Is there light at the end of the tunnel? The UK continues along its roadmap out of lockdown, and we’re all getting used to being sociable again. But is this a one-way trip, or will we at some stage find ourselves slipping down a snake or going directly to jail without passing ‘Go’ or collecting £200? [Insert your own gaming metaphor here.]
For now, though, restrictions are gradually easing. The days are getting longer and (a little bit) warmer. And that’s good enough for now.
Saturday 27th March
In normal times, we would meet up with my family at our favourite Chinese restaurant and supermarket – Wing Yip at Staples Corner, by the foot of the M1 – for a dim sum lunch and to stock up on Chinese groceries.
Of course, times haven’t been normal for quite a while, and it’s been over a year since we shopped there. So I was quite excited recently to discover an Oriental supermarket in Reading, a short drive from our house.
Not as excited as Toby, though. Of course, our resident foodie was interested in exploring the more extensive range on offer compared to our local Waitrose. But mostly he was excited because it had been a very long time since he had had a proper trip out anywhere. In fact, not since early November – nearly five months ago – had he ventured as far as Reading or any other large town. And even that was to sit school entrance exams, which hardly qualifies as a grand day out.
You can probably imagine his excitement at the prospect of having some one-to-one time with me in my car. Sitting up front. Choosing what music to listen to without protests from his siblings. Pushing a trolley round a shop learning about Chinese, Japanese and Korean ingredients he had only read about in books or seen on TV. (Whole octopus!)
We had a lovely couple of hours of boys’ time together. The fact that we came home with over £200’s worth of food and grand cooking plans for the rest of the weekend was just a bonus.
I don’t think I’d realised before today how much I missed food shopping for fun rather than purely for function. It’s one step further along the road to normal.
Monday 29th March
I go nearly five months without driving to Reading, and then I do it twice in less than 48 hours. I ended up driving Isaac to school this morning because of a problem with the trains. One-to-one time with our eldest was an unexpected bonus after Saturday’s shopping trip with Toby.
Today also saw the first step of the gradual relaxation of lockdown measures mapped out by the government a month ago. We are now allowed to meet outdoors as either a group of six or two households once again. It’s a welcome step forwards that will help relieve feelings of isolation. Although I do slightly fear that some people will take this as open season to drop any pretence of social distancing and leap straight from lockdown to normal again – particularly with a few days’ of summery weather forecast for this week.
Unsurprisingly, I’m already seeing certain voices in the media questioning why we’re not unlocking everything more quickly, happy to throw all remaining caution to the wind. I want things to return to normal as soon as possible too. But I also don’t want us to have to revert to more stringent restrictions again three months down the line just because we relaxed too far too fast. If a freer summer and a safer autumn/winter comes at the expense of a more cautious spring, that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.
Not everyone agrees, though, it seems. Sigh.
Thursday 1st April
Okay, so the return to school lasted barely three weeks. But we made it to the Easter holidays without interruption. Yay us.
Sunday 4th April
Just for a few hours, life felt as normal as it has done at any point during this pandemic. And, as a consequence, this was the happiest day I’ve had for a very long time.
Like many other people, this long Easter weekend has jump-started our social lives. Today we saw my parents face-to-face for the first time since early September. (Seven months ago!) On the drive down, we put on the Hamilton soundtrack for the kids to sing along to. This is, for us, a family tradition. But it’s long enough since the last time we did it – early September, by my reckoning – that Isaac’s voice has started to break in the interim. When we arrived, we had lunch in the garden and went out for a walk together. The kids – and Kara in particular – loved being able to see their grandparents and uncle in three dimensions again after so long apart.
From there, we dropped in on our old uni friends nearby. This meant the kids could WhatsApp each other from six feet rather than 60 miles apart. And the adults could eat and drink around the fire pit rather than around separate laptop screens complaining about poor audio quality and not being able to get everyone in frame.
It was really rather lovely. We’ve become so accustomed to not sharing the same physical space as our families, friends and neighbours that I’d almost forgotten what actual socialising felt like. And even though we still have to observe social distancing, avoid hugs and so on, it still felt a lot like normal again.
Hopefully we’ll be able to do it more soon.
Monday 5th April
The four-day Easter weekend has come to an end, and it feels like a real watershed moment on our journey (hopefully) out of the pandemic.
This evening Boris Johnson confirmed the next stage of easing lockdown restrictions, which comes into effect next Monday, 12th April. This includes the reopening of self-catered accommodation, outdoor hospitality, non-essential retail, gyms and other indoor leisure facilities.
It’s a significant step forward. And one in stark contrast to what we are seeing elsewhere in Europe. France, for instance, is moving back into a four-week national lockdown as it struggles to deploy its vaccination programme and contain the spread of Covid.
It’s a seductive proposition. We’re still revelling in the relative liberation of the past week, so the prospect of a further step back towards normality is a real mood-lifter. Not least because it means that our break in Weymouth next week – caravan holiday, visiting relatives and lots of outdoor walks and indoor games – can now go ahead as planned.
I have to say I’m still not entirely sure the scientific evidence fully warrants pushing forwards. Are we really being driven by empirical data rather than arbitrary dates? Who knows for sure (other than the thousands of armchair experts on social media, obviously)? If there’s one thing the last year has taught us is that we can’t take anything for granted. But we’re certainly in better shape now than we were 6-8 weeks ago, even if we’re not out of the woods yet.
After three months of winter lockdown, we face the prospect of significant change over the next three months. Some of our comforting lockdown routines, such as Saturday night gaming calls, will inevitably fade away. Fewer restrictions on social gatherings and travel. A (more or less) fully vaccinated adult population. The prospect of Covid being treated more like flu, in terms of the way we manage it and roll out annual vaccination programmes for vulnerable groups. But even though the times they are a-changin’ (as Bob Dylan once sang), mask-wearing is likely to continue in certain circumstances for a while yet. Especially vulnerable groups will continue to shield. And, personally, I’m still a very long way from setting foot inside a cinema or theatre again.
Every lockdown we have been through has been unsettling. Everyone’s lives have been disrupted to some degree: merely inconvenienced in some cases, highly disrupted in others. But, while for some the return to normality may be a simple case of snapping back into old routines, for many others the change may be every bit as difficult to handle as those early days of lockdown were. It’s hard to predict exactly how any of us will react. But no matter how smoothly the exit from lockdown goes from a macro standpoint, at a personal level I suspect it will be far more challenging than people imagine. We shall see.
Previous ‘Life under lockdown’ entries