Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Anonymous #6 – “I blinked and it was over”

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from an anonymous contributor. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

I blinked, and it was over.

Cardiff Castle, by We Are Cardiff

I can remember the blind panic, murmurs and rumours of the army heading to London, forced curfews, the fear creeping through the office, when no one knew what was going on. People knew people who worked in the government got bits of information to help their loved ones. We eagerly gobbled up whatever we heard, we speculated, we gambled. I spent over £700 on supplies. Not toilet paper – why would you need so much of that, I bought rice, I bought hand sanitiser, I bought soap, masks,  extra pairs of everything, washing powder, bleach, dried protein powder, UHT milk. I keep finding stashes of it all over the house, and I am probably lucky that I broke up with my girlfriend in January. If she didn’t think I was mad then, she definitely would have broken it off during lockdown.

My manager offered us all the choice to start working from home at the start of March. I work for a multinational company, we have a medium sized office in Cardiff. We also have offices in China – not Wuhan, but still, China. Hong Kong. Dubai, and after seeing what happened in other countries the company was quick to pivot us from office to home. We were still allowed into the office but “strongly advised to work from home”, so we all did, they arranged for all our equipment to be moved out of the office, desks, chairs, desktops and other bits and pieces. I work in corporate finance, and I had to return into the office before official lockdown to pick up a work credit card, as I had to sign for it. I wore a mask on my walk through town, and got stared at by everyone, the building – an entire floor in one of the high rises in the city centre – was like a ghost town, there was warning electrical tape across the floor, marking out where all the desks and chairs had been before, the empty remains, rubbish and dust, the odd shoe and canvas bag remaining on the floor as proof of old life. The computer team were the only ones staying in there, as they needed access to the equipment to keep everyone else running from home. All their desks were spread out across one huge long wall of the office, 15 people in a room that used to hold over a hundred of us.

After that visit I felt very unnerved, I went straight out and stocked up, did that insane shopping trip that cost me over £700, started isolating. Most of my friends thought I was being really over cautious and actually they thought I was mad. I didn’t tell any of them how much I’d spent on supplies, I played it down, I made excuses not to see them at social events. Now it seems obvious in retrospect. Why didn’t we all do it?

As soon as the official lockdown started, my company announced a restructure. Everyone was keeping their jobs, but we were all going on a furlough rotation; I was off for three weeks, then worked a week. That pattern repeated three times overall throughout lockdown, until they announced last week that we were all required back fulltime.

I blinked, and it was over.

The first week of being on furlough was horrible. The weeks before – the unofficial lockdown, when I was just hidden away but the world was still outside – that seemed fine. Maybe because it didn’t seem so real. But then suddenly we all got told we had to stay home. Please stay inside. Please save the NHS. Please help us control the virus. That first week I don’t think I could have worked if I tried, I spent every second on the internet, reading about the virus, reading about how it had spread between diners in a restaurant in Wuhan, about SARS, and MERS, and swine flu, and bird flu, learning about droplets and respiratory diseases and ventilators, I barely slept, I drank a lot, I used to be a social smoker, I somehow ended up taking it back up, I think just for something to do.

I watched a lot of box sets. Things like Ab Fab, The Young Ones, Partridge, I’ve never been interested in cars but I found old episodes of Top Gear and somehow that made me feel better. I listened to a lot of the radio, I feel like I hadn’t really listened to the radio in years. There was something reassuring and soothing about human voices, there in the room with you. For the first couple of weeks, I couldn’t switch the radio off, I felt extremely isolated, extremely alone, the radio helped me feel like there was someone else there. I listened to a mixture of the BBC channels, they were my go-to choices. I actually ended up listening to Radio Four and Radio Two more than any other stations – I’m 27 so I don’t think if either are aimed at me but they felt reassuring like having kind aunties and uncles around look after you.

I deactivated my Twitter and Facebook accounts a few years ago, felt like I was wasting time scrolling a lot. The first week on furlough, I logged back into both. I wasted a lot of time again on Facebook, sucked back into stalking all these people I never really cared about from school, oh he’s moved to Australia now, who cares, before I remembered why I had deactivated it in the first place. It’s not real life, and it’s a distraction from my real life, my real here, and my real now. I lasted much longer on Twitter, and found a lot of really useful resources and links to things during the lockdown – which local independent food places were doing takeaway during the lockdown, where I could buy bread, where I could get coffee.

Back then, right at the start of the lockdown, I was so stressed. Worried about the world, worried about myself, I just felt like there was this general background level of worry that never went away. Sometimes I’d wake up and for a second I had forgotten, everything  felt normal, then I remembered and the pit of my stomach dropped I felt sick thinking about everything. I tried to fill my days, so I spent my daily walks heading for Pettigrew, or the Indoor Market, or Oriel Jones, to pick up food. I got my fruit and veg from Laura’s. Sometimes I was the only traffic on busy roads. No cars, no buses, no nothing.

Now the shops are open again. Starbucks. Greggs. I can get coffee from almost anywhere, but I make an effort now to try and get coffee from one of the independents – Brodies, or Hardlines, or Pettigrew (although I feel bad, I was one of those people making Steve Lucas wait in line while I asked for a latte. Steve – I can only apologise to you, getting that coffee was my only connection to normality – to the real world I missed so much back then). And I didn’t want to go home, I wanted to stay out longer. I wanted to do things that took up my day. I didn’t have anywhere else to escape to and the flat was becoming a mess and a prison.

I got used to the roads being quieter. I walked a lot. I took my bike to be serviced. I started cycling again. I haven’t cycled in years. And I walked and cycled for fun, because there was no where to go. I obeyed the rules about not seeing other people, which was hard, as I live alone. But actually my balcony is linked to a couple of others in our flats, and I ended up strangely making friends with neighbours I have lived within metres of for years, but never ever seen or spoken to before.

I blinked, and it was over.

And now, everything is different again. But I’m not ready for it. Before I felt dazed and confused by the lack of traffic and busyness and commerce. And now  I miss the roads being quiet. I miss being the only person walking down a road – being able to stand in the middle and take a photo on my phone, and not rush to get over to the pavement.

I wish I had used my furlough time better. I thought maybe I could repaint the flat, rearrange the furniture. I don’t have any children or pets and I was fairly newly single, so it’s just me, how would I fill the time? I thought I might learn a language, I’ve been meaning to learn Welsh properly for years as I never learned properly at school, or maybe German, I’ve always wanted to do that. I thought I might read more books, or think about writing one of my own even, because think of all that time, and how would I fill it? But now it’s over, and what did I do?

I spent it feeling nervous and worried, watching endless YouTube videos, drinking. One night one of my neighbours had some weed and I smoked some with him, I spent the rest of the night trapped in an internet rabbit hole where I was convinced I could find the source of the coronavirus if I just kept on looking, needless to say I didn’t find it and felt like death the next day. I spent it walking, talking the long route to places, because I wanted to be out of the flat for longer, and the walking was the purpose of being out, not to get anywhere or see anyone.

I’m disappointed in myself I suppose is what I mean. I’m back in work – we are taking turns to go into the office, smaller capacity and very strict hygiene rules. But I feel like I did nothing. That time was a gift. I spent it worried and stressed. I wish I had done things differently. I wish I had spend the time to learn Welsh, or have a proper clean out of my place. Anything constructive. I feel like I wasted it.

I blinked, and it was over. And although I’m happy to be able to see people and happy to see town busy and things, you know, I miss it a bit.

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2 thoughts on “Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Anonymous #6 – “I blinked and it was over””

  1. Dear Anonymous 6

    I want to point out that you didn’t waste the lockdown time. You survived. You rediscovered cycling. You recommitted to independent local shops. You made new friends. You found new joy in quiet streets. All in the face of the virus and a new break up.

    And you wrote a great piece!

    Like

  2. Just want to say I probably was one of those people in the queue behind you at Pettigrew (like Steve!) cursing you for buying the coffee as I waited to get my shopping in. But reading you’re piece – It is a perspective I hadn’t even thought of, I understand completely. if I was in the same position of living alone I would have been the same.

    I wanted to say as well – I don’t think you wasted the time. I spent a lot of lockdown walking around and I’m glad I did.

    Take care of yourself

    Like

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