In early lockdown the road outside my kitchen window was a joke of activity – a constant clown car parade of joggers, cyclists, skateboarders, rollerbladers, and general one-hour government mandated exercise victims. It was annoying to look at. Not in a judgemental way, it was just visually noisy and unaesthetic. Going outside at such peak activity levels seemed like an unnecessary gauntlet to run, for fear of catching spittle spray from the stream of panting outdoors people. Doing most things out of the house, at first, felt frivolous. What if I contracted Covid in Co-Op buying a chocolate orange? Ok, I’ll go to Co-Op in a few days on Friday and buy a chocolate orange then when I need sausages instead. Luckily, I found that I like staying home.
I’m an illustrator and all of my illustration work fell off a cliff. Most of my drawing work is events or hospitality-led (posters and such) and there were no events or hospitality so it made sense. There were a few jobs in the offing prior to lockdown that just disappeared…I didn’t ask and the person commissioning didn’t tell. We both just knew. My trade as an illustrator certainly felt superfluous in this time. I was on furlough from my day job so I wasn’t scrambling for rent money, which was lucky as there didn’t seem to be any drawing work coming from anywhere for months.
I took solace in the inactivity – the break in chasing one’s own tail. Usually I have a bank of various illustration jobs to do that I inevitably feel bad for not doing in the evening after my day job, or for fucking off at the weekend in favour of the intense frittering of time. Lockdown gave me no desire to do any work for anyone else – not that there was any. Instead I was invigorated to do work for myself – specifically lockdown and pandemic-centred comics. That’s all I wanted to do, really, and I had lots of ideas for it. In the old world, I didn’t recently leave much time for working on my own things so that was a good outcome for me. I did writing for fun, something I hadn’t made time for in a long while. I made a new website – a task I’d been chipping away at for months because I find it boring and unsatisfying. I made prints of the Lockdown comics I’d been doing and began selling them online. This unlocked a new location on the limited map to visit…the post office.
I’m happy with the drawing I got done in peak lockdown, but let the record state, I also did a LOT of not much. I made peace early on in lockdown in setting personal targets low. Going to the supermarket was a big day. We are in a worldwide pandemic, after all. You don’t also need to feel bad for being relatively inactive.
I didn’t leave Stockport (where I live) for months. Town was a distant memory. Public transport was off the cards. I walked a lot, re-trod my paths daily. Going to Sainsbury’s in Stockport was bae. Big Tesco was too intense, too real. The virus was more present there with the protocol. The dystopian queues crossing the car park, security guards on the aisles, the traffic light one-way system. Going there to buy anything felt deeply non-essential. I wasn’t safeguarding for the weeks of meals ahead; I’m not of the “big shop” mindset, more daily top-ups. Old world mentality. Stockport Sainsbury’s, by contrast to Big Tesco, was an oasis of Covid calm. Certainly a sleeper hit in the old world, that particular Sainsbury’s maintained its placid nowheresville energy and on its aisles I did float. I like going to supermarkets, the pandemic did not take that away from me.
Government daily briefings were a highlight, they became routine. I was genuinely disappointed when they stopped. What would the new meaningless slogan be today? Will lockdown be extended for another three weeks? The NHS clap would come around fast each Thursday. Every week I’d be startled by the falling-down-the-stairs clatter of pots and pans outside. Sometimes I’d get up and crane my neck out my first floor kitchen window to see if I could see anyone doing it (I never could), most times I’d just holler horizontally from the sofa. Woo! That was for the first two weeks, after that I’d just pause whatever I was watching and wait for it to stop.
I relished being at home to receive deliveries. I ordered a lot of things I didn’t need. I didn’t improve myself with new hobbies or coping mechanisms but I cooked every meal and washed every dish, which at times felt relentless. I found myself waking up at a consistent early time (6.30am) every day, regardless of when I’d gone to sleep. This was new. I walked more than I usually do, which I enjoy, but I began to resent the unattainability of the recommended 10K daily steps. Walking seems to take longer when there’s no discernible destination.
Things have become more active now. Mild nostalgia creeps in for early lockdown. A lot of things externally still seem frivolous in the pandemic but I’m more inclined now to go get that chocolate orange on a whim. Illustration work has picked up again, I’m back at my day job again. Both things feel like they could drop off just as easily as they did prior, which I expect them to, and feel more at peace with the inevitability of them doing so as the pandemic deepens. Lockdown was definitely not a holiday but it allowed time, albeit time tinged with mild peril. There were positives to be had in that period. Learning to deal with uncertainty is probably a good thing going forward.