I find it hard to write about anything other than Covid-19 and the lockdown at present. I am sure there will come a time when some form of normal life returns and housing becomes important again, but for now it seems to me it’s a case of “ All changed, changed utterly”.
As I wrote in my last blog, your experience of the curfew will depend upon your wealth, your work, your housing situation and your personality. To misquote Tolstoy, “The lockdown is alike for all of us, but we all experience it in our own way.” Some people I know have been busier than ever, others are bored witless. Some people, mostly introverts, enjoy it. Extroverts are finding it hard.
So this is my experience, living alone in a small town in Kent. Here, the skies are bluer, the birdsong is louder, the blossom is more blossomy and the air feels purer. The swallows have arrived and white-tailed eagles have been spotted. Nature goes on regardless of our human condition.
I try to stick to a daily routine. To start with, I have been sleeping badly, often awake at 5am with strange dreams. Many people seem to be experiencing the same. I read the news and look at Twitter and Facebook in bed. Then yoga and a coffee in front of morning TV until Piers Morgan becomes unbearable. I still have work so that takes up a few hours in the morning, with a break for breakfast. In the afternoon I might go to the allotment (counted as exercise) or a long walk or run. I am reading novels and working my way through Netflix. I watched the whole of Porridge on iPlayer – this sitcom of people being banged up in prison was somehow familiar and comforting. The allotment is a godsend and so far no one has tried to close them down. In the evening I try to give myself a treat, something to look forward to, a piece of chocolate or some fruit. I am also running errands for the old folk locally picking up food and prescriptions. I registered as an NHS volunteer but so far there have been no calls.
I have not touched another human being for at least six weeks.
The days merge together. On Saturdays I treat myself to a bacon sandwich but wake up each morning wondering what day of the week it is. If I suddenly realise it is Saturday the joy is overwhelming! Small things.
I have fought a few battles on social media. Our local Facebook groups are interesting. At first, there was a lot of anger against people who were seen to be breaking the rules, such as having picnics or sunbathing. I asked people not to be so judgemental. I posted the actual legislation pointing out that there was no time limit on exercise or a ban on driving to a place of exercise and was accused of giving ammunition to the rule breakers. “But these are the actual rules!” I protested. The guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs has been helpful as it makes it clear what you can and cannot do.
The curfew has brought out the very best in some people, the very worst in others. The pitchfork mentality seems to have calmed down a little, perhaps people are now more fatalistic.
I also became incensed at the decision by some councils to close parks, notably Victoria Park in East London and Brockwell Park in Lambeth. Both criminal decisions in my view, when Londoners need as much space as possible to keep their distance from others. I supported calls to open the golf courses to the public.
Some days I try to ignore the news – too depressing, too anodyne. On other days I read as much as I can about the science and the wider impact of the disease (QUALYs and WELLBYs anyone?), and the fact that 20,000 extra deaths are predicted from cancer as a result of cancelled treatments and operations. The Swedish experience is interesting. I am suspicious of the “we are just following the science” mantra when scientific opinion appears to vary so widely. I despair at the quality of our ministers and the fact that they seem to be ignoring the wider impacts of lockdown. Some days I am staggered at the notion of closing down an economy based on such confusing evidence, on other days I am fatalistic. I worry about young people and how they are suffering. I worry that any discussion of easing the lockdown has been banned and that people will start to despair. There are already signs that people are voting with their feet and ending it on their own terms. At the same time, I have been alarmed at how supine most people have been and the lack of challenge or protest.
Without doubt this is the biggest event of our lives. It is history, right now. The only thing that comes close is perhaps the power cuts of the early seventies when we sat in darkness night after night. We will look back on this period as BC and AC, before and after Covid-19. BC will be looked upon as some kind of prelapsarian golden age perhaps? Historians will spend years writing about it – the medical, behavioural and economic aspects. In the meantime we are at the eye of the storm. How will it be when it is all over? Will it ever be over? Like most people I do not think we can ever go back to how we were and I will write more about the changes we need to see next week.
(This blog was first published by the Housing Quality Network)