This is not a book review site, but I recently had the privilege of reading Jenny Bathurst’s Lockdown Observed: becoming an adult without leaving the house, which is a weekly account of her lockdown experience from 18 March 2020 to 3 April 2021.
It’s not going to set the world on fire and I’m not telling you to rush out and buy it (although you can), I’m simply going to recount how enjoyable I found it.
Jenny, an 18-year-old student who lives and attends school in Sussex, was asked by a newspaper editor to write a piece, from her perspective, for a local on-line paper. That one-off piece became a weekly column that Jenny unfailingly submitted throughout the turmoil of the next 55 weeks. The result was a nostalgic walk down Lockdown Lane from a refreshingly different, and well elucidated, point-of-view.
While my wife and I “endured” lockdown by going for daily walks and sitting snugly in our flat, enjoying a myriad of hobbies, content in the knowledge that we had no jobs to lose and no significant life-events to put on hold, Jenny began the ordeal with the unwelcome news that all the hard work she had done, and sacrifices she had made, over the past year were suddenly relegated to the “Waste of Time” basket as her A Levels were unceremoniously cancelled. Now, I don’t claim to understand what an A Level is, or how it feels to have one cancelled, but I can, from Jenny’s tale of anguish, comprehend that it was a pretty big deal. And by stretching my memory back, I could recall that, in addition to being shell-shocked by the cancellation of her A Level, she was about to be hit with another Governmental salvo: the Algorithm.
That was the best part of reading Jenny’s book, the ability to look ahead at what was to come, and inwardly smile when she reconciles the latest calamity, and think, “You ain’t seen nothing yet, sweetheart.”
The opening essays brought to mind those heady days of the first lockdown, when life was surreal, scary and just a bit exciting. When we could walk out in the summer-like weather of April 2020 (during our designated one-hour-a-day exercise time) to marvel at empty streets, deserted shops and expansive parks without a soul (except that group of teenagers obviously breaking Lockdown Regulations, tsk, tsk) in them. Those were the days when we could imagine ourselves embracing the Blitz Spirit, and pulling together for the common good, before our naïve notions that we were “All in This Together” were trashed, stuffed into bin bags, and fly-tipped along the country lane leading to Barnard Castle.
Her optimism during the summer of 2020 echoed my own, but I knew her thoughts about it being smooth sailing from there on were—as were my own at the time—doomed to be dashed on the rocky shores of reality. And then followed Lockdown 3, or 2.5, or 4, however you count them, and the long, dreary winter of 2021. Like me, and many others whose blogs I read or with whom I exchange e-mails, it was the antithesis of Lockdown Classic, and her account was something I could empathize with.
The series of essays ends in early April 2021, on an optimistic note, which was appropriate. We had a number of vaccines. People were getting The Jab at an astounding rate and in an orderly roll-out that was so unlike our shambolic government that it was like someone else was doing it for them. Which they were: the army was responsible for the logistics and movement of all that ordinance to all those locations, and battalions of nurses, health-care workers and volunteers stepped forward to deliver the shots, putting the vaccine in the arms of a record number of people in record time, all so Matt Handcock could stand up and—without a hint of irony—tell everyone how he was saving lives.
I wonder how Jenny would have recorded her thoughts if she had continued her column into the summer of 2021, where—despite 80% of the adult population having at least some protection from the virus, and 60% of adults fully vaccinated—the UK has more COVID restrictions in place than they did during the summer of 2020, when there was no vaccine, and are currently galloping into their third wave. When you think about it, that is an astounding accomplishment.
The goodwill the Government had garnered has long ago disappeared in the fog of questionable decisions they have made: 60,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, 10,000 officials and support staff in Cornwall, 120,000 spectators at Silverstone race track, but no one allowed to sing or dance at a wedding, even if it’s held outside, no foreign travel without quarantining, even if you are fully vaccinated and test negative for COVID, and my favorite, choirs not allowed to sing together, unless they are professional choirs because, as we all know, professional singers are immune to COVID, to name but a few.
Queries about these absurdities go unanswered, as if the decisions and conduct of Government ministers are above question. And, I suppose they are: there seems to be nothing they can do which they can’t explain away with double-talk or simply ignore…
Addendum: The above photo broke into the new while I was preparing this post, and I had to change the ending to accommodate it because, well, I had to (I mean, Matt Handcock ignoring COVID rules and groping a co-worker, whom he had recruited and promoted–so, no conflict of interest, then–on our time and our dime, how could I not?
Currently, seven hours later, Boris Johnson, Part Time Prime Minister and Serial Adulterer, has issued this statement: “No rules broken. He’s done nothing wrong. Nothing to see here. The matter is closed.”