Things have been different. They’ve been unexpected and unpredictable. Who knew that we’d be three months (and counting) without the usual routines, places to go, friends to visit, travel and holidays, and work activities to keep us out and about. No matter how full the freezer, we were somewhat unprepared for several weeks spent at home, locked down with family, or alone. I’ve written about what I’ve learned and what I hope for. I’ve reflected on what it means for work as well.
It’s been okay for me. I’m one of the luckier ones. I’ve been able to stay at home, keep working, and enjoy the boltholes that have been my study at home, and my empty office – a short walk down the road. Work has been important, we have been supporting local authorities, schools and nurseries to keep going, navigate the challenges closing, opening and reopening, and to think ahead to what might happen next. And so motivation has not been an issue.
I’ve now settled into the new routine. And if I am honest, I’m a little disappointed or even fearful of things returning to anything like what it used to be. There are signs of me being intolerant of things getting slightly busier. What’s going on?
City centre living is great. The benefits are obvious. There is easy access (within walking distance) to all that is going on, shops, cafes, restaurants, theatre, parks and all sorts of services, events and activities. It is common to bump into friends, old and new. There is a wonderful social community, like a village in a city. I’m only five minutes from the train station so I can travel elsewhere. These things contribute to a busy, modern lifestyle. The downsides are the noise, the hustle and bustle, the distractions, a lack of green space and a distance from nature, the busyness that keeps one away from home, and perhaps some of the anti-social aspects of modern life.
Lockdown, stopped almost all of that. An eerie quiet entered the city. In the daytime, streets were empty of people, cars, buses and taxis. Shops and cafes were closed, boarded-up even, and empty. At night, every single noise woke me up, whereas before I could sleep through the worst drunken row in the road. Walking around, on daily exercise or shopping for food, not only felt strange, it didn’t always feel that safe. There wasn’t the comfort of others around, few familiar faces to chat to, and every task seemed functional, anxiety provoking, and unpleasurable. And my work travel has stopped, I miss getting out and about, I miss London too. But I value the time saved by not dashing around, travelling for four hours for a one-hour meeting. Hopefully the future will allow for a better balance.
We have got used to the real advantages. Driving around, if needed, has been a dream, even considering Leicester’s traffic-light overabundance. The near empty roads, and easy (and free) parking. Streets have been clear of rubbish, especially the detritus of fast food wrappers, and the plague that is chewing gum (thanks to diligent and hard work of the street cleaning team). Like others, we have listened to the birdsong and noticed birds’ visits to the garden. And we have got used to the new environment, routines and ways of living. Gradually things have got busy, but very slowly. The now busier roads are not only an inconvenience, they are annoying. Journeys are getting slower and parking is trickier and no longer available or free. And you only have to look in the gutter to realise the big fast food chains are open again. That is a depressing sign of a return towards old bad habits.
To some extent I have been more social than before. I’ve certainly been on the ‘phone to some people more than usual, I’ve seen others more frequently on screen. And it has been a cheaper way that meeting up over drinks or food. A real budget saving. Staying in is the new going out. And four years into living in this house I have definitely developed a better relationship with the bricks and mortar. I’ve taken more care of the house and garden, valued it much more, and enjoyed being in it. All these things contribute to me recognising what has been good in lockdown, and what I need to keep hold of in the future. It will be another change management process to live through.