Despite the calamity wrought by Covid-19, as restrictions are about to be lifted I describe how lockdown changed my life. The disorientation of lockdown finally gave way to clarity, leading me to some life-changing decisions as I stepped off the treadmill.
I had never been to a bar before and refused entry. That is when I realised lockdown was becoming all too real. It was the 20th March 2020 and we had all seen the headlines about the “Wuhan flu” but it was just background noise in a busy life. It was nothing to be concerned about, surely it would be forgotten in a few days.
This could not affect us in Britain, could it? It was just another false alarm like all those other diseases that threatened to wipe out the human race, according to the newspapers. Just like Sars, bird flu, mad cow disease etc, wasn’t it? Well, wasn’t it?
First tentative lockdown
The manager at the bar of the Charlotte Street Hotel in London’s Fitzrovia must have known something I didn’t though. He escorted me from the premises at around 6pm that Friday evening, just when things usually start to get busy with an after-work crowd.
Checking my phone, the breaking news was that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced the first tentative lockdown. He exhorted people to avoid “pubs, bars and restaurants” and to “work from home where possible”. My partner and I went round the corner where a restaurant booking was still being honoured but it proved to be the last supper. Lockdown was formally announced on Monday 23 March and made law just three days later.
It felt surreal at the time, bidding goodbye to the staff at what was a half-empty restaurant with them all fearing for their jobs with no idea when they would be back – sadly the place has since gone out of business.
Going to collect my laptop and other associated bits from the office, it started to dawn on me that this was no longer just background noise, it was that awful term that has now become ubiquitous – the new normal. But what did that mean? Once free to go about our business however we wished, I watched Johnson’s pronouncements on the Monday agog. We would be confined to our homes with one bout of exercise allowed alone in a 24-hour period.
A hamster on a wheel
Before 23 March, my life, like so many other people’s, had been verging on crazily busy. In the space of a year I had travelled abroad 7-8 times for work and leisure and was commuting to the office most days. That’s about three hours there and back – and had a very busy social life. Having time to look at it in retrospect, a hamster on a wheel is a fair description. I was certainly stressed and it is no surprise. Some stress is obviously good but day in, day out it is not, especially when there is little downtime.
For me going into a period of enforced lockdown was like stepping off a fairground waltzer. I was groggy and disorientated, having come to a juddering halt but almost unable to stand still. Then real fear started to creep in. How would I cope with being “imprisoned” in a one-bedroom flat with my partner. With both of us having to work from home, and him having to teach a class of 20 children remotely?
Out of the panic and fear came time
I have thrived on routine and the coronavirus turned things absolutely upside down but then something strange happened. Out of the panic and fear came time, something I never really had in abundance before. What, with the travelling, commuting, the manic social life, the amateur sports. I had filled all the empty spaces because I didn’t want to think. Now, having those endless hours forced me to do exactly that – think and re-evaluate.
It sounds like a cliché but it made me realise what was important. I went to the brink and back with my relationship. I thought at the time, if we can get through this together, then anything is possible. We are planning to get married next May.
Finished the novel
Many people rediscovered hobbies during the lockdown. I finally managed to focus and finished the novel I had been writing on and off for the last seven years. My thriller Bangkok Burning was published in January. Gil and I are also in the process of moving out of London and to the south coast in a move that signals a quieter, more reflective life.
I am not saying any of the above wouldn’t have happened without the restriction of freedoms over the past year or so but it has certainly focused minds, my mind at least. It has speeded up a process that could have taken far longer and crystallised what were mere dreams before, because instead of thinking about the here and now it has forced me to think more deeply, ultimately about what really matters.
I have been privileged
I realise Covid-19 is a devastating disease and I feel so sorry for all the people that lost their lives and for family and friends grieving those cruelly taken away. The death toll in Britain is currently around 128,000. I have been lucky, privileged even, to have been largely unaffected by the pandemic but I am incredibly grateful that the tide is finally turning against it.