This week the 2nd and final selection from your wonderful, fascinating responses to my newsletter of March 19th on a year of living with the pandemic –
‘I hope you’re well. I’ve only just got round to reading this newsletter and must admit it made me tear up a little.
I too have to pinch myself as a reminder of what’s happened. At times I’ve even forgotten and somehow believed that all the offices and meeting rooms and exciting things are all still going on out there (without me) and have to remind myself that we’re all stuck in the same wretched boat, drifting towards a vague horizon of hope.
I’ve actually really enjoyed the general meetings and scripts chats I’ve had over Zoom. I get sucked into the moment, and even though (as you just made me realise) I’ve never seen these people standing up (!) it somehow feels intimate and sparky, like a really good chat when you lose sense of everything else going around you.
The worst bit for me is when you close the window and the silence hits, and you realise it’s just been you all along, sitting alone in your smart top and slippers, gurning at a screen for an hour.
Things that have made a pandemic bearable:
My parents’ reincarnation from covid-denying rebels into antibac wipe-wielding lockdown sticklers.
My husband. Turns out I chose really well.
My children, and seeing them tackle distance learning and not seeing their friends with such bravery and resilience.
My sister and my new lockdown niece (who turns one next month and has never seen another baby!)
My darling, brainless dog and our miserable cat who hates everything.
Work. I’m really lucky that lockdown has been the busiest time of my fledgling career. With the business has come every +/- emotion under the sun, but it’s never been boring.
Charity work. I’ve sat on interview panels, helped write EOIs and project funding applications for millions of pounds, and spent hours and hours and hours in virtual ‘town hall’ meetings, and learnt so much about other people and myself. Good and bad!
From the absurd (Tiger King) to the bonkers (Schitts Creek), via overseas fabulousness (Call My Agent) and homegrown brilliance (Ghosts), to the Disney+ onslaught of shmaltz and kids’ movies, all the way through to guiltless re-watching of the full series of The American Office sandwiched between the grey-faced doomongering of the daily government briefings, television has been my lifeboat.
KATE TRAILL PRICE
Hope you and your family are all well.
It’s really a blessing to see one’s grandchildren. My Dad, who died at 56, never got to see my kids and my mum only got to see one of them – my daughter.
This time last year my daughter was on the verge of taking her GCSES. She was at a very low ebb to the point where she was suicidal! (This last bit was unknown to me till only a few weeks ago). She wasn’t revising and would bunk off school. She wouldn’t/couldn’t talk to us. It was terrible. We didn’t know what to do.
Guess what saved her and us? Lockdown! Somehow just being locked away from all the madness she was going through did wonders for her mental health.
Now, she’s in college doing her A levels, managed to get herself a weekend job and is enjoying life.
I can honestly say Phil that if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I would be writing a different kind of email or perhaps not writing at all.
Many people have suffered and lost loved ones over these past 12 months and I really feel for them. But sometimes, when I’m alone at night and I do feel guilty for saying this, I say thank God for lockdown!
Take care and keep safe.’
‘Thanks for the opportunity to share experiences from a weird year. The mood music had been playing louder and louder in the run up to Johnson’s announcement but it was still a shock. Lockdown. Our younger daughter, after a hurried consultation, decided to move in
with her boyfriend. We waved her off, into that dark night, the unknown. I found I enjoyed this time with my husband; the house to ourselves, no travelling for work, day time walks, shared coffee breaks. It was only on trips to the supermarket that the zombie movie quality of the times crept in. It felt like the ideal time to get on with some writing. I watched more film and TV, guilt free and stumbled upon excellent on line courses, feeling part of a supportive community with shared interests. And, I have been able to virtually attend shows and events that just would not have been possible from East Yorkshire. Rejection isn’t great but there is an excitement, a sense of achievement to getting a piece ready for submission. I hope persistence will pay off and that I’ve learnt from my daughter it’s worth taking a risk.’
‘The first lockdown honestly came at the perfect time for me: a few weeks into a new job I loved, off the back of a year of great networking and opportunities, and following two years of what I would best describe as a non-stop work-hard-play-hard lifestyle. The first lockdown gave me time to rest, recalibrate, and collaborate. Also, interestingly, I had started journaling in January 2020, which meant I captured this eventful year in real time, and has been amazing processing my thoughts through the tougher moments. I personally haven’t felt inspired to dwell too much on the pandemic in my writing work, so it’s nice to have a separate body of writing that reflects this period. Such divine timing!
Despite all this, I must admit I am very much ready to go back to a life of commutes to work in central London, meeting new people, going to concerts, and actually networking in real life. Despite my love of storytelling through the written word, my networking skills are strengthened through face to face exchanges. This pandemic has taught us that a lot can be achieved virtually, but for many reasons, I crave freedom more than ever.
It can be draining that my main access to other humans right now is through social media. Social media can be great, however, particularly over the past year, the shocking polarity on things like #BLM and #NotAllMen, has the power to lead to more anxiety going back out into the world than the pandemic itself, for black women like me. Yet, before the pandemic, when I would consistently cross paths with a diverse range of people in real life, I was easily reminded of the many good people out there, and felt happy and confident navigating the world. This has such an impact on my writing, as well as my productivity. I guess because, in a sense, right now my lens of the world has been reduced to the conversations on social media, rather than my own experiences.
I gain so much inspiration for my writing through experience, which is a reason why I live life so fully and honestly enjoy a fast-paced lifestyle. One of the impulsive holidays I went on in 2019, led to the premise of a film pitch competition I won a few months ago! I’m constantly inspired by the people I meet and the places I go, so I’m excited for the privilege of great experiences again when we’re free. I can’t wait to get back into the world and regain a stronger sense of agency.
I’m optimistic for what the near future holds, and I feel that busy lifestyles will find their place much sooner than we all think – it’s easy to get mentally trapped in our current experience, but the only thing guaranteed is change. Thanks!’
‘I have to say so far we have been untouched and have even flourished in many ways with the slowing down. More time for reading, poetry, slow dinners and walks with family. Something that our externally driven schedules didn’t allow for before.
I must admit in some ways it was the pause we personally needed and only wish that every single person had not suffered or at least got to experience some of the beauty. Such is life. A great mystery.
Today on my 6 am walk I saw five women in their fifties/sixties paddle boarding and chatting on the flattest sea we’ve had in weeks. I just thought wow, what a choice to make! Life continues and if we are blessed to be able to choose how to fill our day we are very rich indeed!
‘This has certainly been a year we‘ll never forget – when everything was turned upside down and inside out. It’s been a time of enforced change and adjustment, loss, pain and fear. It’s something none of us would have chosen but has taught us so much about ourselves and our society, what matters, what’s irrelevant, what’s bullshit. It’s been a time of re-evaluation and reassessment.
Six months before lockdown, I had left a highly pressurised intensive job – and my employer of 24 years – to become a fulltime writer. This was an enormous adjustment but one I’ve embraced with a full heart. I’ve learnt to apply discipline and structure to days now owned by me. Days are devoted to learning, reading, writing, walking, talking, cooking, dividing my time between commercial, academic and creative writing. There are no more wasted days or hours and even though I’m in my mid-fifties with two whole professional careers behind me, I’m starting all over again and am energised by the possibilities of story-telling in all its forms.
Time is one of the most valuable gifts we can have as writers; time to observe, dream, create; time to listen to birds, look at plants or the bark of trees, to watch and listen to people, to learn about buildings, read and think, watch stuff, be with those we love, to think what if? and ask why not? And the daily breath of our lived time, has become even more precious when set against the desperate toll of those whose time has been cut short.
Watching a film in my local independent cinema, going to a theatre, swimming at the local pool, going on a train ride or taking a flight to somewhere else are inspirational activities I really look forward to – but in all honesty, I feel a great fondness for locked down life because it’s the time I was able to climb back into my skin and ‘became’ a writer in a holistic and integral way. I appreciate this is a privileged position but the last year has illustrated how fleeting life is and that we must make the most of what talent & time we have. What is life for? What matters?
Weirdly enough, the last play I saw was also a matinee of Leopoldstadt! It seems like years ago. I really hope a renewed sense of appreciation will enhance all the many things we may have become complacent about. Life is full of riches but hopefully we can now sus out the precious gems from the fool’s gold.
Thanks for the conversation!’
‘My eldest son has left the nest (well, gone to Uni) which has affected us deeply and has got us thinking more about what may be around the corner for him and his brother (especially regarding relationships and family).
I have been in London throughout the pandemic and have been lucky enough to enjoy the benefits of the cleaner air and emptier streets and the small growing sense of community that I’ve seen in our part of town, without the anxiety of not knowing where our next meal was coming from, or if we would still a roof over our heads.
The thing I have missed the most is theatre. Books and TV have been life-savers but what I really want is to be transported by real living people, in the same room, taking me into another world. I’d even go and see the second half of Leopoldstadt!’
‘You asked for responses about how lockdown has impacted us. Since I’ve been pregnant for three months and then on maternity leave in the various lockdowns, it’s been both an emotional struggle and a (mixed) blessing.
The rosy idea I had of swanning around in the sun with the pram, drinking tea in cute cafes with mum friends and finally finding time to write outside of my day job as a journalist – that did not go as planned. And suffice to say about the birth, I feel lucky to have had my husband with me for it, and grateful it was just the one night I had to spend alone at hospital with the baby. Running out of snacks in a boiling hot ward when you’re bawling your eyes out from the hormones was the least of it!
The blessings have been there though – lots of time to focus on our baby, and to work out how to parent without the pressure of carting him around for everyone to see.
And though it was delusional to think I’d spend so much time writing, actually the lockdown HAS left time to write during baby’s naps (like now!) or when he’s gone to bed at night. And, perhaps more crucially, the mental space to allow so many ideas to pour out. The 30 day script challenge during LSF helped get past the feeling that writing has to be perfect first time. And no way could I have attended a whole festival in person with a baby.
I hope your daughter is getting lots of rest and that you’re able to spend plenty of time with her and your granddaughter – that really was tough in lockdown 1.0, the first baby cuddle with grandparents was outside in the cold for just a few minutes.’
‘Oh What A Lovely Lockdown
For those of us on the slightly bashful spectrum – the natural introverts, the would-be-hermits who find the demands of a regular life somewhat brusque and harsh, who find leaving the house for any reason takes a herculean expenditure of courage and energy, the ‘Pros’ list is easy: I have loved every moment of Lockdown; every calm, quiet, carefree, dolly-daydream, delicious moment. I have taken to it like a cold, old lady takes to a warm blanket and a cuppa soup. Lockdown to me has felt like one long, fireside hug on a dank November evening; the premium, super-deluxe, five-star, mother of all hibernations. I feel rested, nurtured, restored.
Being, amongst other things, a shy, warty-chinned, barren spinster of this parish, I have worked full-time for thirty years and never experienced a maternity leave, raised a family, been a kept woman, or experienced any kind of stay-at-home pause in proceedings. I have been gifted a year of time. I have come alive in Lockdown. I have un-cowered, gotten braver. This enforced hiatus in an otherwise speeding whirlwind of existence has afforded me such pleasure in simple things. Over the last year, I have organised my drawers, cupboards, bookshelves, and entire kitchen to a level of ergonomic perfection I hardly knew existed. I’ve had time to catch-up with friends and family, albeit via one technological portal or other. I have had time to write and read and paint and smooth my feathers. I finally got round to watching The Joker – The Sopranos is next. I’ve even successfully grown an actual water-sucking, life-affirming, room oxygenating gosh-darn plant, a feat never before achieved. I have chlorophyll in my living room. And yes, I bloody well talk to it.
I have luxuriated in a whole year of not commuting to work wedged halfway up somebody’s armpit in an airless freight pipe. I have wallowed in a whole year of not having to wear any kind of pinching, wired support garment (I live in the earnest hope that pyjama bottoms will become an acceptable item of office-wear when we return). I have had twelve months of not having to spend my hard-earned time in the company of takers or grabbers, or anyone who has completely disappeared up their own asshole.
I have had the time to cook every evening, I sleep better, have more energy, I hum and sing to myself again, I have better thoughts, better daydreams, better daylight, less anxiety, less biting my tongue, less behaving.
I have loved every one of my daily permitted Shawshank-Redemption-esque outdoor exercises. I go for walks. I must have walked every residential street in the borough of Wandsworth by now, inspecting front gardens, deciding which dream house I’ll move into next week, and, joy of all joys, looking through people’s windows and imagining what goes on beyond the pane, and of course, smugly judging the state of their bookshelves.
The Commons soon became a Mecca for even bigger swarms of kamikaze joggers, so I packed up my teepee and moved on. I have discovered Wandsworth Cemetery; a beautiful haven of quietude and history where I can spend an hour or two dawdling up and down its winding paths, wondering who Violet and Florence and Maud and Authur were and what they witnessed, marvelling at its huge green field of human grief, where nothing grows out of the ground but love, each stone etched in words like ‘only goodnight beloved, not farewell’, each tree standing sentry marking time through its branches, each bird carrying secret messages.
The ‘Cons’ list is something I try not to dwell on, but the things I have found tough, like everyone, are not seeing my family, not seeing my dearest friends around their huge any-Waltons-episode dining table, not seeing art (living without Pieter de Hooch and all of the Bruegels has been spirit-sapping), realising I can’t hear anyone properly if I can’t lipread what they’re saying behind their masks, wearing masks, smiling at people and realising they can’t see it behind my mask, forgetting how to keep a coherent thought in my head, forgetting words, forgetting what day it is, drifting, doing everything on-line, not being cuddled, not sharing a meal, not wrapping my arms around my nephew or my godchildren, and the keenest of all deprivation – not going to the theatre, ugh! Woe is me and my culture-famished heart! I was however lucky enough to see the always-divine Ralph Fiennes in David Hare’s ‘Beat the Devil’ at the Bridge last summer when a few brave theatres momentarily re-opened; a timely production about his own battle with the virus which was both moving and sobering in equal measure. Plus, a David Hare rant is always wonderfully cathartic; he has a searingly insightful way of saying all the words I want to put on a sandwich board and parade up and down Downing Street. This brief, precious, vivifying contact with the musings of Messers Hare and Fiennes has had to sustain me through the long, dark months since. I have of course snapped up all the wonderful virtual theatre, but it’s not the same as being holed up in a dark room with a troupe of throbbing corporeal creatives burning to tell you a story so intimately that your heart melts, your brain purrs, and your very essence takes flight.
Also on the ‘Cons’ list are the video WhatsApp calls with the top of my 74-year old mum’s head, or worse, her living room ceiling. She can’t quite seem to grasp the fact that the camera on her phone needs to be pointed at her face in order to properly nail the shared experience.
I won’t miss: queuing three miles around the block to buy groceries or having to get up at the break of day to search the empty shelves of ten or more supermarkets and corner shops before finding the last pack of over-priced loo roll that no-one else wants.
Turning 50 with a whimper rather than a long-planned-once-in-a-lifetime-something-or-other. Watching a goddaughter turn 18 on a Zoom call rather than at a party with a herd of her beer-cheering friends to baptise her. Sending a video message to my godmother when she turned 70 in isolation.
Wondering why so many people don’t think the rules apply to them.
Not ever seeing again the people once in my life now lost to this stampeding plague. Not being able to console in person, with a hug and a cup of tea, my friends and relations who have endured so much more than me.
During each long day of this last year, I have counted my huge, huge blessings, every single one of them. I have not had to home school wall-bouncing children. I have not been furloughed and have loved every hour of the privilege of being able to work from home. I have not lost a business I had loved or grown with my own two bare, red-raw hands. I have not had so much as a cold. I have had my first jab. I live in a country with a free national health service. I live in a country where I don’t have to walk seven miles for a bucket of water every day. I live in a decade that has electricity every hour of every day. Buying books on the internet. I have kept warm and dry and fed and a roof over my head. I have not had sick or ageing relatives in a care home who I haven’t been able to visit. I have not had to arrange a funeral or tried to decide which fifteen people can come. I have not had to postpone my wedding. I have not had to work in PPE. I have not had to risk my life because my job tells me I must.
On balance and all in all, I have had a lovely lockdown, and I wish it had been so for everyone else. But even I, queen of the hermit people am now looking forward to re-entry, in all its post-Covid, brusque, technicolour, liberating, Boris-bashing glory. What will that be like?
Once again, thank you so much to all of you who took the time to send me your brilliant responses to my piece of a month ago. I have enjoyed reading this so much and I hope you have too.
The next newsletter will be on Friday April 30th
All the best
April 16th 2021