Given some of the reading of dystopian fiction I’ve done over the years and some of the television I’ve watched, lockdown or quarantine has surprised me. We were ready for the apocalypse. And when I say ready, I mean that my tendency to over-buy, ‘just in case’ meant that we could have existed on a diet of Weetabix and shampoo for quite a while yet. As avid viewers of The Walking Dead over the years, we were also confident about how to stave off zombies or even rival gangs led by over zealous culty types.
So it came as a surprise when none of these skills were needed. There was disappointment too that my son’s baseball bat would not be customised and pressed into some Negan style action. Instead, it became an exercise in ridding myself of guilt at being unable to work and then staving off boredom. We figured out new ways to look at things and also worked out how to get through what was a pretty challenging situation. As a result, I feel like I’ve learnt a lot – about other people and about myself. So here we go; 101 things I’ve learnt during lockdown (give or take quite a few things for the sake of a title).
I love a bit of quiet. I work as a teacher and thus, working amongst 900 children as well as my sometimes over excitable department can sometimes be a bit noisy. At last count I worked in a department of 436 women – or it might have been 10 – and when they laugh, screech or encounter anything drag queen or dog related, it can get loud. I tend to stick to my classroom. I’ll look forward to finding myself right in the middle of it again sometime soon though. I miss those gals! Lockdown, with its lack of people, has meant lots of being out in my garden, pottering with nothing but birdsong for company. We live about a mile away from a busy motorway, but for a few months it couldn’t be heard. The quiet has allowed me to think, to contemplate, and to create, although that last bit has mainly been in the form of mindless poetry, so maybe there is a cloud to this silver lining! Whatever has gone on elsewhere, I’ve enjoyed the silence.
It’s actually not that difficult to lose track of the days. I haven’t worked for months. Not in the actual work environment anyway. As a result, my routine has been knocked sideways and as much as I’ve tutted at people in the past for claiming to not know what day it was, I’ve found that at times I’ve really had to think hard just to work out if it’s a Tuesday or a Sunday. It’s usually been a Wednesday though.
The four of us can actually live together in some kind of harmony. I imagined that we’d kill each other. Or that I might just snap and leave the house, Forrest Gump style and run for a couple of years until I reached Alaska or somewhere. None of this happened. None of it ever looked likely either. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve not been like The Waltons (Google them, younger people) but we’ve been quite the harmonious group. I’ve adjusted to home school-related tantrums, the bouncing and shouting that go hand in hand with Roblox, the daily updates on celebrities that I’ve never heard of and their latest moment of Instagram related glory (you’re cheering on people having their photo taken, young people) and even my daughter’s ever more angry explanations of why her phone is vital for school work. We’ve all adjusted. We’ve all coped. There have been afternoons of board games, TV marathons, family walks, baking, Wii Sing, learning of languages…all sorts to fill the time. And we’ve survived.
I can live without football. Younger me would be appalled. But when football closed own at all levels, I coped. I’ve been around the game all my life – playing, coaching, supporting – and I adore it. But despite my horror at it being taken away, I didn’t find it difficult at all. I missed watching my team, Newcastle United. I missed coaching my Under 12 team. But within a few weeks, its absence was normal. I sought solace in exercise; working out, walking, and running and so the element of competition about me was sated quite easily. It’s helped that as a Newcastle fan, I’m used to information coming out of the club being a rarity. The fans don’t matter at NUFC and so we were fully used to hearing nothing. Even when on the verge of a takeover that would make us the richest club in world football, nobody bothered to speak. And after a while even that became normal. I just occupied my time with other things; something I would have never thought possible. Football? I’ve hardly given it a thought.
I love being able to watch football every day! And then they brought it back and I was hooked again! Since Project Restart began there has been football on our screens every day. I haven’t watched all of it. But I’ve managed to sneak a look at some of it probably most days. The empty stadia haven’t mattered. I’ve even turned off the fake crowd noise in favour of the shouting of 40 or 50 people in the stadium and the occasional hilarious bit of swearing. Grassroots football has also resumed and so my Under 12 team has trained once again, albeit under very different, very strict guidelines linked to Coronavirus. No matter – it’s been amazing to be out on the grass again. Football? Inject it straight into my veins!
Driving your car is now an acceptable eye testIf you’re not from the UK or you’ve spent lockdown hiding under a rock, the name Dominic Cummings won’t mean anything to you. Quick explanation – he’s the chief adviser and political strategist to our government. Anyway, during lockdown he seems to have decided to visit his parents 264 miles away while the rest of us were confined to our homes. When he got found out he concocted a story about his wife showing signs of Covid19, which subsequently meant that he had to drive 200 miles to ensure childcare in case she was really poorly. Because, of course, he knew no one with any influence who could have sorted him out an emergency babysitter. He definitely didn’t just think he was above the law and fancied a visit to see mummy and daddy on their country estate. No way. Not a chance. Part of his crazy story involved the fact that he then developed a problem with his eyes – some guys have all the bad luck, eh? – and so in order to test his eyesight out, he chose to drive some thirty miles with his now not ill wife and not destitute child in the car. Thus, in the UK, we all learned that if you have a problem with your eyesight then the government’s chief political adviser says, “Go for a drive!”
Barnard Castle is the new Lourdes.Cummings from number 6 again.Barnard Castle was where he drove to and miraculously cured his poorly eyes. He cured his eyes by spending the entire day there. And did I mention it was his wife’s birthday on that day? So, I suppose it was a fitting present from a loving husband to take his wife somewhere where they could cure her of a virus that was killing thousands of people across the globe. So really, he’s just a regular guy who turned hero in the midst of a global pandemic. Definitely not a privileged dickhead he thought he was a great deal better than the rest of us. So, if you’re ill and don’t fancy all the crowds that would typify a trip to Lourdes, head to Barnard Castle in County Durham. Tell them Dominic Cummings sent you. And if anyone asks, he did nothing wrong.
A surprising amount of people can’t follow a one-way system or read a No Entry sign Despite having to self isolate for health reasons I’ve had to go to the supermarket on a few occasions during lockdown. Sometimes, with my wife’s work commitments, there’s been no one else. It’s been quite harrowing. I’ve had to stand in queues like something out of the Cold War and then when you get into the shop there has been an even colder atmosphere. People don’t look at you. Some practically crawl around the place forgetting that there will be areas where a 2 metre social distance just isn’t possible. And sadly, there are far too many absolute tools that refuse to follow the rules. That’s them, tootling up and down the aisles like they own the place, refusing to follow a simple one-way system or take any notice whatsoever of a massive No Entry sign plastered all over the floor in red. Arrow blindness! My local supermarket had ends of aisles railed off, big green arrows on the floor, and actual No Entry signs in red and white and yet some people still managed to get lost and conveniently wander down every aisle the wrong way. The irony a lot of the time is that they’re the ones wearing the masks! They might as well wear it over their eyes!
I like my neighbours I’ve never been one for cozy chats across the fence. In fact, I’d probably have gladly put up a bigger fence in the past. However, throughout lockdown, my elderly neighbour has found a way to appear noiselessly while I’ve been pottering and then just started chatting whether I’m looking or not. One day, he crept up so stealthily and started talking so loudly that I actually threw what I was holding in the air, such was my shock. He just carried on chatting like nothing had happened. Despite this, I’ve found myself warming to him and I have to say, it’s nice to have good neighbours. Apparently, everybody needs them.
I’ve glimpsed retirement…and I love it! No rules, no routine, no commute, exercise when I feel like it, no suit and tie…I’m more than ready for that pension!
Me and IT don’t get along My work laptop won’t attach to the internet. It won’t let me look at documents from work. Its USB ports are all broken. It is essentially a fancy typewriter. My home laptop picks and chooses which internet sites it will find – you’d be amazed at the number of times that Google is unavailable. It also won’t open Word documents. Or PowerPoints. Or Excel. And it runs as if it’s on dial-up. All of this has made working from home incredibly stressful. Even thinking about it makes my blood boil. Anyway, how either laptop still exists is beyond me. My relationship with IT has seen me develop new and wonderful swear words, but I am yet to attempt laptop surgery with a hammer. I must have mellowed considerably.
When someone knocks at your door in Lockdown it is utterly terrifying. It’s bad enough at the best of times when it might be someone trying to sell you something. However, during a global pandemic, when no one should be out and about and a knock at the door could just be a cunning zombie trying to lure you out with politeness, it’s heart stopping.
Whatever the cause, people banging pots and pans with spoons is actually not all that necessary. Here in the UK the public took to their doorsteps every Thursday night for weeks in order to applaud and show solidarity with our NHS workers, who were putting their lives at risk every day. It was nice; a chance to show some appreciation for our often unsung heroes, while also feeling part of your local community. And then it turned into a competition. People turned out in fancy dress, there were fireworks, air horns…and of course pots and pans. Now I don’t want to be a killjoy here, but I’ll say it anyway. The air being filled with the sound of pots and pans is not nice. It’s not a fitting tribute, either. If, when I die, people turn up at my funeral banging pots and pans together, I will find a way to haunt them. I’d like to think that doctors and nurses thought it wasn’t necessary. I’d like to think they were all just thinking that it was nothing short of a racket!
The town where I live has some real surprises. In Lockdown our government sanctioned an hour of daily exercise for families. So out we went, every day or night, often walking for 3 miles. It meant that we explored our town quite a lot. Without doubt, the best thing that we discovered was that in one of the more well-to-do households, where they have a very big back garden, they’ve got an entire railway track running around it. We’ve got a washing line, two sheds, a very annoying trampoline and a small football goal. Flash Harry up the road has got Thomas the Tank Engine and friends!
The empty roads are an open invitation for dickheads to drive badly. Some people – mainly young men – mistook exercise for going out in their car. Some people – mainly young men – mistook a deserted road for a race track. Some people – mainly young men – are dickheads.
So there you have it. I learned a lot during Lockdown. I think we probably all witnessed human behaviour at both its best and its worst. Or at least its most selfish. But where there are negatives, you’ll most likely find positives. And it’s always good to learn from your experiences.
Did you learn anything from Lockdown? Let me know what you learned and what you thought in the comments.
It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a remarkable year so far. Sure, its story can be summed up neatly with just two chapter headings – COVID-19 and Lockdown – but really that’s what has made it so remarkable.
Courtesy of a global pandemic lots of us have been given a time to reflect and learn. To slow down. I’ve written about the positive side of lockdown before and, as such acknowledged the tragedy of the losses suffered around the globe. While we’ve been locked down, people have fallen victim to a silent killer, while others have put their own lives on the line in order to help. We’ve been living through life-changing times, that’s for sure.
For me, despite finding the threat of the virus quite terrifying and finding the isolation from work both heart-breaking and mind numbingly dull, lockdown has been a positive process. The fear I’ve felt has made me spend more time in touch with my family – I have rung my elderly parents every few days, a great improvement on my usual shameful record of keeping in touch. I’ve been in regular touch with my sister and I’ve been forced to spend more quality time with my immediate family and in turn thoroughly enjoyed it. Furthermore, I’ve written more, connected with friends, relaxed more and frankly, transformed my garden!
By far my favourite pastime in lockdown has been exercising. From the off I’d decided that if there was a likelihood of contracting the virus, I was going to be as fit and strong as possible in order to fight it. A combination of asthma and a heart problem left me vulnerable to COVID and having spent time in hospital in the recent past frightened that this was it, I wasn’t going to go and die from what some were describing as the flu! So I began to exercise.
I’ve learnt a lot about myself over these lockdown months. Exercise has changed me. Don’t get me wrong, I was fit enough to begin with, especially for a man of my vintage, but now, I’m very much Middleagefanclub 2.0!
Here are ten things I’ve learnt about myself via lockdown exercise.
I have abs, I want better abs and I finally understand the fuss about abs! That’s a lot of abs! I can’t help feeling enthusiastic about this though. I’ve spent my whole life learning to be comfortable with my slim build; perilously thin arms and pipe cleaner legs, not to mention my pot belly, developed over the last few years of my forties. And when my wife unearthed a picture of me in my twenties, emerging from a loch in Scotland a la a skinny, lanky Daniel Craig in just swimming shorts but sporting an actual six pack I realised that I’d been taking little or no care of my body for years. Now though, via a daily exercise workout with Joe Wicks on Youtube (70+ workouts and counting) and daily walks (sometimes more than one) I’ve found that, at the grand old age of 48, my body has changed. As well as the abs, I have muscles in my legs (visible ones), pecs (that’s a chest to the uninitiated) and discernable biceps! In short, I’ve learnt that with dedication and hard work my body is far, far stronger than ever before! Don’t get me wrong, I’m still slim, but I’m no longer a stick insect with a belly!
I can exercise through the pain.I’ve always been injury prone. I think being tall and thin has made me fairly fragile, although I’ve never actually broken a bone, and so I’ve always picked up niggling muscle injuries quite easily. I’ve had a couple of serious ligament injuries to my knee and ankle along the way and they say that your body is never quite the same after that type of thing. So it was almost inevitable that when I began to exercise seriously, that something had to give. Needless to say that after a few weeks there was a ‘pop’ in my groin, followed by a bit of a tear in my thigh a week later and then about 5 weeks in my back went. However, I’ve never enjoyed exercising as much as I have during lockdown and so, I was determined to carry on. I was doing the #PEWithJoe workouts as provided every morning of lockdown by Joe Wicks and as such was just determined to carry on, such was my enthusiasm for being there and doing every workout, every morning. It’s meant applying a great deal of Voltarol to my back and mainlining Ibuprofen (other ailment treatments are available) but I’ve managed to just keep going. I’ve even found that whatever pain I’m in when I wake up, once I’m exercising and properly stretched it eases. I might not seem much, but after a lifetime of feeling like I should rest up because of injury, I’m now completely attuned to simply working through the pain.
I have little shame and a lot less ago. For far too long in my life I’ve been too cool for school. When others have dived in and enjoyed themselves immensely, I’ve backed off for fear of losing face. Well, not any more…at least where exercise is concerned anyway. There’s still no chance of me doing dressing up, regardless of the charity or acting in any staff plays – work colleagues, Laura, Gemma, Emmas, et al take note! However, while exercising in lockdown I have found myself doing all sorts of ridiculous things in the name of fitness. I’ve walked like a duck to exercise my quads, done bunny hops, Pikachus and Joeys for cardio and frog jumps and bear crawls just because someone has told me it’ll do me good! And when Joe Wicks has told me to put my hands up like I’ve got bunny ears or to imagine I’m a kangaroo holding a joey in my pouch, I’ve done it and not worried a jot about who might be able to see. My neighbours and postman may well have seen a very different side to me at some point and I have to say that I don’t care!
I still don’t like fancy dress. A man has limits! Friday is Fancy Dress day in my new exercise world and while thousands across the world have joined in, I haven’t budged. While Joe Wicks jumps around dressed as a panda or Spiderman, I’m keeping up my own good work in shorts and a t-shirt. I’m happy to run around the town I live with a face resembling a damp plum tomato, but there’s no chance that I’ll be dressing up like one. I even considered an alice band when my hair was particularly long, knowing full well that any number of friends could walk or drive past, but it’s a long stretch from that to running 5km dressed like a superhero! However evangelical I might get about exercise, there’s a very slim chance that I’ll ever resort to fancy dress. Fitness is important, but dignity more so!
There’s no shame in running downhill! I’ve lived in my present home for over 20 years now and tried to go out running at times times during many of those years. However, where we live is quite hilly. Indeed at the end of my street there’s a main road up a big hill. For years I told myself that I always had to start my runs by heading up the hill. And for years I wondered why my first kilometre of those runs was invariably slow! I’d dread running up the hill, knowing that by the time I reached the top my legs would be like jelly and I’d only really be starting my run. That’s all changed during lockdown. I’ve taken to doing a workout and then heading out for a run a couple of times a week. But I decided to be fair to myself. Thus, on my first run, I ignored heading upwards and ran a little way down the hill, through a local park until I reached a nice flat stretch. It meant that by the time I’d reached my first climb I’d already ran a kilometre and was completely into my rhythm and feeling good. Lo and behold, it’s really helped! I’ve found that I’m steadily building up my distance and retaining some speed, while getting ever fitter and really enjoying my running. There really is no shame in running down the hill – even if it is for a few hundred yards. I only wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and learnt this twenty years ago!
I really like order.In order to give a sense of variation to his workouts, Mr. Wicks has introduced a few gimmicks. The intention here is to add an element of chance or jeopardy if you like, to the workouts. Personally, I have all the jeopardy I need with the fact that my back might just ‘ping’ at any moment, but given that over 100,000 households are listening most days, I’m guessing any complaint would fall on deaf ears! So, rather than letting us know exactly what we’re going to be subjected to, he’s added in a sense of the unknown. The unknown has so far come in the form of a spinning wheel that contains the name of lots of exercises that we could do, two giant dice and also some over-sized playing cards that are used in a game of higher or lower. If I’m honest, I don’t mind the cards at all, simply because there’s always a visible list of the exercise options, so I sort of know what’s coming. There’s order. I despise the wheel. Hate it with a passion. It never seems to roll true and is forever landing on the same exercise, meaning that whatever part of my body is taking the strain will be a quivering wreck by the time the wheel has spun and landed on the same thing three times in succession. Without a doubt, I’m far, far happier when Joe just tells me what’s coming next!
Daily family walks will inevitably be punctuated by arguments. On all but about five days since the start of lockdown, we’ve been out for a walk around our local area, as a family. We’ve walked for miles and miles, which to us adults seems like a thing of wonder. However, to our children, it’s the dullest thing ever. It’s guaranteed to sour at least one of their moods and, given that my children are very much of the opinion that we all need to hear what they’re feeling at any given time, their disapproval will be voiced. Cue arguments! I’ve often said that we provide a traveling soap opera for anyone within hearing distance when we’re out and about, but I daresay there are people in houses around where we live who have counted down the minutes until we pass again in the early evening. It seems to be a tailor-made opportunity for my children to have a good moan or offer an unwanted opinion. Me? I tend to just walk at the back, lips firmly shut, but even then there have been times when I can’t help but join in. Who knew a walk could be so eventful?
I still prefer to exercise without a soundtrack. While I’ve experimented with running with my iPod on, I’ve never really found it adds anything to the way I feel. More than anything, I worry about not hearing traffic and crossing a road where I then get knocked over! While I’m out running I like my wits about me and I find I can concentrate and focus a great deal better without music in my ears. I wouldn’t say that there’s any kind of zen thing going on, but I find the silence helps me to think. And while I’m thinking – maybe weighing up a decision that’s got to be made – I’m not feeling the heaviness in my legs or the tightness in my chest. My thoughts don’t wander, so there’s no danger of worrying about anything asthma-related and more to the point, I’m no longer prone to the little voice in my head telling me I’ve gone far enough and should stop! I think even with music on I’d be telling myself just to get to the end of a particular song and then turn round and walk home! I’m definitely mentally stronger when it’s just me and the outdoors. I’ve found the same with working out. While using YouTube to exercise there are mornings where the instructor plays music and I’m never at my best when it’s being played. Just tell me what to do, let me watch the clock and I’ll be fine!
I’ll get stuck in, whatever the weather. Just this morning, post-workout, I was out for the walk that serves as a warm down. It was fairly cold and the drizzle was relentless. But we were still out and about. And this has been the case throughout lockdown. While in the past I might not have gone out for a run because it was blowing a gale or raining, nowadays I don’t give it a second thought. Similarly, when it’s been very hot, I’ve made the effort to get out and run. It’s definitely the right approach and it’s definitely making me fitter, stronger, and healthier.
I’m a terrible judge of people.I owe Joe Wicks an apology. For years he’s just been a bloke with silly hair and I mildly amusing voice. Then, when I joined in with his workouts I initially found myself judging him a bit more. Now, 15 weeks or so in, I’ve come to realise that he’s alright. He seems to have similar sense of humour to me – he’s a big fan of Alan Partridge – and like me he’s devoted to his family. I still can’t live his lack of taste in music, but I’ve learnt a valuable lesson. Just because you’re regularly clad in lycra, are unashamed about showing off your sculpted body and are vocal about your love of exercise and healthy eating, it doesn’t make you a bad person. Sorry Joe. And apologies to every runner or gym goer I’ve ever sneered at around where we live.
So there we go. Not only have I got fitter, but I’ve learnt a few things about myself. I’d love to know how others have filled their time during lockdown or maybe even what you feel you’ve learnt about yourself. Let me know in the comments.