We’re now over a month into lockdown and I’ll be the first admit that things haven’t quite panned out the way I expected them to.
But that’s okay. For everything I haven’t yet done or achieved, there is something else to celebrate. And those small wins, however unexpected, keep us sane, right?
Monday 20th April
Today is the end of the fourth week of lockdown – and the beginning of my sixth week working at home.
Many things have gone as expected. I’ve enjoyed not having to commute. Adapting to not seeing colleagues in the office has been reasonably easy. And it’s been great to be more present with the kids.
But some things have surprised me. I thought we’d have more time to catch up with TV, read and play games together. Instead our evenings are full of Zoom calls and virtual pub quizzes. Who’d have thought that a month ago? In fact, I’ve spent more time socialising over this past month than I would have done normally. (Not that that’s saying much.)
We’ve also taken the opportunity to do things a little differently. Explore our local surroundings more. Do new activities with the kids. Enjoy the rare experience of not having a million-and-one things to do and just relax in the garden with a good book.
Different is good. As restrictive as life under lockdown can seem, it’s also allowing us to rediscover the simple pleasures in life. That’s not such a bad thing.
Tuesday 21st April
Before all the madness kicked off, the kids and I were looking forward to seeing the In The Heights movie in June. (It’s a film based on the first musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton.)
Today, unsurprisingly, the release was pushed back 12 months to June 2021. It says something that I barely batted an eyelid at this news.
When, on 4th March, the new Bond film No Time to Die was pushed back to November, this seemed like quite an extreme reaction. Now it’s looking remarkably prescient and, if anything, a bit optimistic. In the seven intervening weeks, many other major events have been delayed or cancelled altogether: the Olympics, Euro 2020, Glastonbury, the list goes on.
We’re used to having a busy diary. Most weekday evenings and weekends are a constant juggling act of kids’ and family activities. Now we have learned to live with a calendar that contains little more than a few Zoom calls and the occasional local walk.
It will feel very strange whenever we go back to ‘normal’ social activities.
Wednesday 22nd April
I’ve come to the conclusion that some of the language used to discuss this crisis is far from helpful, particularly when it comes to the data. (And that’s before we even consider what is and isn’t counted in the official figures. Don’t get me started on that.)
In the early days of COVID-19, we talked of the importance of ‘flattening the curve’. This is intuitively simple to understand. But now discussion centres more on getting ‘past the peak’. Or we talk about ‘spikes’ in the daily data.
This isn’t helpful.
Thankfully, a downward trend is gradually emerging in the number of daily deaths. This leads to slightly self-congratulatory messages about being ‘past the peak’. Which sounds great, but we musn’t lose sight of the fact there are still hundreds of people dying each day. Today’s number of new deaths was 763, hardly cause for either back-slapping or complacency.
There was also much excitement on Monday, with ‘only’ 449 deaths reported. However, a ‘spike’ yesterday saw the number jump back up to 828.
Again, this isn’t helpful.
If ‘past the peak’ can lead to complacency, ‘spikes’ can result in panic. Mathematicians will tell you that single data points are always subject to random fluctuations. ‘Real’ data may follow a clear trend over time, but the line is rarely smooth. And not all fluctuations are random either; some are systematic. Throughout this crisis, a dip in Monday numbers is indicative of slower reporting rates over the weekend and precedes a rise over the following day or two once the backlog clears.
The moral of this story? We shouldn’t get too excited over a single day’s data in isolation. And we should trust the longer-term trends the data shows us more than the misleading language of journalists who are, let’s not forget, much better trained in headline-grabbing than statistical analysis.
Thursday 23rd April
It was a month ago today that the UK lockdown was announced. I have now reached the point where it’s hard to remember how many weeks it has been, let alone how many days.
Although my inner monologue is now very much in the style of Marcus Bentley, the Geordie voiceover man from Big Brother. “Day 31, 6:45am. Tim wakes up to find Toby downstairs watching an old Top Gear yet again …”
Lockdown feels a bit like Big Brother, doesn’t it? Except there’s no definite end-date, there are 60-plus million housemates and we would like nothing better than to be let out of the house …
Friday 24th April
It was a good day today, and those are always worth celebrating.
I took this afternoon as holiday and clocked off for the week at lunchtime, which is always nice. This meant I got to sit in on Kara’s martial arts brown belt grading, which she passed with flying colours. Almost literally flying, as it happens.Kara is fantastic to watch in action. She has strength, flexibility, balance and body control from gymnastics, coupled with bags of power and aggression. I wouldn’t mess with her!
Her instructors have done a fantastic job to quickly transition from regular to online classes. So instead of her usual once-a-week session, she’s now doing three or four. She loves it, and it helps fill the gap left by her reduced gym training.
This evening we had a weekly Zoom catch-up with local friends, including our DIY quiz where everyone chips in with a round or two.
We used to do pub quizzes all the time but fell out of the habit once we started having kids. Getting back into them has been one of the unexpected benefits of lockdown. We participate in a couple of others a week but I also find it surprisingly therapeutic to create my own. It helps keep me distracted and my mind off more negative thoughts.
Saturday 25th April
I drove my car today for the first time in nearly a month, in a fruitless search for patio gas. (First world problems, eh?) It was also the first time I had set foot inside a building other than my own house since 26th March.
I miss shopping. Heather does our weekly grocery shop now, eschewing the big superstores for a mid-sized Tesco that offers a less stressful shopping experience. Although even there it’s normal to queue for 15 minutes just to get in, in accordance with the now-standard one-in, one-out policy.
Anyhow, this week we decided to have an extra focus on differentiating our weekend from the usual Monday-to-Friday and do things that we don’t normally do. So the kids made home-made tagliatelle and pesto for lunch; it wouldn’t have won any prizes for aesthetics but it tasted great. And we held our own family karaoke evening, hooking up a phone app to our TV and spending two full hours belting out our favourite songs. Heather and I switched over to a Zoom call at 8pm – Saturday nights are quiz nights – but the kids kept going until 9:30pm.
I think that counts as a success. Although it wasn’t until later that we realised we had left a living room window open throughout. Er, oops.
Sunday 26th April
Having hared around working in the garden all morning, I was able to get out for a solo 7km walk before firing up the barbecue for lunch.
Walking or running is my anchor in all this madness. Sometimes it’s a shared family activity. When I run, it’s often just Kara and me. And at other times it’s an opportunity to retreat into my own thoughts with just a podcast or some music for company. Whatever form it takes, it’s an hour during which I can ignore the world, allow myself to relax and build up my mental health, ready to tackle the day or the week ahead. We’re going to need plenty of that in the weeks and months ahead.
Previous ‘Life under lockdown’ entries