The bees were buzzing, the sun was beaming, and the drinks were chilled. Lottie was sniffing for stray chips, the ‘Aunt Sally’ team were throwing balls at a dummy, and Phil was critiquing his pint. It was a normal August evening in our village pub garden… except it wasn’t quite! 😉 The benches were spread out, the alcohol gel had centre stage on the table, and we’d placed our order over the phone so we didn’t need to go inside. The waitress put our drinks down a metre from us, we chatted to the landlord from a distance, and we limited our tipples to avoid needing the loo! I’d even thoroughly cleaned our glasses with wipes, before we could take our first sips! 😛 This new ‘post-lockdown yet mid-pandemic’ world is bizarre. Although life looks largely normal on the outside… it is sprinkled with subtle changes. New rules and new rituals and new ways to keep safe. It’s like living in a strange parallel universe! 🙂
For the past month, since shielding was paused, I’ve been making an effort to rejoin society. Excitement at my freedom, and worry that it won’t last for long, means I’ve resorted back to my old ways and have been cramming my diary with all the firsts. First camping trip, first day trip, first hill top. First holiday with the nephews, first tourist attraction, first shop visit. First ice cream van, first shared picnic, first takeaway. First pub drink, first meal out, first meet ups. And although I’ve done all of these many many times before in my life before Corona… each inaugural event after lockdown feels ridiculously exciting. A celebration at being able to do it again. After five months of uncertainty about survival, after five months of the same walls… even the everyday and normally mundane seems wondrous. And so like an over-excited tourist, I’ve been photographing all the firsts. Yes, even the visits to the shops! 😉
But although at first glance, the high streets and campsites and parks and pubs look the same, in reality this is not the England of six months ago. It’s a new world. There are new sights and stimuli everywhere. New things to look at, new rituals to think about, new rules to follow. And in the same vein that you notice changes more if you don’t see them slowly developing, after being completely removed from society for twenty-one weeks, the differences jump out at me. Masks on faces, social distancing posters on doors, metre markers on floors. Screens at counters, visors on staff, only one person inside at a time. There are queues outside shops, gel dispensers on walls, and even more tables outside. When visiting tourist sites you now need to book in advance, arrive at a set time, and show tickets through car windows. There is signing in your details for track and trace, maneuvering around strangers in the street, and cash is no longer welcome! And due to reduced capacity, ferries and campsites have all become like gold dust!
In an attempt to keep Phil and me safe, we’ve also been following our own self-imposed rules, which make this alternate reality stranger still. Only buying tubs of ice cream not cones, avoiding public toilets (or wearing a mask if desperate!), and only visiting the small local shops with big aisles. Transferring takeaway food on to our own plates, only eating outside at restaurants, and cleaning all cutlery before we use it (or take your own! 😉 ). Opening doors with elbows, using hand gel if we touch anything, not letting visitors inside (even when it’s raining- sorry Dad!). Only camping at small sites with minimal others, not using communal facilities, and not letting folks into the Bumblebee. Not sharing chairs or blankets or cameras or toys (no card games when camping!), and only eating joint food that no one has touched. And social distancing means no cuddling up to read stories to little ones, and sadly no rides on my scooter. 😦 Life after lockdown looks the same but isn’t. It’s almost normal but not completely. Like a crazy alternate reality, a parallel universe, fraternal twins. It’s almost the world we left, but not quite.
And so consequently, although I’m excited and happy and loving being free again… navigating this new world is stressful. And tiring. And stressful. And tiring. A crew of hard-hatted health and safety bods have seemingly moved into my head. Even before I’ve left my home, they’re running through their check lists. Second guessing dangers, analyzing risk, suggesting ways to keep safe. When out and about, they’re scanning and thinking and checking and guiding. Always on alert. Barking orders, shouting warnings, screaming cautions. Their shouts reverberate through my skull. Don’t touch, don’t get too close, don’t go inside. Remember your mask, remember your gel, remember to not touch your face. And even when home, they replay the visit, mark me for safety, highlight any danger points. Remind me that although the risk is low, I could still catch the virus. Now shielding is stopped, I’m not completely safe. They’re exhausting.
For the first week, for the first few firsts, those high-viz little men were working overtime. Always on. Screaming and shouting and warning and scaremongering. But now, as time is passing, and this new world is becoming the new normal, they’re starting to take breaks. Now that it is becoming more natural to keep apart and don’t touch, they’re taking the odd cuppa. It is getting easier over time (it has only been FIVE weeks I remind myself! 🙂 ). And although I’m a long way from being able to walk around on autopilot again, without thinking and thinking and thinking… I’m moving in the right direction. Someday these new rules and new rituals and new ways to keep safe will be normal. Someday these new sights and new stimuli and new scenes will be our everyday. Someday this new world will just be the way it is. The alternate reality will become the reality. The parallel universe will become our life. At least until a vaccine is found! 😉
Maybe I need to attach a trailer to the back of my scooter, so I can still give children lifts! 🙂