Life in the Lockdown

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Note: Because of reasons of space the editor of the Battersea Society’s quarterly magazine Battersea Matters and myself agreed that my usual page 2 contribution should this time appear here rather than in the magazine (which in any case is online only this time). This piece was was completed at the end of April 2020.

Before I get started in my usual light-hearted vein, I have to acknowledge that for many people this is a dreadful time. Whether that’s because of the loss of family or friends to Covid-19 or because of loneliness,  financial worries, or difficult family circumstances, life can become intolerable, often unbearable.

But even if you usually have a rather soured view of human nature it’s good to see how many people are helping in some way – donating to food banks, volunteering for one of the many local schemes, or simply by keeping an eye on their vulnerable neighbours. We can’t all be like Captain Tom who raised nearly £30 million for the NHS by his 100th birthday, but we can make the best of a bad job.

Not that everyone is acting like a saint. Many joggers in seem to think that the advice about keeping your distance doesn’t apply to them as they puff and splutter while passing two inches from my right shoulder. And I don’t take kindly to dodging those dogs who scamper along joyously as they’re let off the lead just inside a park gate festooned with warning notices (above). Who knew that so many dog owners were unable to read?  So you see, I haven’t forgotten how to moan…

I’m assuming that as you read this, things won’t have changed much. I don’t intend to say (as if it were wisdom handed down on tablets of stone) that this is the ‘new normal’ or assert wisely from behind my prophet’s beard that we’re living in ‘strange times’. This is what we amateur social scientists call ‘a statement of the bleedin’ obvious’ (pardon my French as my mum might have said).

At a time when every 170 going past has – at most – only a couple of passengers aboard there’s no avoiding the fact that daily life is different. With so many feeling morally obliged to take their hour of daily exercise our footpaths and pavements have turned pedestrians into dodgem cars as we zoom back and forth across the road to avoid an oncoming woman pushing a buggy, or a hand in hand couple – hopefully from the same household – with eyes for nothing but their phones.

Did you notice what I did there? When my kids were growing up a Zoom was a rocket shaped ice-lolly advertised by those jerky puppets from Thunderbirds. Now Zoom is one of those companies that everyone wishes they’d invested in a few months ago. When the world returns to the old normal maybe we’ll miss those virtual meetings, drinks evenings and quizzes and long for the days when we only had to relate to faces confined to a grid of small boxes on a computer screen.

Will we ever return to finding enjoyment in sitting motionless while elbow to elbow with our companion in a theatre or cinema surrounded by hundreds of strangers? Maybe many will look back with nostalgia on the Lockdown era when our entertainment was all piped into our homes. There is after all nowt so queer as folk.

Take Samuel Pepys for instance. He kept his diary throughout the Great Plague year of 1665. Despite the horrendous toll in human lives, Pepys records that all attempts to control the plague were failing. Quarantine was not being enforced, and large crowds gathered in public places like the Royal Exchange. Social distancing, in short, was not happening.

Sam didn’t have online quizzes, or virtual drinks evenings to look forward to but he tried to stay cheerful: “I put off the thoughts of sadness as much as I can.”  In fact on the last day of December 1665, as it was clear the crisis was coming to a close, he confided to his diary: “I have never lived so merrily… as I have done this plague-time.”

I doubt that any of us would go that far. But please stay safe so I can continue to bore, irritate, even  entertain you in the future.  Or as I always say. Mind how you go.

See you next time.