I’m writing this for myself. Because, whilst I don’t think I could ever forget this time in my life – it’s an historic moment after all – I know that over the years my memories will fade, I’ll forget what it felt like and I might forget what I learned from it.
At the time of writing this, 190,585 people in the UK tested positive for coronavirus and sadly 28,734 have died.
Something is brewing
Back in January we learned of a virus that was sweeping China. It was said to have started in a wet market in Whuan, which sold both live and dead animals. They called it Covid-19. Whilst concerning, China is a long way away from London, right? It wouldn’t affect us, surely. They would nip it in the bud.
Well, spread it did and the next country to be affected, devastatingly, was Italy. We watched as my husband’s country reported daily deaths in the hundreds and the north of the country went into lock down. Then the south followed and the whole country stayed at home. His heart was broken. We wondered when next we’d get to visit his beautiful country.
The world in lock down
The virus then spread across Europe and of course to the UK. I’m thankful I got to celebrate my 40th birthday in early February with lots of my friends. I’m sad for those who have had to celebrate birthdays or special occasions on their own. For those who have had to postpone weddings. For those who weren’t able to attend funerals for loved ones.
As more and more countries became affected by coronavirus, and the cases in the UK rose, the Prime Minster Boris Johnston announced that we would be going in to lock down on Tuesday 24 March, for three weeks initially.
What no one could predict was that the PM himself would contract coronavirus and would be in ICU being looked after by our wonderful NHS.
Life in lock down
So what has life in lock down been like? Those three weeks quickly turned in to six and we’re waiting to hear when restrictions will be eased. We have been luckier than other countries in that we have been allowed to go out once a day for exercise. As we live in a flat with no outdoor space, this has been a Godsend. Being able to go out has helped my mental health and in those six weeks, I only had two real wobbles. I was lucky.
I took up Couch to 5k again as the first time I did it, was on a treadmill. With gyms closed, I had to throw myself into home workouts (thank you Joe Wicks!) and running outside.
I started each morning by opening the blinds, going downstairs to make a coffee and then heading back to bed to read. In April I read four books. I could only manage one a month pre-lock down. I like this slow start to my morning. This routine is definitely staying.
Toilet paper and pasta were like gold dust
In the first two weeks of lock down, supermarket shelves were empty. If felt like the apocalypse. The most surprising items that you couldn’t get for love nor money was toilet paper and pasta. Thankfully living with an Italian meant we had an abundance of pasta in the cupboard.
The next two items that would be almost impossible to source was flour and yeast. It seems that lock down was the perfect moment for everyone to learn how to make sourdough, banana bread and, well, any bread really.
It became impossible to shop for food online, with supermarkets rightly prioritising the elderly and vulnerable. Instead, we queued two metres apart to buy groceries. Items were restricted and we were asked to only buy essentials.
We social distanced
In order to stop the spread of the virus, we were asked to social distance when outside. We needed to keep 2 metres apart, however this was easier said than done. In central London, living in a busy area, it was very difficult to do this – particularly when queuing at the supermarket.
Social distancing signs were everywhere – in parks, on posters outside shops and at bus stops and tube stations.
We weren’t allowed to mix with anyone outside our household. For my husband and I, this wasn’t too difficult as we don’t have family in London anyway and we at least had each other. But I really felt for my friends who lived alone. Not having physical human contact for weeks on end must have been very hard. At least on my down days, I could get a reassuring hug from my husband. I thought a lot about people’s mental health and hoped they were doing ok.
On Thursdays we clapped
What started as a one-off show of appreciation for the NHS by clapping at 8 pm on a Thursday night, soon turned into a weekly event. We weren’t just clapping for our carers though, we were clapping for all our key workers – for those who stacked our supermarket shelves, to those who delivered our post, to bus, tube and train drivers and those who emptied our bins. We are forever grateful.
We made rainbows
Adults and children around the country adorned their windows with pictures of rainbows to thank the NHS and our key workers.
Children drew messages in chalk on pavements saying ‘thank you’, ‘be happy’, ‘stay home’, ‘stay safe’.
We connected more
Although we were in lock down for only six weeks, I spoke to more of my friends and family – both near and far – in that time than I would ever have done normally. Texts were replaced with calls. Friday nights became ‘Facetime Fizz’. WhatsApp, Facebook, Zoom… you name it, we did it. It was lovely. Why did we not do this before?
We rallied together
I will forever remember this time as one where we rallied together. It started with neighbours dropping notes through the door to call them if we needed to self isolate and they would help with groceries and medication. Then came the clapping, followed by rainbows everywhere.
One of the most significant acts of kindness was when Major Tom Moore set up a fundraising page to raise £1,000 for NHS Charities Together by walking 100 lengths of his garden in honour of his 100th birthday. After appearing on television, he captured the hearts of the nation and raised a staggering £32.7m!!! He was also promoted to Captain.
Unfortunately there was a lack of PPE for our front-line workers so people and companies rallied together to sew scrubs and face masks. Luxury brands such as Prada and Gucci turned their hand to providing PPE and alcohol and perfume brands turned their hands to producing hand sanitiser – for free for those working in hospitals. Not just in our country, but all over the world.
I learnt a new word
Furloughed. Seriously, had you ever heard of it before coronavirus? In order to help businesses, the government announced that they could furlough their staff for up to three months and the government would pay 80% of their salaries, up to £2,500. Those furloughed would not be allowed to work during that time, but would be allowed to volunteer. Great news for businesses, not great news for me.
As a freelancer, we waited weeks to hear what support the government would offer us. When the news finally came, it was disappointing. As the sole director of a limited company, I wasn’t entitled to any support at all. Thankfully, I had work so I was ok. The sector that I work in, however, was badly hit.
The charity sector estimated that they would lose £4bn in three months. Many charities furloughed staff – some 80% of their staff. Unfortunately people weren’t allowed to volunteer for their own charity, which was very short sighted as the sector was needed more than ever. The sector campaigned for government support and when it finally came, it was only £750m. Not nearly enough.
London in lock down
If you’ve ever been to London, you’ll know what a vibrant, bustling city it is. Now imagine it in lock down. Hard to imagine? Here are some photos I took whilst out on my daily walks. This is not the London I know.
My husband and I always walk the back streets to avoid the crowds when we visit Oxford Street. When I visited it, it was deserted.
The crossing by Oxford tube station, which is normally heaving with people, was eerily quiet. All the shops were closed.
Liberty, an iconic shopping destination, was closed. Without loads of cars and people in front of it, the Tudor architecture really stood out. It is a truly beautiful building.
Carnaby Street looked like something out of the Wild West. It was just missing the tumbleweed.
Normally Piccadilly Circus is an area I avoid. I liken it to Times Square in New York – garish and full of tourists. Without them, it actually looked fairly elegant. And it looked clean.
Chinatown, which is normally bustling, was like a ghost town. For once though I could get a decent photo of the red lanterns and the gate without lots of people in my shot.
Perhaps one of the eeriest photos of all was of Paddington Station. Normally packed with commuters, it had only a handful of people.
What I never want to forget
When I look back at this post in the years to come, I never want to forget:
- The slower pace of life.
- Feeling gratitude for the simplest things.
- Our ‘restaurant-style’ lunches on Saturdays.
- Showing our appreciation for our carers and key workers.
- The connectedness. We were lucky this happened in an age of technology where we were able to video call friends and family.
- How privileged we were to have a roof over our head, food on the table and our health.
- The kindness of strangers.
- Real community spirit.
What are the things that stood out for you during this time? What things would you like to keep? What changes would you like to make when life returns to ‘normal’.?