With restrictions winding down, we are slowly being reintroduced to the social world. Our horizons are expanding and our possibilities multiplying. Sometimes this is framed as a ‘return’ to ordinary life, as if the removal of restrictions will mean resuming life as it was before the pandemic. However, for many, perhaps most, life did not simply pause over the past year. Although the activities we enjoyed may have taken a break, people’s lives continued to move forward. The idea of ‘getting back on track’ is flawed – our lives never left the track. Some new places and practices will have been discovered over the year, while the return of old ones will surely be welcomed. But this will be with a fresh perspective after their forbidden nature for such a time.
Any new activities were determined, and limited by, what was available during the height of restrictions. Gone were group activities, as well as those that operated indoors somewhere other than our homes. New activities therefore often had two features: outdoors, and solo. It is not surprising then that many people found a new appreciation for the outdoors, taking walks and finding new places they otherwise might have missed. The slower pace of life allowed us to explore places we might have before skipped over.
One such place I discovered in Durham: the pigs behind the Durham Old Gardens. Many walks were taken to see Bertie and Blossom, and when you are restricted to taking one person at a time, you’d be amazed how much use one can get out of two animals, showing them to different people each time. Two handy deck chairs are provided when you arrive, so that you can pass the time, sit and spend as long as you want watching them work their way through a bag of veg. I now had the time to appreciate how easily a pig can get through quite a big carrot.
Beyond Durham, there were more exotic sights to be had. During one of the breaks between lockdowns, a friend and I explored the nearby seaside town of Seaham. If you turn left at the town (not right – right is for Chemical Beach, which is not a place you want to swim), you can swim at Seaham Beach. With the new craze for cold water swimming, this was the perfect place to keep up with the latest lockdown trend. With your body frozen, I found a new appreciation for the chip butty, warming my belly with its stodgy mass. The beach is cyclable in about an hour, although a car makes the day more comfortable, especially on the way back with your stiff legs. I look forward to hopefully doing it again with a car.
As well as new places, old ones will be returned to with a new eye. I’ve always been a music fan, enjoying going to gigs. However, prior to the pandemic, I felt I had all the time in the world, tending to stay in Durham rather than go further afield to see bands. The lockdown has reminded us how easily putting something off can lead to never doing it. I have a new resolve to do that which I had previously only postponed. This starts with visiting small Newcastle venues which feature upcoming bands for cheap. These include the Cluny, Small Buildings, and Think Tank. Lockdown gave us the needed distance to take a step back and think about what we really enjoy. We might realise that we were doing some things only out of habit because we had always done them. Others we really missed, and will surely be returned to with new enthusiasm and vigour.
Either way, we are not simply ‘returning’. Although we might be returning to the same circumstances as before, with the same opportunities, we are approaching them with a new perspective. This perspective is informed by lockdowns, and the time we have had for new activities, and to consider the old ones. Although we are hopefully leaving lockdowns behind, I will not be leaving behind what I have learned from them.
Illustration: Verity Laycock