S. Margaret Williamson, Barony Contact Point


When people stare at my all enveloping PPE the following day I wear even more.

I am the Sigourney Weaver of PPE. In my plastic poncho, I have been compared to a begoggled angel. I arrive. I spin upon my heels. I am gone. I am not a healthcare worker. I’m a city resident who has taken PPE wearing to another level. A fetish if you like. This natty getup that I wear is comparable to a triumphant cloaking device, and yet it is a transparent bell. My bubble of a wedding train. It takes concentration to don. The material is as cumbersome to climb into as a pantomime horse's bottom half, but wearing it makes me feel catwalk grandiose. Nobody objects to a cabaret star engirdled as a pantomime dame. Nobody bats a spangled eyelid at that itchy frock. This is my flamboyant equivalent, my ceremonious regalia. In my PPE I go all Joan of Arc. In a stiff breeze these plastic veils rattle like a fireworks display.

Before the pandemic froze the pompous architecture of Edinburgh, ironically rendering sealed up Mary King's close as the one street free of contamination, all of the spellbound citizens, loyal to the laws of lockdown-somnolence, became universally dutiful. The city went as empty as a drum. Preternatural mass paralysis, so redolent of fairy tales and poisoned spinning needles, made us sleep for a hundred years. None of this was foreseen, but I myself am psychic and so months prior to the pandemic I rattled a hundred shutters to warn of the need to wear masks. Being mad, few ever listen to me. Always a hallmark of a good fairy story that one, the token unheard. I have since those early adventures become so enamoured with my costume that I privately call it my "covid chique". I imagine Grayson Perry in his girly dress and affixed bow probably got heckled during his initial tiptoes to liberation. The freedom of choice to wear exactly as one pleases, the freedom of choice to look as one honestly does is a freedom only granted to very small children, those bastions of joy. Google Streetview, give or take a few stop-motion blurs, saw everyone so simultaneously frightened of death they vanished as one tsunami sucked into houses. Contrary to pre-pandemic festival snarling, those heckling pedestrians who jockeyed for pavement rights nervously sealed themselves off in a million tenements. Nothing moved, save the glint of sunlight, peeling off a dozen windows like so many guillotines.

Desertion can look like Armageddon, or desertion can look like beauty. Some cannot bear to recall it for its bleakness, others cannot bear to recall it for its serenity. Retreating into battened hatches occurred because in one fell swoop humanity felt electrocuted by the needy impulse towards collective concern. Suddenly it was concern that was booming, not profits. We couldn't amass enough of the stuff. We became protective and visiting and checking and distancing and volunteering and clapping and stretcher bearing. We became a Cosmic Mother.

Concern and economics make uneasy bed fellows. Concern is just too effete to pass as sexy. During the fairy tale drowse, the empathetic concerned woke up with disgruntled covid deniers. The streets were suddenly flooded with a backwash tsunami, of plank hard bravado. Striding multitudes came cha-cha-chaaing on pub crawls. Maskless women hobbled in or out of platform shoes, as if to strut the pandemic away. They coordinated themselves as a line-dance of seagulls, stamping out the storm of ego hunger, by riverdancing up a few worms.

The people who want to preserve their freedom of choice, to protect themselves with elaborate PPE, are getting frowned at by the people who want to protect their freedom of choice to have a daring, risky existence without it. Never before has freedom of choice been so thrown into sharp relief. I see this moment as a time to understand that absolutely nothing threatens our freedom of choice to wear what we individually find most comfortable to wear, if we each assert that freedom. Which is why, if I get mouthed at by an oggler I go bolder. I maximize my PPE to the supermodel hilt. But other times, if I am angrily gawped at, shillyshallying past a hundred shoppers, puffing in my blizzard of cellophane wings, I merely cast my eyes low. Within my foggy goggles I do not have to confront lampooning stares. I droop my lids and feel as untouchable as a Tuscan alabaster effigy. I walk the aisles, a beatified folksy saint. Miraculously, my not looking up is enough to part crowds, this and a smear wiped, sanitized shopping trolley.

The viral particle is the squashed face on wanted posters. Behind newsreaders, that delicious prickly cupcake of death, that invisible demonic pizza, or a raspberry gone wrong, wants you. When demons are afoot, populations get heated enough to demonize everyone who looks suspiciously like they are "it", the lurking threat.

Only the normal in their normalcy jeans are deemed okay. They say everyone needs to fix the trauma of lockdown by being normal again, but that has narrowed what normality refreshingly began to blossom into. During lockdown, inspired dreamers thought we can do things differently from now on, less traffic, more free food, lots of bicycles, pruning the roses, chatting to neighbours, focussing on care of the body, nutrition, therapy, peace and love. Lockdown was a hippie moment, an opportunity to create eco reforms. A radical normal seemed about to dawn. Environmental. Concern was its midwife, an angel in PPE on every ward.

But my war is not about a pandemic. It is about the climate emergency and the need for locking down pollution. As a war its huge, towering Angel is rising above the trenches.