|23rd March 2020 - Blue skies and new growth...|
This time last year I was at work, in the office, in East London, as I would usually have been 4 days per week for the previous few years. Things were definitely a little strange though - from the note on the door asking for people to respect distancing if they needed to come in, to the fact that the pub across the road was closed in the middle of the day, to the fact that buses passing by were distinctly emptier than would be usual, and to the fact that ALL that was being talked about was Coronovirus, Covid-19 as it was beginning to be known.
I commuted in to London that morning in the car as usual, but alone, rather than with MrEH - he was working from home as the underground was by then being seen as simply too high-risk unless people actually had to use it. It was a strange commute too - very little traffic on the motorway, I travelled in in pretty much record time, and looking back my Fitbit records tell me that I had time for a 40 minute walk before heading to the office for my 9am start! Already many people had switched to home working, or at the least commuting earlier or later than the standard "rush hour" times.
It was announced during the day that the regular Government news briefing with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty - those last two having already gone from unheard of by most to household names in the space of the previous week or so - would be held later than the previous 5pm times - it was obvious that it was going to be a significant one. Speculation around it varied between those claiming it was going to be "you're not allowed to leave home at all" through to "we'll be allowed to go to work but that will be all" and just about everything in between - but I think most people realised that some form of lockdown was coming, it was just a case of when...
I'd been bringing files home to work on if it became necessary for a while - for the benefit of those who know the environment I work in, I should explain that these were old files ready for destruction, not current client files! At 5pm on that Monday I filled the car boot with the latest batch, said "see you tomorrow" to D, and drove home. Again - a super-quiet commute, it felt more like a Sunday morning than a Monday rush-hour!
I suspect most of the UK population were sitting in front of TV's or radios at 8pm that evening, and honestly, by that stage, the announcement of Lockdown from the beginning of the following day came as no surprise. "If you can work from home, you must" didn't seem quite clear - although I had *some* work I could do at home, realistically it wasn't enough that I could fill my usual working day doing it. The partners can deal with most things remotely - phone calls are diverted and our phone system means that they can each have their own calls directed straight to their usual telephone wherever they plug it in. I usually answer the "switchboard" calls, but they automatically divert from the switchboard phone if it's not answered inside 3 rings anyway, to account for lunchbreaks, and Fridays. Some of the online form filling was easy enough to do remotely on the laptop, but other things really needed access to current files, which obviously I couldn’t have other than in the office. Was I covered by "can work from home" in real terms? D and I texted back and forth, unsure at first. Then it was announced that a list of businesses which were deemed as allowed to be open would be published, and expanded on with more details over the following 24 hours - a look at the list confirmed that indeed our business type did not feature, and that was that, we agreed that working from home commenced for us from the Tuesday morning.
I remember sitting there that evening feeling entirely terrified at the idea of not being allowed to go out. It felt like being imprisoned every bit as much as if someone had come along and put bars over the windows and doors. In "normal" times I get at least a short walk before work, even if only a slightly longer loop than the straight-line path from car to office. I walk at least a mile, usually a bit more, each lunchtime. after work I would either walk or run locally to the office, or walk to the gym, while waiting for MrEH to come and meet me for our journey home. At weekends we would be out and about all over the place. In short, it was a rare day when I would leave the house to get out in the fresh air only once, or not at all. I need activity, fresh air and movement for my mental health - I have known this for years now, so the thought of having that restricted was extremely difficult to get my head around. In some ways one consolation was that there were plenty of others feeling the same, that did feel supportive and "we're all in this together" even in the face of others either making it clear they planned to ignore the new rules, or lecturing those struggling with the concept of what impact the rules would have on them personally with "well we have to protect people"..!