature to recover, I want the sun to never set…
But then I must remind myself, I’m not in a movie.