29th January 2020: one year ago today. Pre-Brexit. Pre-pandemic. It feels like a lifetime ago, or as if it happened to an entirely different person on a different planet. Maybe a bit of both.
Today is exactly one year since the first Covid-19 coronavirus case was reported in the UK. Back then, most of us knew something big was just beginning. I’m not sure how many of us realised quite how big it was or how long it would go on for. (I know I certainly underestimated it.)
Today is also exactly one year since I took the photo above. I had just arrived at Dusseldorf airport for a two-day work trip, and was waiting in line to clear passport control. At the time, there was nothing particularly remarkable about that, other than observing that this would be the last time I would step into mainland Europe as an EU citizen. The day after I returned home, the UK officially enacted Brexit.
The last time
I’ve been to Dusseldorf for work a dozen or more times before. I know the airport well. Where the best quiet corners are. My favourite eateries. The best shops in which to buy presents for the kids.
I know the routes the taxis take from the airport to our offices across the river. I stay at my preferred hotel and have even memorised favoured routes for morning and evening walks.
Everything was normal, routine. Little did I know that this would be the last time I ventured outside the UK for 12 months (and counting). It was the last time I had a business meeting outside of our UK office. (It’s now 46 weeks since I last set foot there too.) I haven’t had breakfast at a hotel buffet since either. (That’s something my arteries appreciate.) Or caught a taxi. Or handled Euros.
With everything that has happened over the past year and changing attitudes towards remote working and travel brought about by the pandemic, I wonder if I’ll ever return to Dusseldorf again. Maybe my last time there a year ago might be my last time there ever?
Out with the old, in with the new
Over the past 12 months many of my old routines have disappeared. New ones have replaced them. Zoom calls, music lessons, clubs and training sessions. Virtual pub quizzes, escape rooms and murder mystery parties. Microsoft Teams. Home-schooling. Film premieres on streaming services rather than in cinemas. The brilliant Staged, a TV show conceived in and centred on lockdown. New words and phrases have entered our common vernacular: epidemiology, lockdown, social distancing, spike protein, test-and-trace, “I think you’re on mute”.
Life never truly stands still but, back on 29th January 2020, I don’t think any of us realised how much it would change in 12 short months. I doubt things will ever return fully to the ‘old’ normal; I don’t really want them to. The notion of being permanently office-based is now anathema to me. I used to be happy working at home 2-3 days a month; now I can’t imagine being in the office any more than that.
We’ve created new personal and family routines, and gotten used to not doing other things we took for granted. There are some friends we now get together with (virtually) on a weekly rather than occasional basis; there are others we haven’t seen in a year.
Some of this has been for the worse, but some of it has been for the better too. (We are lucky in that respect. No one in our family has contracted Covid yet, or lost their job. We’ve managed okay overall.) For sure, much of it has left us feeling discombobulated or at least discomforted.
Either way, it’s only when I look back at pre-pandemic photos that I properly remember how much has changed. Queues that weren’t socially distanced. No one wearing a mask. Eating in restaurants. Not backing immediately away when you see someone coughing.
I wonder when we’ll get back to all those little things that we used to take for granted. It will feel weird for quite a while, I’ll wager. And I wonder what will we be saying one year from now when we’re looking back on today?