Life under lockdown (again): Preparing for a not-normal Christmas

Lockdown 2 is over and we’re now into the build-up to Christmas. Our festive season will be familiar in many ways, but different in some key respects too.

While we’re determined to continue as many holiday traditions as we can, there’s no denying this will be a not-normal Christmas. 2020, eh?

Monday 30th November

Is anyone still using the NHS Covid app to scan those QR codes when they visit places?

It’s starting to feel like it’s just me, at least based on my own experience. So much for our world-beating and oh-so-expensive test-and-trace system.

I’m annoyed at our government for over-promising, under-delivering and making a complete dog’s dinner of their messaging. But people have to take responsibility for their own (lack of) actions too.

Some people forget. Others don’t trust that it will make any real difference. And some actively avoid doing it because they don’t want to risk being contacted and told to self-isolate, with whatever inconvenience and/or loss of income that may cause. (The lack of financial support for many, in particular the self-employed, is a major disincentive to comply.) I do understand why people don’t buy into test-and-trace. But many of their reasons for doing so smack of more than a little selfishness.

Wednesday 2nd December

Four weeks later, we’re back out of lockdown. We were fortunate that it didn’t change our day-to-day routines much, so it passed relatively quickly and painlessly.

It’s peculiar that many parts of the UK have come out of lockdown facing greater restrictions than they had before it, isn’t it? The logic of that is a little mind-bending. It’s a sure sign that we left it too late, and it remains to be seen whether the benefits will outweigh the economic damage and financial hardship it is has inflicted on businesses and households.

There is no simple right or wrong answer any more. As I’ve noted before, we’re left only with choices between varying shades of bad options.

Friday 4th December

It was a cold evening but we gathered around our neighbours’ fire pit across the Great Divide (the missing fence panel between our gardens) for a birthday celebration of pasties, beer and marshmallows. This is as close to normal as it gets, but it was most welcome.

Sunday 6th December

Isaac turned 13 today. As for many other people this year, it was out of necessity a low-key affair, but I think he enjoyed it. No party. No celebratory lunch with his grandparents and uncle. Just the usual array of presents, a Skype call and a big roast dinner.

Today was also the day we finally put our big family Christmas to bed. The easing of regulations to allow a three-household bubble between 23rd-27th December means we are allowed to celebrate Christmas with my folks. But we’ve decided it’s not worth the risk and none of us would be comfortable with doing so.

Instead we’ve decided to defer to a later date: Christmas in March (or whenever). We’ll put up the tree for the weekend, wrap and exchange presents, put on Christmas songs and have a big roast dinner.

Two Christmases in 2021 sounds quite good to me. Maybe we should do it more often …

Tuesday 8th December

A day that was in equal measures satisfyingly hopeful and intensely annoying.

90-year-old Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer Covid vaccine today. (81-year-old William Shakespeare from Warwickshire was the second. I’m sure that was in no way a gimmicky PR stunt.) Fingers crossed that we don’t see any significant side effects or long-term issues, and that the road back to normality begins here.

It’s a remarkable scientific achievement to produce a vaccine in such a short timescale. But of course it was almost immediately overshadowed by mass misinformation from anti-vaxxers. Children of thalidomide. Bill Gates implanting chips into everyone.

It’s completely valid, of course, for people to have concerns. No vaccination programme, no matter how heavy the investment or how rigorous the testing, can ever be either risk-free or 100% effective. But the balance of risk versus reward is heavily tilted towards the positive. Vaccination isn’t mandatory; people are free to make their own decisions. However, the sheer volume of half-truths and outright fiction spreading across social media is depressing. Virtually all of it comes from people who don’t know the first thing about medicine or immunology.

Everyone with a Facebook or Twitter account is suddenly an expert, it seems. And too many people are far too willing to trust what their opinionated mate from the pub says over the actual scientists.

And we’re not out of the woods yet. Even if the vaccination programme goes without a hitch, it’s going to be several months before everyone even in the most vulnerable groups has been vaccinated. It will be longer still until the wider population as a whole receives it. If people think everything will suddenly be back to normal by January, they’re going to be sorely disappointed.

Cause for optimism? Yes. Cause for complacency? Absolutely not.

Wednesday 9th December

I’ve been thinking a lot about shopping this week.

This year’s Christmas shopping is being carried out almost exclusively online. Although in fairness that has been how we’ve approached it for quite a few years now.

But in a normal year I take the last few days before Christmas off work so I can complete the food shopping. Three days in a row, I’ll walk into town as the supermarkets open and come home with a backpack full of festive food. I enjoy this little ritual very much, not least because it means I don’t have to fight through traffic for a space in the car park.

I don’t much fancy it this year, though. The idea of risking infection by negotiating a packed Waitrose in glasses steamed-up from wearing a mask doesn’t appeal. Instead we’re trying to buy as much as we can as far in advance as we can. That means that I’m getting some items this week I would normally buy fresh on the 22nd or 23rd and putting them in the freezer. The plan is to make just one final trip into town a couple of days before Christmas to pick up the few things we absolutely must buy fresh.

Of course, this means there is now a mountain of Christmas food and drink already filling up our house. I’m not sure how much of it will actually survive until the 25th …

Friday 11th December

Without many of the usual points of reference – decorations in the office, roast turkey lunches, gift shopping expeditions and so on – Christmas really seems to have crept up on us this year. I know we’ve had our tree up for a couple of weeks already, but even so.

I finish work for the holidays a week today. But we’ve now officially reached that point where I sign off every call with a jaunty “if I don’t speak to you before, have a great Christmas.” This year more than most, I feel the need to keep spirits up, even if I’m not always feeling it myself.

Saturday 12th December

We live in an area with a low rate of Covid infection, but it feels like the net is drawing tighter around us now.

There have been a few positive cases in our local schools but the level of disruption this term has been relatively low – certainly less than I was expecting. But this week one of our neighbours tested positive. And this afternoon we received an email from school to inform us that Kara needs to stay at home because of a positive case in her year, which means the entire cohort needs to self-isolate until the 20th.

In the greater scheme of things, it’s not too bad. The educational impact is pretty small. But it does mean she won’t be able to go to any of her usual activities or training sessions, though.

It’s made us think too. I’m classed as vulnerable on two counts – asthmatic and diabetic – so we should consider additional precautions for me at least. But realistically what can you do in a household of five? Restrict an eight-year-old girl with the energy of the Duracell bunny to her own room? Keep me away from her?

So we’ve settled for keeping Kara indoors as advised and minimising everyone else’s contacts with other people – which we were already planning on doing anyway, to be honest. That feels like a fair balance of being sensible but pragmatic.

In the meantime, of course, we’re hyper-aware of any potential symptoms. Nothing so far, and I can still taste beer and wine – thank God! – so that’s okay, right?

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

The long road back to ‘normal’ May 11th-17th

The end of the beginning: May 18th-24th

Time to take back control: May 25th-31st

Edging back to normal: June 1st-7th

Preparing for ‘the blip’: June 8th-14th

The middle of nowhere: June 15th-21st

The road back to normality: June 22nd-28th

Releasing the pause button: June 29th-July 12th

Ticking the boxes: July 13th-26th

Normal, and yet not normal: July 27th-August 9th

An uncertain future: August 10th-21st

Here we go again: September 22nd

The Covid Hokey Cokey: September 23rd-October 4th

200 days later: October 5th-18th

Déjà vu: October 19th-November 1st

In the balance: November 2nd-15th

Not too early: November 16th-29th


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