I wrote in my diary that the first case of Covid 19 came to Northern Ireland on the 27th of February. A Thursday. I underlined it in red several times and drew a circle with little cross-like marks on it of the virus. Little did I know that there would be real crosses in Ireland soon.
Life was taken up then with: Storm Jojar –the third in a row, going for my father’s pension and shopping, running and volunteering at Listowel Parkrun, buying birthday presents in advance for my nephew, my sisters visiting with their children, taking another sister to her computer classes, going to Spinning and Pilates classes, taking the cat to the vet, going to cinema (I was the only person watching Onward) and going to my writing group meeting in Listowel.
Then they announced that the St. Patrick’s Day parades were cancelled on the news on RTE 1 on the Monday 9th of March. I got a Whatsapp message that my spinning classes were cancelled. There were 33 cases of Covid 19 in Ireland.
My sisters were on the phone to me discussing what to do. There was a sense of fear and impending catastrophe as if a ‘really big storm’ was about to hit. I went to town and panicked-shopped at Iceland. I spent over €110 euros on frozen food and toilet paper. I didn’t even spend that much at Christmas on one shop. I went to several chemists searching for antibacterial hand wash until I found some in Maguires. I took a photo and sent it to my sisters on Whatsapp telling where they could get some. I also got several packets of Panadol and Uniflu by going from chemist to chemist. I didn’t get Neurofen as I’d read on Facebook that it was not good to take against the virus. All these measures where just in case someone in our house got the virus (God forbid!) and we had to isolate ourselves. I made 18 beef pies that Friday to be eaten over several Sundays. That was Friday 13th of March.
Saturday the 14th of March lockdown began. I didn’t go do my Parkrun that morning. I didn’t go for a coffee and have a read of the paper after. I didn’t have a wander around town on that sunny morning before I had to go home to mind my father.
I wrote in my dairy that ‘it feels like we are in a real life interactive weird horror movie. Can’t quite believe it.’
Got a Whatsapp message from my sister that evening, who had got it from a friend of hers, who’d got it from a garda who’d come out of a big meeting with high-up officials. ‘They were going to lockdown the shops with guards and only let 100 people in at a time from next Tuesday.’ I passed the message on to several friends and family. It didn’t happen.
That evening on the news Leo Varadkar interrupted his trip to America to make an announcement. I videoed it on my phone.
I started keeping track of the daily number of cases and deaths – 69, 74,191,126, 102, 121, 215 cases!
One night I felt like I was getting a cold in my chest. I was afraid I had got it. I was afraid to admit it. I prayed that I hadn’t. I checked the symptoms online. It wasn’t it.
I only went out for shopping and my father’s tablets. I was one of the rare few who wore a mask at the start. I’d made several from squares of material with Harry Potter prints I’d got in Aldi. I even wore plastic gloves. I got strange looks from some people. I felt cross with those who didn’t wear any mask but said nothing. Were they watching the news at all? Did they think it would magically not affect them? That they were different somehow?
My sisters, who usually visited once or twice a week, stayed away with their kids. The postman was all that came to the house.
I got lots of jobs done. The presses and drawers were tidied and put in order. Sheds were cleared out. The garden was weeded. The house was painted outside. The last section of the yard was cemented at the end of May. I rationed out the different jobs to one a day otherwise they’d be all done too quickly because for one thing I didn’t know how long this thing would go on for. It gave me purpose and kept my mind busy.
The radio and TV were full of wall to wall Covid 19 talk day and night. I could hardly find a station that didn’t have it.
I didn’t take up baking or crafts like everyone else seemed to be doing, or learning a language, or watching movies or gorging myself on chocolate. I didn’t drop off groceries for elderly neighbours. I had enough to be doing with taking care of my own without filling my life with extra things. I took up virtual running in my new 2km radius, but I ran anyway before that.
After a few months I started to run out of jobs. Extra jobs such as scouring out a dike had been done and re-gravelled the farm yard. I was only looking around for things to do.
At least the weather was good. It was like God gave us that to help us cope. I felt a certain type of peace. Though contrarily I felt that it would never end. An unreal gloom.
But then the government announced that they had come up a strategy of phasing us out of the Lockdown starting 18th of May. The weather broke. My sisters started to call again. The roads filled up with cars. The streets filled up with people again. I wished I was back in Lockdown and my simpler peaceful life.
(c) Helen Broderick