It’s so weird to think that only a few months ago we were able to do anything we pleased, with whoever we wanted to and go wherever took our fancy. Even multiple places a night with various people, if you fancied it. Possibly even randoms and in dodgy places. And we never even gave it a second thought.
Going out in London, and not even in super central London, but Paddington, showed me how everything has changed in so little time and how things may never be so free as before. Or at least for some time. Way more time than I ever thought it would take. And as much as it pains me to say this, I have been seriously been thinking that maybe everyone is right, this could actually be the new normal.
I haven’t really had the need to go to Central London since starting to work from home just before the lockdown and our offices in Waterloo closed. Arriving at Paddington Station on an already empty Circle line train from a more of less empty Ladbroke Grove Station, the first things you notice, after the new fashion must have; the mask, is the emptiness. And most of all, the silence.
In less than a year, London has turned silent. As there are hardly any people around, there’s less chatter, less commotion, less hassle and bussle, less vibes that makes London as vibrant and busy as it is renowned to be. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still the rush. Oddly the small amount of people that are out and about are still in a rush. There’s still the fast pace and don’t even think for a moment that you can get away with standing on the left hand side of the underground escalator. Even in these weird times, people are still rushing about, and there are still rules. I suppose we still have places to be and I guess that as I wasn’t one of them this day as I was really early for an appointment, I could afford to take it all in. So regardless of the student who tried to overtake me and whacked into me on the way out of the station (and didn’t even say sorry), or the tourist who rammed a suitcase into my leg (but did say sorry), it’s all still so scaringly different.
Will there be an end to all of this? As I write this I got a notification from that highly disputed NHS Covid-19 track and trace app informing me that the area I live in has changed its status from medium risk to high risk. But somehow we still want to pretend that everything is normal. We will still play our football matches this weekend, the kids will go to school on Monday and my husband will return to his workplace for the rest of the week. But it’s not normal is it?
Around us a lot has changed. Even the way we think has changed. Getting on a bus or tube isn’t the means of transport that you didn’t even think about before or did automatically to a point where you would end up at the station exit thinking how the hell did I get here, but a new danger where you start to subconsciously conduct a risk assessment. Have I got my mask with me? Hand sanitiser? Will the platform be packed? What about if the train is busy? Where do I sit? Can I even stand anywhere? But the sad truth is that it’s not as it was before, it’s all pretty much empty. And quiet.
And apart from the essence of London changing, it’s so sad to think that even the places will be different. A lot of businesses will not be able to reopen, changing the offerings of an area. What if in the West End there are no more shops, restaurants, bars, clubs or theatres? I’m already watching programmes that show scenes of restaurants, packed bars, parties and events and referring them to the ‘good old days’.
But most of all, regardless of the social changes, I feel the freedom that we felt amongst people has changed. Can we really be in a place and not kick ourselves for not getting that pocket sized forehead thermometer so we could randomly check people’s temperature, just to be on the safe side? Or the nervous gut wrenching moment when someone coughs right next to you? And it doesn’t sound like a chesty mucusy cough? One of the signs, that supposedly doesn’t come with covid? And all of those people that have died because of corona or have been affected by it. All this loss and suffering, I mean can we be really normal normal again?