As 2020 fades into the distance in the rearview mirror, there cannot be many people around the world who will look back on it with any great affection. Good riddance. Still, it seems inevitable that 2020 will live long in our memories. More than any other year in our lifetimes, it was a year that changed the world in ways that few could have foreseen.
Even twelve months ago, as countries around the world began to enter lockdown, and as the first cases of COVID-19 were starting to appear in the UK, life carried on mostly as normal: we went to the pub, had dinner out with friends, went to the cinema, jogged around a parkrun on a Saturday morning, hopped on the bus into town… all those things were a part of normal, everyday life.
"Do you remember when people used to go into the office every day? Do you remember sitting in rooms with other people? Do you remember wearing socks?"
Not any more.
How quickly the world changed. Perhaps it has changed forever.
Do you remember when people used to go into the office every day? Do you remember sitting in rooms with other people? Do you remember wearing socks?
Now, barely a year since we first went into lockdown, it has even become strange and unsettling to watch people from different households sitting together in a coffee shop on an old episode of Friends. What’s wrong with these people? Haven’t they heard of social distancing? This ‘new normal’ is now so deeply ingrained that it’s become hard to remember a time when you could safely shake hands with a stranger or hug a friend. The habits of a lifetime have been fundamentally re-written over the last twelve months. Even with declining infection rates and the rapid roll-out of the vaccines, will we ever go back to the way things were before?
Clearly, there’s very little positive that comes from a global pandemic, but there have nevertheless been some upsides to this sudden, enforced change of pace. Do you remember the empty roads and clear skies of the first lockdown? The rainbows that appeared in people’s windows to salute the key workers? Captain Tom? Perhaps there’s also now a new-found appreciation for some of the simpler things in life: a takeaway coffee, the freedom to pop outside for a run as Spring bursts into life, bumping into an old friend whilst out for a walk and having a quick, socially-distanced conversation with someone not in your own household for the first time in months….
One of my personal favourite upsides to the lockdown has been to read books aloud to my nephew and niece via YouTube. We started with The Princess Bride, but we quickly worked our way through Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book and Stardust and are now enjoying Redwall by Brian Jacques together. I was a bookworm as a child and I love reading some of my favourite stories out loud for them and I get a real kick that they enjoy them too. We have been forced to be more imaginative in how we stay in touch with the people we love when we cannot see them in the flesh. Who knew that I would enjoy zoom catch-ups with my mother-in-law?
This is also a time to count our blessings: at a time when so many people are struggling, I’m more aware than ever of how lucky I am to live in a nice, warm house with a home-based job that has been largely unaffected by the crisis that continues to lay waste to so many other industries. I’ve got stable internet access, a dedicated office and the time and the space to concentrate. Many others have not been so fortunate. I’m not a key worker by any stretch of the definition, but I’m proud that Housing Online has been able to play a small role in helping our Housing Association customers to continue to provide their critical services to some of their most vulnerable clients. As Linda McLaren from Ochil View HA told us, ‘My Home is of immense benefit to staff. It’s positive for tenants but a godsend to staff, especially during lockdown. It really is the best thing ever and will continue to be the best thing ever even after we’re back in the office”
Now that we have a vaccine, are things going to return to normal in 2021? Will we return to our old lives, or has the world now changed forever? It seems likely that we are going to have to learn to live with COVID-19 and that booster vaccinations will be a regular part of everybody’s lives for the foreseeable future. Wearing a mask on the bus may just have to be part of our new normal. Whatever life throws at us, we’ll cope. If we have learned anything at all over the last year, then we’ve learned that we are much more resilient and adaptable than we ever realised.
Photo by Tim Sorrell