A little part of me is concerned about returning to 'normal' life. I had been poised to make arrangements, as had become my habit last year, following official permission to do so. Yet when the Prime Minister set out England's post-lockdown roadmap last Monday, I found myself strangely inert.
Sure, I downloaded the official guidance document, complete with flow charts and fancy graphics. I even started planning some activities around the key dates – 12 April, 17 May, 21 June – but I didn't get much beyond that.
Part of my hesitation was interpretive, another geographical. I spent ages, for example, trying to figure out if 'self-contained hospitality lets' (permitted as of 12 April) included Airbnb accommodation. I'm still none the wiser, and so the only activity I have planned for next month is a trip to London Zoo. Apparently, the modernist penguin enclosure is very fine.
The geographical hesitation derives from the fact that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will of course have their own exit plans, and given that I long to start exploring the British Isles again, that's not unimportant. In May (or perhaps June), Northern Ireland will mark its centenary in some form, and I'd very much like to be in Belfast for whatever takes place.
I'd also like to head west to Wales, to see a friend in Swansea and then on to the cathedral city of St Davids, possibly the world's smallest. I'd like to head north too, to Anglesey and perhaps on to Dublin by ferry for no other reason than I haven't done it before. I haven't been to Scotland since last October so that's obviously on the list too.
But planning requires a firm grasp of dates, and for some reason I still lack confidence on that front. Each of the UK Government's 'steps' include the pregnant caveat 'not before', i.e. nothing will be eased before those given dates and, of course, could take place after should the data head in the wrong direction. Some are pressuring the government into changing its timetable, but so far it's standing firm.
I find myself thinking back to the world BC (Before Covid), when I could plan my life six months ahead with little fear of anything being disrupted; now I find myself unable to take decisions regarding six weeks' hence. I'm also hesitant because last year not everything snapped back into action as soon as it could have. My local swimming pool, for example, is allowed to reopen on 12 April, but that doesn't mean it will.
Museums and galleries were particularly sluggish last summer, indeed many didn't reopen at all. One would hope that this time the timetable is a little clearer, the necessary preparations a little easier to execute before the grand reopening. Largely on account of a recent Netflex film (The Dig
), I have a hankering to see the spoils of Sutton Hoo at the British Museum.
Friends have already started to make tentative plans. Indoor hospitality is permitted as of 17 May – a Monday, wisely – so I may venture out to Clapham for a pint or two (with only one other household, natch). I've also been invited to a barbeque the Saturday after the more significant easing on 21 June. For some reason, I feel apprehensive about that too.
Although the guidance holds out the prospect of international travel by May, I'm paying no attention that that, for it seems clear that even were the UK (or rather England) to permit its citizens to leave, it seems unlikely many neighbouring countries would allow them to enter, certainly not without two weeks' quarantine and multiple tests. This autumn seems more likely for that, perhaps next year.
My clone, meanwhile, has started pestering me about a staycation in August, which all going well would be perfectly viable. Last year, we went to the Peak District for our 43rd birthday. This year, he's suggested the south-west of England. But again, I find myself at a loss. Beyond vetoing Cornwall on the basis that everyone else will be thinking the same, I have no idea where I'd like to go.
Is this the new normal? If I can't deal with this, how am I likely to cope when parliament opens up and I have to work with other people again? Perhaps there's too much good news around, which after the past year is proving difficult to digest. Perhaps I just need to get over myself and plunge back into my old ways; my old forward planning – my old life.
David Torrance is
an author and contemporary historian