Contains some strong language.
I wrote an opinion piece on Sunday about the new rules of lockdown. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here.
I’ll start by saying that I’ve never been someone to break the law. I’m cheeky and playful, yes, but there is a huge difference between having a joke and breaking the law. Even at school, I never served a detention because I was always so quiet and obedient. The rules were black and white for me, definitely no shades of grey. I’ll admit that I changed in my last year of secondary education and I have a tendency to ruffle feathers these days, but I’m still generally a law abiding citizen.
At least, until now.
After seven weeks apart, Mum and I agreed to a dog walk. It would be hard not to hug each other after so long, but with active cases still in her work, she decided it was for the best. I was undecided which was more painful, not seeing her, or not hugging her. I’d been miserable at the start of lockdown on 23rd March, but seeing her now and not being able to hug her felt like an indescribable torture. Not hugging her, I decided, was the worst.
As I got to the top of the road, I saw the little red Vauxhall Corsa. Mum’s car, I remembered, it completely slipped my mind that Dad had now gone. I waved and I saw the door open. That was when he got out: my brother.
“What are you doing?! We can’t.. it’s only supposed to be one person!” I hissed. That was the rules. The new UK lockdown rules, one person, from two different households, two metres apart.
“D’you think I care?” he replied.
“Yes, but the police..”
I’d seen at least three police patrol cars in lockdown, my area was known for young tearaways hanging about.
“Fuck it, I’ll pay the bloody fine to see my sister” he said as he slammed the car door shut. I run my tongue across my teeth as I tried to find my next point in this argument, alas, I came up dry. This was part of the problem. After six weeks apart, even £50 (if paid within two weeks) still isn’t enough of a deterrent for a lot of people.
As we walked, I tried to maintain my two metres. I couldn’t send my mother or brother home and I thought that turning back would cause a lot more trouble than it was worth, but I could do my best to maintain social distancing. Even if it wasn’t the perfect antidote, I could at least be doing something.
“Fuck it, I don’t care anymore” Mum whispered, and hugged me. I could feel her tears against my cheek. “I love you” she said between her sobs.
What mattered to me in this moment was not our physical health but her mental wellbeing. Social distancing or not, emotionally, she needed me. After six weeks apart, emotionally, we needed each other. I worried about my risk of catching the virus, but I concluded, she was well out of her 14-day quarantine period and she washes her clothes and showers thoroughly immediately after work, so we should be fine. The reunion was brief and emotional, we were too worried about being caught out on open roads.
“The only thing certain in life is death, Helen” my brother concluded as we walked and talked some more. I smiled, I could always count on him to come out with some point-blank statement.
As we caught up, it seemed as though we’d all had the same sentiment, even in spite of not having talked about it before. After losing Dad so suddenly last year, a mere few weeks can be the difference between life and death, and this time can be the difference between seeing each other, or not seeing each other and maybe even never seeing each other again. There are too many variables, too many things that could go wrong and too many many opportunities lost in waiting for that perfect day. Virus or no virus, Mum had survived it and it rehashed our old mentality: Carpe diem.
Mum and I have now both worked during pandemics, and both of us have survived them. Me during H1N1, and her during Covid-19. I remember sitting next to a friend who was taking Tamiflu, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I could get the swine flu virus from him, and nor had it hadn’t occurred to me that I was more likely to die from it. As we sat and chatted in a small and compacted lounge, nobody had even made even the slightest mention of social distancing. We weren’t using PPE in work, we weren’t using anything. Anything, perhaps, except alcohol gel.
Of course, as former and present key workers, my mother and I are aware of the really important bits. We discussed homemade masks and the best materials to use for filters. We aren’t simply charging recklessly into the void, we’re practising regular 20-second hand washes and we’ve discussed the figures in the South West. Here in Bristol. we have a population of approximately 672,000 and 681 confirmed cases, a 1% increase from yesterday and 0.3% of all cases in our country. With these calculations in mind, my risk of catching coronavirus from my family is 3 in 1,000, assuming my mother or brother are even infectious in the first place.
I also learned that I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t been part-taking in the Clap For Carers. For my Mum, it was defiance after the NHS failed to detect Dad’s cancer. As much as I cared about our NHS, there was a pang of frustration and jealousy behind my own decision. I was annoyed by the “we stay at work for you, please stay at home for us” photos and videos, especially the one that was filmed in the ward where my father died and was presumably occupied by other patients requiring intensive treatment at the time of the video being filmed. I also remembered the double shifts and the days of getting hand sanitizer in paper cuts, and I felt sad.
I worked flat out, too. Nobody stayed at home or clapped for me. Clapped for us, the NHS of the H1N1 Pandemic 2009-2010. We worked bloody hard, too!
“I suppose what they really worry about are mass gatherings. Are the police really going to worry about three people walking two dogs?” I concluded. Wrong? Yes, but even at our full (and rare) maximum, we were still only a grand score of six people, and even that usually only happens on Christmas day!
“Sis, Bozo shook hands with all the doctors after they cured him. I mean.. what happened to social distancing?” my brother chimed in.
“Well, apparently he shook hands with everyone at some meeting and now a few of them have had it as well” I offered, matter-of-factly.
“He did?! What a bloody pillock!” my Mum laughed.
“Exactly, so if they want social distancing, they need to lead by example”. I grimaced. Right again, Mally.
As we walked through the empty playing field, what I noticed was how few people were actually socially distancing. Most people were out in twos and all walking in a circular, uninstructed pattern around the outskirts of the pitches, but even in their twos, people just weren’t social distancing. They were more interested in walking and talking and bonding with each other again. After six weeks apart, our mental health is far more important than the risk of catching coronavirus. Mentalities seem to change, and not everyone who refuses to socially distance sees themselves above everyone else. For us, it’s more of a sort of “stronger together” approach. Our family unit is immensely strong, even if we can’t stand one another sometimes.
“I think very few people care, especially after Sunday” my Mum said, “both of our neighbours have had visitors! If our government hadn’t dwindled like it has, people might take more notice, and anyway, people are too afraid to rat one another out. People don’t fear the police, but they fear their neighbours”. I knew that fear. Even with drug dealers near me, I’ve a tendency to deny all knowledge anytime the police enquire. Ratting them out is just not worth it for me. I still have to live here.
“I think he’s on his way out anyway” I concluded, “this has been a monumental fuck-up. We all know he dithered for far too long with that herd immunity mentality. That upset a lot of people.”
“So you fancy a bit of that Sir Keir then?” Mum asked.
“I just don’t know what I make of him..”
“Nobody does! He doesn’t say much and that’s part of the bloody problem!” Mum quipped. I laughed, it’s good to be back.
I don’t condone what we did, but I do know that I at least feel stronger for it. Despite my mischievous ways, I’m the kind of person who usually follows the law very closely and would probably keep myself in lockdown because of it, long after measures are eased. I washed my hands with soap and water as soon as I got in and I think I’ve left a bit of a fly in the ointment which might put my family off of pulling the same stunt next time. I can’t tell you to follow the rules because it seems as though already many people already aren’t, but even if you refuse to stay at home or stay alert, please at least be sensible, and please at least be careful. We’ve been given a bit of freedom now, let’s at least show the government that we can be reasonable.
Be Bold, Be Bright, Be Beautiful,