Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Robin Wilkinson. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!
Running during lockdown By Robin Wilkinson, aged 36 1/3
The day we were sent home from work had a strange echo of Christmas. I tied up loose ends, packed my bag and said goodbye to colleagues, not knowing when I’d see them next, or how the world might have changed when I did.
When I got home I called my parents, and then went for a run. It calmed me and helped me get some perspective on the possible personal impact of the unfolding crisis. Running has helped to anchor me during the last three months: lifting my mood when I’ve been down, and adding satisfaction to days which would otherwise consist of the endless cycle of cooking, eating, working and washing up.
I live in Riverside, and running through Bute Park most days given me the chance to watch Cardiff respond to the pandemic. In early March, before the lockdown began, people were visibly making the most of the park in the cold weather. We had been told to avoid indoor public spaces, and families responded by having unseasonable picnics – wrapped up against the chill wind as though dressed for a ski-trip, in coats, hats and sunglasses. Young men socially-distanced together, drinking wine in camping chairs positioned 2 metres apart along the river.
A week later all non-essential trips outside the house were banned, and the official lockdown began. That evening the park was more sparsely populated, with many runners choosing to wear masks or cover their faces with scarves. The volume of activity that people undertake that goes beyond the essential was evident in the deserted pavements and empty roads.
A new footpath etiquette quickly emerged, as social distancing stopped being a convention and felt like a survival mechanism. On hearing me approach, couples would fall into single file to give me more room to pass. I ran more and more of my routes through fields and copses of trees. Several days into the lockdown I found it necessary to direct a runner for the first time as he ran towards me. I directed him right, like a traffic policeman – he complied, I gave him the thumbs up and we both smiled.
I had hoped that a sense of solidarity would grow between frequent users of the park. But after several failed attempts at friendliness it became clear that the best time to make friends was not whilst sweating and panting during a viral outbreak. Instead of smiling, I began turning away from people as I passed, hiding my face like a bashful debutante.
Spring came with a surreal beauty. Blossom appeared on the branches of trees along the river which, with the low footbridges, made the park look like a Japanese watercolour. Daffodils recovered from their early spring flooding to watch the evening runners with nodding approval. It was hard to reconcile this tranquillity with the rapidly rising death toll.
The background hum of police helicopters reminded me of the world outside the park. I never failed to be surprised by seeing a police horse – more used to dealing with rugby fans than joggers – trotting along the Taff trail on a bank holiday on the lookout for illicit picnickers.
Running past the football pitches on a drizzly Friday evening I saw what looked like a horse preparing to take a penalty. A mounted policeman in high-viz stood ten metres away from a goal, facing two children with a football. It was a bizarre stand-off, with neither side moving as I ran past, and I wondered what public health benefits there were to stopping two children playing football in a deserted park at dusk.
As my distances increased I started using running as a way to expand my world, which otherwise consisted of my house and the supermarket. As a student I rarely left Cathays and Roath, and as a graduate I’ve rarely gone back. I ran through Cathays to Roath Park Lark and was ambushed by memories, of long-forgotten house parties and meetings that seemed inconsequential at the time but led to some of my deepest friendships.
I ran to the Bay, and past the Senedd, which had changed its name from the “National Assembly for Wales” during the lockdown. The old sign remained, waiting either for two socially distanced workmen, or one with very long arms. I ran over the barrage and was the furthest away from my house I had been in months.
Time became a paradox. Days bled together, but weeks felt as different as foreign countries. Writing down my slowly increasing mileage in a diary helped to create a feeling of continuity. My mileage crept up and I decided to run a half marathon. It felt good to have a project to work towards.
As I added miles to my longest training runs, each run had an exciting feeling of venturing into unknown territory, as I ran the furthest I had for a decade.
I set a date, and felt as nervous beforehand as if I’d been running in an organised event. Buzzing from anxiety and my morning coffee I ran through Grangetown to the Bay. I ran up St Mary’s Street, past boarded pubs, and the Principality Stadium, which is now a – mercifully underused – field hospital.
Running along the Taff, between Blackweir Bridge and Western Avenue, I felt a strange mixture of movement and stasis. I looked up at the trees, meeting above the path like the roof of a church, and was convinced it was them that was moving and not me. I grinned and burst out laughing, giddy with excitement, or perhaps just oxygen debt. Under two later, exhausted and exhilarated, I was back exactly where I’d started.
I never want to forget the strangeness of running through the city during a pandemic. Cars have started returning to the residential streets I used to happily run down. The people who sat in camping chairs in their front gardens, waving because we were both human and there was nothing better to do, have gone. I’ll miss it, but I hope I never see it again.
Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Emily, who has a very important question to ask…
Letter and lessons from lockdown – A letter to my post-lockdown self
Life is, as ever, what you make of it. Sometimes, through times of stress and strain we need a bit of perspective. Lockdown has brought challenges to our household (me, my boyfriend*, and our lodger) so I’ve written a letter to my future self, to remind me of all of the things I’ve learnt from lockdown so far
(*he has a real name too – it’s Chris)
It sounds like something that happens in a Netflix prison drama. A nationwide pandemic is the stuff of Hollywood Blockbusters on the big screen. Then IT happened. You were told to stay indoors. And since mid-June you’ve been living a groundhog day-like existence. I’ve been reading the other blogs, where we’ve heard stories of lost jobs, isolation, relationship fails, green fingers, key workers and alike. But none of them have captured the absolute devastation that lockdown has brought us in our household…
Firstly there’s the fact that my boyfriend is a psychopath. He is one of those hideous, monstrous humans of the worst order: he is a feeder. Goat tartlet, crispy shredded beef, glazed gammon; there is nothing that Elaine can’t whip up in the kitchen. This, paired with the fact that I suffer from an awful condition called greediness, means that lockdown has resulted in us both gaining an extra stone of isolation insulation. I like to think it will help us if food shortages become rife, we have a good head start on most people, having already stored it in our bellies.
Secondly, there’s working from home. We’ve all been there; long video calls, eating your way through boredom, consuming more coffee than a columbian barista convention. It’s insanely boring, strangely tiring and being on calls all day makes you bizarrely obsessed with the appearance of your plain walls. Do you show them your alcohol collection at risk of looking like you might have a problem, or the pretentious bookshelves full of books that you’ve not read yet?
Throw in two stepchildren who visit once a fortnight and rob you of all of your food, sleep and sanity (Especially when they leave strategically placed toys in the shaggy rug – the outcome of which was, in my opinion more painful than simultaneously treading on lego and an upturned plug.)
But, (and you too, dear reader) amidst this tale of lockdown woe, I’ve found some important lessons that I wanted to remember, because I think they are life-changing.
I’ve learnt patience.
I’ve learnt to embrace simple, but perfect things.
A hot chocolate in front of the fire. (Yes I lit a fire in June. This girl feels the cold.) A slow dance in the kitchen, playing rock paper scissors to decide who makes the morning coffee and brings it to the other in bed. We can find surprising satisfaction in the small things that happen when we least expect it. You don’t have to go far, you don’t have to spend money, you can stop and look up to find things you love dearly.
Something else I’ve learnt is how surprising an ‘extreme’ situation can show you another side to someone.
It may not be as extreme as the time I ate a MacDonald’s apple pie without letting it cool first, but lockdown has forced us into some pretty hardcore levels of extreme exposure to loved ones. I didn’t anticipate that my boyfriend would be forced to listen to my ‘work self’ spouting formal phrases about complex legal systems that sounds like absolute gobbledygook, or that I would be forced to spend an afternoon hand-washing his pants. (Another delightful lockdown quirk: our washing has been broken for three months. For this household, social distancing isn’t difficult because no one would want to come into close proximity to anything that’s in my wardrobe.) I know there is a very serious situation that some people forced to be together is negative and detrimental experience but this, for us, has been the opposite. I’ve delighted in seeing him single-handedly home-school, work, cook three meals a day and still remain a kind, patient and phenomenally fun dad. All the while I’m just about managing to do just one thing: my job. I haven’t even managed to feed and water myself – he’s done that too. I’ve seen a wonderful man take the world on his stride and that has been incredible to witness.
Finally, and most importantly I’ve learnt not to wait.
Not to wait until things are “back to normal.” Not to wait for a fresh start. (Why wait until 2021 to start afresh?) No, it’s time to seize the day, not wait around. I’m not waiting until lockdown is over. I’m not waiting to ‘live’ once travel restrictions are lifted. I’m not writing a bucket list of stuff for the future. Why wait? Now is the time, THIS is life. Why miss out on all the fun that we can have now?
Which is why, dear reader, my biggest reflection on lockdown is how lucky I am to have my man by my side making me belly-laugh every day without fail. How lucky I am to love with someone who cares for me so much that they have fed me more calories than a Gregg’s warehouse. How lucky I am to have someone whose children melt my cold heart and ALMOST make treading on lego worthwhile with their jokes, curiosity and constant references to farting and bums.
I said I’d learnt not to wait around; so why wait to make sure that your best mate stays by your side forever? Chris, will you be the bacon to my eggs, the Morecambe to my Wise and the husband to my wife….?
……Will you marry me?*
Tune in to We Are Cardiff to see whether this is a lockdown love story or a COVID catastrophe…!
Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from writer, tutor, and facilitator, Sharon Brace. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!
‘We live in interesting times.’
Pandemic… Lockdown… Panic buying… Isolation… As we approach the second month of lockdown, I feel that I have settled into a sort of bespoke routine which has minimal interruptions from the world beyond my walls and ironically, those words of fear have turned this place into one of love and security once again. I don’t plan to stay here forever but I rejoice that the lockdown found me here not elsewhere.
I am comforted that the universe knew the plan even when I did not and, after many years of roaming the world I have returned to the unexpectedly sunny valleys and shores of south Wales only fifty days pre the possibly the grim reality of lockdown.
Lockdown…? The dimensions of this area, so much smaller than the worlds I’ve wandered in the last decade or two, alarmed me somewhat and the thought of being literally ‘home alone’ for the foreseeable future sent waves of claustrophobia through me in the same way that the apprehension of take-off had myriad times before. Yet I had a pre-pandemic mission; to study until my ultimate qualification was complete and then to return to the me this house had created and begin to cram in as much living as I could beyond its confines. However, a microscopic virus was able to change so much.
The reality of lockdown is, however, disparate. I have established my own routine from which I draw comfort. In a bid to diversify and live a more complete life than merely a quest for a qualification, and as lockdown became inevitable I filled the house with food, yanked up my metaphorical drawbridge and prepared for a sit-in but I also invested in a packet of tomato seeds, a packet of pepper seeds and several cumbersome bags of compost which I dragged home and housed in the garage. I’d grown nothing but houseplants so I dug my fingers into the huge newly-filled pots I found in yesteryear and dropped a few seeds into each. Within weeks I had lain waste to my dining room, filled it with constantly developing living things which were a conciliatory paradox to the death that raged in so many homes in so many of the lands I’ve walked.
In an effort to remain at one with the outside world I have now walk at 7. And 12. And then again at 7. I have begun to see the cul-de-sac in which I played and made friends in three different lights, in three different seasons and, thanks to climate change, in an increasing amount of sunshine. These hills which have witnessed wars and previous pandemics look on silently, and as I now have time to look up, I gaze back adoringly never before grasping that these hills have framed my life. Their varying colours of green, a little yellow and a little a brown yet now in Summer, vibrantly green. The blue, unblemished sky is free of vapour trails and the and the clouds which so often appear to be held up by these intangible barriers scurry along unrestricted.
I embrace a sense of community from people whose presence was always on my life’s periphery but where in bygone days I felt the bond of an interloper.
Saturday morning as I queue, two meters away from the person before me, I have time – and interest to engage with others. Once, I would have found their conversation banal and unnecessary but my current lack of human contact has granted me a curiosity in my fellow man.
Friday evening, as I call my newly acquired yet lifelong neighbours and discuss their grocery needs and prescriptions, I feel vital in a way which is quite distinct from the professional imperative of a mere half a year ago. And as I deliver their groceries to their front door and step away, we joke at a distance. I’ll make sure their curtains and blinds are open by 9 and call them midweek just for the joy of an octogenarian perspective on the new world we inhabit equally.
Friendships and telephone calls have become a lifeline and as we gather at 11 each morning for cyber coffee and chats, I acknowledge that those bonds too have intensified, braced and bolstered by the imposed isolation. We fight each day to imprison each other’s isolation and to forbid it becoming loneliness. Friends around the world, traditionally held near often only in Christmas greetings, are now weekly contacts as we Zoom in and out of each other’s realities all in agreement that people are our principal priority.
I don’t go to the shops; I haven’t purchased any new fashions in half a year, yet as I student again, I was expecting not to need anything more than patched jeans and numerous leggings; I order books online in such volumes I now know both postman and Amazon delivery driver by name; I no longer spend £3 a day on coffee but rather have coffee indoors with people who will always be part of my home even when I can’t invite them there; my car has guzzled less than £50 of fuel in three months; my uncut hair touches my belt and my attire is occasionally the same sweater twice consecutively; I cook vegetables each evening and struggle to invent new menus by the next; I try only to imbibe twice a week and still respect the rules of a school night; in the safety of my childhood bedroom eight hours of good sleep has once again become my norm and my mind is grateful for the silence that sleep affords me.
Lockdown has changed us but mercifully and by some quirk of fate and the joy of education, I was home to experience it and ever so grateful that my new chap had stayed over the night it was announced. I fear that things would have been dreadfully different without him.
I am so terribly woeful for the people who have been robbed of their people by the Virus; tears often slide down my cheeks as I absorb the daily figures. Yet somehow this hell has given me so very many people and ironically turned the panic of a pandemic and the loss of so many lives into a reaffirmation of my own.
As I have relegated my triffid-like tomatoes to the sunshine of the garden, my dining room feels empty and lifeless and, with no prospects of a dinner-party to fill it with life and love, with the easing of lockdown on garden centres I bought a goldfish; no I bought five goldfish. Animals can be lovely too. The continual movement of the steady and silent Moby, Jane, Alice, Pip and Stig and the grandeur of the mountains of my childhood reminds me that, despite the hardship we face together, all things will ultimately continue as they have before.
Ironically, the panic of a pandemic, for me, has swiftly turned into consolidated friendship and a renewed sense of community and old-fashioned values. My intention to leave when my purpose is served is unchanged but as is human nature, we face a siege from our stronghold, I have faced this from mine.
As the lockdown decreases, I hope to see you very soon.
Sharon Brace is a writer, tutor, and facilitator. Visit Sharon’s website for more info.
Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from writer and actor Peter Gaskell. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!
Here’s from a culture-vulture, about what Cardiff means to me while under lockdown.
I am a writer and actor so lockdown has deprived me of opportunities to earn from public performance. I had been costume-fitted for a supporting artiste role in His Dark Materials just before filming was suspended; I just hope Bad Wolf can maintain their presence as the premier film producer in Cardiff after such success with the first season.
I miss Chapter Arts Centre, where Everyman Theatre has given me years of pleasure attending and acting, and the Sherman Theatre too, where I volunteer front-of-house. Some productions they have put on YouTube, e.g. by Gary Owen, whose Killology script in 2018 so helped win the Olivier Award for Regional Theatre of the Year for the Sherman.
It’s not all been deprivation though. I had a script (Pigs In Muck) produced as part of the Lockdown Monologues short film festival, and which is now being rehearsed by A48 Theatre Company for performance as a virtual theatre piece. A48 you may know for their graveside performances in Cathays Cemetery Heritage Trail and Tales last year.
As much as drama productions, even more than eating out and pubs, what I have been missing is live music. I was looking forward to the Roath Folk Festival at the Gate after enjoying the event last year, and more of Beethoven 250th anniversary celebrations at St David’s Hall after the 6 hour extravaganza in January which replicated the great composer’s 1808 premier of 5th & 6th symphonies in Vienna. St David’s Hall has provided a first class classical programme year after year, and I never miss a Beethoven concert there.
My consolation under lockdown is walking among the rhododendrons in Cefn Onn park while plugged into Beethoven Unleashed on BBC Sounds, which is featuring his work and life-story throughout 2020.
The Millennium Centre now closed till 2021, in the absence of live venues, I follow my musical friends on Facebook, some of whom were entirely absent from social media till lockdown since when they have taken to broadcasting their offerings from their parlours. Great though Virtual Open Mic is, hearing music played through a mobile phone speaker in an individual’s living room is no substitute for the ambient spaces of Cardiff’s fine concert halls.
Living alone, I’m relieved at last I’ve been able to ‘bubble’ though I haven’t been able to have contact with my daughter in London and I wonder if my young grandson will know who I am when we next have the chance to meet. As a fan of quizzes (once a Mastermind semi-finalist!), I’ve partaken of several online, including the Brains quiz hosted by Martin Williams. It makes you feel engaged though you’re not really interacting socially and at a disadvantage unless you have others in the same room looking up the answers!
Social distancing has become second-nature to me and I am happier staying away from crowds, particularly in shops, though as well as concerts, I’m missing my cricket at Sophia Gardens. Despite Cardiff Council writing off 70% of the club’s mounting debts in 2015, Glamorgan CC remains an impoverished club so I’ll be attending when the cricket season starts next month to support its continued existence; I’ll be gutted if it can’t survive the pandemic.
For exercise I love walking in natural surroundings, glad that Cardiff has more green space per capita of population than most cities. I don’t like indoor workouts but I am missing my regular swim at Maindy.
For my mental health, I shall keep using the opportunity the isolation brings to write. It keeps me buoyant, not just the creative expression but the hope my work gets commissioned or published somewhere. As well as scripts for film and theatre, I write poems and a novel for which I am trawling a list of agents to find the right ones to approach for the genre. That’s a chore but you need a break from seeking inspiration sometimes!
In response to more of your prompts,
1. What do I miss the most about my “normal” life?
Travelling more than 5 miles
2. Is there anything you’ve been surprised by in terms of not finding it as bad as you had thought?
Satisfyingly filling the time I used to spend watching sport on TV
3. Any tips for other people struggling with lockdown for whatever reason?
Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Butetown Karate Fighting Club instructor, Nimo Liban. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!
Lockdown was truly a crazy experience. Although, it was put in place to protect and keep everyone safe I believe lockdown affected most people’s emotional development.
As I was part of the vulnerable group, I was advised to stay indoors for 12 weeks. It wasn’t the best experience at all, but I happily found something to do that would entertain me.
Martial arts has been a main hobby for me, I’ve been doing karate for my entire life. In the last year or so I decided to invest in my karate, and I got asked to run a fighting club in the Butetown Pavilion.
Due to lockdown, I had to change my martial arts classes so we now all train online. This actually makes me happy because I was able to do continue doing something I enjoy.
I also started many other different things that keeps me happy and entertained during lockdown! But I can’t wait for things to go back to normal.
If you’re interested in taking up some lessons, Butetown Karate Fighting Club are now running lessons online! More information at the links below:
Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from the Foxy Roxie Girls . We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!
Our aim is to help the local music scene. Filming and recording a series of YouTube videos featuring live performances of local artists. These professional videos are at no costs to the artists and are used to develop their careers. The videos can be shown to agencies, managers or events organisers as promotion leading to bigger opportunities. We also record and film interviews and offer reviews to artists to help promote releases.
As an independent business our project has been swiped of plans and opportunities in lockdown.
With our plans of hosting feature events (gigs, fundraisers) and home studio bookings cancelled, we have definitely felt the pain of the pandemic. With cancellations due to venue closures and the lockdown combined with social distancing, we are limited to what we can offer the music scene.
As the world turns virtual for this strange time, we welcome ourselves the online world. We have had the benefit of more time on our hands to keep our audience entertained with live performances and interviews on Zoom recorded, edited and posted.
It has definitely helped us contact more artists to keep the content interesting. Including upcoming artists from other countries and overseas, as we wouldn’t usually be able to do sessions with people from this far a distance. We have also recorded collaborations with multiple artists and filmed music videos in our home to release. Luckily, they have gone well and seem to keep up the interest.
Living together has helped us so much through this isolating time. As musicians ourselves, we are blessed that we already have the gear and skills to do the music videos, recording of interviews and editing ourselves.
More and more artists are asking for our support, whether it’s a review, single release, interview or simply sharing their own content, we have felt an increase in demand for our help. As an independent business, our project ‘Foxy Roxies’ has been able to establish a style and vibe, which we believe is intriguing more people toward us. As four girls in one house, we do feel the weight of not being able to explore the outside world and actually see the artists in the flesh.
We miss the human contact and social aspect of how we worked before the pandemic.
Also with the government funding, arts funding is proving very difficult to obtain. This may mean that we won’t be able to afford the team it requires to keep recording and filming our live videos once things go back to normal, if they ever do. This has made us consider changing what we offer artists and how we can still support our local music scene without funding.
With the live music scene at risk and independent venues on the line, who knows what the future may hold for us.
The Foxy Team are Ruba Muhammed, Reem Muhammed, Violet Hunt-Humphries and Gemma Hunt-Humphries.
My name is Christine and I live alone. I had to go into lockdown in March as I met all the criteria for self- isolation.
At first I thought that this would just be for a couple of weeks and that then we would go back to normal.
I had done enough shopping to ensure that I had sufficient food for a few weeks and felt positive, enjoying the lovely weather. Now, three months later, I have had to rely on friends to do shopping for me. This has made me realise how difficult it is for people to have to rely on others to support them. The telephone has been a life saver as many cousins I only see perhaps once a year have been telephoning me regularly to check if I am alright.
During lockdown, I have been fortunate to be able to make telephone calls to Age Connects Cardiff and the Vale clients – to provide reassurance and social contact. In doing this, I’ve found that so many clients are experiencing anxiety and depression about their situation. It has also been good for me to speak to clients who are in need as this has given me a real sense of purpose – I set my alarm each night, get up, dressed and put on a little lipstick on. I’ve now had the opportunity to really empathise with clients who live alone.
It’s fine for a while but not to have family or friends popping in over an extended period is very difficult. I can understand how easy it is to become anxious and depressed.
I am a carer for a member of my family and understand how difficult this has been for so many carers in lockdown. One of my clients has a grandson who has a disability and feels so helpless that she has been unable to support her daughter and worries about her delivering shopping to her. I suggested arranging home deliveries with one of the supermarkets and she is now doing this. It has also been satisfying to signpost clients to other alternatives for shopping and other organisations that can support them.
From my own point of view I have been fortunate to be able to work from home and this has kept me going. I have been able to maintain contact with colleagues, my Team Leader and the Community Resource Team.
I realise things are going to be very different when lockdown eases but the experience makes me very grateful for the life we were privileged to have before Covid and to hopefully appreciate what comes in the future.
Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from 86 year old Betti. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!
I live in Splott. My brother and I have been shielding since March 22nd.
We are classed as vulnerable and until June 1st we were not allowed to leave the house.
Now we can go out for a walk each day.
At 86 and 94 years old we have been relying on neighbours and we have one in particular who calls every day and does our shopping. The Next door neighbour site has also been a great support.
We try to keep busy but some days see us very low in spirit.
I miss going to Church each week but thankfully I can watch the services on line and even be part of it by recording the lessons which modern technology has made possible.
Also being able to Zoom in to coffee mornings allows friends to see and chat to one another.
I have been busy baking cakes and so far have made 34, which friends have collected and enjoyed.
Since Lockdown I have realised how much a phone call helps and try to keep in touch with people who may be lonely.
I have also realised how little we really need and how we can manage with, and I will certainly shop less when allowed.
I love to read and again I can give away books that I have read to others.
The community spirit here in Splott is wonderful and since we have been allowed out and walked around the park everyone has been so considerate and kept a safe social distance.
I don’t know how life is going to be in the future but now will just obey the rules and thank God for the blessings we have at this time when there are so many heartbreaking stories, so many lives sadly lost.
Helia Phoenix has been trying to write this Letter from Cardiff in lockdownsince March! Better late than never. We’re looking for your stories, so please carry on sending in your letters for our series …
Early lockdown was extremely unsettling.
In weeks beforehand, we watched the death toll mount in other countries, while still being encouraged to go out and about our business, like nothing was wrong. My last outing in the default world was watching Jon Hopkins at the Forum in Bath – the tickets were a birthday gift last year. We deliberated hard on whether to go – I’m glad we did, I think. It was an amazing show, but with a strange, sour edge to it. The chat all around – in the loos, at the bar – everywhere – was virus related, in hushed tones, the early scenes from a 50s B-movie. “They think someone in Frome has caught it. It’s only a matter of time before it gets here.” After we came home (a week before anything was announced), I stopped going out. Unofficial lockdown began.
There was no stockpiling in our house. But I definitely added an extra couple of ‘essentials’ to each shop. Lentils, rice, UHT milk, that sort of thing, just in case. I tried to keep calm waiting in queues at the shops. People who hadn’t grasped the two metre rule stood too close to me. I felt breathless in my mask, bringing on panicky thoughts about infection, which made it even harder to breathe. Early lockdown was a strange and eerie time, where the radio and TV were still advertising shops being open and events taking place, like nothing had changed – except everything had changed. Shops were closed. Everything was cancelled, just like that.
I’ve been working from home since my office in the valleys was flooded back in February (remember the floods?? Storms Jorge and Dennis?? Ah, a simpler time). I’m essentially a desk monkey, so no frontline stress, but work was still hard. I forgot Mother’s Day. I ran out of meds. And I couldn’t drink, as I was on antibiotics. Like everyone, I think, I was a bit of a mess.
The one constant thing that’s got me through (and has got me through many other things in the past) was/is exercise. I found the fitbit I abandoned last year, and I walked, and I ran. I was actually originally going to structure this piece like a running route. But then I realised running was just one thing I’ve done during lockdown. I have done a lot of it, but again – it’s only one thing. I’m grateful for how AMAZING exercise is for everything – mental health, appetite, sleeping. If you’re feeling like crap and you don’t exercise, PLEASE consider doing something. If you want to run, I recommend doing the NHS couch to 5k. It’s a wonderful plan and hardly takes any time out of your day.
When it first starts, suddenly lockdown opens up the roads – for walkers and runners.
Once I exhausted routes around the Docks, I headed to town. Queen Street was empty, quiet, and creepy. Suddenly the rough sleepers are hypervisible. They’re not hidden in doorways, or confined to benches along the edge. They’re the central attraction, because they’re the only people still there.Neil Cocker wrote about this in his Letter from Lockdown, the first one we published.
On my runs through the city centre, I started changing up my route so I could pass by some of Cardiff’s clubs. Places I spent so much time in, through my life. Gwdihw and the other buildings are just facades now, hiding the scaffolding and gaping nothingness behind. Fuel has a heartfelt note on the door. Undertone. We will be back.The Moon – how many more times are we going to have to save The Moon??
Clwb Ifor Bach
I run past clubs long gone: the Hippo, now some offices; the Emporium, still empty; Club X, unrecognisable; Apocalypse / Vision 2k / Top Rank / The Forum / Astoria, depending on when you went there, which is now Matalan; and Dirtbox (remember Dirtbox??) – nothing more than skeletal remains – a stack of deserted slipper limpets, attached to the side of the good ship Clwb.
Venues close, venues open, promoters make money, or they go bust. People have a gutsfull, move away. Younger people are hungry, move toward. But right now, the universal outlook clubs and pubs everywhere is bleak. I sit on the Cardiff Music Board, and our first Zoom meeting is just as you’d expect it to be. Many venues aren’t set up for anything other than mass gatherings – they can’t reinvent themselves to sell food, or do drink takeaways. Some have no outdoor space at all. Without gigs, how can they survive? The scene in Cardiff has been through a lot in recent years. How is it going to survive this?
As well as being extremely unsettling, the first few weeks of lockdown were a revealing time. I, like all of you, I imagine, Zoom-fatigued myself on video calls with many people – work meetings, family, friends, my therapist. (Not even joking about the therapist part although it does sound like the punchline of a bad Woody Allen joke). A lot of them were people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in a long time, and it was wonderful to catch up. But none of that matched the wild ecstasy of genuinely accidentally bumping into friends when out on one of my walks. That is, I suppose, the beauty of Cardiff – you can’t swing a cat without smacking someone you know. We only stood and spoke for about five minutes – we were all mindful of the rules, and didn’t want to mix, even socially distanced, at that early time. But just that five minutes was enough to totally revive me. That’s the thing about face to face contact, to actually being there with someone. Nothing can beat it. That’s why watching streamed gigs, or plays, or anything, is never as good as being there in person. Humans vibrate together. We charge the atmosphere. Bodies in a place, taking up space.
This idea of ‘bodies in a space’ is something I think about a lot through lockdown. Firstly because of the mass gatherings thing – and my love of music, and working in tourism, I guess you could say my life revolves around mass gatherings of some kind. Secondly, because George Floyd dies after being arrested by police in America, and the world erupts in anti-racism protests.
Cardiff had its first socially distanced protest on the lawns at the front of Cardiff Castle. The speakers were invited from the crowd that gathered. They encouraged people to join unions. They denounced racism. And although some people questioned why we need these kinds of protests here, because “we aren’t America”, two mothers spoke about the systemic racism their children have faced in the UK, and continue to face, on a day to day basis – being pulled over in cars, stopped and searched, about how their families were targeted and abused and beaten by police when they were younger. One woman was in tears talking about how she worries daily about the safety of her son. Younger people spoke about being racially profiled and denied entry into clubs here in Cardiff. It’s sobering.
I spoke to a number of friends who support the cause, but don’t go to the protests. Some have young children, or other caring duties, and are worried about taking their charges with them, just in case something happens. Some are frontline workers, in social work or healthcare. Some just don’t feel comfortable protesting during a pandemic. Because so many people can’t, I feel it’s important that I do. I appreciate that I experience a lot of privilege, being a light skinned Middle Eastern person. My parents were born in Iran. We are an immigrant family. I walked to the BLM protests, a 20 minute stroll from my house. I wore my mask, was diligent with the hand sanitiser, and stayed socially distanced from people, as did everyone else I saw there. Listening to the speakers was a humbling experience. I’ve had plenty of racist stuff said to me over the years, but I’ve never felt like my life was in danger just for the colour of my skin. No one should ever have to feel like that.
As well as my first socially distanced protests, the lockdown has given me a couple of other ‘firsts’. I’ve always been grateful for where I live – a quiet but friendly street down the Docks (I am chastised constantly by people who’ve grown up here when I call it Butetown or Cardiff Bay). During lockdown we have our first socially distanced street parties, where I learn the electric slide. A swan gets stuck on our road on one very hot day, and me and a group of us usher it down the street and back into the river. Some enterprising neighbours set up a Whatsapp group for our street, and we are now all in an endless dance of lending tools and swapping plants and gifting books and baking cakes for each other. I love it.
I also cook Persian food properly for the first time. There’s a point during lockdown where I’m feeling really low and I just want things my mum used to cook for me when I was a kid. I’ve never been an eat-your-feelings person, but suddenly that’s ALL I want to do. I want to consume comfort from the past, gorge on an illusion of proximity to my family through herbs and naan lavash and citrusy stews. I cook for my household and cook extras for friends, thinking maybe we could all do with a bit of comfort food.
I feel so much and so hard for all the people living alone, struggling. People who have no one. I scour the internet for recipes and cook things I never thought I’d manage. I make tadig, for cripes sake! You can keep your sourdough starter. I got these zesty rice pies on the stove. (All the recipes I cook are from Persian Mama and come highly recommended.)
I start growing things – sunflower seedlings (they’re my favourite thing to grow) until the house is overrun with them. My partner and housemate request a plant amnesty, so the plants find a new home at the Salvation Army Hostel on Bute Street, where a couple of residents are looking to improve the grounds. (If you have any you’d like to donate, they’re still looking for plants). I borrow some kit from Keep Grangetown Tidy and hit the streets, picking up litter during my walks.
Also I eat my first Michelin starred birthday cake from Restaurant James Sommerin. It is delicious. (They’re still doing them, and so I suggest you go get some). I do my first online workouts. My favourite one is still Fridays at 5pm, when my kitchen becomes a dancefloor for the Bristol Drum & Bass workout.
Michelin starred cake!
I also give blood for the first time, which is one of the most insane things I have ever done. I ask if I can touch the bag before they ferry it off. IT IS STILL WARM, and it is a complete trip for me. I’ve been there for ten minutes, they’ve extracted a pint of blood out of me, given me some biscuits, and I’m essentially totally back to normal.
If anything, trying to write something coherent about my experience of lockdown has just proved how impossible it is to describe it as a cohesive experience. Because it hasn’t been one. I’ve loved a lot of things – the lack of traffic, working from home. I’ve hated not being able to see or hug people that I love. Queuing is annoying. Also, I’m really glad this happened in the spring and summer and not during a bleak wet winter.
Also, it’s made me really think about all of those times we get told that things just aren’t possible. It’s not possible for you to work from home. It’s not possible for us to “solve” homelessness. It’s not possible to do anything about child poverty. It’s not possible to curb our fuel emissions. Somehow these were all unsolvable problems, wrapped up in immutable systems.
So I guess that all those things were always possible. The will to do them just wasn’t there. Think about that. And please, next time there’s an election of any kind, GO AND VOTE, for the things that are most important to you.
Twelve weeks into lockdown. Our rules are relaxing. Reality is flexing. So before anything else happens, and I have to rewrite this entire thing again, I want to finish this off. Here it is. The end.
Also, I have to mention my doggy, Zelda. She’s a disabled greyhound. (She broke her back a while ago, it was a whole thing). She’s old and a bit knackered but she still gets around. Look at that smile. I love her.
I also want to give a BIG shout out to all the local independents that have kept me fed and watered during the lockdown. It’s great that the bigger chains are opening up again, but don’t forget to shop local, and support the independent scene!
Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Alison Powell. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!
I peer with curiosity and confusion at those people rummaging around to find things to do during lockdown. When I see people churning out ‘Tik Toks’, devouring season after season of a Netflix drama, or consuming weighty tomes that have been on their ‘to read’ list for years, I cock my head to one side and wonder. Only for a moment though. Everyone has their very different lockdown life, their challenges and their triumphs. But also, I don’t have time to pause for long and ponder on what others are doing and how they are finding the opportunity to do it, because time, or a feeling that I am lacking it, has been my overwhelming lockdown preoccupation.
Life was busy pre-lockdown. On my own with two children life was a whirl of activities both in and out of school; meeting up with friends and family; work; the gym; writing my next novel; the life admin stuff plus accompanying chores of maintaining a four bedroom house and all the emotional and mental aspects of raising children, oh and carving out time for fun.
There was a cell inside me that watched Boris announce the lockdown that did wonder if this was the enforced full-stop on my life. Maybe this was a moment when all of that self-imposed pressure to be, to do, to go, to act, was now having a strip of sticky tape stuck on it with ‘Stop! Do not enter, do not go, do not cross!’ emblazoned on it. Maybe this was the rules, the law, the government saying, ‘Stay home and whilst saving the NHS and protecting lives, just breathe…’.
But immediately came home-schooling. One person I know made the valid point that the ‘home-school’ nomenclature in this instance is nonsense. Those who make the decision to home-school in a pre-lockdown world do so for a variety of reasons and provide a full and rounded education for their children. I liken what I have been trying to provide for the last three months as an educational holding pen and seeing my two chicks confined in it has induced waves of guilt, anxiety, frustration and sadness in me. I’m no longer reminding about homework whilst driving across Cardiff and the Vale to get the kids to different activities or parties,
I am now trying to develop and stimulate their active minds and fill their curious souls with knowledge whilst also still trying to work, write, clean, cook, ‘virtually’ meet up with friends and family, road run rather than go to the gym and provide perhaps more emotional and mental support for them and for my myself than was ever required before mid-March. I am exhausted.
I haven’t read a whole book since lockdown began, but I have three that I have dipped in to. I haven’t done any craft with the kids or finished writing a novel or got really fit. I have nagged about how long the children stare at their phones; I have refereed who’s turn it is on the X box; felt bad that bed times are later than they were in February and eaten way too many pork scratchings.
But I also know that there are some friends that I have connected with on an even deeper level than before as each conversation is about how we really are. We have asked the question, how are you and we have answered honestly and with greater candour. I miss my parents and friends that live away, but thank goodness that we are fortunate to have technology to support connection.
In helping my daughter with her school work, whilst I have realised I am no further forward with geometry than when I was 15, we have had some searching and serious conversations about whether war is ever justified and the effects of WW1 on women’s freedom and ultimately, suffrage; I have talked to my son about poetry, cars and football and encouraged him to practice his guitar more regularly; we have baked cookies and carrot cake together, learned how to make onion bhajis, did a delicious tea for a VE day living room party and my son has learned to cook pesto pasta. We have discovered new board games, drunk a lot of tea together and dunked a lot of biscuits. We have laughed and chatted and just been around each other in a way that in the past was interrupted by the need to be here, there, everywhere and somewhere else.
We have all had a wider education about the world, each other and ourselves.
So, whilst time feels in short supply in some sense, this time has also proved valuable, illuminating, interesting, precious. Not wishing to tempt fate, but fortunately we have not been ill with Covid-19. But, we know that as the country gradually opens up our new normal, to use the new phrase, will bring with it more change and uncertainty and potentially illness to ourselves or those we care about. But for now, in this moment, my little immediate family and me have much to treasure and be grateful for and that is maybe one of the greatest lessons we can all learn.
Alison Powell is author of children’s book ‘What’s a girl to do?’, columnist for The Penarth Times, recipe writer for Buzz magazine, passionate about travel, food, family, friends and kindness. Often found barefoot in the kitchen, musing on the history of hummus and listening to 90s R&B.
Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from student, MSL. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!
Lockdown week one: “All exams cancelled!? 6 months holiday oh what freedom this will be. No responsibilities sounds good eh?”.
Lockdown week 5: “I’m starting to get quite bored…. I’ve already done a full clean out of my room, read and watched the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy, tried to learn guitar and piano again but to no avail….”
Lockdown week 10: “What am I doing…? I miss my friends. All I do is watch endless streams of YouTube videos and play Candy Crush all day.”
Lockdown has turned me into a potato.
The song “Mayday” voices the feelings of many:
“Awake or asleep
Drowning in my own thoughts
It’s alright, it’s not too bad…
I need some excitement
Everything’s so frustrating
I just want to be comfortable
But it’s harder than it should be
You know, the stress
What’s wrong with me
I did absolutely nothing today but I’m exhausted
Why is it so hard to just relax, mayday
Somebody help me, mayday”
Everything seems to be disconnected nowadays. I’m no longer living my life but simply waiting, killing time. Just a couple months ago time was all I needed but now there’s too much of it. It seems to go so slow, yet I look back and already 12 weeks have passed, and what have I done? I should have gotten my driving licence by now, I should have been able to earn money for university with my part time job, I should have gone to theatres, concerts, gone on holiday with my friends. But I couldn’t. It is so frustrating to see myself trapped at home watching time slip through my hands when I should be living out the prime time of my youth! It shouldn’t have been like this…
Relationships with others seem to be slowly deteriorating. Friends that I used to see every day, our busy lives in high school cut short, making rushed goodbyes. No high school graduation celebration, no prom, that’s just how it all ended. A flashback to when we made false promises to call every day; we barely call once a month. We should call more. Can’t blame anyone. I do really miss them, but just never quite reach out.
In terms of academics, should I still be studying? Theoretically yes, in practice no. With no incentive, there is no motivation and studying drops far down my list of things I could do. Every day I go without opening my books neatly piled in the corner of my room, all the knowledge I crammed into my brain over the past year fades away one by one. It is a constant internal fight between my laziness and the fear that by the time university comes around, I will be the one unable to adapt to the high-tension learning environment. Feelings of my lack of purpose also chase me. Has the goal of my life really just been studying? I’m sure other students will be experiencing similar feelings of uncertainty and stress during this time particularly regarding exam results and university. Yet again all we can do is wait.
I know that I shouldn’t be complaining. I’m blessed with a good house, good family and good health. For some that is all they would wish for. I know there are people out there that are really struggling physically, mentally and financially. I should be grateful, and I am, but I still find myself stuck at home doing nothing. All I can do is pray for them and volunteer where I can.
It hasn’t all been bad. Taking my “Daily Walk” as a means of exercise as well as a reason to escape the house and refresh my mind from all the stress and worrying news in the media. I’ve done a bit of gardening, baking, lots of scrolling on Instagram and Twitter (not helpful but kills time).
It’s quite sad that my past 3 months can be summarised in less than a page and a half but hopefully things will get better. Perhaps my 2021 will be a bit longer….
Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Grace and Paul, who almost ended up on lockdown in Lisbon. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!
Lockdown happened on my Birthday.
My boyfriend and I had just returned from a five day trip in Lisbon which had been planned for months; Portugal and all other parts of Europe had started their lockdown before the UK and we were well aware we were lucky to have been even able to fly at all. On the first night we arrived, we heard about all bars and restaurants being closed in neighbouring Spain and, sure enough, the following day Portugal followed suit. Don’t get me wrong, we still had a lovely time away, but we spent the vast majority of it walking up and down deserted streets, and with a curfew of 9pm in place we spent most evenings in our airbnb drinking cheap sangria and eating crisps.
Without the insight of seeing what lockdown actually looked like, I don’t think we would have believed it; police enforcing the curfew and breaking up large crowds of people, long queues outside supermarkets and an eerie atmosphere surrounding the local areas.
Of course, whilst all this was happening in other parts of Europe, the UK were more or less carrying on as usual, except for panic buying a years supply of toilet roll.
We flew home on the 18th March, the whole time wondering what lay in store for us when we returned home, all whilst being very grateful that we were able to get home before all the borders shut. It seemed a lot had changed in those five days away, and it was very strange to return home and for everything to feel unfamiliar and alien. Despite not landing in Bristol airport until the late evening, we drove home via a 24 hour supermarket to stock up, following the advice of our friends and family that the shelves would be bare. In actual fact, we actually bought a four pack of loo rolls home with us from Portugal – the most bizarre souvenir of a romantic break away and a definite bumpy landing back to reality.
The following days were all a bit of a blur; we had intended to go out for the evening for my Birthday with some friends, however this was the day Boris said all pubs and bars would shut and before we had all become more accustomed to keeping in touch with people via Zoom quizzes and “Houseparty” booze-ups. My boyfriend and I had discussed moving in together whilst away on our trip however this became more of a necessity with the announcement that two households were unable to mix, and with all “Man with Vans” also on lockdown, I moved the majority of my worldly possessions (and a highly strung cat) in the back of my Mini from Cardiff to Caerphilly.
Whilst moving in together was most definitely the best decision we both made, the impact lockdown has had has been challenging to say the least. We are both sociable characters; regularly meeting up with friends and family after work and at the weekends, going to the gym 3-4 times a week and usually love nothing more than going out for dinner a couple of times a week with a few G and T’s.
However, without all of those usual activities, and with the added bonus of entertaining a very energetic four year old in the confines of four walls, home schooling and home working it has definitely been tough on occasions.
I have never been more grateful for my job as a nurse and being physically unable to work from home; continuing to attend my shifts on a regular basis has been the only slice of “normality” I have been able to enjoy over the past three months, and as you can imagine, it has been anything less than normal.
I cannot take any credit for caring for those desperately unwell with Covid, however, the whole hospital has been shuffled around and has borne the brunt of this virus. My colleagues and I spent the initial few weeks discussing on a frequent basis the general feeling of “impending doom” and our workload changed massively. I work as a Mental Health Nurse in the Emergency Department and for the first few weeks the A&E department was like a ghost town. It was a very surreal situation to log in to the system at work and see ZERO patients in the unit.
It was eye opening to see exactly how mis-used A&E is on the whole; people with stubbed toes can miraculously manage at home on their own when there’s a global pandemic to contend with who would usually demand an ambulance and an X-Ray.
Fast-forward twelve weeks and it is most definitely no longer a ghost town. The impact of lockdown on Mental Health is now clearly rearing its ugly head and my fellow mental health colleagues and I will be fighting this virus for a while to come, even when the number of reported cases continue to fall. An increase in alcohol and substance use and a decrease in social contact and support is a recipe for disaster when it comes to your mental health and the number of people we are seeing who are seriously unwell when they have previously had no issues with their mental health is astonishing.
On a more positive note, the virus seems to have made everyone pull together and I have never previously felt such a strong sense of community spirit and gratitude for working in the NHS. Socially distanced street parties, exchanging puzzles, toys and DIY items that are no longer needed amongst other local residents have become the norm. Not to mention the “Clap for Carers” and the sheer volume of donations of PPE, Scrub Bags and food from local hotels and restaurants has been astounding.
If we can take anything away from the devastating impact that lockdown and the pandemic has had on both our physical and mental health, it’s that we are all in this together and will hopefully make us all appreciate the little things when normality returns. Whenever that may be.