24 March, Worcestershire, UK

By Rachel Smyth

I wake up to more than 100 messages on our family WhatsApp group. Today was meant to be the day of my brother’s civil partnership. However, overnight the UK has gone into almost complete lockdown. Marriages and other ceremonies have now been stopped by central government. My brother’s fiancé is from Colombia but studying in the UK. His student visa expires in the summer and they were planning to marry beforehand. They are both disappointed that they can’t marry today and also concerned about future implications.

I scroll through the messages on my phone, trying to catch up on my family’s news. At the same time, I also begin searching for an update in the national news on the wider implications for myself and others. Part of me is hugely relieved that the UK is now finally implementing much firmer measures. Another part of me hopes these measures are not too little, too late.

I start to get myself and my daughter ready for the day. Maintaining a routine is important, but it is difficult to explain to my almost 3 year old why we can’t go to our usual groups or see family members.

“Where are we going today, Mummy?”
“We’re staying at home, bubba. There’s still lots of germs around and we need to keep ourselves and other people safe.”
“Will the germs go away soon?”
“I hope so, sweetheart.”

My husband is working from home and has a day full of phone calls. My daughter and I have hushed conversations as her playroom is next to the dining area, where he has set up his laptop. She is keen to help with his “pootering” (computering) but understandably keeps getting frustrated when she’s told Daddy is too busy to play.

My family sets up a Zoom video call so we can catch up properly and console my brother and his fiancé. We had booked them into a local Airbnb for three nights as a wedding gift, but with the continued uncertainty around travel, they have decided to head back to London today. I have some gifts for my brother so I decide to jump in the car with my daughter and drop them on their doorstep. The roads are reassuringly quiet and it is a welcome break to leave our house.

On my way home, I stop at a petrol station to get milk for my sister. I meant to put disposable gloves in my car but forgot. Suddenly I am nervous about touching the entrance door, the fridge and the milk carton itself, as well as interacting with the cashier. Retreating back to the safe bubble of my car, my anxiety lessens. I drop the milk off at the top of my sister’s garden and wave to her, her husband and my nephew who are enjoying the unexpected and much-needed spring sunshine. Their dog bounds up the garden to greet me. I allow myself to touch him, the only physical contact I’ve had in the past 2 weeks with another living thing apart from my husband, daughter and our two dogs.

When I get home it is lunchtime and my husband isn’t in the house. As the dogs are missing too, I assume he’s taken them for a walk. My daughter and I decide to go and find them and the five of us enjoy some exercise and the warm weather. We are lucky to live in a quiet village with fields at the front and rear of our house, so we can get some fresh air and relax without worrying about social distancing. My daughter runs and laughs in the sunshine, occasional splashing in some of the remaining puddles. As I watch her, I switch off momentarily and life feels almost normal.