I remarked to one of the theatre group the other day that I could barely believe that three months had passed since the post-production fish and chip dinner. There had been the odd quip that evening in early March. "No hugs, I'm social distancing." They were quips, little jokes. Someone reckoned that Listerine would act as a decent hand sanitiser: the alcohol content, you see. How little we knew, understood or expected. A week later, and the world as we did know it came to a halt.
It's flown by, hasn't it. For Heaven's sake, it's almost midsummer. Winter was still with us both the night of the fish and chips and the following weekend - the state of alarm weekend. Nature's wrath had intervened on that night. A storm could be seen strobing and heard growling out at sea. When it hit the land of the bay area, down came the rain in its unforgiving torrents. The storm before the calm of a living nightmare. That first Sunday, when you could drive around and not yet feel as if you were a criminal by doing so, the bars had their shutters down. Silence had descended, and the ghosts of tourism past were already stirring and preparing to stalk the lost souls of an apocalypse. Even the church bells had stopped ringing.
But this is in the past. The new normal approaches, and it will indeed be midsummer. What's it all about again? The Saint John the Baptist Eve gatherings on the beaches? Cleansing, purification, with some fertility thrown into the mix? Cleansing has rarely been so apt. The sea is a giant tank of disinfectant. Midsummer will arrive, and there'll be a rare game to play. Spot the test tourists. Otherwise, normality will only be partially restored. Bars, good numbers of them, will still be closed. Hotels, those which will serve little purpose unless Britons suddenly and miraculously begin to drop from the skies, will retain their winter clothing of papered-up glass facades.
Time has played a trick. It's been over in a flash, when it wasn't, and now time is rushing towards the new normal, assisted by the determination of those who want to beat the rush, get there first and claim bragging rights. The Balearics have been dogged in seeking to define a not quite new normal of pilot tourists and safe corridors, but it is not the Balearics which look set to climb the podium and claim the gold medal for the first to adopt the new normal. Galicia is in pole position, its president, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, saying that if the data remain good, the Galician government will be proposing a state of alarm exit on Monday.
The rush is understandable. Life must return to normal, as normal as it can be when an American Express card has been replaced by a mask and advice of - "don't leave home without it". Understandable, yet at the same time with some trepidation. The Spanish government has issued its decree for a post-state of alarm new normality, but it is a decree conspicuous by what it doesn't say rather than by what it does. Social distancing and masks notwithstanding, where are the rules? A curious reassurance of the past months has been the existence of rules. The new normal implies improvisation within the framework of an ever-present threat, and Galicia wants to be the first to take the giant leap.
The regions will no doubt come up with their own prescriptions, but now that the new normal looms, the micro-management of everyday life cannot be prescriptive - or overly prescriptive. Definitions of exercise time were examples of this micro-management, but what definitions will there now be? Any? And if there are, for how long? We know that the new normal decree will last until the health crisis finally disappears, thanks to a vaccine and/or effective treatment, but there's the interpretation of this decree and its applicability in given situations.
"No hugs, I'm social distancing." And this takes me back three months, longer in fact, and to the minutiae of what had previously been normal but now doesn't seem to be. It's just one example, but if you're on a stage, do you have to ensure that you are at all times a metre and a half away from someone else? The theatre group wouldn't normally perform until February, but who can tell what the new normal will bring in the meantime? Even if there isn't a renewed outbreak, eight months down the line, will the town hall be insisting that there are metre and a half gaps between members of the audience?
It's an example, and a minor one, but it is indicative of what will be continuing uncertainties and unknowns, of individual suspicions regarding how to behave and how to be. The rush is on to embrace the new normal. It can't come quick enough, but by the same token it can feel as if it is too fast. The rules of confinement created a weird institutionalisation, and this - together with its strangely imposed reassurance - is about to go.