25th March 2020: Locked Down

It’s day two of lockdown. Or, perhaps, hopefully-as-locked-down-as-it’s-going-to-get; best manage our expectations. Social distancing and self-isolating are lodged into vocabulary like they’ve been around forever. The phrase ‘when it’s all over’ needs no further explanation.

The world has changed so rapidly that time is, paradoxically, passing extremely slowly. Surely it’s not only a few days since cafés closed? How was that family weekend away by the sea – involving travel, restaurants, a hotel, even a swimming pool – less than two weeks ago?

Like everyone, I’m trying to catch and pin down my thoughts and feelings, which are spraying around my mind from an out-of-control hosepipe. Okay, forgive that dreadful metaphor…a symptom of social distancing is that people-watching to glean writing inspiration now consists of spying on one’s neighbour.

I’ll try to puddle those thoughts. May as well, because – like many – I’m now out of work. Senses of purpose and accomplishment, along with income, dried up overnight. I then applied for – and was rejected from – two temporary supermarket jobs. I know right?! Those that require no prior experience, as these are desperate times and they’ll take anyone. Epic fail. I also applied to volunteer at my local hospital but haven’t heard back. The frustration that I’m shielded from joining the national effort is intensifying. 

My thoughts on ‘the situation’ thus far include the surreal merging of positive and negative. On the one hand, a lot of us are living a life we’ve been craving. No commutes. More time with cohabiting loved ones. Working from home, managing our own time. Gardening. Slow living. On the other hand, it’s a terrifying scenario that no-one is equipped to deal with. A global catastrophe with no end in sight, a very real risk of illness and death and ultimately a future that’s different in ways we cannot imagine. 

Society got slashed in two. We have the heroes on the front line, running around hospitals and stacking shelves. Then there are the stay-at-homers, stuck in a useless bubble, powerless to help and horribly guilty. Every so often, someone moves from the second category into a whole new one, characterised by panic and despair as a friend or relative is taken seriously ill. 

I’m writing, for now thank goodness, as someone in the bubble. The ‘lucky’ category. So how does it feel?

Sun streams through my window but the rays don’t reach me. It’s so impossibly idyllic that it’s surely the setting for a horror film: blossom and daffodils swaying, children squealing, lawnmowers humming suburbia’s theme tune. We’re in a bizarre purgatory with no idea of our fate. If we survive, everything we used to enjoy may no longer apply. And, of course, the devastating reality is that people we hold dear may no longer exist. Which is too much to bear thinking about. 

Those of us in this precarious bubble were demonised at first. We all got thrown into the same pot of tar, apparently rule-flaunters and stock-pilers and tourist-hotspot-visitors. In response, the decent humans among us overcompensated and we now have a growing army of martyrs, posting angry tallies of how many people they saw in the park, or exasperation at spotting someone with grey hair in a shop. Along with, of course, sharing images of makeshift workstations heavily furnished with homely paraphernalia – slippers, mugs, the dog – just in case you had any doubts. That family over the road, who had a barbeque with guests at the weekend, risks being ostracised from the cul-de-sac. They might even be kicked out of the WhatsApp group.

covid-19 diaries

But even for those who don’t break the rules, indications of enjoyment or positivity feel wrong. Clinks of picnicware and bike bells evoke initial snarl and judgement…before you realise, following curtain-twitching scrutiny, that the guys next door aren’t actually breaching any guidelines. Just making the most of the current situation.

This morning, I lost myself for a while in the beauty of spring. On my allotted daily outing I walked on a canal path, chirps and quacks my soundtrack, admiring wild violets, primroses and forget-me-knots. A cloudless sky and proximity to water are my guaranteed mood-boosters. I hardly passed anyone, but when I did it was lovely to exchange those knowing smiles as we performed the 2-metre dance around each other.  I ended my walk at our new house – the one we were almost ready to move in to, before the electrician and plumber had to leave mid-job – for another day of furniture building and nest feathering. I had a video call coffee date with my Mum.

All in all, it’s a pretty lovely day…but how can I possibly think that way? What about all those exhausted doctors and nurses? And that death toll? Do I check the news, to bring back grave reality? Or, do I accept that the most helpful thing I can do presently is to keep myself occupied and safe, quietly allowing the people who have an important role get on with their task?

Reluctantly, the latter option seems the optimal way to contribute. I’ve put myself forward for more volunteering and will actively help where I can, but for now I think we all have to try to maintain wellbeing – permitting ourselves joy at the first butterfly, or cracking a few jokes to bolster camaraderie – because happiness is so crucial to overall health.

‘Responsible fun’ and minimal news-checking. I’ve sorted my strategy for this brave new world.