First we had a national lockdown to combat Covid-19. Then we introduced regional lockdowns and a three-tier system. And now we’re heading back into national lockdown again in the hope of protecting the NHS and ‘saving’ Christmas.
We’ve been here before – and yet we haven’t. This time we have a wearier, less accommodating public than we did first time around. And we have much less confidence in our government to navigate us safely through these dangerous waters.
Tuesday 20th October
So many of my routines that have gone virtually unchanged in nearly three decades of working have been turned upside-down over the past seven months, to be replaced by new habits.
‘Business-ready’ dress code of a collared shirt and trousers is now sports tops and jogging bottoms instead. (There’s a whole section of my wardrobe which has gone unworn since lockdown began.) Morning and evening walks have replaced my daily commute. No more thrice-daily coffee runs downstairs to Starbucks – I just put the kettle on and make my own instead. As a family, we now eat together rather than separately most weekdays, greatly reducing the amount of time we spend cooking. I’ve even gone from working in an open-plan space to essentially having my own little office.
And do you know what? I’ve barely noticed. These new routines feel just as familiar and permanent. The old ones have faded to the point where they’re just foggy memories now.
For many, the world of work has become a fearful place during this pandemic. Massive changes to ways of working. Staff being furloughed or made redundant. Major losses of income for self-employed workers or those in the arts. Working in less than optimal conditions in bedroom corners or at kitchen tables. I’m one of a minority for whom my work environment is, if anything, better than it was before. I’ve been very fortunate.
Friday 23rd October
It’s half-term at last, and it couldn’t have come soon enough.
The first half-term of a new academic year is always one of the longest stretches – over seven weeks in this case. And this year it’s come off the back of having been out of school (give or take a handful of days in July) for the best part of six months, so it’s been an even bigger challenge than normal.
The kids are even more worn out than usual this year. They’ve been nigglier and obviously in need of a break. So obviously we’re going to tire them out even more by going away for a few days.
Monday 26th October
We’ve just returned from our three days away. In a normal year we would have been at Butlin’s, but that felt like it would just be too busy and stressful. So we deferred until 2021 and, not for the first time this year, resorted to plan B.
This involved a trip to Aerospace Bristol to see Concorde for starters. That was followed by a night at a Travelodge by the Severn Bridge, closed to all but non-essential traffic because of the Welsh two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ mini-lockdown. Then Wells, Wookey Hole, Glastonbury – another night, another Travelodge – and finally Stonehenge.
Despite bickering way too much, the kids enjoyed the trip. We’re lucky that they have low expectations and are still genuinely excited about spending a night in a budget hotel. Any long weekend was going to be beneficial, if only for the change of scenery.
But, having had to postpone both our big summer holiday and Butlin’s to next year, I do wonder what 2021 will bring. Will we finally get to do the trips we’d planned? Or will we be cursing having to rearrange our holidays again?
It’s an unnerving worry that will quietly fester in the back of our minds in the months to come.
Wednesday 28th October
Spain and Italy had already brought back tighter lockdown measures, but today France and Germany announced their second lockdowns too.
That pretty much seals it. It’s now abundantly clear from both the actions of other countries and our own rapidly rising case and death counts that we will follow suit too.
Nonetheless, the UK government keeps reiterating their hope that the current three-tier system will be enough and that they do not want a new national lockdown. Does this utter flim-flam fool anyone? I guess so, because they keep doing it, right up until the inevitable U-turn.
I give it until Monday at the latest, maybe sooner.
Friday 30th October
Make that ‘sooner’.
And so it has come to pass. Late tonight, news of a second lockdown starting next week was leaked to selected media outlets.
During these past months, we’ve become used to the government leaking news to favoured journalists who then share it on Twitter. (Has anyone told them that barely one-fifth of the UK population actually uses Twitter?) Long gone, it seems, are the days of simply releasing an official statement via mainstream media.
This is not how a responsible government operates. It is, however, how this government does things. Off the record. Selected recipients. No attributed source. Long on snappy slogans, short on detail.
I’m sure someone will tell me this is how a world-class communications operation works in the age of social media. I won’t believe them, though.
Saturday 31st October
No trick-or-treating for us this year. Instead we settled in to watch Ghostbusters this afternoon. And we did a little sweet hunt around the house for the kids.
They took it all in good spirits. We do need to keep an eye on them for any small signs of stress, but we’re lucky that our children have stayed resilient and self-sufficient, at least for now. Even faced with a half-term week with no holiday clubs and spent mostly in the house fending for themselves while both Heather and I worked, they’ve coped pretty well. They even enjoyed spells of as long as 30 minutes at a time without fighting! In all seriousness, though, we’ve been lucky. They’ve done well, which will stand them in good stead for the weeks and months ahead.
Sunday 1st October
In utterly trivial news, I filled up my car today for only the second time since lockdown began. But whereas my first tank lasted a whopping six months – to the day! – this one made it to exactly six weeks. It’s still a far cry from ‘normal’ times, when I would typically fill up every 7-10 days.
With home-working continuing full-time for the foreseeable future and likely to move to no more than two days a week in the office post-pandemic, I’m not sure I will ever do ‘normal’ mileage again.
It’s a mundane example, but it reflects how our long-term new normal will vary significantly from our old normal. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
If it looks like a lockdown …
I’m tired. Oh, so tired.
I’ve had a low-level cold all week. Nothing particularly bad, but enough to leave me feeling exhausted by evening. I keep falling asleep on the sofa. But no matter how much I sleep, I feel just as weary.
Maybe it’s just a case of me running at 95% physically. Or maybe it’s related to the rising sense of foreboding I’ve felt over the past two weeks.
On Friday night the news about the new lockdown was leaked. By Saturday morning, Number Ten was launching a leak inquiry. (Which, as any Yes Prime Minister fan will tell you, is something you launch just so you can say you’ve launched one, with the sole aim of reporting that no leak was found, primarily because no one actually bothered looking.)
Journalists then revealed details of the planned measures on Twitter an hour ahead of the Prime Minister’s TV broadcast to the nation, which then started 90 minutes late. It was almost as if the delay was intentional, knowing that BBC1 would switch from the conference to the start of Strictly, depriving most of the TV audience of being able to watch the inevitable obfuscating shambles of the Q&A session.
Anyhow, lockdown it is, as of next Thursday and lasting for four weeks. Not quite as strict as back in March – nurseries, schools and universities will remain open, and travel for work purposes is okay. But it’s still a significant step beyond tier three, the highest current level of measures.
Apparently we shouldn’t be referring to these new national measures as a second lockdown. Or as tier four. After all, the government have been insistent that they didn’t want a new lockdown, so it would all be a bit embarrassing if that’s what we called it. Of course, everyone is calling it a lockdown anyway – because no matter what label you put on it, that’s what it is.
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then …
So, yes, I’m tired. Tired of all the lies, deceptions and contortions to minimise scrutiny. Tired of trying to work out whether it’s a good idea for schools to stay open. And tired of arguing about whether a lockdown will make things better or worse. There is no ‘good’ solution now; it’s more a case of guessing which is the less disastrous scenario and hoping for the best.
I’ve never expected the government response to this crisis to be flawless. Of course, mistakes were always going to be inevitable. It’s just that ‘unique circumstances’ does not excuse the sheer volume of mistakes and slowness of decision-making that the UK government has consistently shown. They would like us to forget about them or to blame someone else for them, but the reality is that we have made too many mistakes over the past seven months, and those errors are coming home to roost now. And no amount of PR spin or deflection will change that.
We’re back to hopeful, unrealistic statements that everything will be okay in just a few months’ time. We’re facing at least another couple of weeks of rising death numbers before the tide starts to turn. And we’re stuck with a government that has consistently proven itself incapable of following any kind of coherent strategy.
It’s no wonder I’m tired. We’ve seen this story already. We know how it goes. And we’re sick of it. As baseball star Yogi Berra reputedly said, it’s like déjà vu all over again.
Previous ‘Life under lockdown’ entries