Pandemic diary: a brief history of coronavirus in Stirchley, Birmingham

Bunminster has a leaky eye – he is not sad.

Diaries are for logging the craziness now so you can process it sometime in the future. Bunnies are for soothing frayed nerves. And the ending is always upbeat.

I checked back in my proper diary and the first mention of coronavirus was on 3 March 2020, three weeks ago. (I keep a proper old-school written diary, as well as a secret digital diary, as well as this blog).

But back to 3/3/20. I noted it as an anxious day 'that will potentially overwhelm the NHS' and 'endanger hundreds of thousands of lives'. Panic buying of toilet roll had started and no one knew why. Then I wrote about property repairs and financial ball juggling and a pleasant session helping old folk get on the internet at the Stirchley Baths community centre.

On 6/3/20, I was joking about a Dexy's Midnight Runners ear worm of Covid-19 to Come On Eileen. Birmingham had just had its first case and radio talk shows were spending hours talking about hand sanitiser and people's hand washing hygiene. I wrote: 'People panic about this and not climate change? Humans are a strange species in their perception of threats and their responses.'

On 12/3/20, we moved from containment to delay with 600 confirmed cases in the country (today, the UK death toll has hit 578). 'No hugs, no handshakes' I noted. A friend messaged to say they had cancelled their wedding next month. The local care home shut its doors to visitors. Loaf community bakery posted its coronavirus plan. Pete cancelled all his PhotoSchool Birmingham courses. Our family started planning who will visit who and how. And the government is lagging behind the actions of its people.

On 18/3/20, things were escalating quickly. I was 'feeling down, anxious, fearful, panicky – and the only comfort is that this is a normal human response to a pandemic situation'.

Social spaces started closing, schools were closing at the end of the week. The panic buying was ramping up. Volunteer initiatives using new technology and social media were springing up to help each other in the community. It felt as if we were teetering on the brink; we are all interconnected and dependent on each other after all, not only within my own family and local community but right up to the macroeconomic and social level.

And on top of all this is the virus itself. Countries are closing their borders and Europe is in lockdown. The UK is probably next but the government is being slow. We are all trying to 'flatten the curve' of deaths that will occur if we continue to mix. Even a 1% mortality rate doesn't bear thinking about. I asked my diary: if you don't trust the government or the health system, what can you do?

By 22/3/20, the country is going crazy, and so am I, to get things done before a predicted lockdown (the MOT and pet vaccinations are due, we need shopping basics). Bars, cafes and restaurants have closed. Livelihoods are being impacted. People are not keeping to the 2m social distancing rule. I held back in a Coop queue and an elderly woman stepped into the gap.

My family has now broken down into sealed off units and I wonder when I will see them again. One is already in self-isolation with mild symptoms. There is a new baby who none of us can visit. News of a pregnancy is announced, and then another – happy news but now also fearful. Everything and everyone I care about is under threat.

On 24/3/20, I started a pandemic diary when I couldn't keep track of all the thoughts flying around my head. (It's easier to type than write.) There was a domestic over the road the day after the lockdown was announced on the 23rd (was that only two days ago?!). Then I wrote about being germ-phobic long before any of this pandemic shit hit the fan. And now here we are. Hello!

Today I am thankful for people on our road coming out onto their doorsteps at 8pm and clapping the NHS workers. I had no idea it was a national thing happening but it was heartwarming, even if we were giving the NHS the clap. (Sorry, bad joke, unavoidable.)

I'm also thankful for the empty streets. Animals are coming back into cities. There are dolphins in the Venice canals. Stirchley B30 has its pigeons and was isolating like a boss! I start to wonder if I actually like people.

Finally, if anyone reads this far, I highly recommend keeping a diary for stress relief – just get all these thoughts out of your head and then forget about them.

Go on, do it, it's lockdown time.

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