Adapting to Life in the New Normal

Finally, we have a hot day here in Leicester, though this isn’t the start of a prolonged period of warm weather. Unlike on the continent, the British Isles is more likely to be affected by North Westerly weather from the Atlantic, that brings rain and cloud. The effect is that July has been somewhat depressing as there has been no run of summer-like days, well not in this part of the country.

Today, however, there is a warm breeze that is likely to stay with us into the evening. Finally, there is a chance I can sit out in my yard and watch and listen to the day drawing to a close without having to wrap-up in blankets or distract myself from the monotonous grey clouds that so often uniformly cover the narrow view of the sky that is visible between the surrounding rooftops.

Because we’ve been in lockdown for more than five months here in Leicester, the chance of getting away from the city have been limited or non-existent. The feeling of being trapped or confined has been getting stronger, and is made worse when looking at the news or social media and seeing how other people are spending their time getting out and about. Looking at the same walls and the same potted plants in the yard has lost a lot of its virtue, though I’m very lucky to be able to do this as many people don’t even have this small space around them and are contained in flats and apartments with no outside spaces.

Starting a night garden

In an effort to add some variety to our home experience we’ve started to add some LED lights to the yard, and to create a night garden. We’ve bought a couple of cheap sets of solar power mushroom lights and a string of multicoloured globes to hang from the wall. The idea is to build up the number of lights in the yard each moth and to create a space that is more welcoming after dark. If there is enough sunlight to power them in the winter it will look quite nice.

The relief of finally coming out of the extended Leicester lockdown has been enormous, and palpable as I’ve visited the city centre over the last couple of days. The lockdown couldn’t have held much longer. There is a rhythm returning to the city centre with non-essential shops opening up. The social distancing that is in place actually makes the whole experience much nicer, and if the shops learn to turn off the music they blare out, then it will be more comfortable to keep wearing a mask, and to avoid crowded situations.

What seems to be typical of the UK, though, is the lack of people wearing masks in the city centre itself. I don’t think the message is getting through to people that it is an essential tool to use in moderating our collective behaviour, because it is a good reminder that moving around and interacting is not to be taken for granted. We are all human, and we might forget ourselves at times, but to have a prominent reminder, literally on our faces, will go some way to remind us to think carefully about how we interact with other people and in what way. The people who don’t seem to be getting the message, though, are car drivers, who are driving around in their mobile bubble and not having to moderate their behaviour very much. I’m increasingly in favour of reducing the flow of traffic across Leicester, making the whole city a 20mph zone as a default, and even setting up roadside checks to remind people that pointless journeys are spreading the virus.

There is some talk that the government is going to make the temporary measures that have been put in place permanent. This could mean that the pop-up cycle lanes and the pedestrianisation that has been introduced could become a permanent feature of the arterial routes into and out of the city, and that they segregated areas that prioritise people will become a permanent part of the townscape. I only hope that in Leicester that this goes further, and that more changes are added to help improve the space that we occupy. I’m a great believer in making the space we have around us, and which is on our doorstep, pleasant and enjoyable.

Not all of us can drive off easily to visit other, more pleasant places, so we need to focus on making Leicester a nice place for people and families to interact without the fear of excessive noise, excessive numbers of drinkers, or excessive levels of pollution from traffic.
The social distancing measures might actually turn out to be a good thing, as people learn to talk with one another, and start to engage in activities that are calmer and don’t require shouting or aggressive interaction. Stopping load music in bars and cafés, for example, will allow people to talk and listen to one another. The stress that comes from noise in the city has been a problem for a long time, but we finally have the opportunity to do something positive about the excess levels of stress that we often ignore and regard as normal. Let’s take the chance to change.

I’m setting myself a person target of trying to blog a couple of times each week now. I’m not planning it, and I don’t want to go heavy on politics. I want to use these blogs to note things that are interesting or thought-provoking. It’s my new field journal. I probably should have started it at the beginning of the lockdown, but the mental anxiety was too inwardly focussed. So, as I navigate around and interact with friends and colleagues, I’ll try and capture something of the flavour of these. Let’s compare notes.

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  1. Thanks Rob.
    What I’ve noticed in my home town in Hertfordshire is that some of the little local clubs and societies have struggled to keep going. For instance, writing clubs who are used to meeting up once a month in person.
    Not everyone has been able to, or has wanted to shift their meetings onto online platforms. Activities are being put on hold, their collaborative momentum is dwindling. Some people have become more insular. Those looser but no less important social ties are unravelling.

    Those of us more comfortable with where this ‘new normal’ may lead, or at least are better prepared for the changes, need to remember to be thoughtful, understanding and resourceful. And yes, be mindful and remind people to respect each other’s personal space.
    I’m a handshaker to strangers or acquaintances and a hugger with friends and family (normally). Not being supposed to do this feels very strange. It’s all too easy to slip into the ‘old ways’. So I agree, physical infrastructures in our neighbourhoods should reflect the official guidelines and serve as behavioural nudges.
    But at the same time, as you say, attention should be paid to enabling social interaction.

    • Hi Jo, yes, it’s not easy to figure out what to do or how to respond. I think that’s why I’m never certain what I should talk about in my posts. I’m always caught between things, trying to figure out where things are heading and what lines we might cross and re-cross in the process. I suppose the best way to build up a picture of the changes that we will witness and lie through is to try and capture that uncertainty, share it, and respond to what other people are feeling and experiencing as well. It’s not as easy as following guidelines, especially if the guidelines are meaningless or feel empty to us. How do you cope?

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