18 March, Oxford, UK

By Antonia Lloyd

All I want to do is give my mother a hug and a freshly baked cake on her birthday. She is 72 today and in semi-quarantine in London. I am in Oxford. What is usually a straightforward journey by train or car is now a life endangering mission that could lead to my infecting her. Who knows whether I’m a carrier or my children are? My heavy cold and slight cough could be harbouring a more dangerous viral infection, although it’s unlikely. Still the risk remains and she is in the 70+ category and with a recent diagnosis of MND she is one of the potentially more vulnerable. We talk, we skype, we text. It’s not quite the same. We all put a brave face on it; it’s the sensible thing to do, it’s for the best.

As I cook dinner, I turn on the radio for the 5pm announcement from the Prime Minister and Education Secretary.  We all listen in closely as the news of school closures and exam suspension hits. I’m transported back in time over 80 years and imagine my grandmother listening intently to her trusty wireless on September the 3rd 1939 and her reaction as Chamberlain informs the nation that Germany’s refusal to withdraw troops from Poland has pushed Great Britain to war. This is not war as our forebears faced it – no violence, bloodshed or tangible enemy to square up to. This is a silent killer that could wipe out 250,000 people if we don’t social distance, close schools and lie low. This is a peacetime lockdown that has no precedent and is hard to fathom. I feel no fear, just shock and awe that a virus is changing life as we know it for an indefinite period of time. The realisation that the kids could be at home till September and with advice against all but essential travel, the reality dawns that we’ll be locked down here for the long haul. My heart goes out to small businesses, our arts and cultural institutions, our hospitality industry, freelancers nationwide and those who live tinkering on the edge.  With everything cancelled, postponed and closed, there will be a shutting down of life as we know it.  I give the news a silver lining for the kids and look for the positive – we’ll be together, we can learn new languages, we’ll bake our own bread and bagels, and yes we can go for walks in the meadow and go rollerblading on the quiet paths, as long as we don’t catch it. Then we’ll self-isolate for 14 days.