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Everything I’d Like My Future-Self To Know About This Past Year

Neve Iredale reflects on an academic year like no other

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Image Credit: Chris Zúniga

Perspective has been reassuring for me over the course of this pandemic. My close friends and family likely grew tired of my claims along the lines of “if this whole thing spans about a year, we can probably count ourselves very lucky”. What I meant by this is that a year isn’t a very long time – we’ll look back on it as a small glitch in our history with potentially longer lasting consequences on society (at least I think). If this indeed turns out to be true, there are certain things about everyday life I don’t want to forget, so here lies a compilation of banalities my 60 year-old self should remember about the 2020/21 pandemic.

If I had a penny for every time I heard the phrase “new normal” I’d probably be writing this article from a yacht in Monaco. The country adapted well, save for a nationwide toilet roll drought, and many of us were impressed by the adherence by the majority to the lockdown measures. With little home-life news to report on besides banana bread baking tips, passing friends on your daily walk would almost certainly lead to a conversation onto the “new normal”– how the kids were coping with home-schooling, how professionals were adapting to working from home and how the dog was exhausted from all the new exercise. This optimism soon died down following an autumn of tumultuous rule changes, but it served as a testament to a communal sense of strength and adaptability.

‘Normal’ was of course vastly different for NHS staff and frontline workers. I still see them as warriors, staring Covid-19 in the face and taking aim. It only seemed right to make every effort to acknowledge all their hard-work and sacrifice; the Clap for Our Carers was a heartwarming gesture which involved a weekly clap at 8pm every Thursday between March and May. To open your window at this time once a week, if you weren’t already participating of course, was to hear your neighbourhood demonstrate its support in a powerful eruption of noise. Videos of whole streets reaching out of their windows to clap in solidarity can be found on the internet and may very well make you cry; communities really can have a mighty impact. This event was of course most prevalent during the first lockdown, which was marked by a more positive national sentiment on the whole; maybe because it was easy to believe the spiel about it lasting three weeks. With that distinction noted, I’d like to once again stress the compelling nature of the Clap for Our Carers. It was certainly uplifting to a non-NHS worker like myself, and I can only hope it is remembered fondly by those it was addressing.

Standards of social behaviour have been in place for a long time, especially with regard to physical touch. Covid-19 saw these accepted standards thrown to the wayside and replaced with government recommendations that would change month to month. Looking back, it seems strange that we used to mindlessly shake the hands of strangers. With simple acts like handshaking coming to an abrupt stop in the early months of 2020, many of us were fumbled by what to replace them with… The new elbow touch? Foot tap? An exaggerated nod? It led to a heightened awareness of how much casual physical touch is ingrained into our methods of communication. Not shaking the hand of someone you’re introduced to almost feels awkward, impersonal even. More to that, there were transitional periods between restrictions tightening and relaxing in which it was important to decipher whether your company was comfortable with small gestures such as a handshake. It’s already been frequently noted in the media that these disjointed social behaviours are unlikely to see a swift exit from our lives;  we’ll probably still be navigating the intricacies of pandemic formalities for a couple more years. I hope my future self is reminded of how precious hugs are.

I have been taught a valuable lesson over the past year – there are some things in life we simply cannot change. No investigation or conclusion as to where we can place blame for the pandemic will change the fact that it completely flipped the world upside down (figuratively, at least at the point of writing). My university experience was the most heavily affected part of my life; it was cut short in first year, and almost entirely online in my second. The impact of the pandemic on my life sits at the very bottom of the barrel in terms of significance in comparison to billions of other people, but it’s my experience. Needless to say, it was a harsh reality to accept, especially as university is often hailed as the best years of one’s life. Determined not to let a worldwide pandemic ruin the experience, university students proved creative and devised ways to keep lockdown life interesting by way of in-house bar crawls from room to room, PowerPoint parties and various game nights. Deciding that the pandemic wasn’t going to ruin my time at university was pivotal to staying sane and undoubtedly taught me a useful lesson about accepting things as they are.

To bring an end to the somber tone of this article I thought it might be helpful to highlight something I hope we’ll carry forward. When it dawned on me in March 2020 that the main form of communication would be video-calls I instantly cast my mind back to the days of Skype. Despite a very obvious market demand for online meeting platforms, only one company truly dominated laptop screens in 2020. Zoom was the fifth most downloaded app worldwide in 2020 and for good reason – it facilitated large meetings and conferences and was thus used by a wide range of institutions such as schools, banks and government. Most importantly, it saved time that I didn’t even know I was wasting. Cutting travel time by 100 percent and being able to bring conversations to a neat end with the click of a button was ideal for rolling out of bed into seminars. Jokes of my academic laziness aside, the Zoom revolution proved that a one-hour meeting doesn’t have to consume almost a whole morning: time is money folks.

The actualities of everyday life amid the 2020/21 pandemic will remain fascinating to me, not least because the year was also marked by other mind-bogglingly huge events like the impeachment of President Donald Trump, the BLM movement protests and the Australian wildfires (after a quick google search I was also reminded that 2020 began with memes of a potential third world war, following rising tensions between the US and Iran). Among all this devastating chaos were changes in day-to-day life that I sincerely hope qualify for a tiny subheading in the 2090 history textbooks.

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