Empty streets in Derry during lockdown
Emmet Doyle is a former advisor to SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey and has written a book called This House Will Divide: A History of the Northern Ireland parliament 1921-1972
On 23 March we descended into lockdown. It was scary, even for an introvert like me who didn’t mind staying at home – the notion that there would be no end in sight struck at our collective sense of normality – what was safe, what was normal?
Most of the towns bars and clubs took the selfless decision to close from 15th March and whilst the guidance from governments was just gearing up, Derry slowly went into hibernation. About two weeks in, I thought to myself ‘this must be nearing an end’ but I was wrong, in fact it was getting worse and we all watched with, in my case, genuine fear as the numbers of those infected and those who had sadly lost their lives mounted each night for days and weeks.
I should say that my lockdown has been at the lower end of the stress scale. I don’t have children to feed or home school and I can work from home. Whilst having that level of free time, however, I exhausted my in-house options fairly quickly. I painted the house, reconfigured rooms and did some (questionable) DIY. After about the fifth week indoors though, I had a lot more time to sit and observe the lives of others, whether through social media or the news, and I would love to be able to just pause at that point and look at how we all coped.
I watched as people drifted away from the scornful, reality-tv fuelled selfishness that had increasingly eaten away at that old spirit of community Derry was once famous for. My facebook was overloaded with scenes of kindness and understanding. Neighbours looking out for one another, umpteen tonnes of banana bread being offered as gifts and when all the distraction of shopping, going for pints and buying the latest gear was removed, we all reverted to our default settings.
Nature was once again our playground, family was again the lynchpin that held it all together and our 21st century blinkers came off, maybe for the first time in some of our lives. It was the best of us. I say that in no way to gloss over the loss of members of our families and our communities. There will always be a void left by those who we couldn’t mourn properly and lay to rest in our traditional ways. I think we owe it to their memories to try and capture the things that changed us over the last few months and apply it to how we will come out of this.
Remember that it was during this time that nurses and doctors, not reality tv wannabes that put their shoulder to the wheel. Remember the gratitude we all shared every day and the fervour we showed in demanding that they be paid better? We shouldn’t forget that just because our amazon deliveries are back to normal, or because Primark has again opened.
Hundreds and thousands of meals were prepared for those in need across the city, and whilst at the time I am sure we all thought this was fantastic, look below the surface and ask yourself why in 2020 there are people in our town who can’t afford to feed themselves or their families. Lockdown exposed a lot about the society we live in, good and bad. If we can harness the good, we can take the initiative away from people like bungling Boris and force the issue of looking after our key workers, paying a decent wage and this time, keep that community spirit alive. I thought prior to lockdown that we were too far gone, I learned different.
I learned what was important and most importantly – who. I didn’t need politicians, I needed the Iceland delivery driver. I didn’t need ‘influencers’, I needed my local chemist and I certainly didn’t need constant social media trolling, I needed my postwoman.
Now don’t get me wrong, there were a few days there where I would have done anything for a cold pint, and its only natural that we want to be able to go and do the things we are used to, but there is a real genuine opportunity for us to plot the course out of the pandemic and out of the depressing situation the world is in by just remembering we are all human and we are all caring and responsible people at heart.
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