My Life In London – in a Pandemic

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life on London street

My life during Covid so far:  Break-up…new home… furlough… move back to Belfast… move back  to London… re-start my job… lose my job!

I moved into this flat two weeks  before lockdown hit. 

I had a break up, which was a little bit difficult,  so I kind of went from having ’my space’ in my ex’s house to sharing a space  and living with two girls that I had never met before (random people) which I hadn’t done for maybe 8 years. That was kind of tricky, in terms of negotiating relationships  and having to get on; because you are essentially with these people all the time.  But it is fine.

I started off working at home, but that didn’t last very long. Then, In April we were all put on furlough.  I stayed in London for quite a while…. got into yoga… and did exercise. That’s mainly how I kept sane. 

Whenever my granny got Corona I went home to Belfast because we didn’t think she would make it, but  she ended up beating it and I stayed for 5-6 weeks. 

That was quite a shock to the system –  being  34 and then living back in your parents’ house.  Essentially, they know you as an 18 year old (whenever  you left home)  and  it’s years  and year later. But we got on quite well.  There were no major bust-ups or anything and I think we all have a better understanding of each other.

When I moved back to London I was still on furlough for two weeks, until I went back to work in June. 

Leadenhall Market in lockdown

Because I hadn’t had corona  (and still haven’t had corona) I was apprehensive about going back into the stores, and also getting on the tube. Being in public, being in store openings, and amongst people all the time –  that was a little bit scary. 

For months you had been told to stay away from people. You haven’t  really hugged your own family, and have been staying in the house and then  all of a sudden, you are back to a busy tube and life seems ‘normal’.  But you’ve still got the whole pandemic in the news. So, what do I believe? Should I believe in real life, or what’s happening in the news? That was a bit strange.

At Christmas I was made redundant and so, right now,  I have my laptop out and I am re-doing my CV, for the third time. 

I think you have to be resilient. 

There are times when –  I wouldn’t say dark times – but I’m sure everyone has had them, where you just wake up and think: this again…. this tiny room. 

There have been a lot of tears but I’ve found a lot of solace in friends, and in writing. And, not to go overly spiritual about it, but meditation has been a massive factor in keeping me sane. It has been really good.

I kind of just taught myself meditation from YouTube –  I don’t actually watch TV any more. 

 I have found a new things that I’m interested in  such as  documentaries… alternative medicines…  and I feel it is a time to re-learn things about myself. It’s not quite that you ‘reinvent yourself’ but when you have kind of lost everything that made you – you.  That is: when you can’t see or speak to your friends, you can’t go out get drunk  or you can’t  go to the bar and be the life and soul of  the party  – what are you really left with? This experience, is a kind of ‘unveiling’… which it has been kind of interesting for me. 

I am at the age, where I guess, we are supposed to be already settled: buying a house, having kids. And I’m actually doing the opposite of all that.

In Covid you can see more clearly the poverty divide.  It’s not about how much money you have but how much space you have. When you have Zoom calls with friends who live up north in Newcastle, they all have these big 5 bedroom houses… and I’m living like a student!  

I have lived in London for eleven years. Although, it is a very transient place I think I’ve been quite lucky because many of my friends have stayed on. We are all very close and similarly young-minded; we are all single and not in the  mindset of “let’s move out of London”. 

That said, there is a massive part of me that wants to move out.  I could never imagine living in London with a family. I don’t know how people do it.

Empty London station in lockdown
London Bridge station

After living in the city this past year I crave the outdoors.

I am massively  into hiking. At the start of last year I spent a month in Patagonia and in 2019 I went hiking in Corsica and China. I have been on about  5 hiking holidays and been loads of places.  Going from all that – to this, wasn’t as bad as I thought. I am really appreciative of all the experiences that I’ve had. It has given me a greater awareness of people who can’t travel and who don’t have the means to do the things that I have been lucky enough to do.

I live near London Bridge so I am pretty central,  which is great in normal times but when everything is closed, it’s not so great. 

Empty Tower Bridge in lockdown

The first lockdown was a proper lockdown. It was a like a movie. You could walk by Tower Bridge without seeing another car, boat, person or anything else. Just you!

Even, down by the embankment, you could go running and not bump into a tourist. It was kind of nice; it was almost tranquil. I have some photos of London Bridge station  – totally empty. Which is quite strange. That would be my usual commute and normally you are always trying to dodge people and getting all frustrated by slow walkers.  

I wouldn’t say it’s back to normal here – definitely not. But there are  people about, and  coffee shops are open for take-away coffee –  which weren’t open in the first lockdown.  So, it’s a little bit busier now. I haven’t been on a tube for about two months but I know that friends who work for big companies are still working from home. 

The supermarket at the start of the first lockdown

In the first lockdown it was all very different: people were moving out of the way of each other, no-one giving  eye contact. No-one really gives eye-contact now, but when the lockdown was lifted in the summer it was like a frenzy.

You went to a bar and everyone was talking. In London you find that normally everyone stays within their own group, but it was totally different. It was like being on holiday.

It was so exciting because everyone had this ‘common thread’ of the pandemic that was, in some shape or form, a bond. Let’s go to the park and have a party? The small things just seemed massive.  I still remember hugging my friend for the first time – we shouldn’t have, but we just did.  

It was so exciting because everyone had this ‘common thread’ of the pandemic that was, in some shape or form, a bond. Let’s go to the park and have a party? The small things just seemed massive.  I still remember hugging my friend for the first time – we shouldn’t have, but we just did.  

Bedroom with cushions

My flat is  on an former council estate so you kind of walk past people’s doors to get to yours.  If it was my house it would be nice, but unfortunately it belongs to the landlord. It’s not super-small, but it’s pretty small.  

There are three bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, toilet/ bathroom. 

My bedroom is  pretty small to have your ‘life’ in – especially if you have to quarantine. There have been two occasions where  I’ve been on contact with people with Covid and had to stay in the room for seven days. So, if you go to the bathroom you have to wipe down the light switches and door handles because  you don’t want your flat mates getting it. That’s kind of tough when you live with other people.  

tidy kitchen life

I moved here because I had a fight with my boyfriend and said right: I’m moving out! It was a little bit of an impulse. 

The two  other places I looked at were both total shit-holes and this just wasn’t ‘so’ bad. I remember I turned up really drenched and the two girls seemed really nice. Really, it was  the two girls who sold  it to me –  because the room didn’t look particularly appealing.  It looked very small.  Bearing in mind I had come  from living in houses where I only shared with only one other person, and had my own  wardrobe and space. 

One of the girls is a singer – she has since moved out because all her work stopped. The other one is a nurse so she was working all the time in a pretty stressful environment. I got the room off Spare rooms.com, and it was a good price.

I spend all the time in my room.

 

Actually, I had a panic attack the other night and I just couldn’t go back into the room.  I woke up in the night and I just kept picturing my bed. Which, because the room is small is also where I sit. 

There is no full stop – when you work, or when  you have leisure time, or when you go to bed.  I had to go into the living room and lie down on the sofa to try to calm myself down, I kept picturing the image of my bed and I just couldn’t go back into my room. 

I have to make this work, because I don’t have an alternative. While I know I will never be homeless, and could move home to Belfast, moving back is a whole lifestyle change. Also, I don’t have any friends there.  I don’t really know anyone. And so it would be like starting all over again, and I would prefer to do that somewhere else in the world. 

flat life in London living room

Whenever redundancy was first on the table I did think I would go to New Zealand.

One of my best friends is from there. But unfortunately when I did more research into it a)  I can’t get a working visa because I am over 30 and b) I would have to pay up to £3000 for the Covid  quarantine. So that was off the table. 

My redundancy  is more money than I would ever get in a lump sum. If you said right: here is a load of cash and you’ve got no job and you can give up your house and do whatever you want. I would be like – amazing!  A round-the-world ticket, one way. My backpack is ready to go and I would just go off by myself. I have  travelled by myself before and I love it. But, because of this scenario, you are forced to stay at home. 

I am quite non-sentimental about getting rid of stuff.  I used to own a house with an ex-partner and I  liked to have stuff, but I think that experience  showed me that it doesn’t really matter.  So, I don’t really have any stuff. But there is also a part of me that wants to settle. 

view from window with plants

Meditation helps me to introduce methods of gratitude of being thankful and keeping positive: I have a roof over my head, I have food in the fridge. The simple things become  like gold – like your treasures. 

It’s just about being able to  clear my head; almost like taking a broom to my thoughts. It’s being able to wash out any kind of negativity and just sit with nothing – almost.  

I have introduced loads of good habits like that and am trying to  keep to routines to help my sleep.  There was the whole weird Covid dream thing; having crazy dreams and not really sleeping.  At the minute I am doing an hour’s meditation every night. It started with 15 minutes in the park and have just built it up.  

park life London

I am not really able to do yoga at the moment  (because of the space) but in the summer time when it was dry I was going to the park. Even knowing that people can see you doing yoga… I don’t care. Because  I’m enjoying this, and I’m not hurting anyone, and this is the only place I have to do it. Even that was like a lesson in itself; to not care what is around you or,  what people will think. 

All my friends are single. Some of them have gone into  lockdown with their parents and have been dating online. Others have broken lockdown and gone on dates. 

I started online dating with a guy – which is quite an interesting experience. We chatted for  5 months before we  actually met and for the past year we chat every day.

My boyfriend was in lockdown with his dad for 6 months and as soon as he came back to London  we met up.

People need a connection. I think (more than ever) people realise the power of relationships.  For people who stayed together over lockdown it has strengthened their relationship – even if they were just dating at the start and locked down together. They are stronger as a result. But, I have other friends who broke up because they haven’t been  able to handle the lockdown situation together. 

Because I was new online ( I’d only just split up with someone) I asked R.  right at the start:  what are people looking for online?  He said a good connection goes a long way. That was like our first conversation.  People maybe yearn for that – just someone else to text.

Laptop  in window with plant life

With the online dating scenario you get to be someone different –  or you get to be your best self.

When you go on a first date you are presenting yourself as if it is an interview.  “I’m amazing at this… and this… “ And I think that acts as a distraction for what is really happening in  real life like – you might lose your job… live in a tiny flat.. you can’t see your friends. 

So, there is all this chaos going on around you, but if there is that one person you can be your  normal old self with, it kind of helps you and  your confidence, and gives you something else to focus on. 

three doorways in London

In video dating, whatever you see in the background gives you a big insight into someone. So, it becomes important to set up your room in a way that you want to be perceived.

In the course of a normal relationship you might not find out for some time if a person was ‘messy’ –  and whether or not that would work for you. So, online, you can present yourself in a way that gives an insight into you and your life. Good lighting, of course helps too!

At first, it was strange even to see that you could have chemistry over the phone.

But, it is pretty romantic waking up with a text and  arranging date nights. We would both dress up, or both get the same wine – just to find some kind of common/shared experience; even though we are separated by distance. There was one time we talked for 9 hours! 

When I first came to London I would maybe  get the tube from Piccadilly to Covent Garden – this was in the times before Google maps. Walking has forced me to go out and I feel I live here  rather than just as someone who might stay for a few years.  

street life London in winter

That’s maybe the  secret to living in London: get to know your neighbours and your area and maybe you will feel more like a Londoner  –  as opposed to being a tourist.

I can remember one time being on the tube and one guy was reading in Arabic and another guy was reading in Russian. I thought this is great! Where else can you get this! In London the melting pot is so exciting.  I love it!

Time is passing so, so, fast.  

I’m job hunting and yesterday it took me three hours to fill out one application. By that stage it was lunch time and  I wanted to go out for a walk. And, by the time I came back it was my online Zoom class and it was already 6.30pm. How did that happen? I got up at 8.00am!

coffee shop life in lockdown
My local coffee and pastry shop

I feel I am just living day to day and am fearful of making plans. That’s what I will remember most about this time.

Perhaps I was in danger of making too many plans, planning my holidays in advance and having a  bucket list of things that I wanted to do and a daily ‘to do’ list. Now I think: OK I want to do this. And I will just go and do it, without a plan. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.

When this is over… yes, there is that part  of me that wants to jump into the sea and feel the sun  on my face or lie on a beach. But I think literally it’s about being able just to go to a pub for Sunday dinner  and sit  around with all my friends. Nothing big… I’m sure that will come.  But I think I’m going to just honour my whole new perspective of living for the now at bit more.

life with online friends
A New Friday night in!

And I just really want to hug my friends again. 

All Photos By Respondent

Follow Nuala Rooney:

I am designer, educator and researcher with 25 years teaching/research experience delivering human-centred insights across the social/spatial sphere. My passion lies in exploring people's personal relationships with space across different life stages: design as lived experience.

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