Seasons of Love

On 23rd March 2020, exactly one year ago today, amidst the nation going crazy for toilet rolls and pasta, 27 million people tuned in to watch Boris Johnson rally us with his war like cry, telling us we were all directly enlisted and the instruction was simple – stay at home. The message was clear; if we didn’t, the NHS would collapse under the weight of COVID admissions. We were assured though by Boris, that in 3 weeks the evidence would be reassessed and relaxed if the data allowed – one year on, we are still in lockdown.

Only 335 COVID deaths had been recorded on this day one year ago when lockdown began, a year on, the figure stands, as of today at 126,172.

The day after Boris’ announcement, the impact of his instructions to the nation generated dramatic headlines, “End of freedom”, the Daily Telegraph declared. “Britain shuts up shop”, the Daily Mail said. The Sun had a picture of a giant padlock on its front page, with the headline “House arrest”. But the Financial Times put it in a more gentlemanly British way, ‘the prime minister has been forced to close Britain’.

Lockdown changed our lives overnight. Fundamentally life just became about the bare bones – we were told we could leave home for basic necessities, medical needs, exercise once a day or work but apart from that, normal life had to stop; immediately.

In the early days of lockdown there was absolutely nothing on the news or in the press except Coronavirus. Millions of us found ourselves ‘doom-scrolling’ daily through the Internet hoping to find some relief from the intense media coverage, but there was none.

But the nation seemed to quickly rally round with war metaphors abound. Even the Queen in a rare speech on April 5th said ‘we will meet again’, echoing the words of the Vera Lynn wartime song.

We kept positive – weekly clapping on our doorsteps, donating millions to Captain Tom to walk the length of his garden, zoom drinks, home baking and binge watching programmes on Netflix. Chris Whitty, who now has an appreciation society, became an unlikely heartthrob and Jonathan Van-Tam kept us amused with his football, train and yoghurt analogies. They became welcome daily visitors to our living rooms at 5pm everyday.

Our language changed overnight too. The pandemic influenced most of the shortlisted words for the 2020 Collins Dictionary Word of Year. “Coronavirus,” “key worker,” “furlough” and “social distancing” were all mentioned as the dictionary unveiled its annual choice, which was unsurprisingly lockdown, a word that was only previously known in prison vocabulary for inmates being confined to their cells when there was a disturbance on the wing.

A year on we still wear masks, still wash our hands thoroughly (I do worry how many weren’t before!), still carry hand sanitiser, still social distance, still don’t shake hands, still can’t go shopping, still can’t go to the cinema and still can’t jump on a plane!

But it does feel like the world is starting to move again. Spring is coming, the clocks are changing, and we have a vaccine programme unrivalled anywhere in the world. But the aftermath is slowly unraveling too. Long COVID is a recognised condition; illnesses that went undiagnosed may no longer be treatable. That along with the deaths through COVID is the saddest legacy of all. The shocking images and footage of Derek Draper is a reminder that this virus is utterly cruel.

What we must make sure of, is that the lessons learnt are not forgotten. We all learn different lessons through life’s stand out events and it is for each of us to take these lessons and incorporate them into the choices we make in our future lives.

Among the distressing news that we read everyday, one small but uplifting article stood out for me last week. Otis aged 4 from Wales asked his Mum at bedtime “Mummy, will we be extinct one day like the dinosaurs?” Otis had his mum stumped, so the pair came up with a plan to write to nature’s oracle, Sir David Attenborough. And, to their amazement, the 94-year-old sent a reassuring handwritten response. “The answer is that we need not do so as long as we look after our planet properly”.

With the Collins Dictionary Words of the Year in 2018 and 2019 being single use and climate strike it was somewhat eerily significant that these issues were so heavily in the public psyche before the pandemic occurred. It is this we must all bear in mind. Perhaps it was nature’s way of telling us to wake up and be kind to the world.

So what else have we all learnt over the last year?

We have learnt if we didn’t know already, that our mental health is fragile and not one of us is immune. It’s got everyone talking about mental health, which can only be a good thing.

We have learnt if we didn’t know already, that to be happy you only need the most basic things in life, a roof over your head, food to eat and your health, everything else is a bonus. We are lucky to have had phones, Face Time, Zoom, Skype, Netflix and Sky – even though it may have felt at times like Christmas TV on loop! One of the most well know films of the 90’s, Back to the Future, has spurred many memes about the pandemic, the most notable being, ‘Listen Marty whatever you do, don’t set it to 2020’.

Now a different challenge begins. The world has changed and a new normal lies ahead.

So it’s been a year that none of us will forget but as the opening lyrics from the musical Rent ask, what is the proper way to quantify the value of a year in human life?  We have been through five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes of lockdown.

Is it in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles in laughter or in strife?

I think we can safely say, all of the above.