We began the day slightly differently with an online PE lesson from someone called Joe Wicks, or The Body Coach. He’s been really popular during the lockdown and a few of my friends recommended the 30-minute workout session he does every day at 9am, so I thought we’d give it a go! Unfortunately, my two have the concentration spans of goldfish so it didn’t go according to plan! My son ended up lying upside down, with his legs on a chair and his head on the floor and my daughter said he moved too fast, before promptly falling on her behind! The only problem with changing the routine was that we were then 30 minutes late for home school and my son does not cope well with change. He needs quite a rigid structure, with clearly defined timings and any changes can be detrimental. The speed of the school lockdown was particularly challenging: school gives his day structure and taking it away so abruptly was very difficult for him.
The civil servant
Sarah is a civil servant in her mid-60s working in a pivotal role for HM Revenue and Customs. She used her diary to document the rapid changes which have taken place in her organisation since the lockdown and how working from home was becoming “normal” from March 23.
My department is changing so quickly – we have introduced a new i-form to promote more ‘web chat’. This is proving popular with the public. We are trialling taking incoming telephone calls at home. We are all now working from home when we can, no more car sharing, unless it’s with someone you live with – we must keep two metres apart. I am beginning to accept that this is a crisis, once in a generation, completely alien to us. Will life in the future be remembered as ‘before and after’ COVID-19? For the first time in many years I feel so proud to work where I do…I understand, possibly for the first time, why we are ‘key workers’. We have a letter as proof to show the police if we are ever stopped whilst travelling into work and NCP carparks are free for us to use if we come into work! No better validation than that!
The furloughed engineer
Lucas, a man in his late 30s from Northern Ireland, is finding the pandemic difficult on multiple levels. It’s a trigger for his mental health, but also it is a reminder of past troubles.
Nightmare. Anxiety, fear, dread, no way to burn off the angst, worry upon worry, like how the inside of my head can be at times. Then there’s the ones that are really in the middle of it, nurses dying because there was no proper PPE at the right time, people losing parents, friends, and IMHO worst of all, kids.
Lucas writes about how he stopped watching the news because in an attempt to “avoid anxiety”. He adds:
I grew up in Northern Ireland during ‘the troubles’ and it was totally normal for me to watch the news every night at tea time [6pm] and hear of various paramilitary groups killing people. That was 100% normal to me. Looking back watching the news in those times did me no good. Sure, I know some facts about it all, but do I feel any better for it … Same as now, I’m going to try to ride this out with my hands over my ears and my head in the sand at times.
Jack, 72, is a retired academic who used his diary to comment on societal problems. One of which is the narrative of what the “new normal” is and how society is being remade.
April 29 saw the return of Boris, who was to ‘take control of the problem’. An almost religious return for someone who came back from being nearly dead on Easter Sunday! It seems we are being told to be ready for the new normal which again raises the issue of what post-lockdown will be like. On the web I don’t see sociologists rushing in to think about this new normal! A Google search suggests that the new normal is being constructed largely by those in business and is largely focused on the new normal being a more exaggerated (and better?) version of the old normal – more globalisation, more focus on customers and so on. There is little ‘thinking outside the box’.
May – Looking forward
Daniel, a man in his mid-20s, had just started a new relationship in February with a woman he met while bell-ringing at a church in the Midlands. However, both he and his girlfriend live apart and have not seen each other since the lockdown began. Over the past few months, Daniel has found this a challenge, but has documented how their relationship has been maintained virtually and through the help of keeping a diary.
Suzy and I have got to know each other a lot quicker and a lot better than what we may have done otherwise, and whilst we do miss each other immensely, it’ll make the good times so much better when we do see each other next. Whenever and however we get out of this, I am determined that I will have made the most of these extraordinary circumstances.
This is just a glimpse of the stories that have been gathered by the CoronaDiaries project, but already patterns are emerging. While this crisis is undoubtedly impacting on people across the globe, what is clear from these accounts is that there are multiple crises across everyday life – for the young, the old, for mothers and for fathers and for those from different class, gender and ethnic backgrounds. These entries are able to highlight the multiple different lives behind the dreaded numbers we hear announced each day.
My diarists have been recording how they feel vulnerable and uncertain about their future – but there is also hope that things will not be like this forever.
The evidence which is being gathered here can play an important part in addressing the social, political and economic changes created by the COVID-19 pandemic. This type of analysis will foster global awareness of crucial issues that can help support specific public health responses to better control future outbreaks and to better prepare people for future problems. The study will run until September and all accounts will then be available to view in a free digital online archive.
All the names used in this piece have been changed at the request of the study participants.
Michael Ward is Senior Lecturer in Social Science, Swansea University.