What? You ask. It’s horrible, I hate it, why on Earth should anyone be nostalgic for lockdown? We might ask the same about ‘the Dunkirk Spirit’, where we cover up the memory of one of Britain’s worst military defeats with the veneer of a victory. Or the ‘Blitz Spirit’ where we imagine plucky Londoners defying Hitler with a whistle on their lips rather than scuttling to air raid shelters in terror and emerging to find their street no more than a pile of rubble. Myths arise of times when we all pulled together – or some did, at least. Everyone of a certain age has anecdotes of the war years, and they are not all bad.
One year ago, on March 11th 2020, I was flying off to Alderney for a literary festival that never took place. I came back two write about the first sixty days, then the next 128 days of lockdown. Last weekend I was for the umpteenth time walking one of the limited number of permissible walks that start at my front door. The sky was a perfect blue, with just a single jet contrail coming from the east. I was reminded of April 2020 and those perfect, calm days with streets empty of traffic and air alive with birdsong. Possibly, just possibly, the UK lockdown will start to ease on March 29th this year and I can go beyond my immediate neighbourhood and walk the hills and the coasts again and see friends who have been no more than Zoom images or Facebook snaps for the best part of a year. With luck – and a massive amount of effort from scientists and the folks in the vaccine/testing roll-out programme – we will not return to these grim times.
Lockdown will be behind us, another historical milestone like the miner’s strike, the Blitz or the Battle of Trafalgar. Museums are already collecting masks and testing kits and hand sanitizer jars for their social history collections. One day we may see exhibitions, with the gift shop selling ‘hand/face/space’ mugs and ‘next slide please’ t-towels. The veterans of the Great Pandemic will talk about the Lockdown Spirit and mention Captain Tom in the same tones once reserved for Vera Lynn. In the immediate future, rather too many people will commence writing pandemic novels, try to publish their lockdown diaries, and sell their lockdown art. I look forward to reading scientific works that tell us what really went on and to ignoring blame-shifting political commentaries.
I’ve not been in ‘the front line’ as it has been called, I did my bit merely by following orders to ‘stay home, protect the NHS and save lives’. I did my duty by not doing things. However, I did not let this become a wasted year and I’ve spent far more time with my family ‘bubble’ than I would have been able to do normally. I’d never have been able to justify binge-watching The Queen’s Gambit, The Expanse, Outlander or Vikings nor had patience with the assorted Korean, Spanish, Dutch and Scandinavian movies I came across. I’ve got stuck into my great backlog of craft projects known as the Pile of Shame without any guilt about how much of my day I devoted to them.
Yes, I am bored with the paths around the village, but I have walked the best part of a thousand miles in the year, noticing things I would simply not have seen or heard. The woodpeckers at the edge of the woods, the owl heard on recent nights as I walked home from another dinner in the bubble. I’ve completed two books, made progress on two more, and republished five. My garden looks much better than if I’d followed my original plan to spend a year travelling and I’ve finally worked out how to cook a roast dinner in my gas oven.
I earnestly hope this will all fall away, and that filling in time will equate to wasting time rather than helping the global struggle. My old life should return, and idle pastimes will go back to their proper place of being luxuries.
As I looked at that one jet, imagining the day I could fly across the world again, I decided I must bottle this moment. It’s been a horrible, boring, demoralising experience much like those other historical events that become mythologised. Highway men and pirates were never romantic, nor were various disasters, famines and injustices that make up the stock of folk songs. We are filled with the urge to be free and look forward, but we will also one day look back.