Cardiff is nearing the end of its two-week firebreak lockdown imposed by the Welsh Government to slow the spread of coronavirus. It is due to be lifted on November 9th.
On Monday morning I photographed some city centre shopping streets. Media outlets and picture editors tend to favour a slightly amplified image of complete desertion in cities during lockdown. This view tells the lockdown story most clearly and appears the most dramatic. Quiet shopping streets and shuttered stores, a lone person walking by wearing a facemask.
Actually there are people around during the day, wearing facemasks in various fashions and not wearing facemasks at all. There is not the volume of people there would be out of lockdown of course, and barely any family groups. But it is never quite empty of people.
It is the same in the outer suburbs on small parades of shops. There are people around in the day. If anything I have suspected that the elderly on the outer Cardiff streets may even outnumber the young, perhaps because they are more isolated and lonely, or care less for the rules and their chances of being penalised.
Walking along a suburban street during the day it’s not uncommon to see older people caring for their grandchildren during this lockdown. Fatigue and convenience, if they live near family, you guess are why this rule often goes casually unfollowed.
Most towns and cities are relatively quiet and still at certain times of day. It is not so unusual or dramatic. I remember parts of London being relatively still when I used to walk back through the centre, beer-fuzzed, to catch the last train from Waterloo. Cities do sleep, or at least nap. When I volunteered for the Samaritans and routinely used to walk through Cardiff city centre at strange hours, it was equally quiet then as it is now. When the pubs and clubs close and the revellers disperse, a calm eventually descends between the hours of 3am and 7am on most week nights. You’d see street cleaners and homeless people, the odd straggler, seagulls pecking through polystyrene chip boxes. When the shops and pubs and clubs are closed, that quiet is stretched and exaggerated.
Just as it is for those stuck indoors indefinitely for months on end.
During a Whatsapp video call, so she could see her grandchild, my mum painted a sad story of those much older people in the Forest of Dean village who she used to take out for coffee once a week. That had been the social highlight of their week and they have been unable to do it for a long time now. Unable to get out much at all, their quality of life is seriously reduced with an added major fear factor. And yet they wonder if they really want to live another year like this one, and what life will be like for them ‘afterwards’, if there is a return to some semblance of normality. You can’t help but fear for the elderly and infirm living alone with various debilitating health issues, growing steadily older and less healthy of body and mind.
So much is arguable and unknowable at the moment. Although many appear desperate to broadcast their certainty and confidence to anyone who will listen or read. There is a vast spectrum of reactions to the covid world. From those at one end living with crippling anxiety, those who meticulously disinfect food packaging and drive wearing facemasks and visors; to those at the other end who think it is all a hoax, a government conspiracy, anyone who wears a facemask is a stupid sheep and should wake up.
Across the spectrum is a raging melting pot of powerful emotions. Fear, anger and resentment are understandably everywhere. People are hurting and need to express their pain.
But still, stoical day-to-day human life continues on the streets of Wales. Ones and twos and threes skitter around. Workers in high-vis jackets do practical things with street furniture, fruit sellers try hard in the face of what must be seriously diminished business, supermarket and food shop workers turn up to serve their public, council workers fix sparkly lights on trees. All of them are prepared for Cardiff to emerge from the firebreak lockdown, blinking into the Christmas season of this terrible year.
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