A year of Coronavirus lockdown from unthinkable to shocking to perfectly normal

IT WAS when the pubs closed that I got the fear.

It wasn’t that I was desperate for a drink, honestly. It’s just that the rare sight of a pub closed for business of an evening has always unsettled me.

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We had no idea what was coming when Boris Johnson announced the first lockdown on March 23 last year[/caption]

There’s something apocalyptic about it, as if ­something dreadful must have happened to make it go dark like that.

Whether pubs are a big part of your life or not, they are always there, busy or empty, for good or ill, just ticking along.

And then suddenly they weren’t. All of them went dark, all at once. And it really did feel a bit apocalyptic because the ­situation was so dangerously bad.

More and more people were dying; before long the Prime Minister himself would be fighting for his life.


Almost instantly the shelves were left bare as many of us rushed to stockpile[/caption]

NOW, a year on, there is real hope.

In 1942, after a key victory in World War Two, Winston Churchill said: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

We don’t know which of these three sentences best describes where we are now in our world war, against this virus, but we do know we have turned a corner.

How good it will be to see the darkness banished from all those pubs as the lights start to come on.

Last week a six-year-old took me back to how the pandemic started.

“China ate a bat and it got them coronavirus,” he explained. “And then they went on holiday to another country and then it was taken on to other countries.” I’m not sure I could have bettered that when I was that age.

I was talking to kids at my old primary school. I’ve often wondered what I would have made of the pandemic if all this had happened 50 years ago, and I wanted to know what they made of it now.

The six- and seven-year-olds all said something about having missed their friends.

Jon Moorhead

A towering electronic ad in Shepherd’s Bush spread the new message in April[/caption]

But it was hard for them to say how their lives had changed, because many of them can only have had sketchy memories of what life was like before.

Shockingly, in terms of their schooldays, the time of Covid is pretty much all they’ve known. They all looked at me as if I was a bit mad when I suggested that face-to-face computer conversations weren’t ­possible in my day. “That would have been hard,” one lad admitted.

Some of the older kids, the 11-year-olds in Year 6, could see how it had changed them; how they appreciated smaller things more.

A lad called Harry suggested China may have created the virus for geopolitical purposes; a girl called Grace just wanted to hug her nan.

All of them agreed that having missed out on so much school, they’d never grumble about it again. Strange times indeed.

As for me, I find it really hard to remember what I felt about the world in the days before a global pandemic wasn’t on my list of things to worry about.

I’m sure it’s changed us all, whether we know it or not, in ways we are yet to realise. This will ­happen at nothing like the breakneck speed at which we’ve found we can adapt to circumstances.

It’s incredible how quickly things — like all the pubs closing — went from being quite unthinkable to very shocking and then perfectly normal.

In football, too, the unthinkable happened, twice, and then came to feel rather normal.


By April 28 we were already honouring our health heroes[/caption]

First it was stopped completely, which was a perfectly sensible decision but not one we ever thought we’d see taken unless a world war broke out or something.

Then football was brought back but — get this — ­without any fans in the grounds.

As with so many other things in this tumultuous year, you really have to stop and think hard to remember how odd a prospect this seemed.

It didn’t half look weird, and the sound of it was even weirder. The yelling of the players and coaches echoing around empty stadiums was haunting.

And their language — ­surprise, surprise — has turned out to be terrible. Commentators spent more time apologising for the swearing than commentating.

So we put sound effects of crowds on it. This is another stop-and- think moment. Imagine if you’d been lost at sea for a few months, before being saved and returned home.

You switch on the football to see no fans in grounds, but somehow they’re still making a noise.

Quite mad. Quite definitely mad. And yet now so normal that it’s football crowds which look odd.

When I see a clip of a goal from the olden days, with actual real people behind the goal, it unnerves me.


In a bizarre twist, football fans vanished from stadiums[/caption]

YOU’VE got to give the football authorities credit for keeping the game going.

And we should also thank them for their use of VAR this season, which has made so many of us so angry that for hours at a time we clean forgot to worry about the pandemic.

There have been so many ways in which contradictory ideas have both been true. For example, as a country and a world and a species, we’ve never been more together than we are now — all engaged in this war against the virus.

Yet, in the physical sense, we can’t be together at all in any ­significant numbers.

Not in football grounds, nor ­concert venues, nor pubs or clubs or trains or buses or shops or wherever. Somehow it feels like we’re standing shoulder to shoulder without touching shoulders at all.

It was like we’d suddenly forgotten about all the other paraphernalia of our lives, the luxuries we’d come to regard as essentials, and focused instead on what we really needed. The absolute basics.

Adrian Chiles

We’ve never looked out for each other so much, yet we’ve also been so selfish at times. We knew it was wrong to panic buy, but we just couldn’t help ourselves.

It took that heart-stopping video of the tearful critical care nurse Dawn Bilbrough to get us to have a word with ourselves. Having just come off a 48-hour shift she found there was nothing left in the ­supermarket.

“Those people who are stripping the shelves of the basic foods — you just need to stop it,” she sobbed. “Because it’s people like me who are going to be looking after you when you’re at your lowest. Just stop it.” Point taken.

Toilet rolls and flour vanished from supermarket shelves overnight.

It was like we’d suddenly forgotten about all the other paraphernalia of our lives, the luxuries we’d come to regard as essentials, and focused instead on what we really needed. The absolute basics.


Toilet roll and flour continued to be stockpiled despite supermarkets’ warnings[/caption]

And you don’t get more basic than flour and toilet roll.

We were almost back to being cave dwellers — although, to be fair, I don’t think cavemen and women used toilet roll. Some primal instinct had definitely been ­triggered though.

Even now, as I write about the toilet roll shortage, I start feeling an urge to visit the toilet. These things are hard-wired into to us. And what happened to all that flour? It can’t all have been baked into something.

If it was, the ­country would have turned into one giant cake.

But we had a good go at using it up. Not only did we learn to bake our daily bread, there was the soda bread, banana bread, sourdough bread and countless other buns, cakes and muffins.

The primeval, nurturing instinct deep within us all kicked in and the Great British Pandemic Bake Off began.

I predict a slump in sales of all baked goods. The sight and smell of them will for ever remind us all of this difficult time.

I’ve spent so long in a ­sitting position that I’m wondering if there are any of those medieval instruments of torture available to stretch me out again.

Adrian Chiles

Baking was a key part of the first lockdown, as were Zoom ­quizzes. I was invited to as many as three a day for the first ­fortnight. In World War Two they turned Underground stations into bomb shelters and had singsongs in black and white for the cameras.

The Zoom quizzes had a bit of that enthusiasm and innocence about them.

Now you hardly hear of them. Perhaps we all got too grumpy to bother, or possibly we just ran out of questions, they’d all been asked.

Even though I work in television, I never really watched that much of it. This has changed.

Before the lockdowns came, I’d always feel a bit guilty about giving hours on end to a boxed set.

Suddenly the boxed sets didn’t seem long enough. I did the first five seasons of Line Of Duty in two weeks.

I’ve spent so long in a ­sitting position that I’m wondering if there are any of those medieval instruments of torture available to stretch me out again.


On ‘Super Saturday’ in July pubs reopened…but many were closed again by October[/caption]

THE first lockdown was easier in the sense that at least it was all new, something a bit different.

In normal times one of the problems of staying at home was that nagging fear you were missing out on something going on elsewhere. With nothing going on elsewhere, at least that worry was taken away.

One of the reasons the ­Government gave for waiting so long to bring in the lockdown, was ­essentially that we couldn’t be relied upon to comply with such restrictions for very long.


Not for the first time they ­underestimated us.

We surprised ourselves with how rule-abiding we could be, while also proving ourselves to be as contrary as ever.

Upon being told we could only take an hour of exercise a day, many people who would never dream of doing an hour’s exercise got straight out there.

Runners who plainly hadn’t broken into a run for years were staggered around our streets, huffing and puffing, pounding the pavements generating clouds of ­possibly diseased droplets.

Taking a walk, if you weren’t mown down by a jogger suddenly felt like a treat, a privilege, which is, of course, exactly what it is.


A sign reads ‘if you’re reading this you’re a Covidiot go home’[/caption]

Our parks came into their own. This country is truly blessed with urban parks. I don’t mean the big fancy ones, I’m on about the little, rather unloved ones which most of us have just around the corner and don’t really think about.

Nowhere I’ve been to in the world has so many of these wonderful ­little places. I hope we never go back to taking our walks or parks for granted again.

And it was fascinating to see how placing a restriction on something healthy such as walking almost ­certainly led to more people doing it. If I worked in public health I’d be looking to develop this idea by turning it on its head.

I’d tell people they were only allowed to not smoke for a maximum of one hour a day. If they were seen not smoking for any longer than that then they’d be heavily fined.

Even the most enthusiastic smoker might baulk at being told they weren’t allowed not to smoke. I’m almost serious. This kind of thing could work.


The joys of dog walking at Beachy Head, Eastbourne[/caption]

And then there were all the ­puppies. Our reaction to the whole world going to the dogs was to go out and buy lots of dogs.

In Italy, where the lockdown rules were very strict, for a time you were only allowed out at all if you had a pet to exercise.

Stories emerged of the only dog in a whole apartment building having its poor little legs walked off by every ­resident using it as cover to get out.

The addition of lockdown puppies to our households had some logic to it: We were at home a lot and had got into walking.


On the other hand, at a time when we were all cooped up at home getting on each other’s nerves, what made us think it would help matters to put a small, incontinent animal into the mix?

After the Second World War there was a boom in births. This war has brought us not baby- boomers, but puppy boomers. Come 2030 our parks will be thronged with ten-year-old dogs.

As they sniff each other’s bums I imagine them whispering, “You a boomer, mate? Yes, thought so — me too.”

I confess I am a lockdown puppy person and I have no regrets. I hope no one else does either; God forbid any of the poor things are abandoned.


Many were forced to enjoy the sunshine from the comfort of their front doors, rather than at the beach[/caption]

But as/when/if normality returns and we’re at home less, doggie daycare is going to be the business to be in.

Trust me, come the end of summer they won’t be driving their hounds around in vans any more, they’ll be in stretch ­limousines.

Between the first and second lockdowns we had a short period — very short in some parts of the country — of something approaching normality.

The weather was good, the pubs and shops opened for a bit and for a time the Government organised it so taxpayers would pick up a chunk of your bill if you went out for a meal. That looks so ­surreal written down like that I wondered if I dreamt it.

But no, I’ve checked, and it ­actually happened.

And then, all too soon, we were falling at alarming speed straight back into trouble. Masks became the norm.

There are people I’ve got to know reasonably well over the past few months in the course of work and medical treatment who I’ve never seen unmasked.

­Consequently, as I didn’t know them before all this, and am unlikely to come across them after it, I’ll never know what they look like. Odd, really odd.


What teams of heroes we’ve had all around us, working with their heads and their hands to keep us all going[/caption]


AS WINTER came, another lockdown seemed unthinkable but soon became inevitable.

Christmas was protected, then less so, and in the end ­probably shouldn’t have ­happened at all. Lockdown was upon us again. The weather was terrible, as was most of the news about the virus.

Suffering was all around us. Those on the front line, especially in the NHS, were shattered and stressed beyond measure.

The rest of us slumped back in front of our televisions, did a good deal less exercise than first time around and wondered if and when it would ever end.

But thankfully a light at the end of the tunnel was now really starting to shine brightly.

Vaccines were approaching faster than anyone thought possible.

For the first time ever, we were all ­following scientific progress in real time and it was as dramatic as any work of fiction could have imagined it.

Somehow, lots of ­people who paid more attention than me in school science lessons had come with the weapons we’ll need to win this world war.


The row during Handforth Parish Council’s meeting went viral last month[/caption]

Once more, contradictory things: The pandemic has shown us the human race is more vulnerable than we thought, and we’re not half as clever as we assumed.

On the other hand, it turns out that if we all stand together, and the cleverest are allowed to work their magic, we can be pretty damn special.

Certain words will always remind us of this time. Necessary, essential and substantial spring to mind. What is really necessary? Who or what is essential?

And what is ­substantial? Well, on that one at least, we had clarity: A Scotch egg is substantial.

As for what is essential, I called an old colleague one ­morning in January who told me he’d travelled to Henley for the day.

It’s become clearer all year who or what is really essential. Doctors and nurses and everyone else ­working for the NHS are plainly essential, as are all care workers.

Adrian Chiles

I joked that I hoped whatever he was doing there was essential.

He said, “To be honest, I’m really not sure any more if anything I do is essential.” I know the feeling.

It’s become clearer all year who or what is really essential. Doctors and nurses and everyone else ­working for the NHS are plainly essential, as are all care workers. We kind of knew that anyway, though it’s good to have it confirmed.

Then there were the other obvious ones, like the emergency services and public servants of all kinds, not least the armies of administrators behind the scenes who got the lifesaving furlough ­payments paid and rolled out the vaccination programme to work like a dream.

Then there were the suppliers who worked so tirelessly to get stuff to the lorry drivers to take to the supermarkets for the shopworkers to put on the shelves for us.


People arrive for their jabs at the vaccination site at Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey[/caption]

What teams of heroes we’ve had all around us, working with their heads and their hands to keep us all going. The truth is it’s all brought out the best and worst in people.

My daughter told me she’d be ­keeping one of her masks to show her grandchildren when they asked her about The Great Covid Crisis.

I laughed, but I get it. It dawned on me that many years down the line, sooner or later each of us will be asked, by children or grand- children or whoever, what we did during this war, what contribution did we make?

So what’s your answer? Did you keep people alive, care for them or make sure there was food on their table? Did you follow the rules as best you could, or flout them because you weren’t having anyone tell you what to do?

Did you give thanks to the experts who did their best to lead us through it, or did you decide experts were fools and you knew better? Were you a Captain Tom or a doubting Thomas?

There are more than 125,000 people no longer with us, and a good many more loved ones who haven’t been able to be with those who love them most.

Adrian Chiles

Did you give thanks that we live in a society which demands and delivers a safety net like the ­furlough scheme, or did you have a part in any business when furlough was claimed but jobs were done anyway, for cash, and everyone was a winner?

And did you try to share in the loss of the million or more of us who were grieving, or merely give thanks that you and yours were doing OK, and pray for the whole ghastly business to end so you could take a nice holiday?

I hope your answer will make your grandchildren proud.

Now we must look forward, but without forgetting all that we’ve lost. There are more than 125,000 people no longer with us, and a good many more loved ones who haven’t been able to be with those who love them most.

There are the livelihoods destroyed and precious years at school and college blighted.


A nurse fills up a syringe at Battersea Arts Centre, London[/caption]

But it’s when you try to add up all the little things that you really realise the enormity of it all.

How many hugs haven’t been had? How many conversations never started?

So many jokes not told, laughs not laughed, games not played, footballs not kicked, songs not sung, hands not held, meals not shared, kisses not kissed, hands not shaken, people and places not seen, friendships not struck up, loves not blossomed.

We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

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