Last week our work put a live stream in our calendar. A very millennial and all too common feature of many businesses in 2020 – a good ol’ virtual update. In it, we were told, unsurprisingly, that we would not be back in the office until at least early September.
The last day we were at the office my work pals and I (in a very rushed manner down the pub) proposed going round to each other’s houses at least a few times a week, frequent pub catch ups and park get-togethers – but it would only be for a few weeks at most. The thought of spending 6 months out of the office was literally unthinkable.
But here we are – The first week of June. Back in London. Still WFH obvs. Still avoiding the tube like the plague (which it probably carries, in some form). Still following the daily briefings, still clapping every Thursday, still quiz zooming weekly, and still queuing outside supermarkets.
Watching TV or a film now, and seeing a scene at a football match or a concert or a pub always draws the same kind of comment; imagine doing that now! Imagine standing in such close proximity to a human outside of your household without it being at the forefront of your mind, like a constant alert. Alert alert, you’re walking too close to me, you stranger. Alert person at the supermarket who is not sticking to the one way system. Alert dog walker who is making no effort to stick to the 2 meter rule. Alert alert.
When did it get so weird to walk past a group of 3 people relaxing in a park and silently and subconsciously judge them? People do it. Even though very few (at least out of the people I know, including myself) have obeyed every social distancing rule to a tee. Or walk through the supermarket and see row upon row of empty shelves? At the beginning of lockdown, walking through an empty supermarket in disbelief, I heard a dad say to his small son sincerely: ‘I hope to God you never see this again in your lifetime.’
But strangely, many are getting used to living in the time of Corona. Impressive, how quickly humans adapt. These things which seemed so utterly bizarre in March now seem relatively normal. Virtual guests on shows like Graham Norton and Question Time are a given. The notifications that flash at 16.45 every day ‘follow the daily briefing life’ are expected. And boarded up shops, cafes and pubs with the all too familiar ‘closed due to covid-19’ sadly fade into the background.
It dominates every conversion. Every dinner time discussion, and every phone call. When did the news run a story that wasn’t in some way connected to it? When did you last scroll through your twitter feed and see something unrelated to it? Directly and indirectly, it has permeated every part of life. The ‘C’ word. What on earth did people talk about before it? When will we finally get to the point where it isn’t the first thing we think about in the morning, and the last thing we think about at night?
Many birthday cards from lovely friends and family contained the phrase ‘when this is all over.’ ‘We’ll celebrate when this is all over,’ and ‘we’ll have a drink when this is all over.’ A few weeks ago (in fact, in a previous blog post) I wrote about how things will get back to normal, and this episode would soon be forgotten about. Looking back, that seems incredibly naive. As the weeks go on, it becomes increasingly clear that things will not go back to normal for a very long time…if ever. Pubs and restaurants will reopen, the economy will slowly get back on its feet, flights will depart and we’ll stop watching the news at 5 pm every day. But will we socialise in the same way that we used to? Will we hold onto a rail on a tube without thinking? Will we stand so close to people at a concert or a football match? Will we stop worrying about the next wave, the next pandemic, when we do finally get covid under control?
Despite this, things are, ever so slowly beginning to wake up. Businesses are slowly and tentatively poking their heads up out of hibernation. A few food stalls returned to the market in Saffron Walden last Saturday. It still felt eerily quiet for a sunny spring day, where normally the square would have been packed full of people enjoying a glass of wine at the seafood bar (Saffron Walden for you) or trying on hats. But the few stalls that did set up shop – the cheese van, the olive people and the veg stall were a welcome sight indeed.
Islington is much the same. Granted, I’ve missed the majority of lockdown in London, but walking down Upper Street, pockets of life are evident. Resilient restaurants and cafes have opened their windows, serving takeaway coffees and food. Life is different…but adaptable. This is the new norm.
The landscape in London has changed physically. Less traffic. More masks. But there is one subtle difference that for me has become emblematic of life in the time of Corona. Tape. It’s all over the streets – outside supermarkets, shops, restaurants. Keep 2 meters apart. Behave responsibly. Social distance. The tape signifies this new life. As we wait for the next announcement that more shops will open, more kids will go back to school and more people can meet, we’re reminded that things are getting more normal. But within boundaries. Within the lines of the tape.