Someone said the other day that I should no longer be calling this a Lockdown Diary, because we Britons are not really in lockdown.
It’s true that I can do things which I could not do when the stern restrictions kicked in on Lockdown: Mark One. Then, I hardly dared go to the shop except for absolute essentials. I did not see my posse of young horsewomen, the ones who put a smile on my face on the darkest day. I could not go down the valley to do my work with the charity that helps wounded veterans; I could not see friends or family. Everything stopped, as if the whole world was suspended in amber.
I remember missing humans a lot.
Then, there were the gentle easings. I could see people again. I no longer avoided the shop as if I were Typhoid Mary and I risked killing all the old people every time I went to get butter and coffee and eggs. (My amygdala was firing on all cylinders by this stage, so I believed that I could easily be asymptomatic, go to buy the Racing Post, and inadvertently infect someone’s beloved Aunt Maude.) I remember one gala day when I actually went to the pub and ate fish and chips. The whole thing was a little uneasy, despite the joy of being back in what felt like a kind of ersatz normality. Everyone overcompensated just a little bit, laughed a little too loud, looked on the bright side a little too hard.
I could get in car and drive out and look at the hills. (I really, really missed the hills when we weren’t allowed to drive.) I once even ventured as far as Perthshire to see an old and beloved friend.
But I’ve got a person in the vulnerable category in my immediate group. This is like having a precious Ming vase in your life. I have to take extra care. I do see people outside, but inside feels very dodgy, and I’m insane about the social distancing and the washing of the hands and the taking of the precautions. Because this thing is not about distant statistics or vague scientific advice; it’s very immediate and very real and absolutely to do with the heart. I don’t have the luxury of wondering whether the Swedish model is the best, or having rows in public about masks, or sneering at the experts. If I knock that Ming vase to the floor because I’m not paying attention, that’s it. That’s the end.
So lockdown really did go on being lockdown, in my tiny corner of Scotland. I didn’t go back to the pub. I still only go to the shop for the vital requirements. A friend told me today of eating lunch in a Pizza Express, and that suddenly sounded as exotic as a trip to Machu Picchu.
I don’t mind this for myself, because I’m a solitary to my bones. I need a small amount of human contact with people I truly care about to keep my heart and spirit ticking over, and I’ve been able to find that, outside in the clean Scottish air. I do look up and think of the wider world and see that the restrictions are a brute for the young, and the gregarious, and every single person in this country who relies on crowds for their living. The restaurants, the wedding planners, the racecourses, the theatres, the music festivals, the galleries, the independent bookshops; I think of them. I think of everyone, in fact, who needs real people gathering in real places; of everyone who can’t convert their business to the online world.
And now, just before I go to sleep, I check in with the news and see that there another official lockdown planned, perhaps as severe as the first. The word seeps out, not in a proper government announcement, but in a leak to a newspaper. Just as people caught a tantalising glimpse of normal, the shutters come down again.
I don’t really know what to say about that. It feels alarming and strange. Even though my own private lockdown continued pretty stringent, that was my choice. I stuck to tight rules because of my vulnerable person. But now it’s imposed from the centre again, and people will have to retreat from each other, and it’s all Typhoid Mary, all the time, and nobody knows where it will end.
The indomitable, optimistic mind says: we humans will get through this. We’ll adapt, and we’ll show our remarkable resilience, and we’ll find solace in each other. The grumpy, tired mind says: how much longer? And how much more Zoom? And when, when, when will we be able to do something as simple as hug the ones we love?