March 13, 2020

13th March though to 21st April 2020 (inclusive) – COVID19 is a massive bastard.

This is going to be a long post. A very long post. I would apologise, but I won’t. I had to write it … well I didn’t, but I did and it ended up being long and you don’t have to read it.

If you become remotely interested in anything that I have written here – get a cup of tea, or a pint of vodka and leave any sensitivities that you have at the door as I’ve been locked down long enough to have forgotten most of what I know about social graces.

There will be bad language, views that you might not agree with, and some humour that perhaps I only understand – you have been warned 🙂 .

I am sure that everyone will agree with me when I say that COVID-19 is a massive bastard!

It is sadly killing people world wide, depriving millions of people of contact, liberties, jobs, time with their loved ones, putting brave women and men at risk as they work the front lines in care and the medical profession and to top it all off seriously messing with the global economy.

None of us really know what the true outcome of COVID will be, the impact it will have on our society, communities and us as individuals long term.

For me my own personal journey started when I went into protective self isolation on Friday 13th March 2020 just as the COVID-19 crisis was beginning to gather some both global and national momentum worldwide and in the UK.

I was advised strongly to isolate by my management due to having an underlying health condition which could make the Coronavirus more dangerous to me than an otherwise healthy adult of my age.

This was something that I felt very guilty about as it seemed I was leaving my boss and my team “in the lurch” as I felt fine and at these early stages of our understanding the information available suggested that Corona was “just like the flu“, “most of us will get it anyway” and the government (at the time) was talking about methods such as “herd immunity” being effective.

I work for an organisation which supports the most vulnerable in our society with a lot of front line workers who to this day are still working tirelessly to support people at great risk. It’s a place and job that I am very proud of.

My department provides critical IT services to these folks – including Blue Light response, social care, health and military – so, me effectively being “benched” at home made me feel like I was shying away from the fight – being a coward for want of a better term.

However as time has passed, it is much clearer that herd immunity was just bonkers as an approach and, sadly COVID-19 is indiscriminate in terms of age and health – it kills. Full stop.

There is no exact science it appears as to who is likely to succumb – as like many illnesses there are a number of factors that can contribute to overall mortality – but the overall point is that it doesn’t matter who you are you do not want to contract it.

So being at home where I can contribute to my job whilst I control my own environment from an early stage turned into a blessing and when considering other who have roles where they cannot simply work from home I am feeling far less sorry for myself and want to contribute in the best way I can within the circumstances that I find myself in.

That being said – lockdown is a strange thing. It’s something that I support wholeheartedly and am not complaining about it – just it does present some interesting challenges that I am sure many will relate to.

So, what’s been going on then?

It is now April 21st 2020 – therefore I have been on lockdown down over a full calendar month and I wanted to begin to document some of the highs (some funny … well they were to me) and lows that I have personally experienced as well as some of my own commentary on the situation with a view to periodically serialise my continued experiences.

To give you a summarised background of my situation (it has to be a summary as, quite frankly I would bore you to death if I gave you my whole life history):

  • I live on my own (probably not a great surprise to many of you – but I do have a beautiful other half that I don’t have to pump up …. honest!)
    • I live in a flat located in a leafy suburb of West London. In my block there are around sixteen other people in twelve flats (including mine) – this becomes useful to know later on!
  • Separated from my son for his protection and difficult logistics in getting him here (good for him and his XBOX habit, bad for me).
  • I am separated from my partner as she is with her parents of Berkshire for the duration of the lock down.
  • I am lucky enough to still be working. I have a role where I am categorised as a “Critical Worker” (different from a key worker, Critical workers provide key services to key workers who are directly on the front lines).

Aside from the day to day conference calls during the working week and the occasional awkward dances on the communal balcony with my neighbours to comply with social distancing and the nightly call with my partner – like many millions of people I’ve had no real human interaction with anyone in over 30 days.

Shopping for food is both a welcome, but scary break up of the monotony every other day.

Welcome because I am outside the flat and see people (even if there is no meaningful contact), but scary because it not only represents a risk to contracting the virus but also because the behaviours of others. I have learned that people are not very good at taking instructions or following direction – but more of this rant a little later on.

Things that I have found out of my comfort zone and things that I have pondered:

I am at the mercy of the actions of others and in some cases how selfish they can be!

Whilst there is an absence of physical “people” in my life at the moment – I have found myself thinking about being at the mercy of millions of strangers in the UK who I will never meet.

For the most part people have been good about what has been the biggest and necessary restriction of civil liberties since the second world war. These restrictions I have totally supported and believe in. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t like them; but who does?

I do understand the reason for them and the maths behind them is totally solid. For folks who are not based in the UK – here’s a brief summary (as I understand them) of the rules for the UK:

  • No unnecessary travel – this includes to visit relatives, partners, friends – no matter what the circumstances are.
  • You must maintain a distance of two metres between you and any other person who is not in your immediate family. In the case that family members are symptomatic you should attempt to distance yourself as best you can and then maintain isolation guidance.
  • You are allowed one hours exercise in a place near to your home per day.
  • You are permitted to make visits to supermarkets for essential shopping.
  • You are not allowed to gather in groups of more than two people, and in such circumstances you must maintain a distance of at least two metres from one another.
  • If you can work from home, then you should and your employer has a duty to enable this for you.
  • If you cannot work from home and are not a key worker – then you should be furloughed, put on leave by your employer or in the case of redundancy be eligible for one of the governments support schemes.

The primary objective of these measures has been to protect the NHS (National Health Service) from collapsing under the pressure of a wide spread pandemic infecting most of the country. This approach has made a lot of sense as if the health service cannot cope then there is more likelihood of a much higher mortality rate within the population.

All in all the British Government has summarised the rules down into three simple rules:

There are in my experience people who have not adhered to the spirit of the COVID Bill. When you look nationally there have been reports of people flocking to beauty spots, beaches, public parks which whilst at the time of writing this has reduced there are still some people who just don think that the rules apply to them. This has boiled my piss (being frank) because the actions of these idiots do three main things:

  • Put people in danger and risk lives.
  • Increase the chances of the government having to implement even more stringent measures with harsher consequences.
  • Increases the amount of time that the entire population will remain in lockdown through the further spread of the virus.

I would put it down to perhaps people not understanding the risks or perhaps the messages that the government and health agencies have been putting out, but in truth that is just not possible.

You cannot move in the UK without the severity of actions being re-enforced to you by either the media or any other outlet where data can be consumed.

There are people who I personally know that have in lockdown made journeys to see girlfriends that live some distance away, taken multiple journeys out in excess of the permitted time that the government has stated per day and I have watched people have garden parties and move between residences where I live and get angry with others who challenge them for doing so.

I have personally experienced people get annoyed in a supermarket because you direct them politely to follow the arrows correctly they deliberately go wrong way down an isle.

The common statement that I have heard them make when challenged has been “Who are you to tell me what to do?”.

The UK in my opinion has a “democracy” attitudinal problem which is particularly prevalent in the younger “millennial” in our societies. However there is a wider cross section that just feel that the government telling them what to do violates some god given right that they have.

I don’t know if this is as a result of the proliferation of social media giving everyone a “voice” and opportunity to expose every little fault of a government or law enforcement agency to which they shy away from – or – as our civilisation has continued to develop over the centuries we have reached a point where generally a reasonable proportion of society are just arseholes.

The British Government

Prior to all of this happening I had a real problem with the system of government in the UK. I had a real problem with the Conservatives – and I also had a big problem with Boris Johnson.

Prior BREXIT was all that ruled the press in the UK – and I thought at the time that it was the worst thing to have befallen our country. I learned however, how wrong I was on all of this!

The socio-economic problems that I thought BREXIT would bring have been dwarfed by the scale of COVID-19. The world is on course for the worst recession since 2008 and the amount of deaths and suffering increases daily. It’s truly humbling and perhaps shaming to think that what ailed us four months ago seems so small with what we are dealing with today.

COVID-19 is the worst thing to hit the planet, let alone the UK since the second world war. BREXIT now seems like a holiday in Disney Land compared to this situation.

The government which I had little faith in has generally stepped up for the most part since the outbreak.

There are some serious problems with getting PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to critical first line staff (NHS doctors, nurses, social care workers). This is something that has been pretty poorly addressed and responded to and there is a real lack (in my opinion) of any clarity on how (strategically) or potentially when they may look to relax some of the measures that are in place.

Before I get shot for the last part of the sentence above – I realise that the measure are required (I think that I have said that before) – but, I don’t get the feeling that there is a plan on how measures would be reduced and every time table has been two weeks for the last six weeks which is very frustrating for everybody – particularly those who are on their own and away from loved ones.

That being said, In the early days of COVID – the scientific understanding of it was limited – in fact it still is – the only real comparable viruses which science had to base responses on was either SARS or Flu – both of which are very different to COVID as it turns out.

The government has to balance so many factors such as:

  • Not causing panic.
  • Minimising exposure.
  • Minimising deaths.
  • Not jeopardising the economy.
  • Learning from other countries.
  • Maintaining health services.
  • Building in resilience.
  • Preparing category one responders.

It is quite an impossible situation I would say and yes there are many in the populous of the UK who have an opinion on how things could have been done better – controversially I would say it’s easy to have a view from the comfort of your sofa but you will almost certainly have limited experience in fields such as risk management, medical science, economics, human psychology, behavioural science, international relations, health logistics, virology and blue light services which are key to really managing this threat at a national level.

When you really look at the numbers and I really mean LOOK at them we are doing OK in comparison to a lot of other countries in the world – and whilst you can look at the basic maths and say “well, statistically we are worse than the USA per capita on deaths” – you could also argue that we are also one of the biggest destinations for people all over the world … A hub if you like, and you can bet your bottom dollar that COVID was here way before it became a thing.

The United Kingdom for its size is a hugely dense in terms of of its population and that population is squeezed into relatively small areas in terms of its major cities when compared to the rest of the world, here, in my view lies some of the reasons why we’ve been hit by it they way we have been.

Of course there were perhaps actions that the government could have taken sooner but irrespective of what political persuasion you are – NO government would have made all the right choices but in the early days of the pandemic everybody was planning on the fly – there is nothing that could have prepared the country for this.

Just remember that there are other countries similar to that of the UK who even at this point have followed much less stringent distancing measures (Sweden anyone?) where it remains to be seen if these are such a good idea in allowing folks to share a Latte with friends when there’s a highly contagious killer virus around!

In the context of Boris Johnson – yes, he has been reprehensible in the past on so many issues – issues that for many, including me it’s impossible to forgive him for.

However I cannot overlook the fact that this country needs a leader, and one who will make tough decisions which are balanced. It was not lost on me when he, himself succumbed to the virus he chose to stay in a hospital treated by NHS staff when there were other options available to him.

For that, he has earned a little respect and certainly for the duration of this crisis I will support him and lets face it we could have Donald Trump then we would all be proper fucked.

We need to remember that Churchill during peace time  was regarded very much in the same way as Johnson prior to COVID-19 – but Churchill is a (deserved) national hero because of who he was during war time. I am not saying that Boris is Churchill – but perhaps he is the best person for us at this time as Sir Winston was back in 1940.

Working from home – and how have I coped with it?

I am really lucky. So very lucky. There are so many people as a result of the crisis who have lost, could lose or don’t know if they will lose their jobs. There are people whose businesses are under pressure and could go under despite the measures they government has taken to aid them. I am lucky because I work for an organisation where these factors are not at the moment a concern.

Furthermore, the company that I work for has done huge amounts to enable its workforce to work from home and has put in a lot of measures to communicate with and look after it’s employees whilst protecting the most vulnerable in society.

I don’t work for the NHS – but we are in the same sector and provide partnership services to them and  am proud of what my employers represent.

However, like the many people who can work from home in the UK and have been doing so – I’ve been through many ups and downs.

I think that firstly you have that experience of borderline euphoria – stuff like:

  • Not having to face the day to day commute.
  • Not having to worry about parking costs or other expenses.
  • In some cases being able to enjoy an extra hour bed in the mornings.
  • Being able to dress (within reason) how you would like.
  • Having the freedom to appropriately do those “chores” in between working that would otherwise take a back seat.
  • Having time to cook proper meals.

I think for me in the beginning there was also something around having time to reflectivity think about a challenge or a response to an email or situation that otherwise being in the office could at times provoke a more on the fly reaction or decision.

I mean, don’t get me wrong – prior to COVID-19 I had regular working from home days each week – but as time went on during this lockdown I began to become less enchanted with the situation.

Isolation is fine in small doses. Most of us deep down ultimately like to think that they are self sufficient and by and large can do without the company of other people. Especially folks like me who have spent quite a long time living on my own. However, what I found after the first week and a half that the lack of physical presence company was quite isolating and not being able to see people who I love such as my son and my other half.

I don’t want to give the impression of being totally on my own during this time as I was speaking to work colleagues, friends and my lovely other half every day digitally – but it’s not the same.

I also had (still do) regular contact with my son (not quite daily as he’s a teenager and a global pandemic is not good enough reason to make talking to me every day “cool”) but it’s nice to speak to him on Instagram (a Social Media platform had passed me by until all of this).

Not seeing those people hit me hard in the second week of lockdown I will admit led me to a difficult place. I also through the total remoteness of work began to feel that I was being ineffective doing my job.

I am proud of what I do and I love the people who I work with. It’s an awful feeling when you think that you are distant from the people that you love and, that you are becoming irrelevant in the role that you have worked hard to build. It also can be worse when you feel that professionally you are letting people down.

To cut a long story short – I got into a rut that I needed to get out of. I could feel it.

I began to be negative around those people who matter most (whilst they were dealing with their own challenges) and also bring down the people who I work with.

So I needed a cunning plan!

The plan that I came up with was a little odd. I decided to isolate myself even further by taking time away on leave – I mean what can you do with holiday when you are bound to home; what was I going to do, set up a deck chair in the bedroom?

The plan was born from a philosophy in life I have that is very unscientific – but works for me. It’s basically if you can maintain a balance between your work and personal life then you will be OK. If that balance is upset then you begin to feel emotional pressure. I tend to sum it up as:

If home is good and work is bad or if home is bad and work is good, then you have a place to seek refuge. When they are both bad then you need a plan B.

I was in a situation where I was unhappy at home because of the lockdown, and was unhappy in work because I was feeling ineffective. I needed to fix one of them to bring balance and it struck me that spending time to become comfortable with home would give me the platform to shake the feeling that I wasn’t performing in work.

Being able to break the routine of getting up, logging on, Skype / Teams meetings all day, then evenings on my own getting ready to do the same all over again meant that I was able to do some stuff around the house, get out to exercise in a beautiful park near to my home and appreciate what I had.

So from all of that, if I could offer any advice here – if you are on your own, feeling bogged down, isolated from people and work colleagues – take some time out to recharge. I hate the term – but this is a marathon and not a sprint so taking the time when you can and most importantly when you really need it is essential to your well being.

Aside from taking time out, one of the other weapons in my armoury is a rather odd, silly and at times exceptionally dark sense of humour. In times like these (great track, by an amazing band) I think that it is very important to indulge what makes you smile and share it. Doesn’t matter if no one aside from you finds it funny (unless of course you are some kind of racist deviant devil worshipper – then I’d advise that you keep that shizzo to your self).

If you see something or do something that you think is funny or made you smile embrace it – and perhaps share it. I like to share my observations via my Facebook account and I have a lot of positive feedback … well I say positive feedback … it was more my friends telling me that I need to get a life. There’s such an irony about that when you are on lockdown!

Anyhow, when I was first in isolation to cheer myself up I have made an apocalypse buddy:

Everybody needs a Wilson
Me and Wilson 2.0
Wondering who is me and who is Tom Hanks …

I also met a loyal and unlikely friend. I live on a council estate in what is generally considered a rather affluent area. I’ve always joked that compared to where I grew up – the term “council estate” is truly misunderstood in these parts. Where I grew up people set fire to cars to keep warm and my school blazer was made out of Kevlar. This, during COVID has been Quod Erat Demonstrandum where we became the first council estate that I have ever known to get its own resident pony.

Me and my lockdown buddy Mini. I’ve always wanted a pet and goldfish are for wussies ….

I am also lucky to have one of the Royal Parks very near to my home which has so much open space to walk within and explore at safe distances to others. It also has other occupants of the non human variety who also practice social distancing … or just don’t like my aftershave (even though it is clear that I don’t shave):

Oh deer ….

I would say that if you get a chance to get out safely but are not into exercise – use it to clear your head.

Observe things and let your imagination see the interesting or funny side – but most importantly appreciate the value of things that you might not always see under normal circumstances. Don’t get me wrong – I am not judging anyone, in fact if anything I am chastising myself for ignoring some of the beauty that is on my doorstep since I moved in.

I’ve also found that indulging one of my hobbies has been exceptionally cathartic. I love to cook and being at home has given me the opportunity to either perfect items that are long standing favourites or try new things. In fact I have probably never done this much home cooking in my life (nor the amount the washing up that then ensues)!

Of course the inevitable situation is occurring where the amount I am eating is seriously at odds with amount of exercise that I am not getting.

There are also things that I have discovered about myself in lockdown:

  1. That with determination I can fit my hands into a pair of small surgical gloves almost without incident.
  2. That I can get disproportionately angry at someone not following directional lines on the floor in a supermarket.
  3. I can rather worryingly make myself laugh at my own jokes.
  4. I can be talked into buying jars and shit from Ikea by my other half because it makes her happy and I love her – even though they are in my cupboards.
  5. That I can come up with, and run an effect food rotation system in my fridge categorised by “best before” dates and use Google Home to remind me every day what to cook (I know sad).
  6. That I do not look cool at 42 having not had a hair cut in over a month.
  7. I will talk to a ball with a face drawn on it.
  8. That I really do appreciate little things in life and have the capacity to appreciate them as they arise.
  9. I can grown to love shopping online more than in actual shops and that I am not afraid to spend an hour finding a 5% discount code!
  10. That I will not allow this situation to make me feel sorry for myself any more.

Anyhow, I have been rambling for ages in this post now – and some of you probably need the loo or go and gouge your eyes out or print this post off and symbolically burn it. So I will call it a day there.

I will be posting further observations as I continue my own personal journey which I may (ok, let’s face it – will) share.

I hope that you are all safe out there. Keep the faith homies and we will see each other on the other side.

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