In March 2020 the UK went in to lockdown as a global pandemic of Covid19 rampaged. This virus, believed to have started in China, caused extreme flu-like symptoms, varying in severity from person to person, killing millions and leaving survivors with longterm health problems. As I write this in August, it’s pretty bloody far from over, and in the UK our government have made a spectacular balls-up of dealing with it all. Many businesses have closed, people have lost their jobs, schools were shut down for months and now there’s talk they won’t reopen in September. Although I feel very lucky to not have been impacted financially, I have still struggled with working from home and being shut in, as many have, and getting the motivation to even blog when you’re just doing the same things day in day out within your own home has been hard.
I did want to document some of the signs I saw around London. It’s obviously (and hopefully) a once in a lifetime experience and something I never thought I’d see – face mask wearing being enforced, and London spaces like pubs, buses, tube trains, and even streets that are usually packed being way emptier – at the start of lockdown many of the capital’s busiest roads were completely empty, it was like a sci-fi film.
There’s been a lot of dispute over how helpful masks actually are, but they definitely make some difference, so I don’t know what some people’s problem is with them. Enforced face mask wearing in London coinciding with a huge heatwave hasn’t helped, I never thought I’d be walking around with lower-face sweat. At least no one can see it. I’ve tried to avoid public transport as much as possible, which has always been too overcrowded in London, and a hotbox of germs. I did take the bus when my niece and nephew came to stay, and people were respecting the sitting away from each other rule. Only 30 passengers at a time are allowed on each bus.
This sign (above) at my local park in Highgate made me laugh. No BBQs, this is because in recent years people have been going mad for them here. As in, twenty people at each one, roaring fires, drinking. It’s actually quite sad as it destroys a lot of the grass, but the council can’t do much about it even when there isn’t a pandemic. I would not want to the the council staff member telling a pissed-up family to stop having fun, no one wants to be that guy.
At the start of lockdown in the UK there was an intense focus on hand-washing to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and helpful videos on how to wash and for how long. It was like we’d gone through life just making each other ill and not ever understanding why. Our own dirty hands could be fatal. There was genuinely a lot of concern at the start, and a lot of online fear mongering. I liked this light relief created by Joe Lycett, a portrait of chief medical person, Chris Whitty, who would do a live TV broadcast everyday at 5pm and seemed to despair of us all.
We’ve not had a strict lockdown in the UK, with a curfew and roads blocked like some places in the world have. It was soon discovered that a lot of people (including politicians, ahem) were not sticking to the rules at all, and by May the streets were busy again, the beaches absolutely rammed. I don’t know why Brits are so bad with rules, you’d think the way we respect queues we’d be all over the guidelines about staying home and not mixing with people outside of your household. There’s been a huge impact on jobs, the economy and schools, so it’s easy to see why the government haven’t had soldiers forcing us to stay in like they have in Spain and Italy, for example.
At first the lockdown didn’t bother me too much. Obviously, I had concerns about the virus, but as someone who’s lucky to be freelance and work from home I was in a good headspace, and marvelled over all the news articles about how to adjust for the tens of thousands of new homeworkers. As time went by this feeling of security started to unravel. I had to stop going on Twitter and WhatsApp because there was so much worry and anguish – people losing jobs, their house sales falling through, people breaking up with someone they realised they could not spend every hour with, and I realised how much the outside world inspires me to work from home. The conversations, the galleries, the libraries, theatre, walks in familiar and new places, going to see a film or buy a book, even the random shit about this city that frustrates and disgusts me; sitting in traffic jams, seeing people be horrible to one another, people spitting in the street. Everything you don’t get from staying indoors where your only outside links are endless Zoom meetings and seeing people flounder on social media (or pretend everything is suspiciously rosy).
The mounting pressure everyone was feeling came to a head in late May after a black American citizen called George Floyd was killed by the police, and both peaceful protests and full on riots started. Watching it all unfold in the middle of a pandemic was frightening, but it also felt like the right time to create change. Here in London there were mass protests in Hyde Park that got ugly, news footage showed protestors throwing objects like bicycles at police horses and making them bolt. Social media has never been the same, almost daily people are posting about ‘educating themselves’ by sharing books and podcasts and posts by black people.
After all this, it’s not a surprise people’s mental health has suffered. We all have been personally affected on a day to day level, and we all see what people have gone through and are going through to change the world. My writing has taken a dive – my professional stuff, and even this blog. I usually feel fired up to write, it’s one of the most important things to me. I’ve felt writer’s block many times, but it’s usually easy to fix, this has been something else. Less of a block and more of a monumental wall around me that’s given me zero motivation. It’s a horrible feeling, I’ve had so many sleepless nights worrying about it all. I empathise with the beach-dwelling people, even though they’re sitting amidst germs and risking their lives, they’re having a life. But there’s people far worse off than I am, I feel sorry for everyone who’s lost a loved one, or a job they loved (or needed), and for all the students who didn’t get to sit their GCSEs and A-Levels and ended up with their shite predicted grades. God, if that had happened to me with my A-Levels I’d have been screwed, I think my predicted grades were BCD or something like that, and I ended up with AAA. Some people just need the pressure of final exams. I hope wherever you are you’re safe and well, tell me how you’ve been getting on, and what lockdown is like where you live. Better days are ahead.