I know of only two or three households that are supposed to be shielding, ie, not leaving their homes and minimising all contact until at least the end of June because they are at the highest risk from coronavirus. This includes my friend Paul and his family, usually gregarious and upbeat despite having a lot on their plate in recent times.
He’s kindly written about his experience of supermaxlockdown…
I guess I’m lucky.
Lucky in a way that I have a home that doesn’t leak when it rains. Doesn’t let slugs into the kitchen on a regular basis. (GOD, I hate slugs). Lucky that my cats don’t bring home anything bigger than a moth as presents.
But my son was born disabled with (only a mild) cerebral palsy. My wife developed a (substantially harsh) condition about three years ago and has had immunosuppressant treatment just as a crippling virus pandemic breaks out. Oh and a slipped disc I suffered at Christmas that doesn’t stop me working, but has stopped my main stress relief – playing musical instruments.
And now we have lockdown.
Ours started in January after my wife had her latest (hopefully last) round of treatment – clever chemo I call it. Killing just the bad parts, even if the bad parts are her body’s immune system. Then followed six weeks of confinement and shielding. Our son got a cough at school – it was just a cough – but as this thing called a Novel Virus started to become push notification news, he was encouraged to stay away from school… ironically in a household where someone present might be in greater danger.
A week away from school became two weeks (because Boris said so) and then the school shut for good. His cough was long gone (told you it was just a cough), but the lockdown was now more than just our house – it was our street, our city, our country.
I’m told to stay home for 12 weeks.
Not because I’m susceptible, but because my wife is. Our son has to, too. No friends round no more. No youth theatre groups to explore art, culture and expression. So what now?
Food. That’s important. The government promises vulnerable people will get priority access to online supermarkets – great. A letter is due in the post. Great. We get nothing. Talk about an empty promise.
A cry for help on Facebook produces tens of DMs offering help – I’m in Sainsburys now, what do you need? I’ve got loads of time and can bring anything whenever. I may live 30 miles away but, hey, let me know how I can help!!! A friend who works in the NHS gets early entry to a supermarket and texts me, waking me, at 7:30am. Hey man, what do you need? Cider, I reply. Just get me some cider.
Weeks after no government help, I phone the supermarkets directly to find out how to get on the priority list. They don’t question our situation, they just get us on the priority list straight away. We now have slots effectively whenever we want – incredible. Suddenly, we don’t have to rely on the kindness of friends to risk their health getting us toilet paper, bread, cheese (and alcohol). We can book deliveries online. Amazing.
We start creating lockdown videos to pass the time away from home schooling. Great ones too, full of imagination and magic. I create some tutorial videos (on how to solve the Rubik's cube) I’ve been putting off for two years and friends start to react to them positively.
But work carries on for me throughout.
Working in IT Support during this means a remote workforce of no more than 200 usually has now ballooned to 4000 and “financial year end” is around the corner. I’m doing 50-hour weeks, plus the cooking and cleaning; 1am bed times are a luxury. Not that the pressures of life aren’t keeping me awake at night enough already. Thankfully, there’s always a cider available.
But it’s now June. Or is it just March Part Four?
The weather has been great, the garden has had loads of attention each and every weekend. The weeds were purposefully left alone and they turned into a glorious sea of Forget-Me-Nots. The seeds are planted early and sprouting well for a late summer/autumn harvest of cucumbers and pumpkins.
Not bad for a man with 35 years of hay fever to his name.
Gardening brings satisfaction and happiness – back to basics. I’m lucky to have a nice garden I can enjoy… WE can enjoy. Because even if she can’t help out digging, weeding, planting and watering, my wife can still enjoy the beauty of the birdsong (that’s so much louder without the drone of traffic), the perfume of the roses, the beauty of the irises. I’ve painted the salad boxes and small shed a charcoal grey colour. They look lovely now and far less washed out than before. Back to basics.
We’ve kept away from the horror of Covid, unlike some close friends we know who have suffered just hundreds of metres away. A close friend’s uncle has passed away from it. A colleague’s husband, too. Just two of the 40,000+ now lost. And whilst we’ve bubbled away from it all, major world events have exploded: Australia caught fire, war with Iran nearly started, most recently the tragedy of George Floyd, re-igniting the BLM movement.
But our world became smaller. Our lives became compartmentalised. I worried about things like my car battery going flat through lack of use.
I guess I’m lucky in a way. I have a wife and child I love dearly, who I willingly care for 24/7 out of necessity. I’ve probably had a drink a little more often throughout this lockdown – but haven’t we all? I’m guessing none of us are leaving this thing ‘beach-body ready’… And I have a roof that doesn’t leak, a kitchen that doesn’t let the slugs in and a close-knit neighbourhood of amazing friends who, I’ve realised, will do everything we could ever need just by mentioning it.
If anyone reading this feels they might need help, but that asking for help feels beyond their comfort zone, believe me, you MUST speak up and ask. It’s okay to not be okay. And there are more people out there looking out for you than you realise. Fiona is one of them. She allowed me the opportunity to pour out all of this onto you, whoever you are. It’s been very cathartic. Thanks for reading.
Thankyou, Paul. It's humbling to be reminded how easy we've had it in our little unit, not too far away from you. I can't imagine the extra stress of shielding and being solely reliant on others to bring supplies. While there was a big initial wave of help and signups to help each other get through this in our local communities, I really hope that continues.
For those for whom restrictions are easing… be safe. I talked to someone today for whom the early anxieties of lockdown were starting to come back as we go into reverse and start to open up and live our lives again.
It's a door we're all going to have to go through at some point.
Stay safe all. x
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