I hated the first lockdown. In fact I hated 2020 from March onwards. Oh sure, there were some good times. I reconnected online with old mates I haven’t seen in ages. A gang of friends and I arranged to meet up virtually every Friday night to watch a terrible movie together (and from about July started dressing up for it). There were quizzes and dances and online immersive theatre. I am blessed with knowing some great and imaginative people.
I live alone – something I have previously always treasured. But for over three months – from March to June – I didn’t touch anyone. I’m a really tactile person and I had no idea how incredibly hard that would be. When the government introduced support bubbles and I went to my sister’s house, I hugged my niece and I cried and cried.
I realised I valued my empty home (well except for the cat) as a respite from my busy whirl of a social life. Last year, I was out three, four, five nights a week. I went to the theatre – a lot. I went to the pub, to restaurants, to parties, to meetings, to conferences, to the cinema, to concerts, to talks, to galleries. All that was gone. Most of it has stayed gone. All of it will be gone again for now.
Lockdown had a dreadful effect on my mental health. Not seeing people is incredibly hard for a social extrovert. Not having a partner to support me through or someone to turn to for a cuddle when I needed it was tough. Not having mates to go out with and have a blast dancing the night away or just sharing a million bottles of wine as a group is a painful loss. And, let’s be honest, not having sex is incredibly hard. I have fallen apart a thousand times. I haven’t always pulled myself completely back together.
So I should be out there with the anti-maskers, right? With Toby Young and Piers Corbyn and Right Said Fred? Standing in Trafalgar Square screaming about government oppression? Well, no.
I have parents who are shielding. My father has heart troubles and is terrified of Covid. My mum is strong as an ox (she leads me and my sister in a weekly online Pilates session), but she lives with my Dad and despite looking not a day over 55, she’s turned 70 last year. We had a distanced, much slimmed-down celebration in their garden.
And it’s not just them. Many of my local friends are older. People I’ve met through Slimming World or the local Labour Party. And of course while some are more vulnerable, Covid has killed and seriously harmed many thousands who were perfectly healthy when they caught it.
So while I hate lockdown and am 100 per cent not looking forward to the next few months, I will stick to the rules. Because I believe in the bonds we forge as a community, a country and a society. I believe that I owe both my family and strangers the respect of not putting them at risk if I can possibly help it. You could be my friend, my neighbour or a stranger in the supermarket – I don’t want to do anything to cause you harm.
For me, this is an expression of the communal socialist politics I have always held. But I do not believe that you have to be a socialist to share these values — nor that all socialists are sticking to the rules.
As I have often argued about the Communist slogan From each according to his ability to each according to his need”, this could just as easily been a quote from Jesus. And while that’s the religion whose tenets I am most familiar with, living in multicultural East London, I know that the volunteer army that has sprung up includes Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists – people of all religions and none, pitching in because of their belief in community and communion. There are people of all political persuasions and people who have never even considered voting.
What matters is, in the words of the philosopher TM Scanlon (and yes, I do only know this from The Good Place), what we owe to each other. It is those of us who recognise those common bonds – however we choose to celebrate them – that understand why we have to go through this again.
Now hurry up and get that vaccine into my arm. But get it into my Dad’s and those of the rest of the vulnerable first.
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