Saskia Murphy jogs
down the middle of
the road to a new future

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We’re at a certain stage in the lockdown. Italian author Francesca Melandri warned us it would happen in her widely shared article A Letter to the UK from Italy, where she wrote about her own experiences of living in the new world that dawned on Italian shores just a few weeks before our own.

Melandri told us about the looming period of reflection, of looking inwards, and the things we’d all do and feel as this weird state of living became the new normal. Clare Speak also wrote of her experiences of reporting on the crisis while in lockdown in Bari, in Big Issue North last month.

As we enter our fifth week of quarantine, those of us who spend too much time on social media have become connected by the rhythm of life indoors. Cooking and food preparation has become a ritual. Almost everyone I know is drinking more. Most people can’t bear to look at the news.

We’re talking about the things we’ll do when the restrictions are lifted. We’ll sit around tables with friends. We’ll go for a pub lunch. We’ll never say no to an invitation again.

The things we miss transcend the material world. We miss the normal days that seem extraordinary now: the spontaneous nights out, the days when we woke up and drove somewhere new, the times we stood close together and it meant nothing.

But despite our longing for human contact, a recent study by the RSA think-tank found only 9 per cent of people want a total return to normal after the lockdown. More than half of people said they’d noticed cleaner air, 27 per cent said they’d seen more wildlife, and 40 per cent said they felt a stronger sense of community during the crisis.

Separate research by environmental charity Hubbub found the lockdown has had a positive impact on food waste, with more people cooking from scratch, ignoring “best before” dates and using up leftovers.

In Milan officials announced ambitious plans to turn 35km of streets over to cyclists and pedestrians in a bid to fend off a resurgence in car use as residents return to work.

Underneath the cloud of chaos and devastation, change is happening. The slower pace of life means we’re valuing our time. We have time. Friends tell me they’re enjoying not spending hours in traffic every day; they’re enjoying not sitting on the bus.

Neighbours who have lived side by side for years are speaking to each other for the first time. They’re leaving each other gifts and little notes offering help.

It makes you wonder to what extent things will go back to how they were. Packed-out trains charging fortunes to ferry workers to germ-ridden offices already feels like a thing of the past. Employers are going to have a tough time convincing staff to spend upwards of 10 hours a week travelling to work when they know they can do their jobs perfectly well from home.

We’re living in strange times, and there are days when it can feel quite daunting. But there are things we can do now that we couldn’t before, like jogging in the middle of the road, or running a bath before midday. Or just going outside and listening to the noises that are usually drowned out.

We’re yet to see what the lasting impact of the lockdown will be. Maybe we’ll realise we don’t need new things all the time, maybe priorities will shift. Maybe some things won’t go back to how they were before. And maybe that shouldn’t be such a scary thought.

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