It’s hardly credible that we’re coming up to a full year since our lockdown in the UK. But here’s a quick scan of my happiness and ultimate heartbreak through the year.
Thoughts in February / early March 2020
By late February 2020 my daughter-in-law had the pandemic fixed on her radar and was warning my son and I that we (the UK — and indeed the whole world) were going to be suffering soon. To our (later) shame my son and I were very dismissive of her fears. I vividly remember that I was making him a bacon sandwich (he often used to pop in for breakfast on his way to work) and we discussed it as “Nothing to worry about in the western world…” followed by a remark that was proven to be completely incorrect in just a few short weeks’ time.
For almost a year I’d had theatre tickets booked for early March to take my daughter-in-law to see “Les Miserables” and they weren’t cheap! As the performance drew closer, her initial excitement was clearly giving way to dread but she couldn’t bring herself to tell me. Finally my son suggested that he could go in her place, but I knew she was still worried that he’d “bring something home” to her. So I let him off the hook too. They suggested I invite a friend to use her ticket, but as I tried to compose the invitation, I felt as if I was inviting people to join me on a suicide mission, and couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I gave up and instead tried to get the theatre to re-sell my tickets. No takers for this show that a month before had been a sell-out.
The first UK Lockdown Started on March 23rd 2020
To be honest, it was a bit of a relief, because with my daughter-in-law’s predictions looking truer every day I was starting to feel nervous myself; yet friends were still inviting me out and laughing at my fears. When Boris Johnson (UK PM) announced our first lockdown I thought “PHEW — three weeks break will give it chance to clear up”. Haha — if only. At the end of the first three weeks I still didn’t feel confident enough to start socialising again, so I remember being relieved when there was an extension.
Actually I remember that I’d been feeling a bit exhausted after all the socialising of Christmas and the Christmas events that got pushed into January because our calendars were all too full. I’d been exhausted, and a few weeks of peace and quiet was very welcome.
You can follow a more detailed time-line here:
Another vivid memory was how ‘upset’ children were that their schools were being closed down, and exams cancelled. If it had been me I’d have been dancing with glee. I hated school with a passion. Perhaps kids are more serious and career-minded these days. They certainly face tougher competition for jobs than I ever did. When I left school (with no £9k a year university tuition bill) even the lowliest paid co-workers expected to start buying their own house before their mid-20s.
Lockdown has made me appreciate how lucky I am in many areas of my life.
Spring in Lockdown
I’ve never made the time to do my own gardening. But when my newly engaged gardener didn’t turn up, I decided I’d better investigate the mysterious tools in the garage. (The other unknown was finances — in those early days I wasn’t sure how my self-employed income would hold up.)
As last year’s dead twigs started to show bits of green, my interest flowered too. I found new friends on the radio, and took it outside with me to do a bit of weeding whenever the weather was warm enough. I’d tell myself I’d just weed until the 10am programme finished and then get on with my regular work. But I was surprised to find how often I’d still be gardening at 11am. There was something quite addictive about seeing fresh patches of soil emerge from beneath the winter’s-worth of weeds, revealing scurry worms, helping me turn over the soil. I’m not remotely green-fingered but just today, in early March 2021, I was lured out into the garden for my first ‘tidy up’.
Exercise in Lockdown
We were urged to ‘exercise for an hour a day’ — which seemed to mean ‘walk’ as my usual exercise venues (line-dance class and yoga in the gym) were all closed. Walking for exercise wasn’t anything I’d done regularly. But I set off, somewhat reluctantly. Until I discovered that within about a ten minute walk of my house I could be enveloped in glorious countryside. Two years previously I had moved from London to Norwich and although I’d taken the time to explore the beautiful city, I’d never taken the time to explore the countryside so near to me. Another new pleasure discovered. I’ll confess I soon tired of walking alone, so I made my first lock-down purchase — decent head-phones through which to listen to my new friends on the radio as I walked.
Yoga in Lockdown
After those first 3 weeks, I started to miss my weekly yoga classes and was beginning to stiffen up. Then I was delighted to find that the yoga teacher whose classes I’d attended back in London still had my phone number. She texted to say she was starting a Zoom yoga class and would I like a free trial class? You bet! This lady is a superb teacher and leaving her was one of my very few regrets at leaving London. I was a little dubious as to how Zoom yoga could work — but it does!
Regular yoga students will know that a good teacher makes ‘corrections’ to your poses where needed. The classes I was attending in the local gym were large, impersonal — and dare I say — boring. No personal attention whatsoever, so I figured that Zoom yoga couldn’t be any worse than the impersonal, un-corrected, class I was attending at the gym. So I took the trial class and was thrilled to have my previous teacher back — with more corrections on that one trial session than I’d had in two years at the gym.
One of the things I was dreading about the end of lockdown was the end of Zoom yoga. But I wasn’t alone. Several of us find it so much better on Zoom (no need to fight the traffic to get to class and other people in the class can’t see you — unless they’re real peeping Toms) so we asked for the Zoom classes to continue. Apparently this has been quite a trend overall, and Zoom yoga will continue as long as there’s a demand for it. I think it suits our teacher too — although our classes are still small, maybe 6 so that she can she can give us personal attention — that’s more than she can accommodate in her lovely home studio, so she has slightly larger capacity. And of course, it meant that she could continue working instead of having to close her business.
Assured of continuing Zoom yoga, I made another lock-down purchase: a full set of yoga props. Not cheap, but so much better than trying to balance on books and bags of sugar.
Line-dancing in Lockdown
My other pre-lockdown exercise was line-dance classes three times a week. Much as I enjoyed them, I was finding it hard to fit all 3 round my self-employed work-from-home timetable. Yet I really missed the mental and physical exercise when they closed.
Another happy re-connection — I’d stayed on the newsletter for my line-dance teachers from London, and popped into their classes when I returned to London. So imagine my delight when they messaged me inviting me to their twice weekly Zoom line-dance classes. As with yoga, no need to brave the traffic and although I miss my ‘back-wall’ (dancers behind me who I can ‘follow’) no-one can see when I go wrong!
Two more enterprising self-employed ladies who weren’t going to lose the business they’d built up over years. Like my yoga-teacher they’ve also re-connected with people who would no longer be dancing with them, and they now have dancers in Norwich, Cardiff, Greece — to name but a few. Within the group is a wedding planner who has also re-purposed her business to make and sell decorations and run online craft classes.
Friends in Lockdown
I’ve written more extensively about friends in lockdown here….. but one of the most wonderful parts of lockdown has been reconnecting with my baby-sitting circle of almost forty years ago. When we had our babies were met every three weeks and supported each other through every crisis you can imagine. This wonderful friendship continued all through primary and secondary school, and as our ‘babies’ went to university and some got married. But without the anchor of school we started geographically drifting many miles away from each other. As our meetings became harder to arrange they dwindled down to, maybe, quarterly. But those four ladies have always been the closest, longest-standing friends of my life and whenever we get together, we just drop straight back into that close friendship.
Again — Zoom to the rescue! One lady’s husband suggested a fortnightly Zoom supper, with a glass of wine. As we did at our quarterly meetings we’ve just picked up the friendship as closely as it ever was. Another lockdown life-line and a tradition we’ve agreed to carry on when we’re “back to normal”.
In a nutshell, lockdown has shown who my true friends are — and those I want to stay connected with. Some have just drifted off — and I’m glad to let them go. Certain newer friends I can’t wait to see again. I got really excited today chatting to a lady 14 years my senior who was so kind to me when I first arrived in Norwich, driving me everywhere and introducing me to new friends and places. We’re going to get together for a coffee and cake on my patio as soon as weather and ‘regulations’ permit, and I can’t wait for a good old catch up with her.
Church in Lockdown
Other friends to whom I have grown closer are at my Church. Although the services have been mostly closed, a small team took the plunge with Facebook Live services. They’ve grown more professional every week adopted the new technology and bought better equipment. Now there’s a full weekly programme of events with newsletters and service sheets delivered by email every Saturday evening. Joining our online services I can sing my heart out without wondering whether the guy in front is groaning inwardly about my croaky voice. If someone rings me in the sermon, I just pop the vicar on pause and come back later.
Our weekly Bible study group continues on Facebook too — and led to another treasured purchase: a wonderful study Bible. Now I, too, can appear as knowledgeable as some of the more experienced members.
Work in Lockdown — Offline Business
My friends all know me as something of a workaholic, so they won’t be surprised to know that work has still featured heavily in my lockdown life. But I’ve been lucky, as my off-line work has expanded; so I’ve not been one of the ‘forgotten 3million’ self-employed whose businesses have struggled, falling through the cracks in the government support programs. I often have tears in my eyes as I hear heart-breaking stories of long established businesses collapsing, starved of clients.
In contrast I’ve had so much extra work over lockdown that I doubt I would have been able to handle a ‘normal’ social life too! Project meetings have moved to — you guessed it — Zoom, with a casual dress code and a glass of beer or cider if the meeting starts at 5pm or later. Email communication is the norm and no-one cares that I’m emailing colleagues at 2am (when they’re tucked up asleep) and they’re replying at 6am (when I’m tucked up asleep). I would never want to return to 9 to 5 with an hour’s commute at each end of the day.
A real high-flyer in our family has been head-hunted on LinkedIn, by a huge corporation, to work-from-home. Who would ever have thought that working from home would be considered normal even twelve months ago. But why not? When I was employed for a short time about 12 years ago I was occasionally “trusted” to work from home and — I don’t know if my employer really believed it — but it was clear to me that I worked harder and more efficiently without the distractions of office gossip and interruptions.
Work in Lockdown — Online Business
I also work online — and those business friendships have grown closer too as I’ve exchanged more frequent emails with online business colleagues, sharing worries and triumphs. The longer term business friends have shared family and health concerns too, and been supportive throughout.
Some people whose offline income streams completely collapsed have been tempted to start ‘online businesses’. Some of them appear to have had instant successes and if that’s the case — good for them. I hope they’re not just ‘faking it till they make it’ because as one who has been in online business for many years I know just how hard it is to be successful without a ton of money or experience. I hope I’m wrong, but having been ‘sold the dream’ myself years ago, by smooth-talking conmen I fear some fledgling ‘Internet Coaches’ will be ‘taken to the cleaners’ by those who already have what it really takes to succeed online. Time will tell.
Does Lockdown Sound Too ‘Peachy’ For Me?
I’m aware that until November I had largely sailed through lockdown, and had been very lucky to do so. Financially I have actually been better off than pre-lockdown. In addition to the extra work, my spending reduced drastically with so much ‘staying in’. I’ve had time to catch up on those unread books on the book-shelf and I’m finally getting decent use out of my Netflix subscription.
So, yes, it’s been ‘peachy’ overall.
But I truly feel for those who have missed their regular social interactions — perhaps because they’re not as tech-savvy as I am, or they can’t afford Internet, or quite bluntly — they live in a household where tensions run high because people are crammed together trying to work and home-school without even a garden in which the kids can let off steam.
Family in Lockdown
My ‘Norwich’ son lives about half an hour away by car, but because of the crazy hours he works most of our pre-lockdown family times were on the phone, or the quick snatched breakfasts I mentioned right at the beginning. So no real change there. His business continued uninterrupted.
Sadly my other son ran what was a successful holiday-let business in Spain. I haven’t seen him for over a year now — partly because of the lockdown, but also because his collapsed business doesn’t bring in enough funds to allow for luxuries like holidays back to the UK.
But worst of all…
My Lockdown Tragedy
Pride comes before a fall, and my love affair with lockdown slowly dissolved as it became more and more obvious that my 98 year old Dad, who never wanted to leave his home of 35 years to move to live nearer to my sister and I, was deteriorating with every phone call we made to him. We both live over 200 miles away from him, so visits were hard before lockdown and nigh-on impossible during lockdown. I had visited him in October 2020, when lockdown was briefly lifted, and — with his live-in carer — he was coping just fine. My sister and I joked that he’d out-live the pair of us.
Then during the autumn lockdown his health went rapidly downhill and when two live-in carers in rapid succession left because they couldn’t cope with him, it was time to admit him to a care-home — which he hated.
Nothing wrong with the care-home. It would have been a lovely place to end his days for the right person. Just not for Dad. And especially in COVD times. He was admitted after testing negative for the virus, and then isolated for 14 days before he was allowed to mix with the other residents. He was ‘out and mixing’ for just 7 days and appeared to be settling in. Th activities team were even going to help him to use Zoom, which he’d never taken to before.
Then disaster struck — he tested positive and had to go back into isolation. Apparently only one other resident had contracted the virus — and as everyone was tested regularly, it must have been brought in from outside. Probably by a carer or supplier. Dad and all other residents had been vaccinated ASAP in January, but he caught the virus that same week. I don’t know which carers weren’t vaccinated, and you’ll never find out. The care-home chain is now introducing a policy of “jabs for jobs”, but too late for Dad, who — although he remained symptom-free for 8 days, died on the 9th day with COVID-related pneumonia.
I know that whoever took the infection into the care-home to my Dad wouldn’t have wished to infect and ultimately kill him, because they were all lovely caring people. Whoever it was may be grieving for their part in Dad’s death as much as I am. You see, ultimately, I was the one who drove with him to the care home, kissed him good-bye, assuring him he’d be safe and promised to come back as soon as I could. How was I to know that, because of lockdown, my next visit would be to his funeral?
Other family members assure me that, had they been with him in December, they’d have made the same decision. They remind me that it was a joint family decision, made because Dad’s live-in care provisions had completely collapsed. They tell me that his live-in carer or one of the outside visiting carers (3 different people every day) could as easily have taken the virus to him in his home.
But I am tormented by the question: If I hadn’t driven Dad to that care-home, in lockdown, would he still be alive today?