As we look back at the year, there are a roller-coaster of emotions and moods that have engulfed us due to coronavirus COVID-19. The year started off normal except for the dreaded Brexit plans for cutting ties, isolating, restricting, control our access, freedom and creating havoc in our everyday lives, work and ambitions with our closest and oldest continental neighbours. Hearing the news on Brexit was one of the worst things you can listen to in the last four years in the United Kingdom – understandably unbearable, bored stiff or semi-engaged after 4-5 years. January was intentionally decided as the month that we left the EU with Brexiteers gathered in a cold miserable winter night in Parliament Square – good luck to them I thought! It was cringeworthy and anger inducing in great measures. Let them get what they have coming to them. It took Covid-19 to change the mood and tone a little.
Little did we know that the next few months (year in fact!) will bring about more blight, chaos, devastation and thousands of deaths would ensue. For January was also the month that coronavirus news from Wuhan started getting on our major news network in the West. There has since been disputed evidence when and where the virus actually started. But it has dominated and curtailed our lives and world since early 2020.
In February, there were signs that things were about to change gradually. The most significant for me was an Economist Intelligence Unit Breakfast Briefing in 13th February with first class experts give a clear understanding and forecast for the disruption and devastation to the global economy in months to come. I honestly thought that it would affect supply chains but not the enormous negative it would have on lives and the global economy with countries increasingly having cases of infections. Around late February, there were signs for using sanitizers in public and the office areas began to have signs asking you to use hand sanitizers in buildings. Italy was reporting ‘draconian’ measures to prevent the spread of the virus. There were more persons on the London Underground starting to wear face mask – it was then such a rare and novel feature considering that mainly travellers from the Far East usually wear them prior to Covid-19. Little did we know that it would be compulsory in public places indoors by the end of 2020. Even today at the end of December, I am still seeing tweets pleading with people to abide by the rules as the infection rates are still very high.
March is usually a happy month for me as I like the beginning of Spring and so it was a time for me to go out and about where I was able to go to the theatre and meal with relatives and friends. However by the second week in March, there was talk and signs that we needed to change the way we were socialising as the number of deaths by Covid-19 started to rapidly increase daily. We were observing Italy’s response to the pandemicbut didn’t realise that the UK death figures would eventually be worse! It was also the time of stockpiling and shortages with supermarkets struggling with normal online orders slot. By the 16th March, my colleagues and family were working and studying from home. I did go into the library on 18th March to tie up some loose ends as I was on leave a few days before then. I wouldn’t return to the building until September.
My team and I were able to thankfully transfer to working-from-home but some needed technological equipment and support to set up with working completely as a virtual library. We all remember getting very familiar with Zoom! I have used Skype and Go-To-Meeting but Zoom seemed to be the preferred options for most work related, professional and social meetings. Soon, I would be meeting my local book club on Zoom, lots of learning opportunities I took, and other work-related meetings and events. Zoom has been one of the biggest winners in this pandemic and I have heard that it was an enabler in allowing those with access to the tech to communicate with each other. I have held many meeting and webinars in this year and will try to tally it one day soon.
It was really freaky being in the first lockdown with the streets and roads all quiet. My biggest challenge to this day is the busy supermarkets and the social distancing queues. I am still trying my hardest to keep at a distance and to avoid crowds. It was nice, relaxing and admittedly a pleasure to spend time outside for daily exercise routines in local areas such as neighbourhoods, parks, local forest and wetlands. Nature has a magical way of reassuring and restoring. Someone said recently that the only real songs were sirens and birdsong in Spring in a pandemic. It is a little but like this again in December with the eventual ‘Second Wave’.
One aspect I remember is the availability of data and information on the pandemic. I am sure when we get to the end of the virus, we will have archives and memorabilia of what it meant for us. I still try to think of what life was like in previous plagues and pandemics such as the Spanish Flu. I was initially obsessed with the daily of cases and death and it was truly sad throughout the Spring. The virus was under control with fewer deaths by the end of August but as I write, we are back in the second wave with a higher peak than that in April 2020! It is truly sad and heart-breaking. I do know of people who have lost loved ones and it is a very sad time to leave this earth with little human contact and celebration. One of the best aspects of this Spring was the Clap for Carers where we saw our neighbours and clapped all the key workers for their hard work. The rainbow and messages of support in Walthamstow was great to see and even now in the winter months there has been school and homes initiatives in windows to help cheer us up.
The heart of the Summer was also a time for organisations and allies to support the Black Lives Movement as well as anti-racism in organisations. I had some of the most honest conversations with colleagues, professionals, family and friends. It is uncomfortable and requires courage to discuss these topics but it was an opportunity to finally make these deep feelings known and to work towards a more diverse, inclusive and equitable world. The world is not perfect but reminding us that social justice, equality and fairness are the true balancers of good people is a win-win situation in my books.
At the beginning of 2020, I was due to travel to the SLA Conference in Charlotte, USA and also to Trinidad and Tobago. Obviously, I had to postpone both of these trips and look forward to the day when I can go to my first SLA Conference as well as visit family and friends again. One think that was truly special about 2020 for me was being President of SLA Europe throughout this time and actually programming a different set of events and engagement than what we planned in the beginning. I have blogged about the challenges and achievements of this year here on SLA Europe’s blog. I also look forward to continuing our great work and supporting the new President Amy, our board and volunteers.
In Autumn, we were ready for returning to the Library physical rooms with reduced hours and less staff in the office. The most eerie was the journey there and back on the train as your try to maintain social distancing. Remember these trains are usually packed like sardines so it is a relief that less people are using them for work journeys – however there are some annoying persons who still don’t wear masks on the underground and also in shops. I guess they are arrogant, ignorant and don’t feel they are spreaders. There is little policing going on in London anyway so you really have to think if you want to put yourself in trouble’s way.
The Second Wave really started picking up in October with vast parts of North of England being affected and put into the new tier systems. It was possibly due to schools and universities opening up again. I also needed to get two Covid-19 tests in September to ensure that I hadn’t contacted it. There is the balancing of the economy with infection rates and so too pub, restaurants and hospitality were also closed again for the second wave in most of November. We were now back to working from home full time. I know I am fortunate as it is very testing for many people. I really do feel the anxiety, fear, sadness and uncertainties of those who are not working – it has been a very difficult year. The winter months are certainly different with less daylight and therefore if I am busy, I tend to go out at dusk. I miss plants and birdsong. The beginning of Christmas with decorations, lights and positive messages have been God sent (pardon the pun!).
December seasonal celebrations are certainly different, just as New Year’s Eve will be, but it really is a necessity for us all to be apart. I usually do make the most of things and so still see this as a special year to have that quality time with family. My neighbours are all here too as there is nowhere to go! It is strange and apocalyptic walking around in the dull coldness with closed shops, pubs, restaurants, cinemas and non-essential shops and venues. There are so many woes that I see on Twitter, and rightly so, on lack of ‘Track and Trace’, schools reopening and testing, loss of jobs, dependency on food banks, propaganda, distrust of government policies, and the NHS being overwhelmed with the virus rampant in the community. We are really deep into a difficult year.
As we end the year, both Brexit and Covid-19 are in the news headlines with one of the darkest and saddest day with 941 deaths. I am not taking any responsibility for the fallouts of Brexit! But I will certainly try to do my part and think of how we can continue to prevent loss of life and control the virus to a point to some normality. There are still problems and challenges we need to sort out…collectively. Vaccines do offer some hope, and so does every new year. Keep well, safe and healthy. Things are not going to be normal for a while but hopefully it will be better in 2021.