Cowland’s Chronicles – Return to Paradise

by Chris Cowland –

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

There’s a lot of truth in that song. Having been working from home for the last three months, with no wife or dog around, I found myself getting tired of my long monologues with the fridge and the microwave, and a two-way conversation with them always required a glass or two of wine.

I think I have watched every show offered by Netflix, and I even resorted to Amazon Prime. Looking back, my TV binge did little to make me a better person. Most of the plots were transparent after 15 minutes of viewing: the good guys always won; the Americans were victorious even in wars they did not participate in, and actually discovered penicillin, insulin and the code to the Enigma machine.

But now, everyone is starting to emerge like bears from hibernation, blinking in the sunlight as we gingerly disinfect our hands before tentatively pushing our sanitized carts round the supermarket. I will never forget my shame when I was caught walking south on a north-arrowed aisle, much to the disgust of two fellow shoppers glaring at me above their masks.

It is interesting to ask yourself what you are missing most in this new reality. Bridge players can log on to electronically shuffled hands, and can Skype their partners, but it is strange to see empty baseball diamonds, playgrounds and soccer fields, and boarded up concession stands. It was easy to take restaurants for granted when there was such a choice, and cooking a home-made meal on a Friday night was an exception and not a rule.

For accountants like me, it has been the strangest ever tax season. The best part was always to socialize with hundreds of clients, many of whom I have known for up to 30 years. You can’t send a smile and a firm handshake in an email, and a conversation loses its warmth when it consists of six bullet points and the pressing of a send button.

But the biggest loss of all for my profession has been the cancellation of the Tax Party, that legendary one time of the year when even accountants can act like normal people, let their hair down, and have more than one gin and tonic. Great memories of drinking moonshine, and learning the Moonwalk in line-dancing formation. Not this year! Most tax seasons are a sprint for the line, a deadline you think will be impossible, but which you always meet. This year feels more like a marathon, where you catch a glimpse of the finish line, but when you crest the final hill, someone has moved it out of sight and the race is extended another 90 days.

On reflection, I think what I have missed most is gatherings of family and friends. It takes a few weeks of isolation to truly appreciate human communication and the complexity embodied in a simple smile, or a frown of concern. Many of our parents or grandparents suffered through a world war that seemed without end, and although our pandemic seems minor in comparison with bombs and bullets, the potential outcome is identical even though the enemy is invisible.

But Joni Mitchell had the right idea. Maybe they haven’t paved paradise, but they have certainly kept us out of it for a long time … .

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