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A glimpse into the lockdown life of one communications pro…

by Andy Kirby

During lockdown our worlds have contracted. They’ve become the few streets around our homes. If we’re lucky we live near a park. Or a river. Or a canal. We can’t go for a beer at the local or a bite at a restaurant. We can’t go and watch sport. Or go to a museum. Or the cinema. Or go bowling. We can’t go and see friends.

We can’t go to the office. We can’t go to London (unless we live there). Or Manchester. Or to the seaside. We can’t go on holiday to far-flung places like South Africa, Hong Kong, or India. We can’t hop on a short-haul flight to visit Belfast. Or take in a city break in Amsterdam or Bruges.

National Express coaches have stopped running. The train station is deserted. Our cars lie idling in driveways or at kerb-side, cleaner than they’ve ever been. We’re worried they might not start again when we’re finally out of this and we put the car keys in the ignition. We’re worried we might have lost the car keys by that time. Or forgotten how to drive.

But at the same time our horizons have expanded in some ways, through getting to know the areas in which we live more intimately. We look more closely at the things around us, trying to attain the same succour from it as we would from travel, from the novelty of exploring new places.

We have found new ways of navigating the geography of this weird and worrying new world we find ourselves in. We walk the circuit for an hour every day. Or we run it. Or we bike it. Or we skateboard it. Or roller-blade it. But these trips out aren’t just a treadmill. They aren’t simply ways of keeping up your step count. They are ways of joining the dots, of trying to re-locate ourselves. Of trying to find our place in the landscape of this new world, pace by pace.

We make daily pilgrimages to landmarks in our locality. Some are old and familiar. Others are new, and have sprung up as a result of, and a response to Covid-19.

I’m lucky enough to live near Roundhay Park. My family and I walk there every day to see the familiar Mansion, the lakes, the cricket pitch, and the playground (‘you can look at it but we can’t touch’ goes the daily refrain to the children).

At the upper lake, there is a swan patient on her nest. She sits atop eight startlingly blue eggs. We visit her every day and ask her how she’s doing. How she’s doing is probably quite anxious, actually, as the eggs are due to hatch around 21/ 22 April. We’ll have to be careful then when we call in; Mummy and Daddy swans can become quite aggressive when people are perceived to be getting too close to their young.

The arrival of those cygnets has taken on a much greater significance for us now than it would have in the old world.

Same as for a lot of others from the area. At, or en route to the park we encounter as many as 25% of each of our children’s classes. They’re all walking the same circuits. Visiting the same landmarks. Paying homage. When we do meet these classmates, we enjoy those weird, shouted conversations from one side of the road, or from one side of the path, to the other. The ones in which you ask if everyone’s OK and how they’re coping and you always get back a shrug and a ‘fine, you know’ in that same tone of voice. You say the same yourself when you’re asked.

Then we’re on our way home. Past the new landmarks. Spring in our step provided by the sightings of the ubiquitous rainbows. We stop off at obstacle courses chalked on pavements (with their instructions to hop, skip, star jumps, run). If we’re lucky, there are still some sweets left on the Toffee Tree on Devonshire Avenue (every day some kind stranger hangs toffees from branches with clothes pegs – it’s become a staple of many locals’ walks). If we’re lucky someone has dropped off a couple of exciting new books at the Little Free Library at the end of the road.

About one day in three we also need to stop off at the bottle bank. We’re drinking a lot more these days, but we’re doing it to support a local brewery which is struggling as a lot of their profits came from selling casks to pubs. See, our drinking’s a public service.

We’re occupying space in different ways now. The daily commute is now a slimmed-down 45 seconds from my bedroom, downstairs, and to my ‘desk’ which is the kitchen table. We walk, or star-jump, or scooter around our neighbourhoods in our own time, but we do it religiously. We may never have walked our neighbourhoods before all this, but we do now. The early morning walks seem to have a furtive quality to them. Lunch-time walks bring with them the memory of actually going out for food. Walks at around six o’ clock seem to have become something of a fashion parade round our way: people get dressed up for it. Nothing else to get dressed up for, I suppose.

We occupy the edges of pavements, or even walk in the road when we encounter others. Doesn’t matter. There’s barely any traffic now, even on the main roads. You barely see any plane trails in the sky nowadays either. Indeed, it becomes something to be remarked on now when you do see a plane. They’re not common-or-garden any more.

But as the distance between us increases, as we need to stand apart from our neighbours and our friends and our classmates, we connect in other ways. And we all find ourselves on our front doorsteps at 8pm every Thursday, wielding metal pans and wooden spoons, or just our hands, clapping in unison. It’s how we give thanks to the NHS, and how we remember who we all were before all of this.

Andrew Kirby is deputy communications lead at NHS Digital. You can say hello on Twitter at @andrew_kirby1

Image by Damien Goodyear

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