We’re not there yet, but it increasingly feels like we are rounding the last bend and the finish line is almost within sight. In two weeks’ time on 17th May, England should move to stage three of the government’s roadmap to lifting all Covid restrictions. If all goes to plan, the last of these will be removed on 21st June.
That means in two weeks we should be able to meet with another household or in groups of six indoors as well as outdoors. Hospitality venues will be able to serve customers indoors again. Theatres, cinemas and hotels can reopen. And international leisure travel will once again be possible.
It will be a huge step forwards towards resuming normal life. But in some respects life is starting to resemble ‘normal’ already.
Tuesday 20th April
The kids have been back at school after the Easter holidays for two days now. They’ve quickly settled back into their usual routine after 2½ weeks off. But it also feels like we’ve suddenly rewound the clock nearly six months to before the UK re-entered lockdown last autumn.
We have become accustomed to all five of us being at home together all the time, with the exception of occasional Zoom training and meetings for Kara and Isaac. But all of a sudden we’re back to having football matches on Sunday and martial arts, cheer, gym, Scouts and football training sessions during the week. Weekdays are once again about the constant logistics of drop-offs, pick-ups and staggered meal times. Our long Sunday walks are off the schedule for the next several weeks at least. Weeknights where we luxuriate in long film or game sessions are once again a rarity rather than the norm.
I don’t miss coming out of lockdown, of course. But it’s also fair to say that life was a lot simpler and less stressful then. One of the big challenges we will face as restrictions continue to ease (hopefully) is to not lose sight of the upsides of being in lockdown, and to try to hold on to as many of these as we can.
Life will undoubtedly go back to normal – and I suspect many things will snap immediately back to normal as if the pandemic had never happened. But it can still be a better, different normal to what we had before. And some of the changes we have made will remain. For instance, while our offices will reopen eventually, I very much doubt I will return to being permanently office-based. And while my current desire to switch to being fully home-based might not happen, I can’t see myself working more than one or two days a week in the office ever again. The benefits of home-working that I’ve experienced over the past 14 months have been too great for me to ever go back now.
Saturday 24th April
Last month, Toby and I had a boys’ afternoon out by going on a shopping expedition to the Asian supermarket in Reading. Today it was Isaac’s turn to join me.
We had a great time. Food is a key part of our family life and the kids are always interested in exploring new culinary options, so a trip like this is a welcome adventure for them. And stocking up on hard-to-find ingredients fuels my desire to cook dishes that are a little more of a departure from our norm. Cooking has been a key anchor for me during this winter lockdown, and it’s something that has benefitted all of us.
I’ll have to take Kara next time.
Saturday 1st May
Another sign that things are hurtling back to normal: 3,000 people attended a government-backed rave in Liverpool as part of a trial to assess the feasibility of holding large events again. No masks, no social distancing, just a big crowd having a good time.
Although you couldn’t have paid me enough to attend an event like this, I don’t begrudge the crowd one night of fun. Liverpool has been one of the hardest hit areas of the UK; they barely emerged from the first national lockdown at all before being put back into local restrictions. But it’s also hard not see these people as lab rats in a giant (and risky) scientific experiment. I guess there’s no other way to assess the organisation and impact of large events than to actually hold one. But even so, despite the huge strides the UK has made in recent months, I still find it a little disquieting. At a time when much of Europe continues to struggle and India is now reporting 400,000 new Covid cases every day, a giant party feels a little incongruous.
And, ever so quietly, the government is now gently seeding the message that some degree of restrictions such as masks may yet continue after 21st June. It’s not what people want to hear, of course. But it may well be just how things need to be, at least in the medium-term. I don’t imagine it will go down particularly well with the anti-mask/anti-lockdown vaccine sceptics, though.
Sunday 2nd May
Well, that was as close to a normal afternoon/evening as we have had for a very long time.
Since lockdown restrictions started to ease, we’ve visited friends and family and sat in gardens together a few times. And on several occasions we’ve barbecued simultaneously with our next-door neighbours, taking advantage of the missing fence panel between our gardens to share a chat, a drink and a fire-pit while still complying with Covid rules.
But today we managed to get three households together across our two gardens. On one of the mildest evenings so far this year, we cracked open the gin and beers and whiled away the hours. The kids played games on their phones. The adults talked about the long camping weekend we’re all doing this summer. Yes, we talked a bit about pandemic-related topics, but for the most part, just for one evening, we were largely able to push it to the back of our minds.
It was bliss. It was something resembling normal.
I’m looking forward enormously to the prospect of returning to normal activity. But I do wonder whether the actual ending of restrictions will prove to be a more traumatic process than we realise. I’m getting there, but I know I’m still not quite ready for everything that a return to normal entails. Some people are definitely ready, while others who have been shielding may not be for quite some time yet. Getting used to restrictions and lockdowns took a lot of getting used to; emerging from them may well prove to be similarly tricky.
Previous ‘Life under lockdown’ entries