Wednesday afternoon, 17 March 2020, as well as being St Patrick's Day, was the day myself and colleagues were advised that we should gather up as much of our equipment, laptops, monitors, docking stations, etc, as we could physically carry and leave our office. We were instructed that we would be working from home for an undisclosed period of time, at least until the authorities were able to gauge the impact and establish a measure of certainty around the new virus that was running rampage across the continent of Europe.
So began our isolation, one which has continued unbroken since. Though at this present point in time there does appear, if things continue in the present trajectory, moving further toward alignment, the possibility that we may see an end to the present restrictions, perhaps as soon as early spring. Hope, just slightly ahead of expectation, that we may be able to return to our more natural habitat of working from the office.
We will mark one entire calendar year, on the day this is due for publication, one year which has brought some incredible and barely believable changes when viewed in the context of pre-COVID-19 time. We have witnessed immense behavioural changes in the population, as we have complied uniformly with restrictions to our liberty unseen in generations; working practices have altered beyond recognition with the State paying the wages of employees of private companies to stay at home. This has not been enacted simply on a national level, but globally, with the disruption being felt throughout the world.
Whilst it is easy to say or write that last point, like the amount of money being spent to prop up the world economic system, it is difficult to fathom in real terms. We cannot fail to mention the high death toll here in the UK and worse when seen in numbers across the planet. The cruelty of hope, giving way to despair, as numbers decreased over the summer and rose again later in the year.
I am thankful that my family has remained pretty unscathed throughout by all of this and I personally am/was scheduled to receive my first dose of vaccine on Tuesday 16 March at 3.58pm precisely. Ironic I should be offered my jab in the week that nations appear to be falling over themselves in putting a hold on one particular vaccine, the one I am most likely to receive. I have never been a gambler, but on the balance of probability I will accept the vaccine. The odds seem to me to be better that way. My youngest son celebrated his birthday on Monday of this week, so like his brothers he has now experienced a lockdown birthday. Well, you wouldn't want him to miss out, would you? Shortly, we will celebrate our second April Fool's Day, talk about 'kicking the arse' out of a joke.
The spirit we have shown over the year in how we have adapted to changes, constraints and restrictions placed upon us has been both impressive and frightening. Impressive that we have, in the main, been disciplined as a community, pulling together with common purpose to stop the spread of infection. Frightening in the compliance we have shown in surrendering our freedoms so readily to government diktat.
Oh yes, and Rangers won the league just to really rub it in, eh?
Among the things one can do while stuck at home clearing out those cupboards filled over the years was the chore I turned to last week. I have plenty of things to paint, plenty of books read, a piano to play, DVDs galore to watch and online streaming events to review, but I am getting tired of the same old things.
Stuck for a new pastime, I wondered what had happened to my knitting needles. All small boys during wartime learned how to knit – I think we made squares for blankets for soldiers – but that is by the way. I grew up wearing jerseys knitted by my mother and when in the nature of things that supply ended, I thought why not try to make my own. I did for several years until I realised it was far easier and cheaper just to go to M&S, so I put the needles and patterns – I made some rather natty Aran-knit sweaters – in a box and stashed them in a cupboard.
When I tried to extricate the box, the diaries I used to keep on travelling holidays, the albums full of photographs of places I had visited in the days before mobile phones, and all sorts of bits and pieces, including my tap shoes – a hobby rapidly abandoned as it became clear early on that I was no Fred Astaire – fell out. The patterns were out of date, with wool amounts in ounces, and since metrication is a mystery, that is probably the end of knitting as a time-filler. But that leave my photographs.
Occasionally, I had noted where they had been taken in the front of the albums but mostly not. I could remember being there, but none of the memories matched up to the photographs and the inadequacy of the camera and the passage of time – colour fades – meant most were now not worth looking at. Added to which, I spent last Saturday with a friend going through photographs belonging to a friend who died from COVID-19 – we are executors and the contents of his home have to be disposed of.
Dealing with an estate is never easy, but the thing that floored us was his collection of photographs – many were of people and places we did not know. But also there were all our yesterdays at parties, on trips to the country, at lunches on holidays we had shared with him and his partner, also dead, going back half a century. Seeing our past selves was bad enough, but worse was that often we had no idea who the other people in the pictures were or of what the event we were at was.
The family ones we set aside for his heirs, took a few we were in but had no family interest, and the rest will go in the bin. In a way, we were consigning parts of somebody else's past to oblivion. A sobering thought. As far as my own cupboard's contents, I went home and put everything back save a couple of etchings of Venice I have no recollection of buying but which are rather splendid. Somebody else can fill the skip with them, just not yet.
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