Lockdown Log, Day 100

We are now in week fifteen of lockdown in the UK and with the arrival of the 100-day mark at least one of my friends, who has been posting daily ‘thankfulness’ updates on her Facebook page, has decided that this is a good point at which to complete her particular project. She has encouraged and uplifted a lot of people with her wonderful pictures of life in rural County Durham and her appreciation of the beauty and variety of all that surrounds her and I have found her daily reminders to be grateful for all the good things really helpful. They have also prompted me to be more aware of my surroundings and today I particularly noticed the colourful roadsides. On the whole, though, my own, much more occasional postings here have been rather different in nature: more of a sporadic diary to remind me at some future date about some of what was going on during the course of this pandemic, both globally and personally.

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At this point the total number of reported deaths from Covid-19 has reached half a million, from a total of over ten million reported cases of the disease. Rather surprisingly, according to figures produced by the World Health Organization, the UK figures are disproportionately bad compared to the global figures, which include all reporting countries, in that the UK death rate is running at 14% of reported cases while globally the figure is 5%. This fact does not appear to be getting a great deal of publicity, which is probably a good thing because alarmist reporting is never helpful. It seems most likely that this situation has occurred because of the lower levels of testing, and the differences in the way in which cases in the UK are reported.

This coming Saturday, lockdown measures in England will ease further, and people will be able to buy a drink in a pub, go to the hairdresser and see another household indoors. As has been pointed out in the press, this feels like something of a ‘watershed moment’ but although it might feel as if the worst is behind us many are pointing out that there is still a great deal of suffering, there will be ongoing fallout for a long time to come, and there is the very real threat of a second wave, so ‘stamina and resolve’ are more vital than ever. Indeed, one city has already been placed in a local lockdown for the coming two weeks, because of a rise in infections there.

Along with hundreds of thousands of others, I signed up as an NHS Volunteer Responder early on in the pandemic. Because of the overwhelming response – and my app tells me that there are many other responders living within a hundred yards of me – very little has been asked of me: supply exceeds demand in my area apparently. My first call, received while out and about, was to visit a lady who was presumably isolating; she didn’t want anything at all. The second call was received while I was on a train travelling into London at the end of April. I had forgotten to log off and the only way I could have responded to a need in Harlesden was to leap off a moving train, so I had to reject the call so that it could be passed to someone else. There followed complete silence from the app for quite some time. However, a few weeks ago volunteers were emailed about whether they would also like to volunteer for the ‘check in and chat’ function, and I signed up. My phone’s siren has since blared out a couple of times and I have found myself having conversations with someone in another part of the country. It has been a reminder, if any were needed, of just how isolated some people have been over recent months but also of how grateful they are that someone has picked up a phone to ask how they are. It was very humbling indeed to realise what a difference such a small thing can make. Although finding it tough during lockdown, and with circumstances that meant they could not take advantage of the easing of rules, neither of my contacts were in dire need or depressed. They were in regular touch with family members and were being supported adequately but they were nevertheless very pleased to hear from a stranger. It is really good to know that after almost four months these initiatives are continuing to make a difference and that there are things that absolutely anyone can do to help, no matter what their own situation might be.

Today I was also back in the Cathedral again for the second time since lockdown was imposed. If all goes well then the café will be open when I am next on duty in mid-July and I will be able to enjoy my volunteer’s lunch. That will be a real treat – my goodness, a meal out after four months! And to think that I took it completely for granted last year.

Lockdown Log, Day 85

Today is the first day of week thirteen of lockdown in the UK but some significant changes were introduced yesterday, with a whole range of ‘non-essential’ shops being able to open to customers for the first time in months. This was excellent news for bookshops and although the lockdown had done nothing to lessen my purchasing of books, it will be really good at some point to take advantage of the opportunity to browse once more. It still won’t be quite the same, however: with restrictions on the number of customers who can be accommodated at any time, a long leisurely scan of the shelves is not going to make you popular with fellow readers queuing outside.

Another change since yesterday is that, with appropriate social distancing measures in place, places of worship can again open their doors to allow members of the public inside for prayer or services. There will still be no unrestricted gatherings and many churches will need some time yet to make arrangements for how and when they can open safely and how they can combine this with catering for the needs of those still unable or unwilling to venture into public buildings.

Significantly for me, however, this lifting of restrictions means that tomorrow I can physically go to church for the first time since mid-March. As a lay person who is a voluntary day chaplain at our local cathedral, I will be on duty there tomorrow. And with quite a number of the other voluntary chaplains not able, for reasons of age or health, to return to volunteering yet it looks as if I may well be there significantly more often than usual. It will not be possible to shake hands with visitors who greet me, or to sit right next to someone who wishes to talk. The two-metre rule will still be in place but being able to spend time in a building that has, in its very long history, seen plagues come and go before – a building where the prayers, hopes, fears, tears and joys of many generations of people have been expressed – will be a privilege.

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However, whatever the delights of some of our ancient church buildings, what the lockdown has reminded the Christian community more than anything is that the church is not the building; the church, as has always been the case, is the people. As such, the church has never been closed, whatever the circumstances, and in recent months it has been far more open than ever in many new and exciting ways. Alongside this, many people have been appreciating the wonder of creation, with the opportunity to spend time outdoors. Just last weekend we were able to enjoy walks in the nearby woods with family members and one place in particular had the feel of an outdoor cathedral. Such places, as mountain-tops and coastlines, often inspire awe and in this example – where the scenery has also been shaped by human hands – the comparison with the cathedral seems particularly fitting.

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Lockdown Log, Day 70

Tomorrow marks the start of the eleventh week of lockdown in the UK and although some further easing of the conditions begins today – with some children due to return to their classrooms – relatively little has changed in terms of the risks posed by the coronavirus. Those with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to infection will now be allowed to venture out once a day, but not to go to shops or to anywhere that would make it difficult to maintain social distancing. As I have regularly enjoyed the change of scenery offered by a short, almost-daily walk – or a trip to the farm shop or supermarket for food – I can scarcely imagine what it would be like to have been indoors for the past ten weeks, how depressing that would have been and, for at least some people, how difficult the prospect of that continuing must be.

The last week, in addition to its spring sunshine and blue skies, has been particularly interesting in a couple of ways. The furore over the breaking of lockdown rules by the British Prime Minister’s senior adviser dominated headlines for much of the week and will probably rumble on for some time. Of course, people will have broken the rules – any number have incurred fines for doing so – and where that was reckless and without apparent thought for the health and lives of others it is absolutely right that they should be penalised; this is, after all, why we are not allowed to drive under the influence of alcohol, or to carry dangerous weapons. Others, having been extremely careful of their level of interaction with other people – and knowing that they and their loved ones were all symptom-free – will also have bent the rules for a variety of reasons and that is perhaps understandable. However, the most distressing aspects of last week’s story were the deep and justifiable sense of betrayal felt by people up and down the country who have sacrificed never-to-be-repeated time with family members because that was what they were told was necessary, and the further loss of trust in our political leaders that has inevitably resulted. Public figures throughout the ages have always been just as vulnerable as anyone else to misbehaviour and that has often resulted in front-page scandal, but when the welfare of others is seen to have been put at risk, is it really naive to expect, from those in positions of power, a level of integrity that at the very least results in an apology? It is possible that my disappointment over these events has been coloured by having recently watched a really excellent docudrama series on Netflix about the fate of Czar Nicholas II and his family. The Czars clearly demonstrates the dangers of an unelected Rasputin figure exerting influence over those at the top. I am thankful that, a hundred years on, the reaction here has been far less violent than it was in Russia.

The second reason that I, at least, have had such an interesting week is, paradoxically, because the pandemic forced the cancellation of one of the country’s largest literary festivals – but the organisers came up instead with a wonderful online programme of events. From a wide range of speakers, and alongside viewers from all around the world, I have enjoyed Hay Festival sessions covering philosophy, history, faith and sciences including epidemiology, medicine and physics. It has been really good and, combined with three other online book events, has resulted in an expanded wish-list of titles and a number of visits from my local bookshop owner, delivering orders by bicycle.

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I read this week that one result of the limitations imposed on our usual activities in the UK – despite the surge in online shopping – is that consumer debt has reduced markedly. I can understand at least in part how this has come about because, although I regularly purchase certain things online, I have never been a fan of buying clothes, for example, without being in a shop and able to try things out. Somehow that is part of what makes the whole experience pleasurable. Having said that, and being someone who has campaigned against the environmentally damaging impacts of ‘fast fashion’, last year I did toy with the idea of joining the pledge not to purchase any items of clothing for a whole year. I chickened out – but was hugely impressed to read of friends who had succeeded. So, now I realise that without even trying I have not bought a single item of clothing since last year and, as a result, I am seriously thinking that if I have managed five months painlessly then there really is no good reason not to keep it up and make it through to the end of 2020.

I may have bought no clothes, but since the imposition of lockdown I have bought chocolate – something I don’t usually do because it is just too tempting to have in the house – and it has become an occasional evening treat: perhaps it is our way of celebrating wordlessly another few days without either ill-health or getting on each other’s nerves! I have also bought more books than usual – and I would find it almost impossible to contemplate a year without doing so, even though that might result in both rereading some favourites and starting some of those there has not yet been time to open.

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Finally, as many, many other people have been doing, I have been photographing some of the colours and shapes in our garden.