Are we still in lockdown? Is it officially over? Unofficially over? Does anyone know anything any more?
It’s been a funny couple of weeks. The early weeks of lockdown are already a fading memory. Yet we remain a long way from normality. Some people are going about life as if nothing ever happened. Others are still cautiously minimising contact with others.
For us, though, the last two weeks have been about steeling ourselves to finally release the pause button.
Tuesday 30th June
Day 100 of lockdown. Or what’s left of lockdown, anyway. It doesn’t really feel like we’re locked down as such any more. It’s more like we’re loosely restrained, like a prisoner held in paper handcuffs.
It’s like being in limbo.
Thursday 2nd July
Toby and Kara went back to school today.
Well, I say ‘back to school’. In reality, they are back for two two-day spells across this and next week. Then they’re done for this school year.
They have both been looking forward to this all week.
Both were keen to see their teachers and at least some of their classmates again for the first time in 3½ months. If nothing else, it’s been good from that socialisation perspective.
Plus, of course, they have now experienced the reality of being in school with all the new measures in place. We don’t yet know what September will look like. But even four days is helpful to remind about school routine and adjust to a new normal. Otherwise, they would have gone nearly six months between the last time they were in a classroom (20th March) and returning for the new school year.
Heather and I walked down to school together with them. When we got back the house felt awfully quiet and empty. For so long there have been five of us at home together all day every day. Not any more.
Friday 3rd July
It says a lot about how odd and limited this year has been that our highlight of the year so far is sitting down to watch the premiere of a four-year-old recording of a musical which we have already twice seen live in the West End.
All five of us have been counting down the days to Hamilton‘s arrival on Disney+ today. This has included arranging and practising five-part (dis)harmonies to several of the show’s key songs as part of what I’d dubbed ‘Project Hamilton’.
We settled down after an early American-style dinner to watch the entire 2½-hour performance together. It didn’t disappoint. This one event has kept our spirits buoyed for several weeks, and it was just what we needed.
Next: Frozen 2.
Monday 6th July
Today was the first time since lockdown began that I’ve really missed face-to-face social contact with people.
I’m not sure why. Maybe it was seeing other people flooding back to shops, pubs and restaurants over the weekend. Whatever the cause, other than our next-door neighbours, I haven’t had a meaningful ‘live’ chat with anyone since my last day in the office: 13th March, over 16 weeks ago.
It’s a long time.
Wednesday 8th July
I ticked off a couple more firsts today.
I had to go to my GP surgery for a face-to-face consultation this afternoon. It’s the first time I’ve been in there since February. Of course, it looks very different. Tape on the floor marking out one-way flows and two-metre distances. Perspex screens to protect masked receptionists. A waiting room with only six rather than 25 seats. Not at all unexpected – but a little weird nonetheless.
I hadn’t visited any shop other than our nearby Sainsbury’s Local since late March, so I was overdue venturing into a ‘big’ store. I celebrated by going to … B&Q, to buy lightbulbs. Rock. And. Roll.
It wasn’t too bad an experience. I’m still conscious about steering clear of other people, but I wasn’t overly twitchy and it wasn’t as nerve-racking an experience as I’d feared it might be.
It’s still going to be a while before I go shopping for fun, though. Which is, at least, good got my bank balance.
Thursday 9th July
I’ve spent the last 3½ months wondering how many of the small independent businesses that dominate Thatcham will survive lockdown. But I’m beginning to think I’ve been worrying about the wrong town centre.
We’re three miles away from Newbury. As a town, it’s large enough to have a decent-sized centre. But it is also within a half-hour’s drive of four much larger shopping destinations – Oxford, Reading, Basingstoke and Swindon. As such, its situation has always been a little precarious. A new shopping precinct was built about ten years ago, bringing with it a decent-sized John Lewis and Debenhams and a host of other upmarket chains. Even before the pandemic, it has teetered on a knife-edge, driving only just enough footfall to offset sky-high rents. It has never quite achieved 100% occupancy.
Today John Lewis announced a raft of store closures; Newbury is one of them. Debenhams as a chain is already on its last legs. Some of the smaller shops won’t reopen. It’s hard to see who will fill those vacancies. There aren’t many obvious takers for a department-store sized unit that aren’t already present elsewhere in town.
It took Newbury a good four or five years to recover from the last recession. I fear it may take longer to recover from the impact of the pandemic. And with four larger and more attractive city/town centres nearby, it’s not hard to see Newbury’s high street turning into a retail ghost town. Hmm.
Friday 10th July
And just like that, school’s out for summer. (Cue Alice Cooper.)
It was all a bit anti-climactic really. Not least because the primary school term doesn’t finish for another week. We’re away next week, so this was the last day just for Toby and Kara.
For Isaac, though, it was genuinely his final day of the year. His last day in school was Tuesday 17th March. Depending on what the government guidelines determine, his first day back on school premises will be either Monday 7th or 14th September. That’s as near as makes no odds six whole months.
While almost four months have passed already, his return to school still feels an awfully long way away. He’s missing the contact with schoolmates who he’s only known for a handful of months; his anxiety is evident. On so many levels, the sooner he’s able to get back, the better.
Saturday 11th July
Another sign that things are slowly returning to normal is the gradual winding-down of our regular Zoom calls. Our weekly Saturday night DIY quiz call is still in place, but we’ve dropped our Thursday quiz. And yesterday’s regular Friday group call also ended up being first postponed and then cancelled.
In some cases it’s the demands of work that leave people too busy/tired to dial into a long call. In others, individuals are no longer available now that limited social gatherings beyond the home are permitted. Both are completely understandable.
We’re no longer a captive audience. And while some of us are still happy to stay at home, for others the lure of seeing extended family and friends again is understandably strong.
Am I ready for ‘normal’?
One way or another, we are easing back towards normality now. Some things will remain as they are for a while. For instance, I’m not expecting to return to the office on even a part-time basis until at least September, and likely longer.
But I am slowly reconnecting with the outside world. Going to shops; visiting the doctor’s. We’re going away for five days in Dorset next week. This is a huge step for me. I was very nervous at the prospect when we booked a couple of weeks back; less so now.
It won’t be the same as a ‘normal’ holiday. We won’t be spending long days on crowded beaches. We’re planning to spend most of our time taking long family walks, locking ourselves away playing games and paying socially distanced visits to Heather’s relatives in the area. And that’s okay. We’re looking forward to the change of scenery more than anything else, after nearly four months staring at the same four walls.
While there is still a risk involved in travelling, we’ll be practising just as much caution as we would do at home. It’s time. There are plenty of people who are now acting as if lockdown never happened. And there are still many who are continuing to shield and quarantine themselves and their families. But we’ve made our own decision to take those first tentative steps back into the middle ground.
Beyond that, places like gyms will reopen on the 25th. I’m not quite ready to take that step yet. But I can see that it will probably now be a matter of weeks rather than months before I’m ready to do so.
It’s time to start breathing again. It’s time to take our lives off pause.
Previous ‘Life under lockdown’ entries