Pandemic diary 71: A peripatetic tale of sunscreen

Waiting for the weather to cool so I can plant out some food crops at the resurrected allotment later this week.

I work for a freight and logistics firm a few hours a week. Their journey through the coronavirus outbreak has been pretty interesting. It's an industry of small margins across a multitude of jobs and so the sudden hold on the economy is as difficult for them as anyone. But they are also essential key workers, responsible for keeping supplies moving. Most recently they have been part of the NHS supply chain for medical supplies.

As lockdown starts to lift I was interested in what kind of cargo was moving through their yard now. Apparently one of the biggest movers is sunscreen. Stacks of the stuff. Daily. Because people are exercising more and because:

May 2020 has been the sunniest calendar month on record with 266 hours of sunshine, beating the previous record of 265 hours in June 1957.

Met Office

Today the public have been asked to go easy on water consumption amid a surge in demand (BBC News). That's been coming, I suppose, with the recent heatwave and lack of big rain over the lockdown.

Anyway, I was just going to note that sunscreen consumption was up. But then it put me in mind of that song from 1999: Baz Luhrman's 'Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen'. The one with all the advice?

Quite pertinent advice even now, like:

Get to know your parents; you never know when they’ll be gone for good

Be nice to your siblings; they are your best link to your past and the
People most likely to stick with you in the future

Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you
Should hold on

Wear Sunscreen

And always wear sunscreen (hear that, Pete?)

Anyway, anyway, I looked up the source of the lyric monologue and it turned out to have been written by journalist Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune, after a sunny walk around Lake Michigan in 1997. Short of ideas for a column, she saw a sunbather and hoped she was wearing sunscreen. She then cobbled together a column out of all the advice she, as a 40-something, had for 18-24-year-olds. She wrote it in four hours. (More on how it came to go viral here.)

And here is the original column. It has a few extra lines than the song, including this lovely end line about advice:

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

Mary Shmich, 1997

In the song it was read out by a man but it was written by a woman, which maybe alters the reading of it? Either way, it's good to know that she got credit in the end.

Anyway, anyway, ANYWAY! What was incredible on tonight's sunscreen journey was the discovery that Schmich, now 66, still writes her column up to three times a week for the paper.

Including on the death of George Floyd (pandemic diary 69) about structural racism in the US. And some great pandemic diary columns that are well worth a read.

Anyway, anyway, anyway, ANYWAY! I just wanted to point that out. I'm feeling the universe connecting tonight.


Today I am not exactly thankful but bemused to see British Vogue putting three London key workers on its cover. A train driver, midwife and a supermarket worker will all feature on July's front page. If mags did this a bit more often, I might even start buying them again instead of tearing them up for collage.

Also glad the weather is breaking a bit tomorrow. The plants and potato crops need a drink.

Even so, don't forget to wear sunscreen. It's still good advice.

Commission/hire me: fiona [at]

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