As I write this post, the UK has just announced severe restrictions on people’s movements across the entire country. Life under lockdown is now a reality.
The situation changes drastically from day to day. Here are my thoughts from the last four.
Friday 20th March
Former Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously said, “a week is a long time in politics”. This last week has felt like a lifetime. We have hurtled at breakneck speed from concern, gentle guidance and selective stockpiling to mass closures in the leisure and entertainment industry and supermarkets with shelves bare of virtually all staples.
For me, the last seven days have been bookended by a pair of appearances on BBC Radio Berkshire. Last week I spent two hours in the studio, chatting light-heartedly about the trials and tribulations of parenthood and joking about alternative greetings to handshakes in a world of growing coronavirus fears. We hugged at the end. This week I was dialled in on the phone for five minutes, with one of the show’s presenters advised not to travel from London and talking more soberly about how coronavirus and school closures were impacting us as a family. If I had been in the studio, a two-metre separation would have been enforced.
Actually, it’s not so much that last week feels like a lifetime ago – it feels like it was a completely different lifetime altogether.
Isaac has now completed three days of home study. Toby and Kara finished school this afternoon. And while nobody is talking openly about when they might return, I understand that teachers and older pupils were very much treating it as the end of the academic year.
It’s particularly tough on the Year 6s, who may just have had their last day as primary school students, and the Year 11s and 13s, whose GCSEs and A-levels have been cancelled. They have no clear idea what happens next, or when.
What price a night down the pub?
I saw a meme on Facebook tonight which perfectly summed up the ridiculousness of some people’s attitudes.
Today the government ordered pubs, clubs, restaurants and gyms to close, and once again urged people to practise social distancing. A not inconsiderable number opted to react to this by heading straight to the pub with their friends.
In a way, I can understand this. For some it was one final blowout before entering into some form of lockdown.
For others, though, it was an act of defiance by the dwindling but significant minority who still think this is a storm in a pint glass. These so-called libertarians talk about how their freedoms and their ability to choose are being curtailed. Many of them seem to think they know better than the combined knowledge of the world’s epidemiologists.
I don’t call them libertarians. I call them idiots.
Frankly, it astonishes me how some still continue to think that the idea of social distancing is solely about protecting themselves. They do not – or will not – understand that this is just as much about protecting others.
I wonder how many people contracted the coronavirus in pubs this evening. How many more will they go on to infect? And how many more people will die and how much longer will it take to contain COVID-19? All for the sake of one last night down the pub.
Saturday 21st March
This was as close to a normal day as we could possibly have in our ‘new normal’. It felt good.
Some things have, inevitably, changed. Saturdays generally involve a lot of shuttling back and forth with various kids’ activities. But with all classes and training sessions now cancelled, our usual hectic Saturday opened up leisurely in front of us.
I mowed the lawn. Ordinarily I look at this as drudgery of the highest order but today I welcomed the routine. Routine is comforting right now.
The kids played outside together and started bickering the moment I left them to their own devices. Nothing new there.
I cooked a roast this evening. Normally we’d do this for Sunday lunch but hey. I lock myself into my own personal fiefdom in our kitchen. My territory. I can play my own music playlists. And I follow my own finely honed process. For a couple of hours I can close the door – both metaphorically and literally – on the outside world. It’s culinary escapism.
We had a family read together before putting the kids to bed.
It being the weekend, the media is quieter too. No big news or announcements to worry about. Fewer arguments on Twitter. Quite the opposite, in fact. I spent much of this morning connecting with friends on social media and enjoying the interaction – more so than I normally would.
If there’s one positive thing I hope comes out of this whole situation, it’s that the networks that are being gradually reestablished will survive and thrive. That would be lovely.
It’s not just me who’s keeping a record of what it’s like to live through this crisis. Many other bloggers are writing up their thoughts too. And millions of people are sharing their experiences, fears and memes publicly on social media too.
This is the first truly global event that will be recorded and shared in such a widespread way for the posterity of future generations. I wonder what historians 50 years from now will make of it all.
We have given each of our children a notebook, which we are encouraging them to use as a journal to capture this unique period of their lives. Isaac has embraced this idea with the passion he always has for literary projects. It’s a slower burn for Toby and Kara. It will be fascinating to look back on the viewpoints of a 12, ten and seven-year-old.
Sunday 22nd March
This wasn’t how Mother’s Day was meant to be. We had already cancelled out usual trip to take my mum out to lunch a couple of weeks ago. A card and a Skype video call had to suffice.
Instead, we went out for a geocaching walk in the morning on a quiet loop through the local woods. In two hours, we encountered maybe half a dozen dog-walkers, with everyone courteously observing safe social distancing.
It’s a shame it takes something like this to remind us that we’re so close – barely 30 minutes’ walk – to quiet woodland like this.
Going to Legoland a week ago really does seem like an eternity. Today, I’ve been constantly second-guessing whether going geocaching was the right thing to do. While many people seem to be ignoring warnings about social distancing altogether – photos of Brighton seafront could have been easily mistaken for mid-August – there are others who firmly believe it requires full-on isolation.
Self-imposed quarantine makes absolute sense to me if you want to minimise the risk to your physical health. But, without wanting to put any of us (or others) at risk, I think there’s a lot to be said for doing activities that help preserve our mental well-being too – as long as we’re sensible and follow government guidance. Fundamentally, we’re all working without a definitive rule-book here. Who’s to say what’s right and what isn’t? (Other than absolutely everyone on Twitter, that is …)
Not all doom and gloom
At times like these, it’s so easy to focus solely on the negatives. But there have been positive aspects to this past week too. Here are a few of mine.
To give me a clean break between ‘work’ and ‘home’ at the end of the day, I’m going for early evening runs. Isaac and Toby joined me on Monday. Kara ran with me on Tuesday. I’m hoping we can keep doing this at least once a week.
Being at home has made it easier for us to all have dinner as a family, something that normally only happens at weekends. It also means I have more time to cook – I like cooking – and it frees up time for us to watch films or play games together, especially now the kids can afford to sleep in a little later in the morning.
Isaac has been studying at home for three days already and has joined me twice on my lunchtime walks. This gives us an opportunity for some one-to-one time. We talk about his morning’s lessons and I can check in on his well-being. I’ve loved having that opportunity.
The kids have rediscovered Countdown. We’re working it into our daily schedule as a fun way for them to keep their literacy and numeracy skills sharp.
It’s minor in the greater scheme of things, but there’s also a financial benefit. I have a 45-mile round trip to work and a terrible Starbucks habit. Working at home saves me £50 a week on petrol and coffee. Plus, of course, I’m pumping out less in emissions from my car.
Of course, our days aren’t all skipping through the daisies. There’s going to be a lot of drudge, boredom and treading on each other’s toes as time goes on. But you have to make the most of finding the sunshine between the showers, right? Otherwise what’s the point?
Monday 23rd March
The most unexpected part of today was that we got through our first day with all five of us cooped up in the house working/studying without World War Three breaking out.
To be fair to the kids, they were great. They started with an online PE session with Joe Wicks. They finished snuggled up with us on the sofa watching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In between they studied and they played and they kept the bickering and requests for snacks, drinks and screen time to a minimum.
It’s only one day and they will soon start to fray around the edges. But it was a good day and that’s enough of a victory to celebrate.
The most expected part of today happened after they had gone to bed, though …
Lockdown at last
So the UK is now heading into three weeks of lockdown. We’re allowed out to shop for essentials, to go to and from work if required and to exercise once a day but essentially that’s it other than emergencies. No gatherings of more than two people. All non-essential shops to close.
We’ve over-used the word ‘unprecedented’ a lot over the past week or so. But this really is unprecedented in my lifetime.
I’m really beginning to regret not getting my hair cut last week. By the time I next get to a hairdresser’s, I’m going to resemble Rip Van Winkle.
It was inevitable, really. Polite requests to practise social distancing were simply being ignored by too many people. Mount Snowdon had its busiest day on record on Saturday. People queuing to panic-buy outside large supermarkets were barely observing two centimetres’ separation, let alone two metres.
We can’t say we didn’t bring this on ourselves. It remains to be seen how many people will still refuse to comply with these new regulations. But hopefully it will finally shake enough people out of their complacency and childish rebellion. Hopefully it’s not too late to flatten the curve.
Three weeks is a long time – but it’s near enough that we can still see the light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s hope that’s all it is, that it’s enough to turn the tide and we will see the restrictions relaxed at the end of it.
Our government has now rolled the dice. Hopefully we won’t come up snake-eyes. Life under lockdown begins now.