Two weeks and two days ago I was sat in a bar, just next door to where I was living, planning many things for the year ahead. I went down to Outlaws Yacht Club, as I did most days, where one of the owners had kindly offered to help out with advice about licensing our event space.
After that, my friend Sara came in and went through plans for two websites for her parties, which I’d be doing some dev work on. Then Ben and Kelsall, my good friends and co-promoters, joined us, and we went flyering for our own party, which would have happened today.
A lot can change in a very short time.
I remember, just over two years ago, sitting in a bar in Bradford with a friend, and berating him for saying that he wasn’t interested in politics or current affairs because they didn’t affect his life. They don’t until they do. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t realise how easily and quickly the carpet can be pulled out from under your feet. To think back now and say ‘I told you so’ is a grim satisfaction, and one I would rather not have.
Even a week ago, it wasn’t hard to side with the conspiracy theorists, and there were some valid points to note. It would certainly be a good time for a global economic reset. But, undoubtedly, this is a real thing, whatever you may think about it, or about the world’s reaction to it. I have friends working in hospitals and there are a lot of sick people. Our wonderful, and already overstretched NHS apparently only has 4000 ventilators. This is not a lot when you consider the population.
When Boris made his first announcement, the Monday before last, I was angry. I have a lot of friends who work in hospitality, either as bartenders or as landlords, and all these people were left stranded. I felt very upset by the thought that my friends, who had been so kind and helpful to me, even as this was all happening, were being let in a position where they may not be able to survive. It just wasn’t right or fair. So, on that level, Friday’s announcement that all bars must close was a relief.
That was the last relatively normal day in the recent past, and it was also the day of Alex T’s funeral. On entering the church, we were all told to sit a metre or so apart, but when my friend started to cry I forgot all that and hugged him. These things happen without question.
Later, after the service, I saw a friend for the first time since January. She’d held a private party at our space back then and a few weeks before that, her and Alex had been to the space to have a look around and plan some parties. That was such a short time ago – you could easily still count the weeks – and so much had changed. Thinking about all this – the death of someone so young and with so much promise, and the strange death of life as we knew it, I was close to tears myself.
Last Friday was the last day that I spent time with a lot of people all together, something that is a normal part of my usual life. I suppose a lot of people don’t do this, and I’ve always said that I feel sorry for people who don’t do the sesh, because it’s such a great bonding and learning experience. Later, in almost complete isolation, I would think about that a lot more.
The full lockdown announcement filled me with dread. I realised a lot of things. I cherish my freedom. As a person for whom even doing a stint working in an office felt like imprisonment, I wondered how I would cope.
The problem for me was that when the announcement was made I was at the flat where I have been living since September. Now, since September I’ve been setting up our studio space and everything I needed to survive mentally was in the studio. All my music production gear, paints, canvases, everything. When I moved into the flat I thought I would be able to go on the tenancy, but this turned out not to be the case. I’ve never had any need or desire to live under the radar in that way, and it would be a great hindrance to many things, so as soon as I found that out I never really thought of it as home. Because of that, and because of all the time I was spending setting up the studio, I didn’t spend much time there other than to sleep and had nothing there to feed my creativity. I think that if I had to spend weeks and months completely alone, but had everything around me to make music and art, I would cope fairly well. I’ve often spent days alone in my room making a tune. Having said that, I always liked the knowledge that there would be someone on the other side of the door who would inspire or entertain me should I choose to leave the room.
Knowing that I could still legitimately go into my place of work, and knowing that I needed to do this lockdown somewhere where I could do the things I love and be in the company of close friends, I got out and am doing the lockdown with our crew. We’d all seen each other in the days before anyway. I left after we’d officially been locked down, and had a mad mixture of feelings while I was waiting for my friend to pick me up. He’d been at his parents since Sunday, and they’d wanted him to stay, but he needed to get back to Leeds.
I didn’t think that our choices were morally wrong, but I did wonder if we’d get away with it and felt a bit like I was escaping from the Bastille. Amusingly, about an hour before he arrived, I had a look out over the balcony and saw two separate cars outside the flats with people getting in them with suitcases. Not just me then. I figured we’d probably be alright.
As soon as we got back, my mood lifted. The combination of knowing the kindness of friends and just being around some of the people I was closest to was a great tonic for the soul. Within an hour we were making bread (my mate Ben had recently acquired a bread maker – a birthday gift from his parents) and we’d done an essential shop run for some beers. Tonight we are doing a live stream from our lockdown in place of the night that would have taken place at 212. Bill Brewster, who was coming over as our guest, has kindly agreed to reschedule when this is all over.
When, finally, this does all pass by, initially at least, I will cherish every moment of freedom. Being human, whatever I feel at first will most likely fade, and what was normal before will become normal again, and I will be in the pub, or at a party or a club, or abroad somewhere, and not think to myself ‘How wonderful to be able to do this.’ But it is wonderful, and this is a reminder of how easy it has been to take things for granted.
It’s also been important to make the best of the situation. With so many people off work indefinitely, it’s been a great time to dive into creative ventures where before there may not have been time. Also, the weather has been beautiful. And it is nice to walk through places that aren’t choked with exhaust fumes.
On Wednesday I walked through Kirkstall and Burley and took photos of the lovely spring afternoon and the weird quietness that Leeds can’t have known for years. It was strange and sad to see the Cardigan Arms all shut up, and I noted, with a dry amusement, that we could not, after all, go to the Winchester, have a cold pint, and wait for this all to blow over. Walking on, however, I was glad of the peace and the sunshine, and I stopped to look at the daffodils that had sprung out on the grass. And I had the chance to take a photo, exactly from the angle I wanted, of a piece of graffiti on the viaduct on Burley Road – there was no traffic, and I could stand, without any bother, right in the middle of the road and take the picture. The fading words, which have been there for years, seemed rather timely: ‘Neither work nor leisure’.