While we have been in lockdown the world has changed; here are some scenes they don’t show you on the news. Are you brave enough to go out and about again?
Susan doubted that the Crafton Castle Crafters were ready for the online world, a year into the pandemic and they were only just having their first Zoom meeting. Jenny had been urging them on and as she was home schooling her six children they all agreed she was best qualified to be host.
The Crafton Castle Crafters didn’t actually meet at the castle, but at the First Crafton Scouts’ hut. They did pay a hefty contribution to be ‘Friends of Crafton Castle’ and on their frequent visits, pre-Covid, they gained inspiration from the famous tapestries, carved wood panelling and beautiful gardens. Susan had been very disappointed that their various gifts of samplers, marquetry and pottery had not featured in the castle’s recent on line exhibition ‘Now and Then’. She was looking forward to hearing what the other members thought.
Susan scrolled down on her ipad to find the email with the link and soon was faced with the message Your host will let you in shortly. 7pm they were meant to start, the minutes ticked by, 7.05, 7.09… Suddenly the screen was filled with the faces of lots of grumpy old people looking confused. Then Jenny appeared in a corner of the screen.
‘Sorry everyone, bedtime stories and I had to reassure Guinevere that the Covid monster could not get in their bedroom. Now have we got everyone? Giles has managed to co opt a couple of his bored sixth formers, Josie chicken wire sculptures and Ben junk statues. Hello Josie and Ben…’
Susan peered closer at the tiny views of living rooms, offices and kitchens; not how she would have imagined Martin’s place. She didn’t recognise Graham at first with that beard and who on earth was Bryony? She was sitting on a floral sofa looking very demure and how had she managed to get her hair done so nicely during lock down, or was it a wig?
Jenny was still talking. ‘…and I’m still trying to negotiate a socially distanced cream tea in the castle gardens. Now who wants to start? I’ve finished another three dozen masks from my fabric scraps and made the curtains for the girls’ bedroom with matching duvet covers. George, we can’t hear what you are saying, you’re still on mute. Phyllis, tell us what you have been up to.’
‘Oh, um yes, can you hear me…’
‘Yes, loud and clear.’
‘I have nearly finished that bookmark knitted with sewing needles and sewing cotton… oh dear, that’s my phone ringing…’
Susan tried to keep a straight face as Phyllis heaved her bulk out of the chair. They all watched as she waddled the two steps to grab the telephone. Her voice was picked up perfectly and broadcast into all their homes.
‘Phyllis, put yourself on mute.’
‘Oh hello dear, oh no, how many bits did they have to take out? Has he got one of those bags? No it’s awful you can’t go and see him.’
‘Phyllis, you have to put yourself on mute, the rest of us can’t hear ourselves.’
‘Well I must go, we’re having a Zoom meeting. You didn’t know I was so tech savvy did you. The crafters, hilarious, they have all aged about ten years in lock down, except for Brian.’
Susan noticed a variety of expressions on the faces of the others as they tried to pretend they weren’t listening. Josie and Ben had broad grins. Phyllis was now laughing and struggling to get out her next words.
‘Yes… six foot four Woodwork Brian has become Bryony during lockdown, well you can tell, but he’s a lot more glamorous than most of our ladies. Jenny took him clothes shopping in between lockdowns.’
Susan peered closer at the top left hand square containing ‘Bryony’ and wondered how Phyllis knew all this gossip. Then she glanced down at Josie and Ben; they were obviously enjoying the meeting far more than they might have expected.
‘Byebye dear, yes and you… ‘
Phyllis put the phone down.
‘Sorry about that everyone.’
‘Well I’m sure we shall gradually get used to Zoom’ said Jenny. ‘I think Phyllis has rather pre-empted the announcement Bryony wanted me to make on hi… her behalf.
Susan felt the gloom of the past few months lift, what a fun evening, she couldn’t resist speaking out.
‘Well, we’re really members of the BLTGCHQ Community now.’
Lonely in Lockdown? No need to be, the new Minister for Fun, when interviewed today, said there was no need for people to be lonely in Lockdown just because they are not allowed to see real people, they can make new friends. You can make new friends out of anything and on the government website you can see some suggestions – here is a sneak preview.
Still stuck for ideas? There is always Lego.
…and Which, Wonder, Winter, Widowhood, Worries, Will???
In French the Questions will be Quand, Quoi, pourQuoi…
Most of the world is asking when the pandemic will end and a further multitude of questions about variants and mutations, with no straightforward answers. Ironically, while England is still deciding whether to quarantine people in hotels, Perth, Western Australia detected its first case of coronavirus in almost 10 months; a quarantine hotel security guard. Nearly two million residents were placed into a five day lockdown on Sunday.
One thing most of us in lockdown don’t have to worry about is summer bushfires. Thousands were told yesterday and today to ignore the Covid stay-home order and evacuate their homes, as a bushfire in the hills on Perth’s outskirts gained pace. But the most chilling warning is It’s now too late to leave, you must stay in your home. The blaze, which is the largest the Western Australian city has seen in years, has already burnt through more than 9,000 hectares, destroying at least 71 homes.
Perth spotted one little weak spot in its robust Covid protection status, while many of us see great gaping holes in our countries’ defences. Hindsight is a great thing, but I think medical experts and even ordinary folk had enough foresight to see more should have been done earlier. There are people who have isolated completely for nearly a year, but most of us, every time government advice eased off, have had visitors or been on a little outing; some people have been jetting all round the world.
If you listen to the news too often you will drown in numbers and go round in circles. But one positive thing is the vaccination programme in the United Kingdom, which is rattling along at a great pace. With little new to talk about in lockdown, the gossip is who has been immunised lately.
What is everyday life like now after months of Tier systems, November Lockdown 2 and a month in Lockdown 3? Grandparents have been unable to see new grandchildren; weddings, moving home and plans to have babies have been put on hold all round the country. I have been widowed for five months now and half of me is still happy for normal life to be suspended, but the other half is missing family and friends and being able to visit and get out and about. Then there are the not so regular events that can’t take place; luckily Cyberspouse said he didn’t care what we did with his ashes, so he wouldn’t mind that they are still in the cupboard with all his camera equipment…
Going for walks is now the national occupation. I don’t drive, so I am used to walking to get places. Then there is the traditional going for a walk with your partner, family, friends or by yourself to recover from a stressful week at work. Whether locally or on a day out, The Walk used to involve stopping for coffee at a beach front café, lunch in ‘The Stables’ at a National Trust property or popping into interesting shops in that nice town by the river…
In lockdown you may get a takeaway coffee when you meet up with the one person from another household for exercise if you are living on your own. I am too dyspraxic to walk, talk, avoid tripping over dogs and drink out of a hot cardboard cup at the same time. But it is good to be out seeing people. The cliff tops and promenades are full of folk and plenty of those are also taking brisk walks by themselves, though I am the only one in a bright pink coat. Most of us are managing to adhere to social distancing and I think it is safe out in the fresh air or gale force winds.
A walk around residential streets as it’s getting dark is also quite fun; lights are on but curtains and blinds are still open. I have always enjoyed looking in people’s windows, all the different decors and cosy interiors and life going on. Some people still have Christmas lights in the front garden or Christmas trees indoors, it all helps brighten up this strange winter.
When we are not out, many of us are on line. Those of you working from home or trying to teach home schooled pupils are probably heartily sick of Zoom, but it’s still a novelty for me. We could all be in space ships or in a space colony. Is this the future? At the weekly Saturday evening quiz I see people I would never meet in real life. I have started going to our camera club Zoom meetings and members can put their pictures on the screen – not me obviously, my technical skills only stretch as far as typing in the meeting code – but it is nice to chat and see both familiar and new faces. Lounging on the sofa with my ipad instead of sitting on a plastic chair in the church hall, what’s not to like? Will people want to go out on dark winter evenings when they could just stay home? Those who are not on the internet or are nervous of technology could miss out, but the disabled, those who can’t leave children and those without easy transport would all be on an equal footing in Zoomland. Will this be what we wish for?
Lockdown Three has none of the drama of Lockdown One, though it is more cutting edge than Lockdown Two when schools were open and we thought we still had Christmas to look forward to. In an echo of the brilliant dramatic twist twixt lockdowns when Christmas was cancelled at the last moment, because Covid 19 reneged on its promise to give us five days off, the director instituted a brilliant scene from Downing Street in which the PM closes all schools, not the day before, but the very day after they started the new term ( a sentence nearly as long as lockdown ).
Lockdown Three promises to be longer than Lockdown Two, but with the same advantage of covering winter months, so people will be glad to huddle indoors. Are we prepared? I think it would have been more dramatic if we could be like the French and fill in forms to produce to show we have a good reason to be out. We are allowed out for exercise, to get immunised and to buy food and some people might actually have to go out to work… My freezer now has one drawer full of sliced apple from the tree in my garden; it thrived during last spring and summer’s sunny lockdowns, with no desire to leave home. Another drawer is devoted to the Christmas feast postponed till Chreastersummermas. I still have enough room for regular rations.
As my first winter being a widow it seems apt for normal life to be suspended, not that I would wish a pandemic on the rest of the world merely to take the pressure off me deciding anything. While half the population, from politicians to front line services, are busier than ever, the other half may be shielding or out of work, life curtailed to the banal or at least a gentler pace. There are plenty of positives; new hobbies, putting your CD collection in alphabetical order, having cooking fun. Gardening may have taken a back seat, but you can fill your home with pot plants and cut flowers; perhaps your family will not be able to find you in the jungle when at last they can visit.
There are new experiences for most of us. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra tomorrow starts its second series of digital, livestreamed concerts. You can buy tickets for individual concerts or the whole season on line. We had a camera club zoom party and I won the Bingo; no need to go out on a cold night with plates of food, or clear up afterwards. Every Saturday night I join in a Zoom quiz; a window on the outside world.
If you get bored you can always order yourself more presents from Amazon ( yes I know we shouldn’t, but we all use them because you can find what you want, or even things you didn’t know you wanted, and it always arrives ). Nearly everyone in my family from four to forties is obsessed with Lego ( Lego is certainly not just for children ) and after many hints I was given my first Lego set – Lego Architecture mini London. It was tiny, fiddly, fun and addictive; a total change from blogging and writing. I have ordered myself a big box of Lego bricks and bits so I can make my own creations.
My little real Christmas tree in the front garden has been undecorated, but today I had a Glastonburyish idea; I am going to leave it there and tie a ribbon on every day till we’re out of lockdown.
Cassie felt deflated, empty, tired. She tried to summon up the positivity that had kept her going since March, but a new year was not going to bring a new start for anyone. It was no consolation that more of England had joined them in Tier 4, lockdown in all but name. She knew she was lucky to have a job and a home, didn’t have to do home schooling or shop for elderly parents, but the positives she had nurtured this year seemed to be fading away.
Christmas Day had been good, as if her presence had made it easier for Sam and his long lost son to talk, telling her things about their lives that they hadn’t told each other. She had found herself smiling several times; Christmas 2019 spent alone and this Christmas spent with a homeless man and a runaway teenager. Now her little house seemed too quiet, though she had been glad enough of the peace on Christmas night after the two of them and the dog had clumped off on their way.
She would be more than happy to have them as regular visitors, but Christmas had been one day of freedom for Britons; now it was back to having no visitors, no visiting. Even her regular walks with Sam and his dog had ceased; the new rule was meet only one person outside your household, outside and Sam’s long walks were now with his son. Though James had done well getting the MPJ building as suitable as possible for his clients, it was a roof over their heads, not a home for a father and son. Sam was keeping Lucas out and about as much as possible, desperate to keep him from getting bored or depressed and doing a reverse runaway back to Scotland and the comforts of his step father’s highland estate.
Cassie could no longer visit the MPJ homeless project, even with the careful Covid regime James had set up. He was all too aware, as he never ceased to point out, how vulnerable some of his little group of homeless were, nor did he want any possibility of the project being blamed for an increase in cases in the town.
She was still working from home, management were pleased with her team, but would they all keep their jobs in the long term with the double blow of Covid and Brexit? Work was hard, not at all the easy lounging in pyjamas outsiders might imagine. Supervising her team was difficult; she was propping some of them up, carrying them. The continual ups and downs of what she assumed was normal busy parenthood, doubled in stress with parents worried every time a child coughed or felt a bit hot; Covid tests, waiting for results, keeping children home in isolation, whole classes being sent home because one child had a positive test, schools closed with teachers ill…
She was jolted out of her glum mood when her mobile buzzed, she was surprised to see it was James calling, wanting to Facetime and get some advice. How long since they had chatted on line? She was never sure if he had been disappointed that their spring on line friendship had not developed into anything more, when they got the chance to meet up for real. But now she was pathetically grateful for the chance to have a chat on this lonely New Year’s Eve.
March seems so long ago now, but we first met Cassie in a queue for the chemist…
She was not addicted, she was just adapted. Amelia’s grandchildren had told her to get on Amazon while she was in lockdown. She was not locked in, still allowed out for exercise and shopping essentials, but that was no help if she wanted a pair of slippers and the shoe shop was closed. But even going to the local food shops was an ordeal; wearing a mask, her glasses steaming up so she couldn’t see what she was doing let alone think what she wanted. Her dermatitis had flared up after putting the basket cleaning spray on instead of the hand gel. Then she couldn’t buy any cheese because she accidentally bypassed the dairy chiller cabinet and couldn’t reverse in the one way system. The final drama was getting in the wrong queue and ending up at the self service tills; waving to her nice young man on the real till she was accused of pushing in by a large woman with a scary red mask.
So here she was at the computer she used to only use for Facebook and emails. Amelia was now the proud owner of an Amazon Prime account and it was true, you could get anything on Amazon. Instead of two or three emails a week she now had half a dozen a day, kindly keeping her up to date with the progress of her deliveries. It was like Christmas every day.
It had started with slippers, some nice face cream and a big box of fruit and veg from that nice Suffolk farm; too much veg, she had to share with Doris and Ken next door. They were so impressed with her on line skills she offered to order things for them. Autumn bedding plants, then her son sent her links for the grandchildren’s birthday presents; more than she usually paid, but she wasn’t spending any money going out to the theatre, cinema or meals with friends.
When she couldn’t think of anything more she needed Amelia decided to give herself some presents, Covid Comfort… Self Care her granddaughter called it. Well Amelia did not want to plaster her face with green paste like that YouTube video, but she could improve her surroundings without even setting foot in B&Q. Colourful lampshades, amazing rugs and exotic plant pots arrived at her doorstep. Now she needed a new challenge.
Later, Amelia could not remember how the idea came into her head, but once it was there she was determined to see if Amazon could realise it. No more trips to the post office, she would have her own little drone to deliver letters and parcels and impress friends and family with her technical skills. She would probably have to practice first, a few tours giving her birds’ eye views of her neighbourhood.
It was rather expensive, no doubt because it was a high end model according to the description. Must be the latest model, there was only one review so far. The five to seven days passed slowly, but at last came the email Your package with 1 item will be delivered today. She waited for the doorbell to ring and her parcel to appear in the porch. Glancing out of the front window to see if a white van had drawn up yet, she was surprised to see a huge truck turn into her little road. Someone must be having building work done, though the equipment on the back of the lorry looked very strange. Paul across the road had come out to look and the sound of the strange vehicle being unloaded, like one of those huge rubbish skips, brought the children and other neighbours out. If they were being nosey, so could she, but before she could get to the front door there was a frantic ringing of her doorbell.
A huge chap in a yellow jacket and black mask stood back from the doorstep; what little she could see of his face was frowning.
‘Is this number forty six?’
‘Mrs. Amelia Dawson?’
‘Yes that’s me, have you brought my Amazon parcel.’
‘Hardly a parcel, but it’s all unloaded. I presume you have a licence from the Ministry of Defence or the Civil Aviation Authority…’
‘Never mind, not my problem, I just deliver things.’
Amelia closed the door and crept upstairs to look out the bedroom window. The lorry had already gone; surely that monstrosity parked outside her front gate, on the residents’ parking only lines, couldn’t be for her. She slipped into the little back bedroom to check her emails. One new, 11.51.
Hi Amelia, your package has been delivered.
How was your delivery?
It was great Not so great
A photo of your delivery location.
She looked at the time on the computer, 11.59, then looked at her order again, peering closer; she had assumed the measurements were in centimetres not metres…
So what next? What in the world shall we do now? When shall we… don’t pan dem ic!
Has it ever been so hard to make decisions, for anybody, anywhere in the world? Perhaps only the odd hermit in a cave is carrying on as normal, without having to think any more than usual.
Pre Covid decisions such as what to have for dinner or what to wear often took me longer than the life changing ones such as moving across the world, choosing a job or a house, accepting or rejecting a marriage proposal… now we have even more banal decisions to make; where shall I wear my mask, when shall I take it off?
Now politicians and parents, councils and carers have to make minor and major decisions weekly, daily, hourly and I’m sure many of us wish we had Jacinda Ahern or Nicola Sturgeon telling us exactly what we should be doing next. In a pandemic it does help if you are an island or a small country, but in the modern world that is no guarantee of protection.
Did I imagine it or did I hear a police chief from somewhere say on the news ‘…and we will smash your car window and drag you out if you do not tell us where you are going.’
Countries, states, counties, cities, councils all over the world have needed and still need to make firm decisions and if your local leaders have taken the right decisions, tell us about them. But if your leaders are waffling, hesitating or spouting total nonsense, your household or business needs to make its own decisions. However, deciding what next is like trying to read those multi lingual leaflets you get with everything from medicine to your latest electronic toy. The print is so tiny you can hardly find your own language, let alone read it and if you do get out the magnifying glass you probably won’t understand the instructions anyway. Shall I open my shop/go to the shops. Can we send the children to school? Shall we book our holiday/wedding/funeral … shall we cancel our holiday/wedding/funeral? Is it even safe to open my front door?
Or shall we just hide away. It is strangely comforting in these times to follow domestic routines; washing on Monday, getting your on line shopping on Tuesday, posting your blog on Wednesday, vacuuming on Thursday, mowing the lawn on Friday will make you feel in control of your little life, even though it will make no difference to the rest of the world.
Essays submitted to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme detailing its listeners’ coronavirus experiences are to be archived by the British Library.
The Covid Chronicles were launched in March when presenter Evan Davis asked his audience to write in with personal accounts of life during lockdown. Perhaps this is what I would write, though I have exceeded the suggested 400 words.
The last day life was normal for us was Burns’ Night, 25th January 2020. Friends came round for dinner, my husband cooked. The day before, his birthday outing of choice was a trip to Ikea, our last outing.
Life hadn’t been completely normal since his cancer diagnosis in autumn 2018, but chemotherapy had gone well and 2019 was filled with what was normal for most of us last year, holiday breaks, long walks, family visits, going out with friends…
By February this year things had gone off at an unexpected tangent and downhill. Family were flying over, driving down, coming in shifts and helping out with stays in three different hospitals. We were aware of the virus, but the main defence was hand gel; how ridiculous that seems now. The main entrance of Southampton Hospital, where his major operation took place on 2nd March, was like an airport; twenty four hour Costa Coffee, shops, cafes and people, lots of people. The intensive care unit was a quiet little bubble away from all this; you had to phone from the waiting room to be let in, but that was the only restriction.
On two occasions we were called into a little room to talk to a doctor, but after a few days my husband was on a ward. In the background to our little lives hospitals were planning for the virus to get worse, suddenly he was transferred to our local hospital and we were wondering how this Coronavirus was going to pan out. Our physiotherapist daughter had already been organising the NHS and her brothers and now she made sure our house was ready, persuading the ‘social care team’ I would cope fine in my new role as carer. I don’t drive, but I’m fit, we have great local shops, family would continue to come and stay at regular intervals and friends would be dropping in for coffee and jigsaws, what could possibly go wrong? The reluctance to let my husband go suddenly changed to a flurry of Covid 19 bed emptying activity on his ward.
At home things went as planned, some friends were already voluntarily isolating, but others came round for coffee. Our last family visitors left the evening after Mothering Sunday, by the time they were on their way home, on Monday 23rd March, the Prime Minister was telling everyone to stay home and close everything. We were already confined to home, now everybody would be at home; though I certainly wouldn’t have wished for a world wide pandemic just to feel we were all in the same boat.
My husband soon got The Letter – the most vulnerable people to stay at home for twelve weeks; I was now a shielder as well as a carer. By now we all understood the theory, it was a duty for everyone not to get Covid 19. My humble Covid Challenge, my contribution to the NHS was to keep my husband out of hospital and not get the virus myself as I am his sole carer.
So here we are in our cosy little bubble, thanks to our kind next door neighbours and the local greengrocers, butcher and Co Op doing home deliveries, I don’t go near any shops. I only venture out for a walk and to our doctors’ little pharmacy; one customer at a time, the staff wear masks and shields. The amazingly fine weather and the garden have given lockdown a holiday feel. As a retired couple with lots of interests we’re used to having relaxing days at home; now every day is a relaxing day at home. Real carers are people who look after severely disabled children or partners or parents with dementia, for year after year. Apart from having to think what to have for dinner and cook every single day, life is easy and there is time for gardening, writing and blogging.
In the Game of Life, Covid 19 Edition, over 35,000 people have died in the UK.
We have been given another extra turn and got some bonus points; loved ones and friends have been safe so far. Lucky to have a garden, not have to worry about losing a job or trying to home school children. Lucky that what happened to us came just before lockdown.
Have you written a Covid Chronicle or kept a journal?
Not sure what day it is or who you are? Which picture best describes your experience of Covid Quarantine?