3 and a half short months ago, the world celebrated the turn of the decade. 2020. As with the start of every new year, the first of January promised new beginnings. New resolutions made – yoga and meditation every day, reading at least 100 books a year, cutting down on meat blah blah. The usual. But the turn of the decade heightened the feeling of fresh starts. Something about a ‘0’ at the end of a year giving it an elevated status – this would surely be the best decade yet.
And when the clock struck 12, and prosecco popped and fireworks sparked to the tune of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, few had heard of the city 5000 miles away in the Hubei Province of China, where a pneumonia like illness was slowly rearing its head.
Fast Forward to mid April. Over 1.7 billion of the world’s population is in lockdown. The word ‘furlough’, unbeknown to most a few weeks ago has rooted itself firmly into our everyday vocabulary. The world economy is facing its biggest crisis since the 2008 recession. And finding pasta in a supermarket is as futile as searching for a needle in a haystack.
Suddenly this side of 2020 isn’t looking so bright and shiny.
Normally, when a big news story breaks, it rarely affects people’s day to day lives. Take Brexit, for example. It dominated our news for the best part of 3 years, politically divided the country and was responsible for two elections in four years.
But despite the political enormity of Brexit, it did not impact the normal day to day activities for most average Brits. People still went to work. The economy grew. You could go and sit in a cafe with a friend as normal on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or get a drink with colleagues on a Thursday evening after work.
Coronavirus on the other hand, has changed every aspect of normal life. Over the last three weeks, the UK has grappled with the consequences of lockdown life, swapping pub crawls for virtual zoom quiz nights and gyms (this does not apply to me) for home workouts and park runs.
Some lockdown days have been more challenging than others. Most mornings I wake up and have absolutely no idea what day it is (thanks to Innocent’s twitter account for the daily reminder). The repetition of knowing each day will so closely resemble the last has, for me, been one of the most difficult things about lockdown life. And with nobody sure how close to the end we are, the uncertainty about the length of time we will be living like this does not help matters.
Then, there is the whole phrase of ‘social distancing’ to get used to. Similarly to the word ‘furlough’, ‘social distancing’ has also become part of our normal vocab. Us humans are naturally social beings, which has become all the more apparent once this has been removed. Of course, living in the digital age means video calls go a long way in making up for this, and therefore ‘physical’ distancing is probably a more appropriate term – but this is still unnatural for most. We ended up walking past a friends’ house on Saturday. Normally, we would have sat in the garden with a glass of wine – but an over the gate catch up had to do, and this was still the most physical interaction (bar the supermarket) we had had with someone outside of the house for a long time.
But on the whole, most days have been quite nice. Quarantine has allowed me to spend more time with my family than I have in a long time – especially with my brother who had to return from his year abroad in Oz early. Who worked at a cocktail bar and has continued to treat the kitchen as his personal mixing station – no complaints there. Most non – working days have been spent reading in the garden, playing Perudo, watching a lot of TV, walking the dog, eating and drinking – quality fam time that is normally reserved for summer holidays or a few short days over Christmas. And this is the same for families and housemates all over the country who have suddenly found themselves cooped up together. It’s difficult to call this time ‘special’ – but we will probably look back at these strange weeks and remember when knitting and colour by numbers became the new norm… and that in many ways it wasn’t all bad.
When the lockdown was first announced I, along with millions of others realised that I suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands, and this was probably the perfect time to learn four new languages, write a bestseller and turn into a fitness guru. Newsflash – none of these have been accomplished. And from speaking to friends, I am not the only person to feel guilty over my lack of productivity during lockdown so far. But this last week I’ve accepted that it’s perfectly OK to have a mid afternoon nap after a hard morning of watching films (Disney + launched at exactly the nations hour of need), or to slob out and watch an hour of every clip of Bob Mortimer on Would I Lie To You? (highly recommended – clip here – it’s bloody great – you’re welcome.) And yes, I no longer feel guilty when my phone decides to give me my weekly reminder that I have averaged out over 4 hours of screen time every day (thanks Apple). Lockdown is weird. And we are kind of stuck in time. So I’m trying not to have sky high expectations that I should be using my time better, and just enjoy the downtime I have.
And out of every terrible crisis comes something good. A few good things to come out of the deadly virus which has crippled world economies and brought normality to a standstill?
3 good things to come out of corona:
Good thing no 1: The newfound gratefulness and respect for our real essential workers – including every single NHS worker (doctor, nurse, midwife, cleaner, porter etc), care home worker, supermarket staff, bin(wo)man, post(wo)man and delivery driver. This pandemic has exposed the true heroes of society in the starkest way possible.The clapping, cheering and banging of pots and pans at 8 pm every Thursday for all NHS staff has been an incredible and emotional show of collective gratitude – in a post Brexit society which has polarised the country, it is evident that people across the entire political spectrum can unite in their admiration of our health service.
This appreciation and gratitude for the NHS could not have come at a more significant time. Boris Johnson (who cheered for a freeze on NHS staff salaries in 2017, and has been a staunch supporter of austerity which has kneecapped many areas of the health service) personally thanked two nurses during his stay in hospital: Jenny from New Zealand and Luis from Portugal. Luis and Jenny may not have even been allowed into the country under Priti Patel’s points based immigration system. Many other key workers certainly would not have been. Hopefully, just hopefully, coronavirus will encourage politicians to treat Britain’s best loved institution with the respect it deserves. And even if this doesn’t, the gratitude of the public towards the NHS has probably never been stronger, and will surely go a long way in preventing further cuts, salary freezes and privatisation.
Good thing no. 2 – An article appeared on my FaceBook today, written by a guy called Adam Wells, entitled: ‘Coronavirus has made us Northern.’ Mr Adam Wells lives in London but is originally from Leeds, and he couldn’t have been more accurate. I am quarantining in my town near Cambridge, which granted, is normally friendlier than London – but not to the extent I’ve seen en Lockdown. The usual British etiquette of absorbing yourself in your phone while walking past someone has been replaced with an almost apologetic ‘hello’, as people cross the road or skirt two meters around you, always with a silent and slightly sad smile which says something like: ‘how completely insane is all this?’ And despite the physical distancing, there is a definite feel of solidarity amongst most I’ve encountered on my daily walks.
Good thing no.3 – an appreciation of the small things that everyone took for granted pre – Corona. Popping round a friend’s for dinner, or a picnic in the park. Who knows how long this appreciation for normality will last once things go back to how they were? Probably a week. Two at most. But things that everyone has forever and a day taken as a given, will for a little while, be cherished a little more.
The arrival of coronavirus has made us re evaluate every aspect of life – and this hasn’t been a bad thing. Yes, there are days when I’ve felt bored and wrestles and frustrated. Social distancing is hard. But when life finally gets back to normal, hopefully people will still be a little bit nicer, more appreciative of key workers, and grateful for the pub.