I guess everyone thinks of himself or herself as ‘normal’ but what might the new sort of normal person be like?
Is there an aspect of modern life in the UK that this virus hasn’t touched and affected? It’s hard to imagine that there is. There have been more than 1.6 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK and nearly 60,000 people have died. For nine months we have lived our lives in a completely different way.
Do we now see light at the end of the tunnel? We are meeting up for Christmas, tiers are replacing lockdowns, there are vaccines being tested and, perhaps most symbolically, it will soon be a brand new year. I don’t think anyone will look back at 2020 with much fondness.
But 2020 has changed us. Our habits, our behaviours and probably some of our beliefs will never be quite the same again.
You seem different.
Politicians filled the media with sound bites urging people to declare war on the virus and fight the pandemic. Seeing the coronavirus through a macho and somewhat jingoistic lens probably wasn’t very helpful but it would be true to say that the UK hasn’t faced a threat that affects the whole country in the way that COVID does since 1939-45.
I don’t know whether there was a Blitz spirit or not but in the first lockdown, there was a real sense of community.
There weren’t many people on the street or in the shops but those you did see, you smiled at – and that worked because no one was wearing a mask – and you said hello and maybe passed a few words. To strangers, to people you didn’t know but who were living through the same disconcerting and worrying times as you. That sense of community, that shared togetherness is perhaps my strongest memory of those first three months.
The kindness of strangers.
2020 was a year of being kind to others, and kind to ourselves.
We did the shopping for the old lady who was self-isolating and shielding. We clapped the NHS. We cooked free meals for children who were no longer getting free school dinners and we volunteered to pick up prescriptions for those who couldn’t go out.
And we were supposed to be kind to ourselves as well. Let the career goals slip a little. Put a little less pressure on ourselves. Wear pyjamas while you Zoom to work. We learned to accept our lockdown haircuts and to give ourselves a hug when the stress and anxiety got too bad.
Along with the mental and emotional wellbeing we have seen an increase in a desire to be fit and healthy and we have had to find different ways of going about that.
Home is where the health is.
Being forced to stay indoors has focussed our attention on just how important our homes are. UK house prices have risen at their fastest rate in almost six years.
We work from home and we work out at home.
Homes have become synonymous with safety and with health. There might be more cyclists on the roads but there are a lot more exercise bikes in garages and spare rooms. People have been letting their gym membership lapse and investing in Peloton or a rowing machine, perhaps a swim spa or a hot tub. (I’m sure all of you will have experienced the boom in hot tubs and spas that happened in the middle of the year.)
Get back to normal. Do we want to?
Nine months has been long enough to reset people’s habits and behaviours and a lot of those changes are probably for the good.
We drive less and we travel less. We shop less and consume less. We have been talking about why those things would be a good idea for more than a decade but it has taken the pandemic to make us change our behaviour and discover that it’s actually OK. Less is… not so bad. We have put greater focus on family during 2020 and we have become more engaged with ecology and sustainability; with the wellbeing of the planet.
Are we better people? That’s hard to say but it does feel as if we have the opportunity to use the changes COVID has wrought in our society and in ourselves to become better people.
And that might be the best gift any of us could ask for this year.