I’ve just had a birthday. It was a quiet one, of course – the day spent at home, gifts arriving via post and email, birthday messages virtual for the most part. I was lucky, nonetheless, to hear from so many people, and to have immediate family with whom to spend it. It was very different, though, to how things were a year ago. I had a big number birthday last year, and celebrated via a pub lunch with extended family in a crowded restaurant, then by watching Supergrass at the Alexandra Palace that evening. My parents stayed over for the weekend and, the following evening, we all went to the Royal Albert Hall to watch my daughter dancing in the Schools Spectacular. A wonderful, yet fairly normal weekend… then. Now? Unthinkable.
A lot of people were happy to see the end of 2020, and I understand that. For me, however, the turning of the year was tinged with sadness, as 2020 was the last year of the old days, when things were as they used to be. Our world wasn’t perfect – the fact that pollution decreased so dramatically in the first few months of lockdown was an indication that we really needed to stop moving – but it seemed bright, compared to the narrowness of our current existence.
The first lockdown, coming only a week or so after my big birthday weekend, was a shock to the system. Spring was already making an appearance, the weather turning. April and May were glorious with blossom and sunshine, there were rainbows in every house window, and more bees and butterflies than I remember seeing for years. But it was a frightening time as well, none of us sure what would happen next. I was paralysed creatively for the first few weeks, unable to unlock my writing until I joined a virtual Camp NaNo cabin. Yeast took up residence on the back of my hands thanks to the sourdough I tried to ferment, and I confess I did worry a bit about loo roll. I still remember my first trip to the supermarket a few weeks after lockdown (we’d managed to get deliveries until then). I stepped out of the car and it was like a new world, as though I’d never been outside before; the sky gold and purple, the trees heavy with white blossom, the car park almost empty.
Now we are a year into rolling lockdowns. Over 120,000 people in the UK have lost their lives to Covid, and over 2 million people world-wide. It has been an extraordinary year of grief and loss and scientific discovery, a year that will be written into the history books, and that our grandchildren will ask us about. The UK has been working hard to roll out vaccines, and there is hope that all restrictions will be lifted by the summer.
And, the day after my birthday, I received a text inviting me to book my own vaccination appointment. I’m booked in for next Tuesday, for the first of two doses.
Last year, my birthday was a flash of light, a last gasp of the old world. This year it is the first light of hope, of us moving forward towards a brighter future, of life and love and seeing family and friends once more. That’s a pretty great gift, I think.
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