Back to ‘normal’. How has it been?

Back to ‘normal’ – but how has it been for you?

Does it feel like it’s almost over? South of the border restrictions will be almost non-existent from Monday, and Scotland could follow in a few weeks’ time. Last weekend, Mr Marr moved back to Edinburgh after a sixteen-month stint working from our dining room. More time together is something we had long wished for. We never imagined it would happen like this.

It feels in some ways as though life is easing back towards normal, but it doesn’t take much to shatter that illusion. Hospitals and hospitality are struggling because of staff shortages. Long Covid is little understood. Our high streets have been devastated and our economy dealt a body-blow. Masks and caution are a way of life now.

Transitioning into the unknown.

Not one of us has been left unscathed by this pandemic – it has impacted us all. But far from all being in the same boat, I don’t know two people who have had the same experience. This transition period feels like the end of something that has kept us safe, and the start of something unknown. It’s certainly not back to ‘normal’, whatever that was. So how do we rationalise the past year and a bit? History will judge our governments; that’s not for here and now. But how has it been for you?

Sixteen months ago, Mr Marr locked the doors of the theatre he runs in Edinburgh and headed north to ‘ride out’ this new pandemic that had drifted in from China. As his box-office staff refunded tickets for the following few weeks of performances, the feeling was that this would be a short-lived break in proceedings – six or eight weeks, maybe. But then – as a nation – we started to see infection figures rise.

Keeping up to date became a full-time job. We watched daily news briefings from Downing Street and Holyrood, learned about ‘the ‘R’ number’, and watched in horror as Italian hearses queued to bury their dead. We also watched as Italians sang to each other from balconies during a lockdown we were yet to experience.

Panic-buying and PE with Joe

Empty supermarket shelves in March 2020

Our own lockdown was imposed, to ‘save the NHS’. There was a shortage of hospital beds, and the country was running out of ventilators. We left the house only for essential daily exercise and to get essential supplies. But supermarket shelves lay empty as the nation panic-bought pasta, toilet rolls, paracetamol, and flour. Disinfectant and hand sanitiser were impossible to source.

Universities and schools switched to online learning and home-schooling was introduced. We brought Daughter #2 home from Glasgow University, and started doing PE with Joe. Restaurants, bars, hotels, and tourism businesses closed; some are gone now, others rode the storm with home deliveries.

Those of us who could, worked from home. We clapped those who couldn’t, our key workers, on Thursday evenings. Did our applause make them feel appreciated? Maybe. Did it help with a lack of PPE? Almost certainly not. The word ‘furlough’ tripped off our tongues as if we’d always known it. Many slipped through that net of financial safety.

Captain Tom started doing laps of his garden. Cummings went to Barnard Castle. Calderwood went to her second home in Fife.

Scary times

Beach weather on Tiree last summer

Those in their 70s were encouraged to stay inside. The virus tore through care homes. We weren’t wearing masks yet, and there wasn’t a reliable test. These were scary times.

Our ‘new normal’ was of deserted city centres, traffic-free roads and skies that were silent for a lack of flights. Holidays were cancelled and holiday companies and airlines collapsed. Yet airports remained open, and new variants arrived.

Retailers hit the wall. Nature began to grow into the space we had vacated for her, and our gardens got the attention they’d been craving.

Better, then worse again, But still silver linings.

Things seemed to be improving by mid-summer. We swapped holidays in Greece for tripe to Tiree. With relaxing restrictions, and winter’s news of a vaccine, life seemed hopeful. Then the slap of Christmas lockdown. Now, back in mid-summer, cases are up again, but hospitalisations are down. I thank science for the vaccine.

What we thought might last six weeks has lasted over 70, and its impact will linger much longer. But I’m still looking for silver linings where I can. Today, I got to eat my lunch in peace, without any judgement or comment. In my book, a fish-finger and gherkin sandwich is a thing of great joy. Mr Marr, back in his theatre in Edinburgh, was too far away to object.

A fish-finger and gherkin sandwich (always on toast) is a delicacy beyond compare.


This column is published by Highland News and Media in six of their newspapers across the north of Scotland. If you can, please support print media and the future of independent  journalism by buying a paper, or subscribing online. 

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