Life under lockdown (again): Waist-deep in molasses

We’re now over a month into the latest UK lockdown and still there’s no end in sight.

This whole situation plays funny tricks on the mind. It’s so easy to lose track of time. We forget that a world exists outside our own little bubbles. And everyone seems to get angry about everything. Or bored. Or just numb.

Yeah, it’s winter, isn’t it?

Monday 25th January

It’s a month since Christmas and it already feels like a lifetime ago. A lot has happened since then. A new US president has been inaugurated. The UK’s Brexit transition period has ended. Heather is now minus an (admittedly vestigial) organ. Toby turned 11.

Now more than ever, the passage of time feels almost immaterial. No doubt this sense of ennui is partially due to the cold weather and the short days. And there’s the feeling that we’ve all been here (i.e. mired in lockdown) before. But with no visible end in sight, my overriding feeling right now is meh, meh and more meh.

Wednesday 27th January

So now we know that schools won’t return (in full) until at least 8th March – nearly six weeks away – and that’s the earliest possible date. It’s going to take a fair wind for this to actually happen.

Scratch that. There were over 1,700 deaths reported today. It’s going to take more than a fair wind – it’s going to require a fair hurricane.

At the very least, I’m expecting secondary schools to remain closed until after the Easter holidays – and possibly longer. I hope I’m wrong, though. I do think it’s important for all kids (and their parents’ sanity) to be able to return to school – but only when the risk is low enough to justify it. We’re not there yet; not even close.

Friday 29th January

And so another working week ends. I’m not going to lie: this one’s been tougher than most, maybe even the hardest of all.

I can’t put my finger on why that is. But I’ve struggled for energy and motivation all week. It’s been like trying to run a 100-metre race waist-deep in molasses.

It had to happen eventually. I’ve been fortunate that my job hasn’t changed much since the pandemic started. Most of my day is still spent on video calls. My immediate team – and virtually all the colleagues I deal with – are all based in different locations anyway.

Yes, I do miss the people I used to sit with, but I’m not the most sociable person and I’ve always been comfortable in my own company. I’ve had to get used to working at home five days a week, but I have the luxury of working in a separate room. And my home setup is actually better – three screens rather than two – than I had in the office.

In addition, I’ve been able to separate work from home life quite easily. I’m not working any more hours than I did before and I have no trouble closing the door (literally) on work at the end of the day. And I’ve established a structured daily routine that works for me.

It’s been that way for 46 weeks now, and I’ve sailed through the previous 45 largely unaffected. But I’d be foolish to think that it hasn’t taken its toll somehow; an accumulation of small niggles that add up. The proverbial straw that finally breaks the camel’s back, or at least causes it to creak under the mounting pressure.

And that’s been me this week. There’s no point denying it. Acknowledge it. Draw a line under it. Focus on starting afresh on Monday and make small, positive changes. Everyone has down periods that are hard to explain even when things are normal, let alone in circumstances such as these. And that’s been me this week. Ho hum.

Wednesday 3rd February

Captain Sir Tom Moore, the 100-year-old who instantly elevated himself to the status of national treasure with his NHS fundraising effort during the first pandemic, died yesterday.

This evening at 6pm, the government instigated a national clap – similar to last spring’s Clap for Carers – to celebrate his memory.

Now don’t get me wrong. Captain Tom was a genuine hero and fully deserving of recognition. And I have no problem with people who showed their appreciation by standing outside their houses clapping. But it did feel like something of an empty gesture.

Without getting overly political about it (too late), why did Captain Tom feel the need to raise money for the NHS? Years of negligent underfunding that left our health service woefully underequipped and overwhelmed during the early weeks of the pandemic. And while it was a nice touch for the government to recognise his contribution, let’s also acknowledge this act for what it was: a cheap gesture. ‘Gesture politics’ is one of the greatest scourges of modern life. It’s PR dialled up to eleven, where every action is carefully calculated to maximise political capital, public goodwill and media/social media coverage – or provide air cover to gloss over bad news – rather than because it’s the right thing to do.

Is this a new phenomenon? No, of course not. But never has it been used quite so extensively and cynically. Was it a coincidence that this was rushed through today, deflecting attention from another dismal performance by Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions and Dido Harding’s claims that no one could have foreseen a virus mutating – even though that’s what all viruses do? Or that the performative clap was arranged for 6pm, guaranteeing live TV coverage and pride of place as the lead story on national news bulletins? Of course not.

I’d accept all this if the government would back up its gestures with actual actions. Better, faster decision-making. Less cronyism. Pay rises for nurses and doctors. But of course this hasn’t happened – and will not happen.

As the saying goes: talk is cheap. And so, it seems, is clapping.

Friday 5th February

We had a family book club meeting tonight. It’s been a few months since we last had one, so it was good to gather together to share and discuss what we’re currently reading. (For me, that’s the BBC’s Jon Sopel’s Unpresidented, his diary of the US election campaign.)

We finished by all curling up together on our bed to read companiably for half an hour before sending Toby and Kara to bed. We need to do this more often.

Saturday 6th February

Our regular online gaming evening with friends tonight – 11 of us across four households.

Games are such a central part of our life right now. We spend at least one full afternoon each weekend – and sometimes two – playing various board and card games. (Meepleland is our current favourite, but we have a steady rotation of about ten games currently going, from Uno to Catan.) I’ll be happy if this continues once lockdown is over.

Sunday 7th February

The UK government has done an almost innumerable number of things wrong in this crisis. But the one thing it seems to be getting right is the vaccine rollout. Today we passed the milestone of 12 million people who have received at least their first dose of one of the three currently available vaccines, and that’s something worth celebrating.

Of course, this says more about the dedication of the NHS and volunteers than the government. There are still big question marks about whether prioritising first jabs over giving people their second dose is wise. (Honestly, I don’t know. Ask an epidemiologist. Or Doris in your local Facebook group. One of them will know.) And the potential problem of vaccine mixing – what if your first dose is Oxford-AstraZeneca but your second dose is Pfizer? – and ensuring everyone does actually receive their second jab within 12 weeks are looming dark clouds on the horizon. But credit where it’s due: the UK moved quickly to approve and secure supplies of vaccine, and is rolling this out at speed – certainly much more quickly than appears to be the case elsewhere in the EU. More needles than a knitting club!

Anything that brings the light at the end of this nightmarish tunnel even a step closer is something to be welcomed. We all need something we can look forward to right now.

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

Preparing for a not-normal Christmas: November 30th-December 13th

A different Christmas: December 14th-27th

Back to square one: December 28th-January 11th

Birthdays and hospitals: January 12th-25th


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