Lockdowns have changed the United Kingdom.
Shifted the way people feel.
Upended how we think.
Changed what’s important.
And I don’t think there’s any going back.
It’s perhaps why Boris Johnson is so desperate to jettison all virus related restrictions, and get us all back on the treadmill of life.
Long ago, at the beginning of 2020, when COVID-19 was still just a headline, and Johnson was making speeches in Greenwich advocating herd immunity, a lockdown was inconceivable. We all thought they were an impossibility.
Then COVID-19 caught fire in the United Kingdom, ripping through the population like John Wick in a Russian nightclub. As the number of infections skyrocketed, and the dead started to pile high, it quickly became clear. If something wasn’t done, the National Health Service would be overwhelmed, and there would be an unprecedented loss of life.
Johnson didn’t want to lock down. He clung to the idea that we should take it on the chin, let the virus rip through the population. This meant he spent at least a month dithering.
Then, on the 23rd of March 2020, when there really was no other move, Johnson pushed the “pause” button, finally giving the order to “stay at home”.
Over night our household income plummeted. How were we going pay our rent? How do we pay our bills? How are we going to survive? On top of the money worries, daily life got very small. We couldn’t do anything. So it became a repetition of shopping for food and our flat. Netflix or the garden? Computer or phone? Twitter or Kindle. The bed or the sofa?
London got quiet. Apart from the constant acoustic intrusions. Doors banging. Children screaming. Raised voices. Drunken arguing. The noises of people having sex. The music, other people’s music, blasting at all hours. A sewing machine rattling somewhere until midnight. An upstairs neighbour doing jumping jacks over our living room.
No money and no way of escape.
As bad as it was for me and mine, many others had it worse. I feel for the people that lived alone? Who do you talk to? What if you don’t have a garden? At what point do the walls start to close in? What about families with children? How do you keep the “brats” entertained week after unrelenting week? What about their education? What about the elderly, the frail, and dependant?
An entire country forced into a confused hibernation.
When details of furlough, and the self-employment income support scheme were finally announce, it eased some of our panic. Our hysteria went from a shriek to a muffled scream. What it didn’t do, was alleviate the pressure of being in close proximity with the same people for-ever. Even the most accommodating souls, which I am not, will eventually run out of road.
Tears turned into floods, as mole hills became mountains.
Personally, I need to do things. Otherwise my thoughts start to spiral and I become unbearable. Food. My teeth. My eyesight. My weight. Sex. No sex. Sleeping. Drinking. Too much alcohol. Not enough water. Too much TikTok. “Watermelon sugar.” Writing. Not being able to write. My spelling. The typos. The English language. “Watermelon sugar.” Artworks. Images to create. Words to post. Things to say. “Watermelon sugar.” Politics. Justice. Injustice. Brexit. Sovereign individuals. Extinction Rebellion. Imminent ecological collapse. Wealth. Poverty. Housing. Mould in the kitchen. Cracks in the sink. “Watermelon sugar.” Money. Our futures. My partner’s business. Redundancy. Furlough. Being unemployed. Being unemployable. Universal Credit. Getting older. Being old. Soap.
For me this internal chatter, the unrelenting voice speeding across my tongue, starts to sound like an auctioneer at an American cattle market. It’s overwhelming. I go a bit mad. Get short tempered. Sullen. Distant. Argumentative. I have trouble concentrating. Focusing. Listening. I fidget. Random memories, decades old, flash into my imagination. That stupid things I said. The hesitations. The wrong turn. The other version of “that” conversation. The moment of “if only” that would’ve meant a different life. All of it there and gone like some perverted subliminal advertisement.
For me, and many others, lockdown made all of this worse.
Why am I confessing all of this personal trivia? To explain what I mean when I say “shifted the way people feel”.
Until the 23rd of March 2020 most of us lived on a treadmill. Constantly moving. With no time to think about anything but what’s pressing. One way of dealing with negative thoughts is to keep busy. Distract yourself out of the pattern of thinking. If you have any experience with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy you’ll know what I mean. For me this modality is remarkably similar to the treadmill of existence. This constant motion carried us through our lives. Eat. Sleep. Work. Repeat. Whether we realised it or not, these routines stop us ever contemplating, never mind realising, what we really feel.
Lockdown forced us all to stop and take stock.
In this paused state, the voices that normally keep us on the treadmill, that keep us striving, faded into the background. Think about the stories we’re routinely fed to keep us moving. Television shows about buying, building, converting, or decorating a house, seed the urge to own property. Travelogues make us want to explore. Scripted reality normalises our desire for wealth and privilege. News broadcasts make us feel attacked. Dating shows frame beauty as the only metre of connection. Dramas offer catharsis, a way to excise our frustrations.
For me, there’s an inevitability to the voices that urge us on. They push a version of life that’s intrinsically toxic. To bastardise a word or two from the fictional Tyler Durden, “if television is our model for life, we’re starting to realise, television doesn’t like us”.
That’s probably why there’s a tsunami of mental health problems headed our way. It reflects the moments of realisation, forced on us by lockdown, that there’s something “rotten in the state of Denmark”. That the world doesn’t care about us. That we’ve all been so busy trying to survive, we’ve forgotten how to thrive.
It’s also why, since March 2020, there’s been a vociferous cohort demanding an end to lockdown. They don’t work! We’ve needlessly trashed our economy. The numbers of dead are over reported. We have to learn to live with COVID. It’s only the flu. It doesn’t exist. It’s all just one huge conspiracy.
So many voices united by a yearning to have a “normal” life.
My question is, why? Why are they so keen to get back on that treadmill? Is it fear? Are they afraid their status, privilege, wealth, will disappear? How much pain must you feel when you realise, none of that “stuff” really matters?! That the nurses and supermarket staff, bus drivers and delivery people, are all more important, than the “armies of consultants, bankers, tax advisors, managers, and others who earn their money in strategic trans-sector peer-to-peer meetings to brainstorm the value-add on co-creation in the network society“?
The fact is, the longer we remain paused. The more time people have to examine their lives, and understand there’s something wrong. That they’re not happy, and want off the fucking treadmill.
I think that’s one of many reasons why Boris Johnson is hell bent on ending restrictions on the 19th of July 2021.
He wants everyone back on that treadmill? He needs us all running to survive. Distracted. With no time. Unable to think. So we don’t just say “we want something more”.
Personally I hope people realise what’s important.
Take the action needed.