Lockdown’s silver linings: ‘I’m looking at the world with a kind of newness I had forgotten’
Readers share experiences of how the pandemic has changed their lives for the better
‘I discovered the extraordinary shapes of old trunks and fallen trees’. Photograph: iStock
We asked whether your life had changed for the better during the pandemic. Here’s what you told us
Finally. I spend the all my days off with my family. Amazing
Sarmite Baranovska, Dublin
Of course, better. There’s not too many people outside, and it’s very quiet on the road and in my estate. Finally. I spend all my days off with my family. Amazing. What could be better? I walk with my son in my free time, which rarely happened before. My colleagues are getting absolutely friendly. Everyone is calm. I can say it’s more than enough.
I was painting and looking at the world with a kind of newness I had forgotten
Jean Antoine Dunne, Cavan
I have always thought of myself as gregarious. I love travelling and having guests, many of whom spend days at my home. I love to cook and be with my family. Covid-19 has completely changed how I see myself. First of all, for the entire period of 2020 I suffered with chronic back pain from a lumbar fracture. That meant I had already been forced into reduced mobility and activity. I did try to garden during the first lockdown and became virtually crippled with pain.
So I took to walking. I could not go far, since I live in a household comprising an 84-year-old and a 40-year-old woman with Down syndrome. For their safety I self-isolated. But I live beside a lake and woods. Every day I walked through Corronagh Woods. I discovered the extraordinary shapes of old trunks and fallen trees. Lights in the early morning did not simply dance, they vibrated. The noises of the lake conjured eerie spirits.
As I walked along our road I noticed that the children of the few families who lived nearby had taken to painting stones, so I created a Facebook daily poem and used their images – a project that drew delight. Then I began to paint. First, small canvases, but they grew and grew. As an academic, painting had been pushed into the boundaries of my existence, and books had grown to be my job. I found myself scouring the internet to rekindle knowledge of painting techniques, drawing and composition. I contacted an old acquaintance in Trinidad and asked him to take me on as a student.
These lessons only lasted a few weeks, I fear, because taking painting classes online is a difficult process, especially when dealing with a highly creative reclusive artist. But in those few encounters, he reminded me of the importance of seeing and of framing, lessons I needed urgently.
Then it dawned on me that I was enjoying myself. In the face of the misery of many who moaned about isolation and boredom, I found myself revelling in the enforced solitude. I was painting and looking at the world with a kind of newness I had forgotten. I began rereading books that I had taught at university over the years. I had perhaps in those pre-retirement years ceased to feel the simple delight of new discoveries. I was gardening in new ways, too: my studio looks like a small nursery now, as does my kitchen windowsill.
Life is good. I don’t want this novel period – or should I say interlude – to end. I now know and firmly acknowledge that I am an inherently antisocial being who has been pretending for her 60-odd years to be a gregarious social animal. God help me when life returns to normal.
My new constant was the greenhouse
Ann Marie Foley, Laois
The pandemic deprived me of close family weddings and of a dream trip to Oz and loved ones there, and a career of 30 years stalled indefinitely. But my new constant was the greenhouse.
Its metal frame had loitered around for over a year but suddenly became a project for out-of-work relatives. In March, when the entire retail world was screaming for perspex to protect workers at checkouts, these guys managed to secure a delivery from beleaguered suppliers to cover the forlorn frame.
All of a sudden there were ladders, saws, nuts and bolts. Mugs of tea and dinners were served in an isolated corner. By the arrival of what was to become a prolonged sunny period of that first severe lockdown, the shiny new greenhouse was ready.
How to get growbags and compost? Garden centres were closed or their order and delivery systems were an unsolvable mystery. Not all hardware shops carried good stuff. An order was placed and payment made by telephone, and there was a shopping experience like no other, directed to a parking space, after which three young guys let loose on the car, filling the boot and back seat with the various composts and manure.
There were tomato plants, a few spindly chilli plants and cucumbers. On giving some to a neighbour, peppers were donated in return. Those plants got more attention than any that went before.
The guys had continued their work by rigging up a series of tanks to capture water from the roofs via the gutters. They even installed a pump, which ensured a strong flow – very useful as the sun beat down on thirsty plants day after day.
Morning and evening watering became a feature of life and, with that, the pauses to listen for traffic on the motorway. Initially it was a novelty to hear a car or truck. The birds and their singing seemed to be more noticeable than ever before. Bees were urged to detour into the greenhouse to help with pollination. When a ladybird made an appearance anywhere, it would be carried inside to eat up any greenfly.
Despite the watering, the plants struggled with the strong sun, then blight, but, as with the world outside, they got through it and became late bloomers. Salads galore and a “sugo” – as Italians call the tomato sauce which can be used on pasta or pizza – featured all summer and into the late autumn. There were some tomatoes and peppers ripening until November and first frosts, and then green-tomato chutney that matured nicely for Christmas turkey and ham leftovers.
There are still some salad leaves growing and seedlings to plant out once weather allows. An old chair has moved in and may soon be joined by a table with room for mug and flask. When the house seems too dark, the light and foliage in the greenhouse make it a warm space.
What to make of the last year – or what the future holds – is difficult to say, except that there are seeds to be ordered and plans to be made about getting good compost as another severe lockdown takes hold.
I’ve rediscovered the joy of a real fire
Jean Farrell, Westmeath
I have rediscovered the beauty, joy and comfort of an open fire. For many years we had a plant in the fireplace and the radiators turned on. During the Covid crisis we have lit a lovely fire every evening. It has made a huge difference to our nights at home, when we can go nowhere.
We can now see that money and work aren’t everything
Dave Lambe, Monaghan
Our lives have changed in a lot of ways. On one hand, we can now see that money and work aren’t everything now, but, on the other, it has cut any opportunity to travel for the time being.
Almost every aspect of my life has changed fundamentally, yet I’ve never been happier
Ian Wickstone, Dublin
Covid-19 has reprioritised for me what I value the most. When it first hit, in March, my family and I weren’t aware of the intimate time we were to all spend with each other; no one was. In a household with my mam and dad, two of my siblings and their respective partners, I woke up each day to hear my sister teaching her primary-school class online, her boyfriend typing away, trying (with difficulty) to do social-care work from home, my brother and his legal jargon on work phone calls, and his girlfriend trying to study to be a doctor. It was such a dramatic shift to occur so quickly.
Before, we would often go days with just brief chats passing between one another as we went about our busy, individual lives. All of a sudden we spent most of our days in the same room, having breakfast, lunch and dinner together, singing, laughing. I began to appreciate the small things, as the inner part of my life became its whole. The birds were louder and their music more beautiful. Every morning I sat outside and drank my coffee and just listened, while enjoying zero preoccupation of my mind.
It had never happened to me before. I would go on long walks, admiring the nature on my doorstep that I still cannot believe I spent my whole life taking for granted. The only way I can understand myself before all this is that I was spoiled. But that’s okay. I don’t like to be naive about my naivety at just 23 years old. I understand that, as I grow older, I will gain perspective that may contradict the values and beliefs I had in the past.
For that to occur though so abruptly, as the product of a pandemic, has been dizzyingly reaffirming for me. Almost every aspect of my life has changed fundamentally, yet I have never been happier. What has defined this is the privilege of my socioeconomics: it is the glue that holds together the foundation of any scenario within this pandemic, and to not acknowledge that would be tone deaf.
I understand now more than ever, though, that, even with economic comforts, without my family I would have been so lost and lonely. It is a strange realisation to come to, that you have spent your whole life ungrateful for things so important. I even used to feel so entitled to travel, and in fact before Covid I couldn’t imagine my life not revolving around saving all my money for months-long backpacking trips.
I only ever saw myself as about to leave for somewhere – I would finish college and spend the rest of my life abroad – and now it almost feels like the UK is too far away. I always looked abroad in search of different histories, nature and cultures, dismissing Ireland as boring, dull and lacking in flavour. How ridiculous is that? Now I walk throughout Dublin and I see a city cosily enclosing a beautiful bay, I see the spectacle that is Ireland’s Eye, with Lambay Island creeping behind, and I hear two old friends bump into one another and all the colloquialisms pass between them, and I’m reminded of how good-natured and friendly the Irish truly are.
I newly appreciate and love that we are a green island at the edge of Europe, with remnants of our own culture and language. Who is to say that isn’t as amazing, unique or exciting as a Caribbean island or an ancient Chinese city? I used to. But now I see the importance of Ireland and Covid-19 and what it truly meant for me – a place where I learned about the things that truly mattered, and a time when I learned to not just love my family unconditionally but to truly love and appreciate them as the fantastic, dynamic and caring people that they are.
My new triathlon has finally helped me lose weight
John Culleton, Limerick
I always struggled to get weight down and stay fit, despite plenty of exercise, my social life always kept progress at bay. But this year I used lockdown to my advantage and worked hard at triathlon discipline, achieving healthy weight loss and fitness. I plan to continue for 2021 and, hopefully, get an event in before year end.