Running the Roadblocks

Here in lovely Ireland, with its saints and its scholars and its forty shades of green, we’ve been in Level 5 Lockdown, our highest level, for three weeks or so now. The first incarnation of our highest-level lockdown lasted for nine weeks and this second one still has another three weeks left to run.

It’s a slightly funny one. It was announced widely as the highest lockdown option but, succinctly, lots of things have kept going. Don’t get me wrong, lots of things have been locked up tight too, and people are hurting, but things are still moving a lot more in this second lockdown than they were in the first.

And that’s a good thing. At least I think it’s a good thing. The numbers are coming down steadily, having been worrying there for quite a while. Things are getting better. And, in getting here, we have kept the kids in school and the necessary services ticking away. It’s not been easy and it’s going to take a hell of a lot of getting over but, as balanced responses go, it could have been far worse.

My own experience of the first lockdown was one of being… well… locked down. Everything but the absolutely necessary was closed up and there was no movement beyond 5km from home. I did nine weeks of that, as did most everybody else, and I have my own reservations about how well I did it, but I think that probably goes for most of us too.

Lockdown Two has been different for me though. Quite different.

You see, they didn’t shut down Construction and Development this time. These were deemed essential works and so they have continued. Of course, it still applies that we should work from home unless we absolutely cannot and many of us do that as much as we can. But it’s hard to work in Construction and Development and stay at home all the time. The two are not always mutually inclusive.

So, this lockdown, just now and again, and by necessity, I’ve been on the road.

If I must go somewhere for work, I just go and do what I must do and then I come back again. In doing this, I have driven past the doors of two close family members in other towns. Family who I haven’t seen since February. But I don’t stop and call in. The rules don’t allow it and it’s only all of us following the rules that keeps us halfway right. So, I do what I can. Even though, when others are ensconced within their 5km bubbles, I am bailing up the empty motorway.

It feels funny.

I know I have to do it because it’s my job and the government have deemed that my work should continue… but it still feels funny. Sometimes I feel like a fugitive in an early Spielberg movie. As if, at any moment, a posse of slightly speeded-up cop cars will emerge in my rear view mirror, out of the horizon haze, and come to retrieve me, hauling my ass back to my 5k Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Silly, I know, but the effect is only heightened by the proliferation of police checkpoints out on the highways of the country. Often located on county boundaries, the blue lights and ever decreasing bollards draw you in and stop you. And then you have to explain yourself. Who are you? Where are you going? Why?

It’s never a problem. As I said, construction and Development continues, even in this ultimate Level 5 lockdown of ours. The exchanges with the cold and wet police people at the roadblocks are invariably courteous and friendly and even, dare I say, a little kind. We are, after all, in this thing together and, if I had my dibs, I would certainly be at home.

Coming out of Dublin the other evening, there was a huge slow tailback which culminated in a virtual city of a police checkpoint area. Vast blue flashing signs, teeming rain, and slow, slow progress gave the whole thing a sort of a ‘Blade Runner’ vibe. Again, the passing through was easy and fine. It’s the tension of waiting and approaching and creeping forward than heightens the dystopian feel of it all.

But this is 2020. Pandemic time. Even without knowing it, we are learning to adapt to our new truths. We are evolving into a populace who duck around each other smilingly and who have toughened leathery hands that can take multiple scrubs and alcohol wipes every day.

As I walked through the quiet town early the other morning, I tried to take it all in. The streets washed clean from the overnight rain. The clusters of leaves on the grass, the last few clinging obstinately to the trees. The church bell ringing the quarter hour. The sweetness and coolness of the air.

I wondered if things went wrong for me, as they have for others, and I ended up on a bed hooked up to a machine, could I retain this town centre early morning moment as a place to flit away to in my mind when it all got too much. I found I was actively trying to do it. To file this thing away for possible future reuse.

Would it work? Would my stored impressions of that moment be a respite for me? I hope I don’t have to find out. I hope you don’t too. That’s why I’ll keep doing the best I can with all this stuff. I’ll keep running the roadblocks with my mask and my smile. Trying to do the best I can.

Perhaps writing it down, as I’m doing now, might help solidify the imagery of my early morning town in my head.

Just in case I need it.

We’ll see.




Jim Murdoch said...

Carrie and I have moved now. The whole thing went by the numbers... more or less. This is the first contact we've had with the outside world, delivery people excepted, since January and it was a very strange experience picking up the keys from the estate agent. At one point I was talking to the man at reception and a woman and child paused a few feet away from me. I assumed they were waiting to talk to the man but suddenly it dawned on me, I was in their road. There was a line of the carpet which I'd crossed and as soon as I stepped back the woman thanked me and went on her way.

We had two sets of removal people booked, the first pair to dispose of all the stuff we weren't taking and a second set to move the rest. The house clearers were wonderful. They wore masks and gloves all the time and we barely had to interact with them at all. The removers didn't wear masks which annoyed me. In the flat we sat at the far end of the kitchen so well out of their way but in the new house we only had the box room to hide in and, friendly chaps that they were, they kept stopping to chat. The big problem was I kept taking my mask off because my glasses were steaming up and by the time I got it back up it would probably have been too late. And neither of us thought to wash our hands until, again, it was probably too late. The same with the hand sanitiser we'd bought especially. That's the problem with self-isolation, you don't need to worry about all those pesky rules because it's only ever been the two of you. So I'm a bit paranoid right now and expect I will be for a couple of weeks.

Ken Armstrong said...

It all sounds a bit tricky, Jim. I'm glad to hear you and Carrie are safely moved and I wish you a lovely time in your new place. My best to herself, as always.