A new month, and it feels like the national mood is starting to shift. With primary schools taking a significant step towards fully reopening and a growing number of people shaking off the shackles of lockdown, we are now on the path to restoring normality. At least, that’s what we’re all crossing our fingers for.
While our household continues to behave much the same as we did during the height of the lockdown, it does feel like things are edging gently back to normal even for us. Here are my thoughts from the week.
Monday 1st June
Today was the day the schools went back. Well, at least for children in Reception and Years 1 and 6.
That wasn’t the case for everyone. Not all schools felt adequately prepared to reopen. And in many cases, the need to maintain physical distancing meant the number of children attending was extremely limited.
But it was a first step on the long road back. Now we wait with bated breath to see if this is successful.
Either way, I think we’re a long way from having all kids in all year groups back in school full-time. Even September feels optimistic right now. And the thought of Isaac resuming his commute on a crowded Paddington-bound train every morning is not one that fills me with joy.
Tuesday 2nd June
Sometimes it feels like I’ve been writing about nothing but coronavirus-related events for the past three months. Not today, though.
By the end of the day, over 20 million Instagram images – most of them a single black square – had been posted carrying the hashtag #BlackOutTuesday. Over the past few days, for the first time in months global attention has focussed not on the pandemic but on the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests.
How do you explain to your children why a slogan as self-evident as Black Lives Matter requires even the slightest justification?
Add to that Brexit and the UK’s seemingly inevitable rush towards a No-Deal departure from the European Union, and 2020 is shaping up to be a year quite unlike any other in our lifetimes.
Never mind explaining it to the kids. I’m having a hard enough time explaining it all to myself.
Wednesday 3rd June
With most shops still closed, Thatcham’s small town centre remains quiet. However, the A4 passes right through town and it’s noticeable that traffic levels are returning closer to normal now.
Until a couple of weeks ago, the road was eerily quiet throughout the day, with nearly as many bikes as cars. As a pedestrian, it was easy to avoid other walkers by strolling in the middle of the road almost with impunity. The silence was weird at first but I grew to like it. Already though, that feels like a lifetime ago.
And, increasingly, people are no longer observing a two-metre separation when out and about. To all intents and purposes, lockdown is now over.
Thursday 4th June
I took out a free 90-day trial of Fitbit’s premium services a few days ago and set up some new challenges for me and the boys. Instead of tracking our steps during the week – which I invariably win by a distance – there are bingo-style challenges where each player’s targets are set via a handicap system which means that a high-activity user such as me is set higher targets than a lower-activity rival.
The boys rather like this. It has encouraged them to come out on more walks with me, instead of sitting slack-jawed in front of the TV or Xbox. And that, in turn, provides an extra spur to try a little harder myself. Win-win. My daily step count has been edging up slowly over the past few weeks. From a low point of 12,000 per day, this week I’m back to 20,000 as the boys keep nudging me along. Not bad.
Friday 5th June
The UK coronavirus death toll ticked past 40,000 today. While the overall trend is steadily downwards, the daily count still exceeds 300 regularly basis – three of the past four days, in fact.
No one bats an eyelid any more. We have become so inured to this number that it’s just background noise to many people now. How did this happen? If 300 people died unnecessarily in, say, a plane crash it would be headline news and we would be talking about it for weeks afterwards. Now it’s just another statistic. Multiple deaths are numbingly routine.
Saturday 6th June
We should have been in London this evening to see Queen at the O2. Obviously we weren’t. It has been rescheduled for the same weekend next year – a mere 52 weeks and counting. That feels like an eternity. Sigh.
Instead, we had our regular Saturday night DIY quiz call. This has fast become the highlight of our week. Old friends gathering with wine and beer to throw rounds of questions at each other. (This week’s highlight: Cheese or Service Station.) It has been simultaneously abnormal and yet curiously normal. As much as I will welcome the return of a social life outside of the four walls of our house, I will miss this weekly Zoom call in our living room very much.
Going shopping again – a first step
I like shopping. Back in normal times, it would have been rare for me not to venture into a shop for 72 hours. This morning I set foot inside a shop for the first time in 72 days.
And it was great.
There was nothing exceptional about the shopping experience. I visited Sainsbury’s Local and used the opportunity to top up my snack drawer. But it felt good to do something so downright mundane again.
My friend Fran wrote recently about how lockdown has turned FOMO into FOGO. We no longer fear missing out; instead, we fear going out.
Into our 11th week of lockdown, it has started to feel like we’ve become institutionalised. Essential shopping only. Staying at home as much as possible. Minimising the risk to both ourselves and others. I get all that and I’ve supported and complied with the lockdown without (much) complaint.
But at some point we have to start living our lives again. We can’t cower in fear forever, waiting for the all-clear to emerge, blinking, into the sunlight once more. While safety is paramount, particularly for the vulnerable, we’re now at the point where, like a new toddler, it’s time for many of us to take those first faltering steps. Kids going back to school. Shops and offices reopening.
The situation remains far from normal and I’m unconvinced we’re out of the woods yet as far as a potential second wave of COVID-19 is concerned. But it’s time to take a deep breath and accept that we cannot wait for our worlds to become risk-free – because there is no such thing. We absolutely need to be sensible – you won’t catch us heading to the beach any time soon – but, y’know, baby steps. For those of us who don’t need to shield a vulnerable family member, it’s time to take our finger off the pause button.
Sunday 7th June
Another Sunday, another family geocaching walk. This time it was a 6.5km loop across open farmland, taking in part of the Ridgeway path. We almost cried off because a few of us were feeling a bit flat but we were glad we persisted.
Back home, we had a relaxed afternoon, delivery pizzas for dinner and then cocktails and a family book club session to conclude the weekend.
A simple day. But, as we’ve been reminded several times in recent weeks, simple is good.
Back to school?
I read an excellent article on the Times Educational Supplement (TES) website this morning. It shared some first-hand experiences from primary schools and nurseries who this week had reopened their doors to children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6. I found this fascinating. It provided deep insights into the challenges facing schools and the detailed measures they have put in place to protect children.
I was impressed – and reassured. Which I guess was the point of the story. Schools are doing everything they can to manage this stressful situation. It was clear how much planning and effort have gone into this. It wasn’t simply a case of putting fewer desks in classrooms, covering the school in yellow-and-black tape and installing hand sanitiser everywhere.
Our children are not among those who have returned to school. We’ve been mulling over the question of whether we would have sent them back this week if we could. At the beginning of the week, my answer would have been no. But now I can see the theory being put into practice, I think I probably would be okay with it.
As with the whole FOMO/FOGO argument, there is a tipping point where the scales tip the other way. Up to now, we’ve been concerned about protecting our children’s health. Now we need to weigh up the benefit of keeping them at home versus the social and educational benefits of sending them back. I think we’re at that tipping point now.
I don’t know how quickly this road will lead us back to normality. It may even be that we suffer some setbacks along the way and have to back-track. But the wheel is now turning – time to cross our fingers and hope.
Previous ‘Life under lockdown’ entries