Looking back on a year of lockdown - the year we lost our visual reminders of life
Every picture tells a story or, in today’s modern terminology, a like, a thumbs up, a tag or a visual reminder on Facebook.
Visual reminders on social media channels are a fascinating way of remembering events, people or incidents. My social media tags have duly reminded me that two years ago I was in the middle of the Sheffield Phlegm exhibition, facing long queues of people patiently waiting in cold conditions for a twenty minute journey into the magical Mausoleum of the Giants.The year prior to that I was in Sarasota, Florida, preparing for the 250 anniversary of Circus at the Ringling Museum of Art and enjoying 75 degrees sunshine. Now as we enter the first year of lockdown my social media channels are eerily empty, for what can one photograph in an absence of happening – a zoom invite, the panic of toilet rolls shortage? I think not.I flick through a year of pictures on my phone, the 27,000 plus safely stored on the cloud and realise that in the visual archive of my life there is a big gap in what could be prove to be one of the most defining years of the last hundred and certainly my own half century.So I have returned to the old fashioned method by which such events are recorded by writing down my memories or incidents that act as signposts for the year we have all faced. I realise I am lucky to have my own house, a garden and a job that continued but my dearest are not so fortunate. Daily my life mirrored catastrophic news reports as I worried about the lack of PPE as my sister and two nieces continued to care for adults with learning difficulties without protection. As care homes succumbed to the pandemic, my 84 year old mother was in sheltered housing, living in a home with elderly neighbours being sent back from hospital with Coronavirus. I raged at the social injustice playing out before me as half of my immediate family are key workers, a lovely description too long in the designation but masking the insecurity of minimum wage on zero hours contracts.
Suddenly in June my photos reappeared as the first lockdown was lifted and I returned to my home of Morecambe to both see my family and also my beloved Winter Gardens, the Grade II* theatre that I am chair of. Bittersweet pictures capture those precious few weeks of socially distant encounters as I try to tell my mother I cannot hug her or put a chair between my great nieces and nephews as they run to hug my knees – a new game they have been taught to keep them safe. Images of gardens, outdoor parks, nature scenes and the glorious sunsets over the Peak District and Morecambe Bay populate my timeline but poignantly all without people.
Other memories keep percolating as subsequent tiers moved into a more bitter winter lockdown and the photographs disappear again, except for the endless image bank of squirrels living in my garden.
Friends become zoom companions and zoom companions became friends as the separation between work and home blurred and days merged into weeks, weeks into seasons. The economy tumbled, the high streets became desolate and the numbers of deaths and infections rose, fell and rose again. Suddenly the year becomes full of grief as friends die, family members become seriously ill and the nights get longer.
But the final few weeks of lockdown now become gilded with hope as the vaccine rolls out. My mother is jabbed, more members of my family who work with vulnerable adults are and last Friday I was fortunate enough to receive mine. What I saw in the vaccination centre gave me joy and such pride in my city, in the NHS and in our scientific community as a makeshift church in Crosspool was transported into the promised land. Volunteers smiled and sent you to the desk where yet more volunteers greeted you with a number and other volunteers took you to a seat which they wiped for you and I waited. I looked around and saw hope and happiness, the spirit of togetherness as exemplified by the faces I started to recognise under the mask.
A former bank worker now retired wiping the seats, a furloughed bar worker taking names. From student medics to local retirees the centre was full of the spirit of generosity and resilience. People I had said hello to on the streets of Walkley or encountered on the way to work suddenly became the most beautiful relevant faces on my horizon, which suddenly stopped shrinking. So perhaps the most important day of my year is not captured by a photograph but will be forever imprinted on my m ind without the need for a social media reminder.