LAST summer I was seeing a guy in Elephant & Castle who liked to throw dinner parties. This was during the brief respite of high summer before imposition of the tiered system; come October he ran off to the wilds of Wiltshire.
Nearly everybody I knew at that time was looking to escape the London Tier 2 net, and any acquaintance or relative, however distant, with a pad in the country found their popularity soaring. A friend started seeing someone she met via Tinder around the time we went into Tier 3. After discovering that he lived off the electricity grid in deepest darkest Gloucestershire she decided he was the man for her.
I am by nature a rule follower. Most middle-class professionals I know are. Initially in spring 2020 we were all scared to death into compliance. Central London was a ghost town with Carnaby Street and Trafalgar Square deserted in the middle of the afternoon.
I fervently wiped down deliveries with Dettol and was too afraid to touch the post until it had sat out for a few days. I bought boxes of plastic gloves. I had never needed so many disinfectant products and although you could not stock up on sanitiser – for weeks it was sold out – I did keep a wide range of distilled spirits on hand. (It stands to reason that a fully stashed bar is protection from all manner of ills that could befall a single person during a national crisis.)
Those first few months watching the government updates every evening, clutching a mug which contained not tea but the requisite ‘stronger stuff’, seemed like the opening scenes of a straight-to-streaming horror flick. Everyone was in panic mode. I did not leave my flat for three days at one point and finally ventured to open the windows as I decided the recycled air posed more of a danger to my health and anyway I had left the cardboard bottom on a pizza in the oven so there were billows of smoke which set off the fire alarm.
Then I decided that enough was enough. It was the behaviour of Black Lives Matter protesters that led to my epiphany. On one of my daily walks to Westminster I came upon a throng of youths clad in hoodies. They seemed to be very angry about something. Some carried large signs with the letters ‘BLM’ or bearing the face of a man (apparently their leader whom they wished to replace Boris Johnson) and none of them was social distancing!
Seeing those determined crowds of youngsters march on Parliament gave me hope that we would beat this virus; that humanity was stronger and would prevail against the darkness of encroaching plague and zombie attacks.
I returned home with a renewed sense of purpose. The plastic gloves would be donated to a hairdresser friend. I rang him up to offer and he graciously accepted. Our conversation moved on to the devastating effects of lockdown on his business. He mentioned that he was still doing highlights at his home in Hampstead and offered to refresh mine. This was lucky as my hair had begun to look as if I had spent four weeks sleeping in a tent at a muddy festival in the New Forest.
I stopped watching the government’s daily coronavirus press briefings. I no longer sat puzzling over the graphs and wondering why Chris Whitty pointed to a diagram that wasn’t there. Embracing the freedom to open post on the day of arrival and unpacking groceries without sanitising them gave me a new lease of life. If I ever see them again I must thank those young BLM demonstrators for providing the inspiration to take my freedom back.
I wonder how their leader is getting on?