What can you do when they tell you that you may not leave home unless it’s essential? That you cannot have people to your house, visit a loved one in hospital, or even attend a funeral?
If someone had asked me that a year ago, I’d have said, ‘Sure that wouldn’t happen in Ireland.’ But that’s exactly what did happen as Covid-19 revealed its spiky presence. The rules all changed, as did the steps we took to protect ourselves. Some reactions were over the the top, mind you – like a growing fondness for tissues and toilet roll. Perhaps it was all the baked beans we were eating.
When restrictions became the norm I could cope with the physical reality of it, because I understood the benefits. But my mind needed to travel – it didn’t want locking down in the television and the bad news bouncing off my screens.
So I took the opportunity to do more reading. Book shops being closed, I reread some old favourites. That kept me going till a big box of goodies arrived from Amazon – finally! It seemed that many others had had the same idea.
Luckily for me, I’d done a weekend writing workshop in early February with a new group of friends I’d made on line. Having learned the benefits of making connections in this way, I jumped at the opportunity to do the Writing Challenge with Writing.ie., and enjoyed it so much that I went on to join Writers Ink. The timing was perfect, just before lockdown. Between the exercises, zooms and interviews, my days were full and my writing skills improving.
So you could say that routine saved my sanity during lockdown. It saved my bathroom scales as well. There was no way I was adding Covid kilos to those I’d piled on at Christmas and the New Year – as well as during the aforementioned weekend away. Resisting the temptation to open the wine on a Monday night, I saved it for the Friday, and kept treats to the weekend.
Not everyone’s experience of lockdown was as positive as mine. Many suffered heartache and illness, loss of income and connections. I did miss my family, who live relatively close, but not close enough. Other than that, my gripes were few – I couldn’t go for a walk by the sea on those lovely sunny days we had this Spring, couldn’t go swimming in the pool, couldn’t meet with my local writers group.
I tried not to dwell on the fact that I was hemmed in, that I was likely to be stopped and questioned re my movements if I took the car out. I still remember the anticipaton of a trip to Sallins, all of 5kms away, when the 2km rule was relaxed. The banks of the canal were thronged, people bumping elbows or nodding from a distance – uneasy in these new, ‘not so friendly’ times. There were some who spanned the walkway with their number, cyclists who made it clear that they were making room for no one. But most maintained a respectful distance, the 2 metre rule as much a part of life now as washing of hands and sneezing etiquette.
The net was loosened further as the 5km rule became 10. Then the county restrictions were lifted and we made a break for the border – all the way over to Russborough House, not much more than 10kms away. The sun was shining on the hills and lakes of Wicklow, and the countryside was in bloom. I think I hugged a tree or two.
Staycations became a ‘thing’. They’ve been a ‘thing’ for us every year with our annual trip to Kerry. Not everyone who lives near the coast will understand the feeling of being trapped in a landlocked county during lockdown. The Dingle Peninsula lifted my spirits, the Slea Head drive did what it always does – renewed my appreciation of the beauty of this island. Dingle without music was strange, all the same. I can’t wait to see musicians live at their craft again.
The second lockdown in the midlands was a very tough pill to swallow. Don’t get me wrong. I do realise the wisdom of that decision. I’m just relating how I felt, and many others too, as our freedom of movement was curtailed again despite all our best efforts to stay safe. There’s much talk about getting back to ‘normal’. I hope that it’s a better kind of normal. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that people matter and that material things do not, that Covid knows no boundaries and that together we are stronger. It struck me, during lockdown, how blessed we are in Ireland to have so many community-minded people. I hope that those in power put issues like mental health and wellbeing at the top of the agenda, and that we the citizens have come to realise our true value, and our power to influence outcomes.
As we head into winter, it’s no harm to have seen, firsthand, the effectiveness of hand hygiene and keeping our germs to ourselves. But I can’t wait for the day that we may leave the masks at home. Whoever thought we’d be sending our children to school with them? We might manage, at least, to keep the flu at bay, while avoiding the worst of Covid. Our frontline workers have been the heroes of 2020, especially those in the health service. We owe it to them, as much as ourselves, to keep the Covid numbers down.
With that thought in mind, I’ll just check I have my mask and hand gel, and that my Covid tracker’s on, before I go do the shopping – confident in the knowledge that loo paper will be on a roll and that loaves of bread will line the shelves. And that there will be pasta.
It’s the small things, right?
(c) Dee Scallan