Lockdown. Is it over? Almost over? Most would have us think so, but I know it’s nothing like the end, and although I can accept there is something called the ‘new normal’ I have no appetite for it and is it really normal? As someone comments in today’s paper, after all the fanfare of easing restrictions, life just isn’t what is was. So shall we just call it ‘the new’, or the ‘different’, the ‘best of a bad job?’ Social distancing by the way is another misnomer. We can be as sociable as we like, it’s the physical part that’s missing.
And yet and yet, as things are opening up again, I am feeling some nostalgia for the first weeks of lockdown, the walking weeks as I think of them. Since May 13th we’ve been back playing golf – a joy to go somewhere and to meet friends for a shared purpose, with healthy exercise thrown in. As a result my other walking habit has slipped and when I recently took one of my lockdown walks and stood on an unexceptional hillock looking at the unexceptional view (green countryside criss-crossed by dual carriageway, housing estates asleep under the ridiculous riot of seasonal greenery) I recognised that without these walks, something had gone missing. I can’t quite describe it. Calm is almost too specific, more like an emptiness, something that comes of having nothing to do, or nothing needing to be done: a kind of dreaming, not plagued by dreams.
Is this the much-vaunted mindfulness? Although I absorbed the nature around me I don’t think I was particularly observant, or not consciously so, though I’m reminded of how R.S. Thomas’ tells us to find God (for which I read ourselves) in ‘the spaces between stars’ and the ‘interstices of things’ – in emptiness I suppose.
So there can be benefits in not thinking? Is it good for creativity? Not that I was aware of at the time, but perhaps we need those fallow hours for other things to happen, a switched off time so that we can switch on again.
And so here I am mourning the loss of nothingness and wondering if I’m deceiving myself, finding something in retrospect which wasn’t like that at the time, Am I already wearing rose-tinted lockdown glasses? My walk reprised was a moment of calm, but I’m remembering that first time around, in March and April, I walked quickly, breathing deeply and consciously. This was to maintain my all-round fitness, ready for return to golf and other normalities. Actually no, it was at least partly in response to news items about medical ventilation and those who survived. Adrenaline was pushing me on. I was practising for being a patient, admitting to the fear which we all suppressed (didn’t we?) under a thin veneer of being philosophical. This too will pass.
And so has it passed? No, it is most definitely not all over even if I hear a bit of partying going on in local gardens. Yesterday I stood under blustery skies in a short queue for our local M&S. Inside were sparse shoppers on particular missions: in, out, home. Tempted by the Food Hall I encountered a separate queue and gave up. I’d lost the motivation. I just wasn’t that bothered for a treat, nor to hang around the fashion floor wondering if I needed anything to wear. I’m no longer an avid shopper but no wonder our economy is wrecked, our spirits, if not broken, very much subdued with this dreary version of what used to be.
So it’s not over, but as we peer through the flak of disinformation and misinformation on how and when lockdown might end, I’m aware that lockdown was not a single time or circumstance. It was ending – or changing – almost as soon as it started, from those days of conscious breathing to the first garden visit with family, from the anxious clicking of food-delivery websites to a cautious foray to our local Lidl, we’ve always been testing its boundaries and carrying out ongoing – and probably flawed – risk assessments. Somehow we’ve adapted to everything and navigated our way through. It hasn’t all been bad but let’s not kid ourselves – the good parts are barely a compensation for what has been lost.
Covid has most definitely not gone away, but maybe as we pack the Dettol wipes and get our face-coverings in place, we can be grateful for small mercies, enjoy an intermission and admit to the hope that the old normal hasn’t gone forever.