I don’t think anyone but a miserable sociopath will get nostalgic about the last 14 months of lockdowns, but it’s probable that in the post-pandemic world that hopefully now beckons we will be talking about it forevermore.
People say Covid-19 is this generation’s parallel experience to the Second World War, summoning up that backs-to-the-wall spirit of the Blitz, which may contain a grain of truth. My mum’s numerous wartime memories were always prefaced by “I remember when…”, which became a cue for us kids to tactfully disappear. Her stories were often about the blackout and left the impression that her mining village in Co Durham was mostly inhabited by excessively officious ARP wardens like Hodges in Dad’s Army. Lighting up a cigarette while waiting for a bus, she said, had apparently created a beacon that was visible to a squadron of Luftwaffe bombers.
My pandemic stories will include overly zealous Hodges-like police officers as well as assorted busybodies. It still rankles when I recall a North Yorkshire bobby demanding to know where I lived when I was out walking in Wharfedale. He thought the area was off limits to me – a resident of West Yorkshire – until I read him the latest interpretation of the lockdown rules from the National Police Chiefs Council. I heard of another walker who returned to his car and found a note on the windscreen informing him he would be reported for contravening travel restrictions. Like East Germany’s notorious Stasi the police had checked his registration number – for taking a walk in the countryside.
On one of last spring’s beautiful days, I was tramping through a village when a head popped up from behind a garden wall and a middle-aged man told me in a distinctly unfriendly manner that I wasn’t a resident and so had no right to be there.
Supermarkets will feature in my Covid conversations because throughout the full-blown, lives-on-hold, mega-lockdowns there was frankly nowhere else to go to feel part of the human race.The supermarket became pub, café, restaurant, nightclub, department store, corner shop, library and workplace all under one roof, with those long two-metre-distanced queues a small price to pay for an hour of social interaction and the off-chance of bumping into a friend.
This led to some comical conversations along the lines of “I wonder what to wear to Aldi today”, or “if we’re shopping at Waitrose I’ll need to iron a shirt”, or “I’m buying veggie stuff at Sainsbury’s in Otley so I’d better go full vegan and not wear leather shoes”.
Frankly, I’m fed up with elbow bumps, aka the “Wuhan shake”, when meeting people, having dismissed the foot-shake as too ridiculous and been too scared to even contemplate the fist-pumping that’s seemingly favoured by football managers. I know that our hands are big infection carriers, each one apparently hosting around 150 difference species of bacteria, so it’s going to take a while to get back to making hand contact.
The Hindi greeting “namaste”, said while pressing palms together with a slight bow, has its adherents among friends, always delivered with a self-conscious smile. But at least hugs are legal again, according to the prime minister. That’s a sentence I never expected to write.
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe
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