As a response to the developing Covid-19 pandemic on the 23rd March 2020 the United Kingdom government introduced lockdown legislation across society, instigating some of the most restrictive measures of social control since the second world war (HM Cabinet Office, 2021). Laws restricting movement and urging households to stay at home, only going out for food shopping and exercise for one hour daily. Businesses, schools and retail outlets were closed with few exceptions. Whilst feeling significant amounts of anxiety and worry the general population had to adapt to new ways of socialising, learning and working. Such was the UK Governments concern much research was commissioned to understand in detail how they were coping (Vizard, 2020). With much time spent at home new experiences were forged creating new ways of doing previously familiar things, reviving family and community experiences in a wide variety of new and often exciting ways. At the same time some were left isolated and alone, struggling to cope. Additionally, people had more time to reflect on their lives and what was important to them. This exhibition attempts to capture some of those thoughts, reflections and experiences, even as lockdown continues……..
Exhibit 1. Walking Boots
“You don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve lost it” was a slightly cryptic phrase my mother would sometimes use. With lockdown urging just one hour of exercise a day the simple act of walking became suddenly valuable beyond any previous consideration. An entire population now had to think about how they would use that hour. Walk, run, skate plus any number of alternatives. For me the boots now meant a practical freedom, but they were also a link to better times. Walks cursed when lost, revelled in when at their best. But also, a promise of better times ahead, maps spread across the dining table, future adventures to be planned. Seeing the boots so worn, I realised that replacement would have to wait until lockdown was lifted if I was to avoid buying online. That sparked the interesting thought, “what would have happened if the pandemic had arrived prior to the internet”?
Exhibit 2. Teacup
Unable to find new experiences outside the search for novelty at home began to take increasingly strange turns. Some started to bake and focus in the kitchen, family mealtimes returning to regular events that had previously been lost to fast food and tv dinners. Others took up knitting, sewing and a variety of creative home crafts. For me the simple act of making tea developed into an increasingly varied and complex custom. Different types of tea, bag or loose leaves, variety of cups and pots all became increasingly fun and significant to me for reasons I couldn’t begin to understand. It was almost a desperation to find some fulfilment in even the most everyday tasks as the world had become reduced to such a small and narrow footprint. It was also an act of community, coming together every now and then for some tea and a chat in ways that had been taken for granted previously.
Exhibit 3. Silver Pen
A strange phenomenon of life under Covid was the way routine actions could become more ritualised and take on a significance previously unrealised. Whilst writing daily for study I took to writing poetry for the first time in years, exploring thoughts and feelings almost in meditation. Unable to go out freely my mind increasingly turned inwards, and writing provided a positive outlet. Unsure of the motivation the act of writing became a ritual. At the same time of day, using a silver pen my father had given to me, feeling closer to him as I explored my experiences of the day or fumed against some perceived frustrations or injustices. Almost feeling that with the pen in my hand I was holding his hand and facing the realities of the day together. Beyond the words on the page the ritual itself became important, time with my father rather than simply missing him.
Exhibit 4. Books
Unable to venture out books became the road to other worlds. Whether factual, explaining the workings of politics or DIY or fiction, or providing escape to more exciting lands. Books became the tickets to alternative realities, beyond the fears and uncertainties of the Covid pandemic. However, the experience was bitter-sweet. Just as they provided the means of escape books also served to remind just what was being missed in the wider world. Where the books contained pictures, all were captured in a world before Covid, forcing the realisation that the very same pictures would now be pock marked with facemasks or socially distanced. Almost regardless of time or place the world had quickly come to share a common fate in the most visible of ways. This begged the important question; “when would the world return to normality”?
Exhibit 5. Chess Set
The search for entertainment quickly extended beyond Television. Interestingly, game consoles were ever popular, but lockdown sparked a renaissance in home entertainment with alternate forms of leisure being reawakened. Online Zoom quizzes became a weekly occurrence for many, whilst the price and availability of jigsaws briefly matched that of a housing boom. Board games were dug out of lofts as families returned to an almost Victorian enjoyment of pastimes. In some ways this seemed to capture the experience of the pandemic, a return to family traditions providing some degree of warmth and certainty in what had become a scary and rapidly changing world. Personally, a return to chess provided a wonderful balance between competition and socialising. Gentle conversation sometimes developing into argument, while trying to focus on the board and the detail of different moves, regardless of the outcome, a chance to get lost in thoughts and forget the outside world.
Visitor Challenge: If you could contribute one exhibit from your own life, to reflect your own experience of the pandemic, what would it be? What thoughts and feelings does it raise and why? Please do feel free to leave your comments.
HM Cabinet Office (2021) National lockdown: Stay at Home.
Vizard, T. (2020) Coronavirus and the Social Impacts on Great Britain.