9 November, London, UK

By Ivana MacKinnon

Everything feels different this time. Our lives are already quite small so this lockdown doesn’t feel it will make an enormous amount of difference. We were already avoiding our elders because the government saying it was safe didn’t mean it was. The kids are at school and in a childcare bubble. We have been inside two restaurants since March. One pub. But the difference is more that this time everyone is visibly experiencing different things at different times and reacting in different ways. I don’t think anyone believes this is only four weeks; I don’t think anyone can quite face the idea of how long it will be; I think everyone will cheat in some way, a small way or a big way, as a result. So the lockdown will be longer. At least the US election has offered some chink of light, and, as my sister says, is playing out like an omnibus edition of Sunset Beach to distract us all. 

At “work” (preparation for when work can happen again) we learn what we can do remotely and what we need to be in a room to do, and have started to understand what gets lost in translation when everyone is a disembodied head and shoulders with a perfectly symmetrical zoom background. Everyone except me: I still have mattresses and kids toys and hastily blu tacked pictures behind me at all times. I haven’t managed the Zoom grammar at all. My company set up means I haven’t had furlough (the UK government scheme to support businesses and workers facing suspension on account of the COVID crisis). This is really starting to bite, and the arts are just fucked, so fucked. Everyone still is taking little steps, one in front of the other, in hope, but how long for? How long before we all have to do the government’s retrain quiz online and decide to become ….. (What?) 

The kids are holding things on their shoulders which come out in strange ways — in tics and hyper-fears of things going wrong — but given everything they still seem to be coping well. Those who can are trying to swaddle the kids, I suppose, to just get through this moment, into whatever happens next, which seems less and less likely to look like what was before. Anyway in the service of child mental health and in order to have an excuse for the chaos of our Zoom backgrounds, we have 100% embraced the middle class cliché and have a new puppy. The week we decided, two other friends did the same; since then another has. By the time we get out of lockdown there will be more dogs than people. 

So now the puppy sleeps on the sofa and pees on the floor and learns little things and then forgets them and eats sticks outside and tries to dig up old fox poo and I chase after it while on the phone to someone I would otherwise have emailed. And that’s all. That’s the whole day, every day. And once a day I go out, into a world that doesn’t look much like it’s in lockdown at all. The walls get more and more filled with pictures and people make half plans for the future but not for Christmas, Christmas has already been written off. And we all hope to find our Norwegian spirit as the weather gets colder. Maybe we will start smoking again, to keep warm.  A couple of times a day, we see our great leaders on the news, and despair.

7 November, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

By Katie Y

The AP called the US presidential election just before noon in Philadelphia. Our Saturday morning had started with a puzzle. After getting dressed, we dumped 100 pieces of cardboard on the living room floor. Then we sat in the fall sunshine and slowly pieced together the outline of a Tyrannosaurus rex. A stuffed Tyrannosaurus sat nearby and pointed out likely looking pieces in a surprisingly squeaky voice.  

When the news came, we were still sitting on the floor by the big windows that face the street. Car horns and jubilant voices sounded in the distance. We grabbed our facemasks and slipped on our shoes. Then we slipped them off again to dash to the kitchen for a whisk and a metal pot lid.

Our garden was shockingly quiet. But when we rounded the corner, we saw our neighbors dancing. Someone waved a full-sized American flag while others banged on pots and pans. We took pictures and moved to the next alleyway, where a group of families with young children cheered everyone walking by. We banged on our lid and whooped in return. 

On the main road, people had gathered on every corner. Wearing facemasks and brandishing cowbells, they hollered at passing cars. The drivers honked their horns, while passengers waved and recorded cellphone videos. A few played music that echoed between the houses. We found an unoccupied corner and joined in, waving at strangers and banging our pot lid until the Tyrannosaurus and her friend asked for lunch. After walking home, we ate bowls of rice in the garden. 

The sky has been bright blue all week. Flowers are blooming. This is not supposed to happen in November in Pennsylvania. I worry that it’s a sign of problems to come. But right now, it feels like spring.

7 November, Kolkata, India

By Puja Bhattacharjee

Durga puja is the worship of Goddess Durga. According to Hindu mythology, in autumn, Ma Durga “comes home” to earth for five days from her Himalayan abode. A Bengali eagerly waits for autumn the entire year. Marquees called pandals are erected in neighborhoods and housing societies to worship her. We shop for the best-looking clothes, decide what to wear on each day of the five days; make plans to meet friends, and go pandal-hopping much in advance. The city takes on a whole new and more chaotic character. 

This year’s Durga Puja – arguably the biggest religious and cultural event in eastern India, was vapid. Under strict orders from the Calcutta High Court, organizers had to cordon off the entrances to the pandals, and sentries posted near them discouraged pandal-hoppers from lingering for too long. I managed to visit a few pandals before the festivities began in earnest. The size of the crowd was laughable compared to other years.

In my housing society, a pandal constructed with bamboo poles and covered in colored fabric and tarpaulin is erected every year. Watching the pandal take shape is also an exciting process as we count down the days leading to the puja. This year, the organizers opted for a metal structure that was erected in a few hours. The marquee was huge but the Durga idol was small and gatherings were sparse. There was no life at the festival. Cultural programs, a norm in the evenings during the festival, were axed. Instead, there were some impromptu performances.

Almost immediately after the end of the festival, my mother tested positive for the Coronavirus. I, along with my parents and younger sister, went into self-isolation. Today is the eleventh day of our quarantine. We will be able to go out again after three days. Honestly, I am apprehensive about how people are going to react to us. Will they avoid us out of fear? Will we be censured? Being able to go out again is exciting, but these nagging thoughts are not.

Kali puja or the worship of goddess Kali is next week. She is my favorite Hindu deity. She has dark skin, wild hair; is naked and very, very angry. To me, she is the perfect antithesis of established societal norms. For now, Kali gives me courage. I think of her to keep my anxiety at bay.

5 November, London, UK

By Leah Kenny

Today is the very first day of the newest lockdown. Yesterday morning, despite the dazzling sun, it felt like winter had crept in and I watched as cold-air-smoke billowed from my mouth. 

Whilst working at my desk this morning for seemingly the 34835798375 day, I think about how we’ve woven in and out of lockdowns with undetermined timelines and ill-defined rules. We’re left feeling guilty and selfish, for the mistakes and delays of our government. Then I refresh the news to watch as another nation chooses their government, so far away, so influential. I live in a (mostly) quiet grove in South London. I picture the rows of houses to my left and right, with everyone sat at their laptop in the same position as me, scrolling and refreshing. Occasionally typing. But really, I still don’t know what my neighbours do, despite months separated only by a thin wall. I think of what I can cook for the commune – my home – this evening. 

By midday, the sun is out (London, this is unlike you!). I am curious about anyone I see pass by the window. Where are they going today when there is nowhere to go? Yesterday, I shared a very un-London conversation on public transport with someone who said he had just arrived in London.  He asked me what the new lockdown rules were. I wasn’t sure I could summarise, I mumbled through my mask. 

By mid-afternoon, there have been too many Zoom calls already and I’ve peered into too many living rooms already. I’ve spoken with one particular colleague nearly every day now for half a year, but haven’t yet been in the same physical place with her. Unless Microsoft Teams is a space? I am not sure anymore. We share a brief conversation after our meeting about mental wellbeing on and offline, and how we might do this better. Apparently, anxiety was the word of the day on BBC news this morning. I make a note to make a note to get back to this. There is so much learning left to do and we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that we are in this for the long run. But some days we are just so tired from sitting still. Failing internet and an overloaded system mean a significant amount of time is spent on:

‘Can you hear me?’ 

‘Can you hear me?’ 

‘Can you hear me?’ 

By evening (which comes too early these days) I hear the fireworks going off and realise I had forgotten this is Guy Fawkes’ night. It feels out of sync with everything that is going on, and has gone on. I close my laptop; I’ll get back to it again in the morning. 

31 October, Los Angeles, California, USA

By Ruth McKee

In mid-September, the county supervisors announced that trick-or-treating would be banned this year. Within 24 hours, they had reversed course and said it was only “discouraged.” A city populated by so many migrants trained in the arts, I’ve often thought of Halloween as Los Angeles’s most significant holiday. The weeks leading up to the big day are typically filled with carnivals and festivals, parties and parades, giving children and adults the opportunity to dress up and express themselves. On the night itself, our neighbors pull out their projectors and fog machines, theming their houses to Halloween movies.

Within a few days of the county’s announcement and reversal, I started seeing ads for drive-thru Halloween events. I signed up for all of them: the one where you drove past displays of immaculately-carved jack-o-lanterns, the haunted barnyard, and the mall parking lot where they made candy rain down through the sunroof of your car. My neighbors and I also organized a drive-thru event for our kids on Friday night, with ten stops on the map, where neighbors wearing masks passed bags of candy into the windows of each other’s cars.

Halloween in LA has always given structure to a long, hot, season where the weather doesn’t turn to fall. This year it has felt more essential to me than ever, giving me something to focus on other than the election. Time has slowed to a crawl as the nation drags itself towards November 3rd. Virus cases are spiking all over the country, to levels we have never seen before. Since the current regime has given up on any sort of control measures as well as any economic relief, our only hope right now is for regime change.

Halloween itself is quiet. It’s a Saturday, so the kids wake up and play their online games while my husband and I do our morning yoga. The air is clear and we can see the mountains from our bedroom window. I joke with my husband that I will miss this view when we move to Canada next week. It is only sort of a joke. Unlike most of my friends here, I have the extra privilege of a second passport, a way to get my family across a border closed since March. My husband and I float the idea of leaving, back and forth, with each turn of the news cycle. We don’t want to go. We like our lives here, or liked them, anyway. Three more days. We hold on to the hope that we will like them again.

In the afternoon I take my daughter to an art class (in person, with masks), and to a drive-by birthday parade for one of her friends. The new Whole Foods is open, after four years of construction, and we talk about stopping and going inside. As we drive down Ventura Blvd, a caravan of shiny white pick-up trucks, waving flags and honking, encourages us to join the Trump Train. A chilling display, even for Halloween.

We take a walk in the early evening. None of us says it, but we’re all curious whether trick-or-treaters will be out, after all. There are a few families out with small children, a few houses that have set up candy chutes or treat pass-out tables, but it’s nothing like a normal year. We put our leftovers from the drive-thru out for any passers-by, turn off our lights and huddle inside.

Around nine, a party starts up in the rental house next door. Loud-music pumps through the neighborhood, and dozens of young people are dropped off in rideshares, or park their cars along the street. I call the non-emergency police number, to see if anything can be done, but no one is there to take my call. The party rages until two in the morning, when a police helicopter finally comes by, circling overhead and putting a spotlight on the revelers. They cut the music, the helicopter leaves, and for a few minutes it is quiet. Then the music starts again, a little softer, but still consistently beating into the night. I go to sleep and wait for the next stay at home order to come.

28 October, Berkeley, California, USA

The perfect late apple, with some old ash on it, which I’ll wash and eat. The old, long seasons of growth for plants are the best things right now. Our ballots were received by the county and are ready to be counted, but the anger at the Supreme Court appointment yesterday is so strong that it’s a hard day to feel hope.

Outside, even more people wear masks, maybe out of gratitude that it’s not smoky and it’s possible to be on the sidewalks and in the parks. So many small fires were impressively and quickly suppressed over the last two days. — Rachel Shipps

26 September, London, UK

Socially distanced theatre-going
By Ian Burns

It is not quite the best of times and the worst of times, but that phrase is uppermost in my mind this morning. London is bright, blue-skied, and crispy cold. Yet, the newspapers are full of foreboding and warning. There is plenty to read about a second COVID wave. This suggestion bothers me. In my mind, we are still in the initial wave and it is clear that as a nation, we have dealt with it badly.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose stock is rising as the Prime Minister’s plummets, has told the House of Commons that “we must learn to live with it, and live without fear”. According to the Financial Times, Conservative MPs “particularly welcomed” that message. Well, it seems to me that everyone is ‘living with it’ and that most of the fears come from the government’s own messaging.

Fear is generated by the unknown and by uncertainty about what is to come. It is why it is a little scary entering an empty house, or moving into a dark tunnel. This government has waxed and waned with its approach to restrictions which gives people an uncomfortable sense that now things are being tightened again.  That clearly does not suit a Brexit-focused leadership that needs the economy to be braced for that particular challenge ahead.  It seems that perhaps the government knows something we do not. And it is not good!

Nonetheless, today feels properly autumnal, and welcome, although the shirt-sleeved weather that persisted through last weekend and into this week has been much appreciated. Strange distortions of the calendar mean that the county cricket season is about to start its final day at Lord’s and will be greeted by near-perfect conditions.

The BBC tells us that this weekend more than a quarter of the UK’s population is to be placed under stricter rules than the general advice. Households are being banned from meeting in one another’s homes and gardens. Northern cities and towns are particularly affected, but London has been moved up the list of places under review. What seems to be a poorly thought out ‘curfew’ plan to get people to leave pubs and restaurants by 10pm is simply generating crowds at bus stops and tube entrances, and a population inclined to raid the ‘off-trade’ supermarket provisions to party on, now that the ‘on-trade’ licensed premises are shutting early. Parks, car parks, school playgrounds and homes are seeing impromptu parties. Surely not what is intended. We understand our R rate – reproduction ratio COVID infection – is between 1.2 and 1.5. Ministers seem to want to blame the public, forgetting that contempt for complying with regulations started with the Prime Minister’s own ‘Special Advisor’ and his Durham foray in the spring.

Universities seem to be a new and material concern. Virus break outs in universities like Glasgow are leading to strict curbs on students, many of whom have just arrived. This is their first university experience and they are being told not to attend pubs, not to socialise, and to stay in their university accommodation with people they have yet to get to know and to study online. Fees are unchanged. This looks unsustainable.

Last academic year, the second of my children completed his university journey. I have just the one left in university now and she is graduating this year. That means that she has just passed the age of 21. It should have been a celebration. Our family were intending to meet near her home in Manchester and to celebrate hard with her and her friends. The ‘rule of six’ ended that, but it would probably have been difficult anyway to enjoy celebrating in the uninhibited way 21sts should be acknowledged. If the virus keeps society tied and constrained, she may not get to celebrate her graduation either. We did at least manage a dinner together and a lovely morning walk, brunch and reminisce before she jumped back on a train from Euston this week.

I wonder what her student cohort makes of our leadership. She is a Politics student and allows me access to Gen Z opinion forming. Her generation will have it tough. There is plenty of evidence that we are borrowing from them to fund our current responses, even when we were already loading millennials and Zers with large student debts and an inaccessible property market. How do they feel when they look at my generation, which seemed to have more access to opportunity and more freedoms in the late ‘70’s and through the ‘80’s?

However ominous things may seem, we are ‘living with it’ and trying to normalise. I have seen some theatre (thank you, The Bridge) and visited a cinema, where my son and I had the place to ourselves to see ‘Tenet’. And I was able to eat out to celebrate with my daughter. I am living without fear, and I think that is more typical of the people I know than living fearfully. However, we are living in frustration – at inconsistent advice, poorly conveyed interpretations of ‘the science’, and imagining what a no-vaccine, COVID UK and world will mean to our ambitions for all of our tomorrows.

18 September, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

By Preeta Kuhad Balia

It is becoming harder to grapple with my days. Like a skein of thread, my days reel free, unspooling but in a continuum of unrelenting sameness. I woke up just before seven in the morning to the realisation that this was a school day for my children. School lessons begin at 8 am on their tablets and laptops. My sons sit alongside each other on a long rectangular desk, the study room being an extension of the dining room, with foldable glass and wood partitioning the two spaces. As I arrange the table for breakfast, they mime their needs to me –

‘Your phone- internet is bad’(pleadingly)

or

‘Fetch my text book lying upstairs’ (assertively),

or

‘A glass of water’ (expectantly)

Now that I don’t pack lunch boxes any more, they are mostly served their breakfast on their work desk and I run back and forth to remind them of their unfinished fruit, skinned almonds.

The monsoon may not have bid a final goodbye to Jodhpur.  The air is tensed, laden with suspended moisture alien to our city and foreign in its rapture.   It appears as beads of sweat on the upper lip and brow without any physical exertion expended. The white sun scorches everything to health– from mattresses to jars of pickles, platters of condiments, pulses and grains, laundry. All of us are sunned to rejuvenate and recalibrate.  But the sun has lately been sitting morosely unbright, trumped by hulking grey monsoon clouds. One has to be certain of what ones leaves on the terrace to dry out. My sister in law left freshly harvested cumin soaked in lemon juice in her backyard when the sun seemed alert. Before she could retrieve the bowl, it had swallowed rain water, leading the concoction to spoil. This is the time of the year when domestic staff from nearby villages, bring gifts of fenugreek, cumin and a host of desert vegetables.

The virus has now knocked closer home – family friends and relatives have succumbed to it. No more do I receive complaints from relatives for not visiting, no friends gather up for coffee. Since the state government began the process of Unlock on August 29th – heralding Unlock 4.0 – we saw a rush of social interactions and then a sudden drop as the number of corona positives grew ferocious.

 I am to go to the office to dispose of some old files but I defer it as far into the future as I can. Everyone is cautious and, as gregarious as Jodhpur folks are, for now their instincts have been subdued. The daily count of the newly infected is now one and a half times that of August, though people are healing as well. It’s the ninth month of the year but it feels like something has stunted the flow of things and nothing appears to grow and bear fruit.

My younger son fell off his bicycle last evening, bruising himself quite seriously in several places. The doctor instructs us over the phone to get him a booster tetanus shot within 24 hours. My mother in law spends more than an hour trying to hunt down a nurse who is not attached to any hospital and willing to come home to administer the shot. Small misadventures now cost us a lot more time and money than in the past. I call up my parents in Delhi and my father can’t fathom how irresponsible we could be to allow the children to cycle on city roads. He fumes that we are displaying misplaced bravado in permitting our sons this access. I try reason with Papa: the boys have been cooped up at home, they haven’t seen any friends in weeks and their daily tennis lessons were stopped so long ago. How can young adolescents be deprived freedoms for such extended periods? While my father stings me with unflinching remonstrance on one side of the phone, my husband collates his ammunition of defences on the other –

‘Do you know more people die of suicides everyday than motor accidents?’

‘Can you ever calculate the cost of trapping children in prolonged fear?’

‘People die sitting on their own couches, how can you stop living?’

While the significant men of my life thrust and parry in verbal outrage, I nod to both, deferring to their contrary views, empathising with both at once. There’s little else to do when I know it’s not just my son who lost his balance on his bicycle, it’s all of us who seem to have lost our footing in the face of this pandemic.

29 August, Los Angeles, California, USA

By Ruth McKee

After weeks of oppressive summer heat and fires, the morning is overcast and cool. The main drag through my neighborhood is strangely quiet this morning, as I walk my dog. The homeless men who had been increasing in numbers over the last few weeks have all, somehow, gone missing. I worry that they’ve been rounded up.

After some at-home yoga with my husband I throw my bike in the back of the car and head out to explore another one of LA’s bike paths. This has become my Saturday routine, and I’m grateful to live in such an outdoor-facing city. For all the complaints people have about LA’s sprawl, the expanse of the city includes great swaths of nature. There is much about this set-up to appreciate during Covid-times.

Today I drive to Culver City and take the Ballona Creek path to Marina del Rey. The creek itself is a paved canal, much like those you see all over the city, engineered to keep rainwater flowing to the ocean and ensure the city never floods. The path is relatively empty, and the waterfowl still recognize the creek, somehow, as natural, so it is a beautiful ride, in its own way. There is a strong headwind as I head towards the ocean.

It’s been a week: historic wildfires, a hurricane, and another Black man gunned down by the police – all set to the backdrop of a dictator’s pageant on TV. In my own life, things have gotten harder too, albeit incrementally. After a summer of no rules, my kids are grumpily back to online school, adjusting to new teachers and schedules. At work, we’re struggling in remote formation, and everyone is on edge. Four of my recent new hires gave notice this week. And then, of course, there is the election, coming closer every day, and my life tilting in the balance along with the fate of an entire nation.

As I approach the coast, the creek path merges with the beach path and is suddenly more crowded, filled with life. Angelenos are out on jet-skis and sailboats, skateboards and bikes, obediently wearing their masks even though virus numbers have gotten much better over the last few weeks. As a whole, it seems we learned our lesson in July, and know that the only way we’ll ever get back inside schools, gyms, offices or theatres is to cover our faces. For today, we comply, and are grateful that the heat has broken and it is once again beautiful outside.

I stop at the end of the marina and drink some water before turning around. The wind behind me, it’s smooth sailing back to my car.

19 August, Berkeley, California, USA

Smoke and ash drift in, cloudy, from fires in the north and south, that stem from lightning strikes in the dry countryside. This morning the light is yellow, I close the windows, and look for signs in the Convention roll call. I’m glad to hear Bernie Sanders’ vote counts and to hear the many languages spoken by the delegates — Rachel Shipps.