People are affected by lockdown in different ways: their characters, their relationships, their work, their accommodation and their circumstances all vary. With input from a live-alone key worker in West London, an ex-pat husband and parent of small children in Madrid, an ex-pat single man in Singapore, and a wife and mother of two small children in North London, some observations on lockdown have been collated, starting with the experiences of London man and Madrid man in this article.
A young man in his small flat in West London had his hair cut military style by his flatmate using beard trimmers. The flatmate promptly deserted him going back his parents’ home outside London. Girlfriend too, work having stopped, left her London flat to retreat to parents in SW England, with the regular contact in lockdown remaining virtual.
London man is secure in his public service job, and so, with his normal regular income, is grateful to be working as usual, not isolated at home permanently. Keen on fitness, he now cycles to work, relatively vehicle and pollution free, across a park or two, free of the crowded tubes and buses (still running but meant only for key workers and actively discouraging people to use them). More fresh air and exercise is available than normal, offering extra time to listen to podcasts. He is not a fan of the standard news channels, too negative, preferring the podcast world and picking selectively news pieces. He intends to continue the cycling to work regime when lockdown is lifted.
Unlike lockdowns in many countries, daily exercise is permitted outside the home, in addition to travelling to work, but this man’s hobby is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which he sorely misses. Instead, as his flat is otherwise empty, the living area has become a makeshift gym – exercise bike, kettlebells, rowing machine and even a training dummy, dubbed Mitchell, with a gym mat for a carpet. He benefits from a small balcony, and so can access fresh air any time in a relatively peaceful setting.
Contact with friends and family is only through the usual media – facetime, house party etc, sometimes meeting in groups that way including the occasional beer but otherwise he is alcohol free. He helps an elderly neighbour who is isolating, emptying the bin and getting the weekend paper. They are both looking forward to a celebratory cup of tea together when this is all over. Perhaps surprisingly he barely watches any television, turning occasionally to Netflix. He keeps his flat clean himself as is usual not particularly house-proud though. Cooking and healthy eating are important, so he prepares and enjoys quality meals with quality ingredients. He misses sharing a meal with others.
Lockdown is a chance for reflection, and he says has a lot of upside. However, as perhaps the beginning of the end is here, apart from seeing again the people he misses most, he is looking forward particularly to windsurfing and of course Jiu Jitsu and being able to make plans such as for holidays – and Mitchell may then be homeless.
In Madrid, however, lockdown with wife, child and mother-in-law has been a different experience. Notably second child arrived halfway through the 10-week incarceration, born happily without trauma in a local hospital, providing a very special interest in this period. Lockdown has been more severe in Madrid, with strict stay at home rules for the entire household, unable to leave even for exercise. Madrid man can travel to work and leave home for provisions. He too is fortunate to be in a secure job, but homeworking is not possible. So, like London man, he has had a normal regular income.
London man had the benefit of the London parks. In Madrid parks were shut, and even as they start to reopen, the central park, El Retiro, remains closed. However, people are still only permitted to leave home for exercise during specific periods in the day according to age. The family’s flat fortunately has a terrace which has allowed for some regular outdoor activity. Given the arrival of the new-born and the needs of children, Madrid man is appreciating that a mother-in-law can be a big plus and it is of course bliss for small children having both parents and a grandma available for constant attention.
Boredom has not been an issue. In truth Madrid man has quite enjoyed the less hectic routine once it was established. The new-born has been a complete preoccupation too, and lack of sleep is easier to cope with without as many work and other demands. Like London man, for Madrid man cooking and trying new recipes is a pleasure – and this has been a good time to enjoy that. Home-made healthy cake is part of the morning routine. He has also developed new skills and homemade pasta with clams has become a family favourite. Dinner is a special focus including always a bottle of wine. He has made a point of exercising at home and again the kettle bell features.
Happy to no longer be rushing, even driving to work is calm, the family have adapted to a new pace. They do Zoom dinners with friends, but too many faces on the screen is not a great experience. The regular cleaner cannot attend, and so some cleaning duties have been added to Madrid man’s day, with bathrooms providing a particular satisfaction.
The Madrid experience of the authorities and enforcement is quite different. Police in Madrid are very actively policing citizens, with checkpoints and regular penalties for infringement being handed out. Generally, as in London, people respect the rules, but they are however less flexibly enforced. Unlike in London, there are rules about face masks which must be worn in shops and on public transport and in some other circumstances.
Of course, as with London man, Madrid man wants the bars, cafes and restaurants to open, which are prime activities in this City. He would love to escape the City for the seaside as used to be possible. But favourite haunts are unlikely to reopen soon: like London.
London man has felt fortunate to live in such a great place, as he puts it. He recognises there will be inevitable economic and social change, though uncertain exactly how. But he believes that the UK should benefit from lessons learned and grasp the opportunity to create a better future. Madrid man’s stay in Spain is not permanent and so he and his family look forward to continuing to enjoy the Madrid experience as some normality, again uncertain, is restored. Both realise they have been fortunate not to have had the financial worries that employment disruption brings. They both seem optimistic that there will be opportunity and some changes for the better as life kick starts with Covid-19 no longer the only agenda.