2020 Pandemic: A Personal History by Joan Stott

Joan Stott shares her personal experience of living through the first part of the pandemic.

He went to bed last night muttering and complaining but it’s not as if you can do anything about it.

We were together at the beginning, listening to the news on the television. There was something strange happening in Wuhan in China; something about a new virus that was making people very ill and they were all going into lockdown. People had to stay indoors and not venture out. You could see them at their windows or on their balconies, sometimes shouting encouragement to each other across the divide. You felt sorry for them but they were so far away, almost too far away. But yet it was Chinese New Year and you knew deep down it would spread.

It becomes a terrible fascination and you watched as the virus began to devour like a circling shark until it was lapping and snapping at your own front door. On the news again, Italy is the next country to feel the full force. You watch as the people struggle against seemingly overwhelming odds. Pictures flit across the screen, nurses with damaged faces, and strange silent funerals with almost no one there to say good-bye.

You wonder how this could hurt so many people. It all seems so desperate but nevertheless you and many others soldier on. At times there are little snippets of hope which you relay to him praying it will lift up his spirit and bring him out of the lethargy and despondency that lurks like a cloud. He potters around the garden, ‘takes me mind off things’ he says.

The virus grip begins in earnest and now you are not allowed outside or even go to the shops and even more heart breaking cannot visit your family, no not even for a minute. A strange sort of madness takes hold and gazing in wonder at the television screen you see forlorn empty shelves and grown adults fighting over toilet rolls.

Shadows, submitted to Oldham’s Lockdown Museum by Linda

You begin to count every second and then you stand looking out of the window hoping against hope that the sun will start shining and you can at least feel some warmth on your face. You look at your walking boots standing forlorn and unused in the porch, you imagine your feet encased in the leather, and the boots wet from the grass you have walked over.

Then you silently curse old age, and the isolation you have yet to endure. But then, at least you are safe and you begin to notice the numbers creeping up and you thank God that no one you know has yet to fall victim. Still you look at the prone figures lying vulnerable and alone on their hospital beds and you rage against the helplessness of it all.

Then Frank. Frank, struggling against dementia, falls victim in his care home and you think about him and remember the times you saw him walking around with his little shopping bag talking to everyone he met. The funeral is a on a bright May morning where the mourners stand apart and strain to hear the priest as his words are drowned by the sound of birdsong. You sprinkle earth on the coffin and wish that Frank could have had the proper send off he deserved in the church he loved.

Yet there are moments uplifting and heartening. You can hear the dawn chorus in the morning, you smile more as strangers pass by your window and you listen for the crescendo of noise as neighbours clap earnestly for the struggling staff of the National Health Service. Children paint their rainbow pictures and paste them onto their windows and the shoots of normality slowly begin to form.

You decide it will be safe to venture out but outside is an unknown and foreign place where you stand in queues at the supermarket and stern figures tell you that you are only allowed in one at a time.

There is a kind of hiatus. Young people flock to the pubs and attend impromptu parties and you are envious of their unconcern and freedom. You yearn for family and friends but then, as you scan the pictures of lost faces, you remember the thousands who mourn. Then you reflect on the small snippets that gave you inspiration, the wonderful Italian voices drifting downwards towards eerily empty streets, the resurgence of nature, the silent empty roads and the sheer resilience of human beings in the face of adversity.

He passes you a cup of tea, ‘come on love drink up, grandkids will be able to visit very soon.

For further creative responses to the pandemic and to submit your own, see Oldham’s Lockdown Museum.