Life under lockdown: The long road back to ‘normal’

Life under lockdown

After seven weeks of lockdown, the UK took its first tentative steps on the road back to normality this week. For some, this couldn’t happen soon enough; for others, it’s too much too soon.

In our case, the reality is that not all that much has changed between last week and this one. But there’s no shortage of things happening to give us food for thought, though.

Monday 11th May

I’m not sure how I feel about the government’s plan to start phasing primary schools back in. This could start as early as June 1st. As the initial cohorts will be years six, one and reception, Toby and Kara won’t be part of the first wave. I’m not sorry about that at all.

Getting kids back to school is important for both their education and mental health. It’s also crucial for getting people who can’t arrange alternative childcare back to work.

Nonetheless, I worry about the safety of pupils, teachers and other support staff. That’s particularly so when it comes to four and five-year-olds. I do understand that an extended period in lockdown may be damaging to kids’ mental health. But I also wonder about the impact of half-empty classrooms, strict social distancing and stressed teachers.

There’s definitely a benefit in testing new procedures with a subsection of children. That will help schools iron out any issues ahead of a new school year in September.

But I do wonder how much guidance the government is providing schools. To what extent are they having to work it all out for themselves?

I recognise that it’s impossible to guarantee zero risk. And some vulnerable students will have to stay at home. But does the ambition to restart the economy tally with maximising safety for children and their families? I’m not sure it does. There is a distinct lack of published plans. And the government’s often poor handling of this crisis to date gives me pause for thought.

The government will push hard for the earliest possible return date. But will that be for the right reasons? Or is it too much too soon, pushing responsibility – and potential blame – onto schools? If it were my kids going back, I would want a lot more information before agreeing to send them back to school. There are still a few weeks in which to fill in those blanks. But there’s a big job to do to reassure parents that it’s safe to send their children back. At this point, I wouldn’t be feeling reassured.

Tuesday 12th May

Over the past eight weeks, I have driven my car a grand total of three times, covering a total distance of 35 miles. That’s saving me £35 a week in petrol alone, plus whatever I’m saving from not visiting Starbucks multiple times a day.

I haven’t set foot in any shops for seven weeks. As someone who loves to indulge in luxury food items, that’s £20-£25 a week less I’m spending.

We’re not having big family days. And there’s no eating out at restaurants either (although we do now have a weekly takeaway instead). By my estimate, that’s saving us at least £300 a month.

These various savings soon add up. Our monthly credit card bill has shrunk by more than a third. We may not be doing as many exciting things but (a) we’re not bored and (b) we’re saving a huge amount of money. So, upsides.

Wednesday 13th May

We’ve done the social Zoom calls. We’re doing online quizzes.

And now it’s virtual escape rooms. We tried a couple tonight, declared them to be good and decided to do some more soon.

Against all expectations, our weeks keep getting more and more full than ever.

It’s good to talk

Isaac was a bit down today. As a social creature, he’s missing face-to-face contact with his schoolmates. And the realisation that he’s now extremely unlikely to see them again until September is hitting him hard.

I’m so glad he was able to talk to us about his feelings though. He’s been coping well over the past several weeks. But it was good that he was able to open up and we could reassure him that it’s okay for him to have bad days when it all feels like too much, that he’s far from alone and doesn’t need to bottle it all up. Far better for him to talk to us now rather than let it fester and blow up in all our faces later.

It was a reminder to me of the importance of continuing to check in on all our kids. We shouldn’t assume they’re okay just because they don’t appear stressed on the surface. And I think it’s helpful to remind them that us grown-ups share many of their concerns and fears too. We’re all in this together.

Two months later …

It’s exactly two months since my last day in the office. My lockdown routine is now well set. I can’t even remember what my old routine looked like.

The changes to the UK’s pandemic restrictions have affected many people this week. But my routine remains the same. The only thing I’m changing is to split my daily outdoor exercise into two. It allows me to bookend the start and finish of my working day. And it’s a step back towards my pre-lockdown routine of morning and lunchtime walks. It’s also forcing me to get out of bed at something resembling my regular time. I’d been slipping a little later with every passing week.

It’s reassuring to revert to a more familiar, comfortable rhythm. A little of the old mixed in with a bit of the new.

Thursday 14th May

Today was the second day back at work for many non-key workers who aren’t able to work from home. There are now more cars on the roads and more people on public transport – although still only 60%-70% of ‘normal’.

While it’s the end of lockdown for many people, we’re mostly as we were. Both Heather and I continue to work from home. Schools won’t start to reopen until at least June 1st. And our three will continue to study at home until later. For Isaac, this looks like September.

There will be big decisions to make about how we work going forwards. But, for now, those are some way off.

Friday 15th May

I made a point of finishing work at 4pm so we had time to start the weekend as a family. All five of us went out for a long walk, then we had an early dinner and settled down to start a movie. Bliss.

Saturday 16th May

While today was far from unproductive, it wasn’t manic either. It was a day representative of the gradual easing over the past few weeks of the need to be constantly busy.

For sure, we have a lot more family time than we used to. Sometimes we watch films, play games or read together. Saturday mornings have become family housework time. Every weekend since lockdown began we have done either a barbecue or a roast.

And there’s still time for us to do individual or smaller group activities. Kara has two Zoom classes on a Saturday. I went for a long walk. The kids settled in after dinner to watch all the Eurovision coverage. Heather and I dialled into our regular Saturday evening quiz call.

Our days remain full but they’re not overloaded. And we don’t have the same urge to fill every hour of the day. We can decide to spend a quiet half-hour with a jug of coffee or a jigsaw if we want. It doesn’t have to be superseded by the need to do ‘something’.

Maybe we don’t get quite as much done. But it’s a much more relaxing and stress-free way to operate.

Sunday 17th May

The easing of restrictions means we can now drive to places to exercise. And while I welcome the opportunity to go somewhere a bit different, I don’t have any desire to, say, go to the beach. There are the inevitable social distancing issues that would result from crowding. Also, I worry about the risk of spreading the virus to different regions.

So we’ve decided to stay local. We’re fortunate that, within a 10-15 minute drive, we can be walking through woodland away from the hustle and bustle of busy roads and towns. And the kids are old enough now that we can go on a proper long ramble too.

With the sun out and the temperature in the high-teens, we drove five miles up the road to seek out a new geocaching loop. Geocaching is perfect for us. We get out for a long walk. The kids enjoy seeking out each cache, which breaks the walk up into more manageable chunks. 23 caches, 8km, a picnic lunch and four hours later, we were tired but felt justified in having a takeaway dinner. In total, we encountered at most ten other groups of walkers. On a routine 2km round-trip into town, I would encounter twice as many people as that, so it’s safer too.

In our pre-lockdown life, we would have been too busy to set aside half a day like this. But after two months of being largely confined to our house, this felt like a big adventure. Add this to the list of ‘things we should do more of post-lockdown’.

Previous ‘Life under lockdown’ entries

Our ‘new normal’: March 15th-19th

And so it begins: March 20th-23rd

The shapeless monotony: March 24th-26th

A different life: March 27th-29th

Hanging in there: March 30th-April 5th

A marathon, not a sprint: April 6th-13th

So it begins again: April 14th-19th

Not what I expected: April 20th-26th

A never-ending hiatus?: April 27th-May 3rd

Months, not weeks: May 4th-10th


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