Tuesday Times : Lockdown anniversary

It started as a far away idea. That we might have lockdown. That we might be confined to our homes as a deadly virus stormed outside. It was scary but quite exciting too. China was too far away to relate to. But Italians singing to each other from across their balconies seemed romantic and cool. Photographs of iconic European sites completely people free began to circulate. They were both eerie and beautiful.

Secretly (and not so secretly) some of us wanted it to happen in Britain. Why wasn’t it happening for us? When was it going to happen for us? We were working hard. We were tired. We didn’t want to do many of the things on our never ending ‘To Do’ list. We wanted a break from the outside world too.

Everyone was slightly on edge. If we sneezed, we panicked, was it one of the symptoms? The occasional face mask began to appear in public places other than Japanese tourists. 

Then, slowly, the world began to grind to a halt. Then it accelerated.

Lockdown in the UK began a year ago. It’s a year that has seen terrible tragedy and economic destruction. 12 months on, many people are heartily sick of the restrictions.

But there has been much that is good and positive too.

Community. This picture below sums up the best of us. Even before prime minister Boris Johnson formally announced the start of lockdown, notes were being dropped through letterboxes from people offering to do the shopping for those who were too old or ill to go out. Telephone and zoom calls were made to check on those who lived alone. People came together most when they were being kept apart and it was life affirming.

Humour – certainly initially, people’s creativity was off the scale. Funny memes, parodies of popular songs , hilarious videos filled the internet and our WhatsApp accounts as we tried to make sense of what was happening. Language was no barrier. Across the world we made each other laugh.

We learned to speak to each other again – new social media platforms mushroomed as people sought to communicate in the best and oldest way – by talking to each other. Platforms like zoom, Houseparty and clubhouse got us talking to friends on the same road, in another city, in another country. We wanted to see faces and hear voices not just get a typed message in 189 letters. Forget the art of conversation, some people can barely string a sentence together or interact with another human, these days, so used are they to soulless remote communication. Even with a screen between us, just seeing someone’s face, gestures, eyes and body language was a step up from meaningless interaction via email or Twitter. Anonymous, impersonal interaction on platforms like Twitter allow hatred to flourish. A ‘Be kind’ hashtag does not stop the slow erosion of your humanity, if day after day you read (and absorb) angry messages wishing death on someone simply because you disagree with their politics. Then there’s the loathsome message of eternal victimhood that is promoted daily on social media , to black and brown people. It’s harder to be hateful or patronising when you’re faced with a real person who can answer back.

We took up hobbies again. Yes, people have piled on the pounds during lockdown but the photos of home baked banana bread, sourdough bread, cakes, Yorkshire puddings, hearty casseroles were a joy to see. People finally used all the recipe books they’ve been collecting for years. They ate together as a family at the dining table. It was wonderful to see and hear of people learning (or picking up again) skills that they didn’t have the time to pursue before.

Personally, the time I saved in the mornings and evenings travelling to and from court was a godsend. I used it for exercise, meditation, writing, learning the piano, listening to classic albums I had never had the time to sit all the way through before. The Beatles catalogue, Joni Mitchell, Nirvana, LED Zeppelin, to name a few. It was a joy.

We became ‘meh’ about self absorbed, tone deaf celebrities who couldn’t read the room if you gave them an autocue.
Of course money and fame can’t buy you freedom from emotional problems but at a time when ordinary people are losing their jobs and worrying about how to feed their families, it wouldn’t hurt for people in the public eye to employ some common sense. Sam Smith, on day 2 of lockdown, being photographed outside his mansion saying how hard his life was, wasn’t a great look. Madonna continued to trash her glorious legacy with a bizarre video filmed in her marble bathroom. These days, even when she wants to express empathy, she just horribly misjudges the tone of her message. At a time when great bands and artists are postponing concerts, who the hell is risking their health to go see Rita Ora perform? How is she gallivanting across continents for ‘work’ when most people aren’t able to leave their homes. And even before the internet used videos, photos and legal evidence to debunk the contents of their recent gossip session with Oprah, Harry and Meghan Markle were the butt of jokes. For months they kept popping up, almost daily, like unwanted zits, on zoom meetings, preaching what they don’t practice.  It’s hardly surprising then, that the Oprah mess (to call it an interview would be to insult the art of interviewing) only got 17 million viewers in the USA. Sounds a lot but they were expecting at least 90 million! 
Similarly, self congratulatory awards shows such as the Grammys and Golden Globes have scored historically low ratings recently.

Perhaps, with time to reflect during lockdown, people are reserving their admiration for medics, delivery drivers, shop assistants, carers and all those other unsung heroes who are keeping the nation afloat. Most of them are doing it on low wages, long hours and untreated stress levels too. Maybe the public’s view of who should be celebrated is changing. It will be fascinating to see how we evolve in the months to come as we emerge from this strange period. As a psychologist friend said, “there’s no going back to the old ‘ normal’ from this. We have been forever changed, in many ways, by this unprecedented experience, whether we realise it or not.”

Health and being alive! Those of us lucky enough to have our health have much to be grateful for because many of us have seen or heard first hand how dire the alternative is.