I’ve not written one of these for a while. Lockdown has got less strict and less weird, I’ve been busier, seen more people, felt better.
In what I would deem as a responsible way, I’ve broken the lockdown since it began. I was dropping some post at a friend’s house at the beginning of lockdown, about two weeks in, and he shouted me to ask if I would be able to come in.
“We could sit in the garden, a few metres apart” he suggested.
“I’ll just come in” I replied.
It seemed nonsensical to do it any other way.
He lives alone and had been completely isolated for over two weeks. I’d been isolating with my housemates and in the weeks leading up to the lockdown we’d all spent a fair bit of time together anyway.
He said that he’d been going slightly mad. I understood completely. I love time alone, and I need it in order to do things like write, make music – and, occasionally, create art – although most times I can do that in the middle of a massive session completely unbothered. Similarly to me, my friend makes music, paints and also writes a bit. If you do these things, time alone is often very welcome. Also, prior to all this I considered myself to be a bit misanthropic. I am not. I realised, when faced with the prospect of being completely isolated, how important interaction with other humans is and the great difference between choosing to be alone and having to be alone constantly due to circumstances out of your own control. I was planning to live at my studio space so that at least I’d be able to crack on with creative stuff when my friends Ben and Alex suggested I come and live with them (I’d asked if I’d be able to sling them some money to use their shower and washing machine). Staying with them made me realise how important it is to be around friends. I imagine I could have existed quite happily for a week or so alone in the studio, and then I would have felt the lack of interaction, missed people.
Anyway, I have continued to see this friend about once a week throughout the lockdown. I think it’s been a nice thing for both of us.
I’ve also caught up regularly with another friend through it all. At first, maybe a couple of weeks in, we went for a walk together, and the week after I went round to his house. Since then we’ve visited each others’ homes fairly regularly. The logic behind this being that immediately leading up to the lockdown we’d spent a lot of time together – and also with each others’ housemates – and none of us had seen anyone but each our housemates since. We’d started work on a project before this and have finished and launched it now – https://shso.uk
Other than that, for weeks I didn’t see anyone outside this immediate group.
What I noticed was that I completely stopped knowing how long ago anything was. I’d always considered myself to have a pretty good memory. I can recall my life, since I was about two years old, in a timeline, and remember a lot of things in pretty good detail. I’d always been good at if someone recalled a conversation or party, be able to put it into context. I always thought this was a natural ability, something I can just do. Similarly, I have no memory for peoples’ faces. Other visual details I remember quite well – I can recall an event three years ago and tell you what shoes I was wearing – but not faces at all. If I see someone I know reasonably well out of context I will struggle to know who they are until I piece it together by what they’re saying. The reacalling of events, I always thought was a natural ability, similarly to how the non-recollection of faces, I imagine, is a natural disability – but now I think I was wrong.
At some point in the lockdown, one of my friends mentioned that we must be due a review. I generally block out my days in Google Calendar so I get things done and don’t forget anything, but I hadn’t really been paying any attention to the date, and there were no markers for time. Previously, my life had been so varied, it was easy to put things into place. Now, in the weird Groundhog Day of everything being continually the same with only minor variations, it all blended into one. I knew lockdown had begun on the 23rd of March, but I had no idea how long ago that had been. I had to open my calendar and count the weeks. It occurred to me that it must have felt a bit like that living a long time ago. Things would be different seasonally, but day by day everything would be much the same, and time would have less meaning. I don’t think I would like this, but it would probably be nice for some people.
Whenever it was that first really hot, sunny day – maybe three or four weeks ago now? – we met up with some friends we’d not seen since lockdown started and went to the park. It was really good to see everyone again, and nice to be out in the sunshine. The good weather, I think, has made all of this a lot easier. We’d been going, just as a group from our house, to Armley Golf Course – which had become a sort of secret park, and on the hot day, we all headed to Burley Park, where a lot of people had had the same idea as us.
The weekend before we’d officially be allowed to gather in groups of 6 – not in each others’ houses though, which I hadn’t realised at the time – I got the train to go and stay with a friend. This friend had suggested that I go and stay with him right at the beginning of lockdown, for a long duration of time. I’d half considered the idea – he’s one of my closest friends and great company, ad he’s older and has a lovely house with a big garden. I’d already taken up the very kind offer of staying with my friends in Burley though, and I thought it would be a bit rude to just up sticks and leave – also I was very happy where I was. And I could go to my studio every day and paint and make music and work.
“I’ve got everything you need here” my friend said. “My internet’s fast.”
“Yes, but you haven’t got a recording studio in your house” I replied, laughing.
I felt a bit bad for him as he lives alone, and also it was his birthday at the beginning of April, it fell on a Saturday, and he’d had big plans for it. That must have been really shit. We spoke on the phone that day. I think he spent most of the day on the phone to people.
Anyway, by the time the end of May came around, we’d all been isolated for so long, and then done things like go to the park with friends, and you’d see lots of people gathering in groups, and we figured that firstly it wouldn’t really cause any harm, and secondly I’d most likely be able to get there unbothered. So I went over and stayed for a week. It was lovely.
The first leg of my journey there was brilliant.
Getting the train was an absolute joy. I despise having my liberties taken away and I hate the dullness of all this, but I always hated the part about getting the train where you’d be allocated a seat right next to someone else. I guess they did this for ease of ticket checking and also because it made the trains easier to clean, but as someone who generally likes to be as far away from other people as possible on trains etc., the distancing in this context has been wonderful.
The second leg was a minor nightmare. I got to Doncaster station and along with two other people I was waiting on the platform for my next train. The screens weren’t working on the platform, but there’d been announcements for previous trains, so all good there it seemed. We waited. The time for the train came…and went. What the fuck? I walked over to the part of the station with the screens that list all the journeys and the train seemed to have completely disappeared. Nothing about a delay. I wondered what was going on. I approached another person waiting. He said he had no idea what had happened but that he could get another train that was arriving shortly, to a different station near his destination and get picked up. I thanked him and decided to investigate my possibilities. The next train I could get was in two hours. Ouch.
I had three priorities: 1) Water. I was very thirsty and obviously all the cafes and coffee stands in the station were closed. The vending machines were operational, but required pound coins and I only had notes. 2) Let my friend know what had occurred. 3) Find out exactly what had occurred and ensure I didn’t miss the next train.
As I was pondering solutions an LNER worker walked past. I stopped him and explained the situation. He was very apologetic and helpful. He said that the announcer had gone home and that he’d not been aware of the screens being down, asked if I’d be okay (I assured him I would) and said to me I should complain on the LNER website, and also pointed me in the direction of the manager’s office. He said it would be good to say something even though I’d need to complain officially on the site. Apparently the train had been moved to another platform. Obviously, with no information, nobody waiting was aware of this, and so none of us caught the train. Pretty appalling really. I thanked him and then I called my friend. I’d forgotten about the water situation.
My friend, bless him, told me later that he’d considered driving over and picking me up from Doncaster. I’d already figured out that this would not really make much difference as by the time he got there I’d be on the next train. My main priority was to let him know that I’d be arriving at ten to eight and not ten to six, as he was picking me up from the station. I assured him that I’d be fine – it was a hot day, I had a good book, and my only concern was finding a shop with water. I figured I could ask the station manager about this.
The manager (or whoever was in charge at that moment) turned out to be a very vacuous person with bad manners and little empathy. When I explained the situation she said ‘Oh yeah, the trains are every two hours’ and felt no need to apologise or explain when I told her about the situation with the screens and the announcer. I said to her that it really wasn’t acceptable and that I’d be making a complaint. And then I asked her where I could buy water.
“There’s shops in the Frenchgate Centre” she said, and then started to walk off.
“Any directions?” I shouted after her. “I’m not from Doncaster.” (You’d think this would be fairly obvious).
“Oh yeah, just near the station” she replied.
I realised that getting any assistance with anything from such a person was close to impossible and I figured I’d either immediately know once leaving the station or could find my way via Google Maps.
It didn’t surprise me that such a debacle with the trains had occurred. Some people should not be responsible for anything.
It turned out that there was a bus station right next to the train station. I looked in and could see an open paper shop. They at the very least would have water. The Holy Grail. I felt better already.
I bought myself some water, a sandwich and some Rowntree’s Randoms. I don’t eat sweet stuff much – it’s not something I ever hanker after – but I figured something snacky would be helpful during my wait, and crisps are dry and gross.
As soon as I’d left the shop, I sat down on a bench and downed about a quarter of the bottle of water. Then I went outside and rolled myself a cigarette. Smoking outside Donny station is not a great experience and I rarely do it as there are always a load of smack heads hanging around and they often try and bum cigs. I thought a smoke might be welcome though, under the circumstances, and it would pass a little time.
Once I’d got back into the station, I sat myself down near the main boards. I figured that way I’d know if there was a platform alteration and I’d still have time to get to my train if I left for the platform with a minute or two left. Now that I’d accomplished all my missions I could chill and it was actually quite nice, sitting there on a warm day, with no-one around and a book to read and food to eat. I got up and went to check if there were toilets on the next platform, as I figured that with two hours to wait and having drunk a lot of water, I may need them. There were. I’d left my rucksack on the bench as it would be completely in my view the whole time, and me having been able to do this entertained me somewhat. I was treating Doncaster Station, usually the scene of much bustle and chaos, as if its was my living room.
The time passed fairly swiftly. The nice LNER guy who’d been helpful walked by and asked if I was alright. I thanked him and said I was. Most people, thankfully, are not arseholes.
It did occur to me that my journey wasn’t strictly legal or at all essential. My friend and I had both prepared our story should we be stopped and asked questions: My tenancy in Leeds has ended. I’m not moving into my new house until July and I’m going to stay with my uncle (my friend) until I can move into my new house. Nobody, as it turned out, bothered us. It was so far into lockdown by then that if anyone who’d been largely isolated for that amount of time had been ill, it would have happened a long time ago. And people had started breaking the rules all over the place in Leeds (I’d seen groups of nearly twenty people in the parks) and nobody had asked them any questions.
I will add that I don’t think that it’s right to be irresponsible, but that I’ve used my own logic to deem what I should and shouldn’t do throughout this. I follow this principle generally through my life anyway.
I am actually opposed to the lockdown. I think it could have been done in a different way. A lot of businesses have suffered as a result of this, and I know people who have been let go from their jobs as a result of the companies they worked for losing contracts or having work indefinitely postponed. Bringing the economy to a complete standstill for this amount of time has and will have an extremely detrimental effect on peoples’ lives. A lot more lives are likely to be lost as a result of a massive crash than have been through Covid19. A lot of money has been spent on the furlough scheme. This has been a great thing and I am thankful for it – it’s meant that my life hasn’t been drastically affected and I’ve been able to hold onto our studio space. What I do think, however, is that a lot less money would have had to have been spent if people who were vulnerable had been strongly advised to isolate, legislation had been put in place to ensure that employers with a cut throat attitude were not able to sack them, and they had been given furlough, based on providing a doctor’s note confirming that they would be putting themselves at great risk. Businesses would be allowed to remain open, and if they were in an industry where loss of income would be likely, they would be given compensation, but an amount that reflected something close to their loss of income, rather than shut down and compensated with 80% and/or rates relief. This would cost the country a lot less – both in the short and long term – and people would still be protected.
I do understand that our NHS, due to horrendous underfunding in the recent past, has not had the capacity to deal with a massive surge of sick people, especially when they have to be isolated from other patients. What I know now though, from talking to several friends who work in hospitals – a doctor, a junior doctor, two nurses, a midwife, a porter and a project manager – is that while at first there was a surge of extra patients and on average at least one more death than usual per day – now the Covid wards are empty, there are few or no new cases, and doctors and nurses are having to sit around with little to do – and the general consensus is that the whole situation could have been managed a lot better.
One thing that I found hugely entertaining was a story from a friend who works for the NHS about their previous boss. The boss – some kind of manager, not a medical professional – had been extremely unpleasant to my friend and as a result my friend had suffered anxiety and the NHS had sorted it so she could move to another department. The boss, who sounds like an odious person, had lost his temper when he was told that the army were being drafted in to help as they have experience building new hospitals very quickly – usually in war zones. His response was to throw his computer across the room. I mean, who behaves like this? I will add that this person still works for the NHS – surely there cannot be a worse suited person to an organisation chiefly concerned with saving peoples’ lives and caring for the sick? Anyway, the outcome of all of this was that he has had to take orders from an army general who has been placed in his office, to sit with him and advise him daily. Absolutely brilliant. When my friend told me about his ill treatment of her, I could not in a million years have conceived of a better or more outlandish comeuppance than him having to work under an army general for months. I absolutely howled at that.
It was blissful to get to my destination. I’d not seen my friend since August, and we drove back to his along the seafront, both talking at a hundred miles an hour.
The weekend was very pleasant. We sat up and chatted and drank rum until 5am Saturday. He’d borrowed some decks for me and set them up in his kitchen, which is a wonderful space with a view of his lovely garden where I’ve spent countless hours talking nonsense and putting the world to rights.
On the Saturday night, we were invited by a mutual friend to a small gathering with another three people in their mate’s garden, where they had a fire pit and some decks. It was a fun night, quite a novelty to be somewhere completely else (I felt like I was actually on holiday the whole week). Also I was entertained by the fact that I was doing acid and balloons with a group of people whose average age was close to fifty. I thought that would probably be quite amusing to some of my friends in Leeds.
After that, me and my friend went back to his house and stayed up til Monday. It was a very entertaining extended weekend and it flew by. At one point, we started reminiscing about some people we knew who constantly and outrageously took the piss. We ended up having a four hour conversation completely in the characters of these people, unable to make it stop. I felt like I’d forgotten how to do anything else. It was like a sketch show and I wish I could have recorded it. Although, of course, you never know these things are going to happen and they wouldn’t be half as good if you planned them.
Tuesday to Thursday I chilled in his house and garden, writing and doing bits of work. My radio show was cancelled on the Tuesday as part of the BLM music industry blackout.
I returned to Leeds on the Friday. Leg two of my return journey turned out to be first class on an Azuma train (I always go for the best offers available on the Train Line app), which wasn’t altogether unpleasant, but sounds a lot more impressive than it was. For a truly first class journey on a train I think you need to either go abroad or a long way back in time.
I did, eventually, get a fitting response from LNER about the debacle on the way there. The first response said they were sorry the screens weren’t working, but that there are always announcements. I replied, saying that they clearly hadn’t even read my complaint properly as I’d clearly explained that there was also no announcer. They responded again offering me some compensation and adding that it wasn’t usually their policy to do so. Appalling. In previous times when I’ve had any serious disruption or delays on trains we’ve all been offered compensation without even asking. I was on a train once where a tree fell on the roof and we were stuck for two hours and the guards came round with forms and I got a £30 voucher. I think that was a Northern train. Clearly LNER are not so understanding or generous.
The following Monday we resumed work on The Imaginarium, our wonderful studio space. We cleared out a load of junk left over from previous building work and have started insulating the roof. We’re putting together applications to be a Community Interest Company (as a shared workspace, music and art studio, and a place that will host various events that will benefit the community) and also a venue where we can hold events. I’d been mainly on my own there for a lot of the time and it was amazing to see everyone again.
Today was the first day that I had to wear a mask, as it’s now compulsory in taxis. They feel odd and restrictive and it feels difficult to breathe in them, although I think that may be psychological. Thankfully I had one to hand when I remembered I needed one as I’ve got a load that I’m selling on Ebay. The driver was telling me that he’d had very little work and hadn’t qualified for the furlough pay as he hadn’t been self-employed for long enough. That must have made life very difficult for a lot of people, and I think those in charge of this should have found a way to provide for people in this situation (I understand the three year minimum was to prevent fraud).
This weekend, we had a ‘bubble gathering with friends we’d not seen since March. It was so good to catch up. I’d planned to go to the BLM protest, not realising how long we’d go on for. In the end, shamefully, I was in no fit state and I also couldn’t just leave my friends and didn’t want them to go. A lot of people I know went, which I’m glad to hear. I’ve also been told that a friend suffered racist abuse at another protest in Grimsby, by some counter-protestors. Absolutely disgusting.
And that’s about all for now. It’s a sunny day and I’ve got shit to do, Thankfully.