Lockdown diaries: London’s limbo between the old world and the new

Posted April 30, 2020 in covid19, Diary  |  No Comments so far

It’s the end of April now, which means it’s the end of the first full month under lockdown conditions.

What has this meant for us? It’s meant that both adults in our house work from home all the time. It’s also meant that the two children are home-schooled.

On a typical day I look after the home-schooling activities in the morning while my wife works. Around lunchtime, my wife takes over as educator while I work. In the evening, when the kids are asleep, we both work.

It’s a difficult pattern because it leaves very little time in the day to unwind. By the time work is finished late in the evening, it’s usually advisable to go to bed as soon as possible, because the kids will wake up very early in the morning and want us to be awake too. In reality, we often stay up too late and then regret it the next morning.

During the UK’s current lockdown rules, we do get to go outside. It’s acceptable to go out for exercise once a day and it’s acceptable to go out to buy essentials such as food. Perhaps it’s acceptable to go out for exercise and then also to buy food in a single day, but I just assume that if I’ve gone out for either reason then I’m done until tomorrow.

When I do go out, it goes without saying that the external world is very different. Everything is quieter, there are fewer people around, most shops and businesses are shuttered. Red tape is draped across street furniture, park benches and playground equipment.

A new regime of etiquette is taking shape, based on the principle of social distancing. The central idea is that everyone is a threat to everyone else. We all do our utmost not to get close to other people and are entitled to get very huffy if people get too close to us. Supermarkets have set up little markers – just yellow tape on the ground for now, but something more permanent will come – to let people know how far they should be from one another. Sometimes I feel concerned about the sense of mutual suspicion all this has fostered, about how it’s rocket fuel for our tendency to think negatively about others. But at other times I get sucked into it myself, side-eying people who come a bit too close or who don’t seem to be out of the house for a government-approved reason.

And yet, despite all these changes, I sense that we’re not about to start drifting back towards what was once normal. I feel like we have further to go along this particular direction of travel.

For example, most people you see out and about in London today are not wearing masks: I’m sure that will change before long, whether the government mandates them or not. And as various businesses and institutions begin to reopen, the rules they have to follow in order to operate will make the world seem even more different than it does now. A closed school is something we might have walked past every weekend before all this happened, so in itself it’s not that surprising to encounter one. But what about a school that’s open and being run in accordance with social distancing rules? What about a cinema, or an airline, or a restaurant?

If these things are going to come back at all, the experience of accessing them is going to be profoundly different. So maybe the post-lockdown era will not feel like a return to normality but, instead, a step outside into an even more dramatically transformed world.

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