It is now six
months since the pandemic hit us here in Britain, to turn our lives upside
down. Looking back on how it all began, what immediately comes to mind is
the plight of the cruise ship Diamond Princess anchored somewhere in Japanese
waters in early February. We started getting daily, almost hourly,
reports of how the stranded holiday makers from across the world were coping
with their confinement. One or two of the British passengers started to post
video footage of their situation. It
made gripping, if uncomfortable, viewing; it could so easily have been us!
We had just completed our annual cruise in November, barely six weeks earlier, but otherwise would probably have done one in that region aound that time.
What we were learning from all the media coverage was that the virus was spreading across the world and after a while it dawned on us that we were in its line of fire, as it were, and were going to be caught up in it sooner or later. We went through the whole of February and most of March in a state of animated suspension.
And then everything changed: in summary - during the long spring and summer months – getting used to the new routine; dull, safe sameness; day after day; conscious of time passing, or rather time wasting; growing resentment at the curtailment of freedom – no cinema, theatre, concerts, talks, outings generally - not being able to do a whole host of other things, such as meeting people or spending time at the South Bank Centre in Waterloo as and when – not being able to do my regular riverside walks, not being able to do routine shopping, depending on others for that …. !
Looking at my diary, I see that on 7 February, I saw the South Korean film `Parasite` at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts at Pall Mall in London), and on the 10th I renewed my membership of the ICA for another year which, alas, I have not been able to take advantage of since. On the 14t.h, I had lunch out with friends, which meant travelling down to London by train as usual. On the 19th I made advanced bookings for a couple of Ravi Shankar centenary events at the Royal Festival Hall in April.
As we slid into March, despite everything, we were looking forward to the Royal Opera House Live (screened) performance of FIDELIO on 17 March at our local Odeon cinema and guess what? On the 16th, the government issued an advisory cautioning against going to theatres and cinemas, and so the next day, the Odeon to its credit cancelled the show and notified customers that advance booking payments would be refunded. I qualified for that and so my account was duly credited. On the 23rd the government officially announced a national lockdown, initially for 3 weeks, subsequently renewed at least once or twice, with continuing extensions or variations in other forms.
And so began a new way of life that we are still living through. For starters, pre-booked shows, outings and appointments were cancelled. Among these I should mention a National Theatre performance of `Welcome to Iran` scheduled for 9 June, and the Royal Festival Ravi Shankar related performances in April, for which I opted to receive credit vouchers rather than cash refunds. Both these institutions were entering a period of financial insecurity and needed support.
And then what? One had suddenly become house-bound, though I seized on my right to take a daily walk for exercise for up to one hour. By and large, this meant walking in the immediate neighbourhood. That was just about tolerable, with minor irritations. Apart from the boring familiarity of it, what made it particularly irksome was that not everyone was observing the `keep a safe distance` rule. Being a solitary walker myself, and being agile on my feet, I would cross the road or take a wide berth when I saw others coming towards me. Those walking in pairs or groups, and the younger ones and joggers in particular, did not show the same consideration or courtesy. One other hazard was soon to emerge: cyclists riding on the pavements! I even raised this as an issue with the local councillors and residents association but they pleaded some vague legal provisions and practical limitations, suggesting that it was really a question of educating the children and so the problem was best left for schools and parents to handle. Over time, I became familiar with the local roads and would take different routes to relieve the monotony of the forced routine.
After four or five months of this, I decided to go back to my regular walking haunts, by the river, and now it feels as if that part of my life is `back to normal`, albeit not wholly. As for shopping, again for the first three or four months, we had to adapt to new ways: one of our immediate neighbours would faithfully get basic supplies every week; our dear niece would get major items every now and again, and a little later I managed to get a few online shopping `delivery slots`, which meant driving down to the designated collection point, and occasionally I would get one or two essential items locally. Again now our normal shopping pattern has been more or less re-established, but who knows how long that will last, before the next lockdown!
else? Travel, holiday? Right from the start, I knew that for this
year, 2020, which had begun so full of promise and potential (see the
concluding lines of my Review of 2019 on this site), there was going to be no
holiday or foreign travel, no cruise or trip to North America that I had
planned, and no certainty of when any of that was going to be possible again. That
remains the position, except that my wife has managed to spend a week`s caravan
holiday in the countryside with her best friend from university days. What
about leisure? My wife and I got into an
early routine: we play scrabble at weekends and once or twice during the week,
and now we have resumed these sessions with our niece on Saturday evenings.
There are no other significant physical contact situations. All other social interactions are now conducted
virtually, on phone, via zoom or otherwise online. This is the `new normal`!
Why, I ask myself, have I taken so long to put all this down and the short answer is, sheer lockdown laziness! In the next instalment, I will write about the books that I have read during this time.