For the next ten days, I’m legally obliged to put myself under house arrest after the Track and Trace system identified I had came into contact with someone who subsequently tested positive for Covid 19.
I’ve decided to set myself a challenge while this happens – after all, I’m hardly going to be chasing Strava PB’s on cycle rides until the middle of this month – and write something each day on a different subject. I have ideas for some proper journalism; some concocted theories; critical responses and so on.
Why? Well, it will lend structure to what could easily become a shapeless time, and ensure I always have something to chew over in my perpetually ravenous internal dialogue. Usually I take ideas for a walk or a bike ride; practically everything I write has gone through cogitation via moving around before I sit still and get it out into words. Denied this, I’ll challenge myself. Possibly self-indulgent, but I’ll try and keep it readable and eclectic rather than DAY 6: DID NOTHING. BARGAIN HUNT WAS DISAPPOINTING. RAINED. BEANS FOR LUNCH.
I’m also setting myself an arbitrary rule, a’la Oulipo, each piece will be exactly 500 words, excluding title, stand-first and quotes. No reason why, other than structure is sometimes comforting.
I get some warning before the text arrives: a friend and colleague lets m e know that a fellow colleague has come down with symptoms a couple of days after meeting us both. NHS websites are consulted, time scales are worked out and it actually seems that, by a whisker, I’m ok to carry on as per usual. I’m feeling absolutely fine, albeit with a slight depression of body and mind that a lurch into cold wet weather routinely brings. Plans are not changed, routines not re-routed.
The text arrives on the Friday afternoon, around the time I’d usually pick up my son from nursery. My wife has instead put herself forward for this, so as to get some air, so I’m free to indulge in the luxury commonly known as pottering. I potter, happily, doing nothing with any intent, then my phone buzzes and I’m directed to an NHS website.
There is no great inconvenience can’t teach my weekly class; I cancel a haircut. My planned return to the office, not entered since March, is delayed. I just have to stay in. It rains incessantly the first day and I’d have no inclination to go out anyhow. My pedometer doesn’t get past 3,000 steps, but no matter. I’ll make it up when I get loose.
In contrast, many will be in dire situations when they get the text. Just about every previous iteration of my life would have struggled: when I shared a house with strangers, when our house was too tiny to work from: I’m lucky to have had the pandemic hit when I’m in a fortunate position in life. Others, less so.
Those in a financially precarious situation will be worse hit by isolation. Remember that big announcement that the government will give those isolating and financially vulnerable a £500 incentive to isolate, a lump sum carrot to go with the £10,000 stick? Try and find out via the Track and Trace system, and you are blithely told to check your local authority for details.
I’ve been writing about local government for over a decade and I’m not even sure exactly how this is done. After a bit of searching, it seems Broxtowe Borough Council have yet to put in place their application process, and when I contacted an insider at the council told me “It looks great in a telly interview but for fuck’s sake, why didn’t they have it ready for us beforehand?” I’m most likely not entitled to this support, but for those who are, and are reliant on it, this seems cruel. Good headline though.
As cases rise steeply, it’s likely that many more people will receive notification to isolate.I count my blessings. It’s a minor inconvenience to me, and hopefully, when your turn comes, it will be a similar experience. For many it will be terrifying, and as long as we have a government focussed on grand announcements rather than actually putting in place working systems, many will suffer.