Covid-era street art in a Glasgow shop window
We are living in a covid-19 twilight zone. The certainty and clarity of the ‘stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ message already seems to belong to a different era. Instead, we are now encouraged to ‘stay alert’ whilst we return to something approaching normality, where we can enjoy a trip to the pub or the shops, or to plan a holiday. As we move incrementally back to our old ways, we should take stock of what has happened and what is happening.
The virus itself has of course led to human suffering, and the government’s responses to it have caused inconvenience at best and misery at worst. The economy has taken the biggest hit since the bursting of the South Sea Bubble in 1720, education has been disrupted, social lives have been shattered, and sports have been hit for six.
The psychological impacts are only just being assessed: who knows what the long-term effects will be, not only of bereavement, but of joblessness, money, and housing worries? On a personal note, as well as having vulnerable older relatives and a nephew who is being shielded, the education and socialisation of my children as well as those whom I teach has been disrupted.
But as restrictions loosen, many of us are already beginning to miss some aspects of life under lockdown. I wrote in April that many neighbourhoods have bonded more than ever before, as people have ventured out for walks and bike rides or have stayed out for a chat after the weekly clap for carers. Local environments are quieter and cleaner, and roads are safer.
As someone who lives just three miles away from Leeds-Bradford Airport, we had become used to the background aircraft noise, but once it disappeared, the atmosphere now seems more peaceful. As a result, birdsong in recent months has been especially vibrant. To complement this – although it’s nothing like the dramatic differences seen in cities in the emerging world, such as Delhi and Shanghai – the skies are clearer and have fewer contrails.
Plenty has been written about the stresses and strains of spending more time under the same roof with one’s family or housemates – and I am under no illusion that such pressures can, and have, led to an increase in domestic abuse. But many households will have enjoyed pastimes together, bonded over more mealtimes, and even had the luxury of talking to each other more often.
Granted, we have been unable, until recently, to visit our relatives outside of Yorkshire, from our new nephew in Stafford, our new niece in Manchester, or my wife’s 90-year-old grandma in Norfolk. But many familial bonds have arguably – and perhaps ironically – been strengthened by this enforced distancing, with phone calls occurring more frequently and the advent of video chats bringing many of us closer together.
Parks – like Wharfe Meadows in Otley – have become havens in these uncertain times
Opportunities to exercise for all but the most vulnerable groups have arisen, and we are lucky that our local authorities have largely avoided closures of parks and other green spaces. Although I will look forward to enjoying more distant national parks and other outdoor spaces when restrictions ease, I have explored many local forests, parks, and moorland areas both with my family and as a cyclist. Local roads have also been quiet enough to take young children on, or alongside.
These are the things that I will miss when they disappear. But will they disappear? The good news is that they might not: the post-covid future has not happened yet. We can all play a part in shaping it. Our individual choices in how to live, how to travel, what to do and how to interact with others will all add up.
I suffer from FOMO – fear of missing out. This has led me to cram my diary with a ballooning list of engagements. This continued after the arrival of children: I felt that I had to take them to different places and to sign them up to various activities, so that they wouldn’t ‘miss out’. I agreed to virtually anything that came up, squeezing out valuable family ‘down time’ and the chance to engage with my locality.
One of my post-covid resolutions is to maintain this degree of connection with my local area, and to disabuse myself of the notion that the grass is always greener on the other side. As well as having personal benefits, this resolution fits in with a broader vision of the development of a more cohesive, active, and greener – some might say sustainable – community.
It’s just a small commitment, but as we emerge blinking into the challenging late-covid world, perhaps we could all take the opportunity to choose one thing – and persevere with it. If we do, our communities could become stronger, our lives more fulfilled, and the future just that little bit brighter.