23 Mar Not Enough Silly
Last year we had an idea in February about what fun it would be to make some printing blocks for Easter: patterned eggs and dancing hares, etc. Time was short. We had a fun few days coming up with ideas. Our very obliging rubber stamp maker rushed an order of thirty sets through for us. We packed the blocks into their pretty pink boxes, took a few photos, mentioned them on Instagram and twenty minutes later we sold out. We were astonished and very pleased An avalanche of emails from disappointed customers who missed the boat descended upon us. Now we were mortified. Straining every sinew, our rubber stamp maker made thirty more sets, and then sixty more, but gave us notice that they couldn’t cope with this sort of thing. A useful learning experience: Must Plan Ahead.
Later in the year, during the summer, anticipating the return of fun that was surely about to follow the imminent end of covid, we designed a new set of printing blocks: a sort of Harlequin’s Carnival of jugglers, acrobats, dancing princesses, performing animals and bunting, suitable for any and all joyful occasions. They were all ready to go in late November when Omicron arrived and back came masks and graphs on the news and what-have-you and it didn’t seem the right moment. We thought we’d keep them back until February, when the wave might have passed, and they would be very suitable for a post-covid, pre-Lenten jollification. In many places the carnival before Lent begins is pretty wild and exuberant, a feast of misrule when normal life is suspended for a few days, the low become high and the high become low and ridiculousness and overindulgence are the order of the day. In this country we have tamed that into the very modest feast of Pancake Day, the idea being that on Shrove Tuesday we thriftily use up all butter, eggs and milk that might otherwise go to waste during the self-denying Lenten fasting to come, and overturn the natural order by a thrilling act of debauchery: eating an evening meal that consists entirely of pudding.
Well, man plans, and God laughs. On Monday February 21st it was announced that all covid restrictions would be lifted in England three days later, on Thursday 24th. First thing that Thursday morning Russia invaded Ukraine. There may have been, at most, an hour or two between the officially designated end of the plague and the onset of war. Extremely sombre mood replaced the previous fairly sombre mood. For some of us of a particular vintage, a long-absent but completely familiar emotion reemerged. I spent the early hours of the Friday morning half-awake and when I woke properly realised that I had been going over bomb shelter options in my mind in the manner of my anxious ten year-old self. It turns out I have perfectly preserved memories of 1970s and 80s government advice in the event of imminent nuclear war. (For anyone who doesn’t remember and is interested, you were supposed to remove several doors from their hinges and use them to box in your kitchen table. In this shelter you were to store tinned goods, water, first aid supplies, blankets and, if the worst happened, yourself.) Comparing notes with contemporaries I find they too have been tipped into a strangely vivid remembering of this past era of government emergency advice – but people just a little older or younger seem to have been, if not oblivious, then less preoccupied.
The sombre mood continues, and the situation in Ukraine becomes every day more grave. Covid has more or less vanished from our screens, and the immunologists have been replaced with tank experts and economists and analysts discussing total global political realignment. Prices, which were already climbing in a rather scary way before this new challenge, are now rocketing. Once again, we thought, not the right moment for an eruption of silliness and delight.
And yet, a month later spring is here in its utterly irrepressible way, just as it was at the beginning of covid, making that strange time also rather precious. It really is delightful to be able to see friends and family easily again. Babies continue to be born and couples to get married. Perhaps one should seize happiness where one may. I certainly feel that after the past two years I am suffering from some kind of critical deficit of silliness and jollity. Today is the second anniversary of this country locking down – a hitherto unheard of concept. Whether or not the disease itself is gone, or has at least been defanged, all that enforced social isolation seems to be over now. Therefore fully recognising that it’s an inappropriate moment, we are nevertheless mentioning the existence of our new carnival printing blocks, in case any of you have some personal jubilee needing to be celebrated and might find them handy.
Fairly early in the pandemic, we designed this card. We thought it was a bit of a risk, since it was an unusual sentiment for a greetings card (unsurprisingly, “Happy Birthday” outsells all other messages by several orders of magnitude) and of course the interesting times would probably end pretty soon, leaving us with lots of no-longer-relevant cards on our hands. Alas, the times they just get more and more interesting, and we are now reprinting.