Last January and February I had pneumonia. I was just about getting back onto my feet when I got a letter from the doctor advising me to shield during lockdown.
So, that was very clear: don’t leave the house.
Because I live alone it meant I had seven months in this house on my own. I never left this house and no-one was in this house – for seven months!
My mother is 82 and has COPD. She has only left the house twice since last March: once to go to her sister’s funeral, and once to go to her brother’s funeral. Luckily, we have one brother who still lives at home. Otherwise, my mother would be home alone.
I teach RE in a grammar school. I have been there about 30 years. Some days I’m doing 12-14 hour days online and marking until 8 or 9 o’ clock at night. But every teacher I talk to can’t wait to get back to school.
What really annoys me is the amount of teacher-battering that goes on in the media. And you know the parents are watching your every move. They are spending so much time with their children they are going nuts.
The kids are quite demanding, but it’s great. I teach my A Level classes live online and they are interacting really well. Unfortunately, the year 8 class children don’t interact so well. At GCSE and A Level you get much more of a response. The nature of the work is a bit more complex so they ask more questions.
When a child walks into my classroom I have expectations of that child, and they have expectations of me. I’m the teacher: it’s a defined role. But when you are at home with mummy and daddy and it’s your mummy who is trying to teach you; it is not a completely different role.
With every child you teach – it’s not about the answers they give you, it’s about the questions they ask. I set work on a Monday with a deadline for Friday. At home, I use the breakfast bar in the kitchen for my lessons.
From August until December I was back in school. I am CEV – (Clinically Extremely Vulnerable) and people said I was nuts to go back but I love school. I genuinely love my job, I’m very lucky.
When I was in class, I had two perspex screens around my desk and wore a face-covering and most of the children sat with face coverings – out of respect.
Over this year I’ve written two novels.
One of them is very much for adults, and one is for children. You wouldn’t believe it was the same person who wrote both of them. I have a couple of agents looking at them at the moment. If I publish the adult one I will definitely have to use a pseudonym because it’s a bit racy. You couldn’t be seen to write this – and teach RE at the same time!
I’ve always wanted to write a novel. And, in the back of my mind I was always pretty sure where I wanted to go with it. If it never gets published I don’t care, because I wanted to do it, and now I’ve done it.
After the pneumonia lifted I started writing for about six hours every morning: from 7 am until 2-3pm.
The adult novel is a murder/mystery novel. It takes time to write and research. When I am writing the police interviews I check it with my friend in the police to authenticate that is the way it works.
It’s how I kept myself busy.
Throughout the first lockdown my brother J. was an outstanding support. He lives on the other side of town but did all my shopping for me.
People have been very good.
3-4 nights a week my friend S. and his wife would send me down a dinner. They would ring and say your dinner is at your front door. My friend P. would bring me meals for Friday, Saturday and Sunday and frequently would add 2-3 bottles of wine to the bag.
The highlight of my week was when P. would text me the menu for the week. He would cook on a Thursday night for about fourteen people and deliver their meals on a Friday– stew, curry, roast dinner and a vegetarian option.
There were times when I did 25,000 steps in a day – and didn’t leave this house. Walking up and down the stairs… just walking up and down. It was to relieve the boredom.
Tuesday and Wednesday this week combined, I did 62,000 steps. I haven’t left the house today but I’ve done 14,700 steps.
In lockdown…it’s the sameness of everything.
I wake up. I change my bedclothes every 2-3 days… take my clean pyjamas out and put them on the pillow. Whatever I am going to wear that day I lay out on the bed. I come down, make a cup of tea go back up the stairs, have a shower, get changed….
I was doing that for seven months… and then writing for 5-6 hours. At 2pm I used to go up for my afternoon shower and put on that night’s pyjamas – and then it’s 3 pm. What am I going to do now?
So, I started watching Netflix.
If you are sitting there from 3 o’ clock until 10 or 11pm, until you go to bed you can get through a lot quite quickly. I started watching a subtitled series in Spanish. I loved it so much, I watched it twice. You try to find things to keep your mind occupied.
I wouldn’t exactly say I rediscovered prayer but… I prayed a lot at that time. I have a decent-sized back garden so I would walk around the garden just saying prayers.
When my friends phone me I just talk and walk about the house and the garden. The funny thing is I have actually put on about a stone. You eat or drink out of boredom.
I go into the kitchen and 4-5 nights a week I can hear the red wine calling me. When you’re at home and you pour a drink it tends to be more than just one measure. Boredom is making me do that.
In this lockdown, when it was dark and raining, you didn’t want to go out for yet another walk…I even got fed up reading as well – which is so unlike me.
This is an opportunity to do the things that you think you want to do. But then you realise that you didn’t really want to do them… because life is so unbalanced. That’s the big problem.
Normally, when the clocks go forward, I’d be out coaching kids and watching the match. It’s a social activity. I know everyone there and will probably have taught their children or coached them at some stage. I can entertain myself there for a couple of hours without even thinking about it. And now, I’m basically forced to stay every night in the house on my own.
I am very much a social animal and this lockdown… social distancing and shielding.. has been a challenge. I wouldn’t say I am at the end of my tether….. but I am utterly and totally fed up with this isolation.
The good thing about lockdown this time is that my friend S. has created a bubble with me – so he and I go out walking 5-6 times a week. We call it a ‘power-dander’. We dander for about two hours.
Last year, the first lockdown was a novelty and the weather was fantastic. People were sitting out in their garden and the sun was shining and everyone was happy enough. Nobody knew it was going to last for a year.
That’s one of the major challenges of all this: there are no definitive dates. There is nothing concrete. We don’t know when it will be over.
This is a typical 3-bedroom semi.
The living room has an extension so it’s basically the size of two rooms. There are patio doors to the garden… dining table and chairs.
I have a 3-seater sofa, a 2-seater sofa and a TV on the wall. The kitchen is part of the same extension and has a breakfast bar where I sit and do most of my work.
The front room – which I call my music room – is where I have my record player. I love my vinyl and I’m big into my music. It’s a decent sized room.
I converted the attic; it’s probably the best room in the house. I took away the box-room to create the space to get up into it so my landing is open plan.
There is a front bedroom with shower… my own bedroom is at the back and there is a bathroom. Outside there is a garage… front garden and back garden – which is bigger than most. There is a bit of maintenance with it, but if you keep ticking over its grand.
During this pandemic I totally re-decorated the whole house. When lockdown lifted my friend S. said: You need this house sorted out – I’ll do it!
So, S. did it all. My sister got me some soft furnishings and I bought a new suite online, to make it more cosy.
I had a conversation with S. about what colours would work and he did all the decorating while I was at work. He is meticulous about prepping. Every crack filled and sanded.
When it comes to DIY I’m really not that good, but I enjoy gardening. I find it therapeutic. I like planting seeds and bulbs and… suddenly there is a plant. How did that happen! I enjoy the garden.
All the art in my house was done by students from my school. I didn’t want to go to Ikea and just have the same artwork as everyone else. The students had left all this work behind and didn’t want to take it home. The art teacher was just going to bin it and said I could take what I want.
This art work is unique – which is great.
One of them, is of a drum kit and is a vivid electric blue. As soon as I saw it I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
I also have two paintings up the stairs that were done by a student who I taught A Level RE to about 20 years ago. When I walked into the school art exhibition her work was basically all of me. 10 years later another student did a chalk drawing of me wearing Mickey Mouse ears. They are both up the stairs framed. I’m not big into art, but I just wanted something different.
I have lived here for eighteen years. It’s very definitely home.
It had been lying empty for two years, but as soon as I walked in…. I knew I’d found the house I wanted to buy. I just had a good feeling about it. I had just gone through a divorce and thought: yes, I want to live here.
It just felt like home from the day I walked in.
I had to buy all the furniture, but I bought what I wanted. Over the years I have changed the table and chairs… suites.. constantly upgrading and making it comfortable.
My house is quite minimal and I don’t hoard a lot of stuff. I have a lot of music – CD’s and vinyl and just love just sitting in the front room putting on the vinyl.
This year, there is a certain amount of anxiety amongst teachers about assigning the GCSE and A Level grades. But, I am really looking forward to getting back into work on Monday. It will give my life a structure again because then I will have to get up and go to work. I frequently walk to work and home again – that is 5 or 6 miles, each way.
The first thing these children need to do when they go back into school next week is to re-learn how to socialise with their friends.
There are certain rites of passage for young people.
The Upper Sixth have a fabulous rec room where they are allowed to sit with their friends. This year they have missed out on all that: their school formal; their part time job in a café where they learn to listen to and serve people and earn a few quid – and learn independence from having a few quid. The Upper Sixth will go to university next year and will not have had that independence.
It’s not just about ‘perceived education’ it’s the ‘hidden education’ that children are missing out on. How long will it take for them to get back on track?
After this, we will all need to re-integrate ourselves into society and ‘normal life’.
My mother lost a sister and a brother in the past few months and I didn’t give her a hug because she has COPD and I’m shielding. When you think about that… that I can’t give my mother a hug…. those are basic human needs. We are all going to have to re-learn these things.
My home is definitely a sanctuary. Have I felt imprisoned? No.
There are nights when I have the fire lit and there’s something good on the TV and I’m just glad to be here. Sitting here over those seven months I felt I was safe from the outside world.
The open fire has been one of my ‘best friends’ during lockdown.
My friends are big into chopping wood and they leave me in tons of logs for the fire. The fire is a bit of company: looking at it… the heat from it… the flames licking the hearth.
Genuinely, I don’t feel I’m on my own when the fire is lit. My friend said: it’s funny that – my granny also used to say the fire was company for her.
Sometimes it feels like one day is running into the next. Then all of a sudden I realise it’s March 2021! How did we get here? There are times when it feels as if the hands of time are going really slow, but then you realise where you are…
To someone I know who had been in prison I said: this must be what prison is like. He said prison is far better than this – at least you get to meet people.
It’s because of the sameness of everything… time feels like it is going really slow. But, from one week to the next, Monday seems to be coming round with unerring pace. Is it Monday again? How did that happen?
In school in RE we talk about chronos and kairos – chronological time and God time. There seems to be a bit of that going on. Chronologically, time seems to be going quite slow….and on a different continuum it seems to be flying past.
I will get up tomorrow: make my bed up and have my shower and just do exactly the same thing as I did today. Even though it’s Friday… Sunday… Monday – there is no difference. The things that used to break up the week: going to mass, or going to the pub on a Friday night – or whatever. Those things that used to delineate the week – are gone. So, Monday is the same as Friday… the same as Sunday. It’s the sameness of it all – and also the fact that there doesn’t seem to be an end to it.
When is this going to end?
I go down to my mother’s house maybe 2 or 3 times a week. I stand in next door’s garden and she stands in her garden. Nobody has been in my mother’s house since last March. My sister calls every day, but hasn’t been inside for over a year. All those things are so difficult for people.
My mother said to me: I don’t think I’ll ever leave this house again. Her confidence has gone. You can see it.
I think we are coming out of this… I can definitely see a light at the end of the tunnel. But there is so much we can’t take for granted any more. Even as middle-aged adults, we are all going to have to re-learn a lot.
We are all talking about doing nothing. From this pandemic we all have a story to tell – about doing nothing.
Life is going to change immeasurably after this.
I can see masks will be worn in shops for the foreseeable future. There is an intimacy distance with them: you can’t see people’s faces. They have become necessary, but you can’t read people’s faces any more.
I can’t wait to get back into school next week.
I have triple A level first thing Monday morning and I can’t wait to see the students. The perspex screens will stay until a few weeks after I get the second vaccine. After that, if it gets me, it gets me. There has to be normalcy in life. We have to start normalising things.
I’ve no desire to retire. I enjoy my job too much – which is a lovely place to be. Being around young people all the time – it’s great!
All Photos By Respondent