As lockdown is gradually lifted and we approach the start of the term, I feel there isn’t a great amount that can be said that hasn’t been covered over the course of this series of articles. For me, quarantine has been a slow, grumbling ride. The consolation that can be taken in trying to describe my experiences is that it can be split into several convenient parts that reflect my feelings at that moment in time.
The first part of quarantine I feel was quite alien in a way – no one knew what to expect or how to behave. As a result, all social norms were done away with. No one felt the need to follow them nor did anyone feel the need to comment on those who no longer answered to the social gods. This unspoken agreement and several like it resulted in a world without structure and rigour and a sort of social anarchy. The honeymoon period of quarantine had begun, the novelty hadn’t worn off, the rut not yet set in. It was now acceptable to get drunk on a Monday night in your bedroom on account of their being nothing better to do. The Great British obsession with a drink, combined with technology perfectly suited to quarantine, led to stage one: The House Party stage, or for the more learned of us, the Zoom pub quiz stage. This basically involved sitting in front of your computer on a video call with your mates tanning drinks and occasionally answering trivia. Obviously, everyone would take it too far. People waking feared up to their eyeballs in their bedroom about the night before, your pals passing out while still on the call. And you know what – why not? All they had was a 4pm tutorial with 16 other people that they could get away with saying nothing in. Lectures were all online and could be done whenever. It became a cliché, but we were in the midst of a pandemic, so this social pariah like behaviour was accepted and even encouraged. Looking back, these were the halcyon days of lockdown. Hope still existed, we collectively held the naïve idea that if we squirrelled ourselves away for 3 weeks more that we would defeat the virus, that we’d be back in the beer gardens for the Euros in the summer, that this was just a bump in the road.
However, things started to change. The virus accelerated and got worse. House Party, like all good apps these days, was accused of being Chinese spyware. What was left of the May exam diet was closing in and our hours spent on House Party instead of studying were catching up on us. This led to a crushing feeling coming over the collective St Andrews psyche. This was compounded by the release of the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. What a punch in the gut that was. I suppose this is my second stage of the lockdown, where we watched sad tv shows to cope with our overarching feelings of sadness. I wouldn’t describe myself as someone particularly in touch with my feelings, but I quickly binge-watched and wrestled with my feelings about the will-they-won’t-they story of our time.
To give you a rundown of my thoughts, Connell and Marianne were good characters in a bad situation, Marianne’s family were all awful people, Niall and Connell’s mum are the heroes and I have never hated anyone as much as Jamie. Being the current cultural fetishiation of the intelligentsia, ‘Normal People lockdown’ had a good run. There were articles about the show being a critique of Irish neoliberalism – upon further inspection Dublin rent is somehow worse than St Andrews rent – or the sillier ones about Connell’s chain or what Paul Mescal wore to the shops. To be fair to the more light hearted articles, they restored a long lost pride in owning a pair of GAA shorts. Either way, Normal People served as a coping mechanism that intensified our blues but passed the time. It was hugely enjoyable and it made lockdown bearable.
Following the awful killing of George Floyd, lockdown took on a new form in which everyone took on the role of civil rights activist. Everyone posted their black square on Instagram with the caption of ‘#blacklivesmatter’, told everyone to educate themselves and watch a documentary on Netflix. I certainly supported the protests and radical further action taken in the name of racial justice. Despite this, and call me a cynic, but I don’t believe that people who spent the best part of their school years making racist jokes were the racial equality advocates they claimed to be. I certainly feel that the vast majority of people had the best intentions when they showed the world that they supported equality, but for some it just felt contrived and part of a larger piece of performative activism, with no level of analysis going beyond that black square taking up a small portion of their feed. I think this is best evidenced by the vast majority returning to the comfort of posting socially distanced drinks in the garden on their Instagram as the BLM protests continue across America.
I’m going to sound like your mum posting on Facebook but this pandemic has shown that tomorrow isn’t promised, and we should always strive to live a better life. With that in mind, I began a period of trying to better myself. I don’t think I read for pleasure between the ages of 13 and 18, but this summer I’ve read two books a week and tried to get a jump on next year’s work. I’ve started exercising more to deal with the mental rigours of lockdown. Not to get ahead of myself, but I’m emerging a more rounded person.
To end with some more sentimental nonsense, lockdown has been a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences and to be honest with you, I’m just glad that I got through it.