*warning, blog under construction. This is going to take a couple of days to complete and it’ll undergo a couple of incarnations as I revise it to add more thoughts of a tumultuous year. After all, it’s a slice of history…*
When we started this lockdown malarky 12 months ago how many of us would have thought we’d still be at it 12 months later and who would have thought so many people would have died, or that our lives would have changed (possibly permanently) in the many ways they have? No me for a start, but then neither did our incompetent Government. Anyone remember how long it took Johnson to agree to a lockdown in the first place? Many of us could see that it had to happen just by looking at the infection rates and what was going on in the rest of the world. The financial markets had already crashed, which made pretty grim reading for people like me with investments but no salary. The world was starting to turn in on itself. It was an anxious time.
I managed to squeeze a couple of jobs in just before the country shut up shop. These made me realise how unprepared we really were for what was happening. The first job was back in London where hardly anyone but Asian tourists and a few cautious people wore masks whilst folk ate drank and made merry as if nothing much was happening. I travelled on a lot of trains across London that day and outwardly everything looked normal, as this picture of one of the new London Overground trains in Hackney, East London shows.
The next day, on the 12th March I travelled from Halifax to Birmingham for a press visit to the High Speed 2 railway construction site at Curzon St, where HS2 were keen to show us the remains of the London and Birmingham railway steam locomotive roundhouse. I wrote about the day on a rolling blog. The train from Manchester to Birmingham (which was double its normal size) was absolutely heaving with people heading down to the Cheltenham Gold cup horseraces. 10s of 1000s of people from all the UK and elsewhere, converging to mingle during a pandemic when other countries were already in lockdown seemed like madness – which it was. I was actually glad to get home that day.
My final trip out was on the 20th (the day restaurants and pubs were told to close) when I travelled to Leeds and Manchester to get magazine pictures, showing the effect Covid restrictions were already having on the railways as travel began to close down with people staying at home in the face of an announcement to avoid non-essential travel made on the 16th. Three days later, a year ago today, Johnson announced full lockdown and that was that. Despite the fact that as an accredited Journalist I was allowed to travel to cover stories I was more concerned about protecting me and mine, so I heeded to call like everyone else. After all, weren’t we assured that this would only be for a few weeks? Besides, I’d plenty to keep me occupied at home…
That first lockdown felt weird. Planes disappeared from the skies, most cars vanished off the roads and only the trains and buses kept running to get key workers to their jobs. Thankfully we had glorious weather so I could sit outside in the front garden and enjoy the slightly surreal quietness that was only disturbed by cacophonous birdsong as the creatures celebrated the arrival of the nesting season. Once a week we ventured out to Huddersfield to get the shopping for Dawn’s elderly parents which we’d leave on their doorstop before letting them know it was there.
Social activities transferred to the internet and we all learned a new meaning for a old word: Zoom. The Friday quiz that a group of us used to meet up for in our local pub transferred online as it was the only way we got to interact with each other. We’d planned a trip to Berlin in June but that was cancelled along with all the other events. A ‘social calender’ became an anachronism.
But, it wasn’t all bad. Dawn was still working full time (just from home) and wasn’t furloughed. I managed to manage with a bit of help from schemes and whilst the photographic work dried up I had my writing skills to fall bak on, penning several articles for RAIL magazine. I lot of railway memorabilia ended up on eBay, which also helped. Meanwhile, I got stuck into tackling the massive project to scan 30 years of old railway, social issues and travel slides – a mammoth task which is almost coming to an end. We both got into a routine and thanked our lucky stars that we were OK and could come through this.
Stories in the media highlighting the growing death toll made is realise how fortunate we were. Some of the stories were really heartbreaking. Then friends began to contract Covid (and thankfully survive) or die of other causes. That was one of the hardest bits – not being able to meet up and say goodbye to old friends. I did attend one small (socially-distanced) funeral but that was in August when ‘lockdown 1’ rules had begun to be relaxed. When all this come to an end there’s going to be one big wake we get together to toast the memories of and swap stories about the friends who’ve gone…
Over the summer the Covid numbers dropped and the Government relaxed the rules, just as they’d imposed them too late, they relaxed them too early. In the interregnum, I managed to complete a week travelling around the railway network for RAIL magazine. It’s a biannual trip I’ve been writing for them ever since 2004, but 2020 was exceptional because passenger numbers where a shadow of their former selves. Even so, it was a fascinating trip to be able to cover so much of the country at a unique time and see how the rules worked (or in some cases, didn’t work) in England, Scotland and Wales – all of which had their own standards. Sadly, the relaxations weren’t to last. Local lockdowns began to occur again across England, with Liverpool going into the first new lockdown of a city in mid October. It became clear the Government was losing the plot as the ‘plan’ seemed to change depending on which Government minister was being interviewed before Johnson countermanded them.
(to be continued)…