Lockdown #1 was bad, but lockdown #2, like all sequels, will be much worse

Joel Golby
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Yegor Aleyev/TASS</span>
Photograph: Yegor Aleyev/TASS

Started making plans for Christmas this week. In a normal world I would deem this behaviour bizarre and sickeningly indulgent – the holiday simply does not require that much planning, sorry – but we don’t live in a normal world now, due to The Thing Going On, so I let it slide.

My tin-foil theory with the three-tier system is that it’s a soft launch ahead of a wider festive lockdown. Getting everyone on board with the idea of each area having a vague tier-rating and clamping down on travel between those tiers will stop the inevitable packed-train Christmas Eve exodus from every major town and city , a catastrophe we will sleepwalk into due to this country’s irrepressible need to go and watch a Pixar film at our mum’s house with the heating on full. Boris Johnson can’t go on TV and honestly say “Christmas is cancelled, by the way”, because we’ll storm the streets until they are smeared with his blood, but he can do “it’s illegal to ever leave your postcode again” and we’ll more or less comply with it. Christmas is already cancelled. You just don’t see it yet.

So a second lockdown looms, in spirit if not in name, and it’s important to take stock of our emotions from the first one as we roll into the next. I’m afraid to say I’ve done the modelling and this one will be worse: next week the clocks will go back and the nights will clunk dark upon us; it will be harder to meet friends in parks and open spaces as the chill starts to bite. Also, Spitting Image is going to do a deeply unfunny “alternative Queen’s speech” that is going to ruin everything for anything up to eight days. Anyway, based on last time, this is roughly how I predict the stages of lockdown #2 will go.

Stage 1: Acceptance

The first part of lockdown #1 – the literal locked-in-your-house weeks – was workable for many because of the sheer novelty: a strange pivot into home-baking here, a few clumsy Joe Wicks classes there, a long-since abandoned HBO boxset to finish the straight. This time, the looming threat of all-hours domesticity is going to be harder to quietly enjoy, because we’ve already done everything. I’ve already grown one zany moustache this year. I’ve already done three jigsaws and killed two sourdough starters. There is no way the “actually, being inside is great!” phase will last any longer than a week this time.

Stage 2: Rage

The best week of the first lockdown was when we all broke on the same Saturday and either drove to the beach, drove to the garden centre, or got very angry at people going to the beach or going to the garden centre. Garden centres are still oddly vital to a lot of people’s lockdown emergency plan – this week, YouGov asked people to prioritise the opening of nurseries, schools, gyms, pubs and garden centres, as if they are all the same thing – but I think slowly walking round in loops while looking at chrysanthemums then going for a slice of socially distanced cake will lose its electric buzz in the damp and cold of winter. Staying indoors so long that we get angry about something is only going to intensify when we have only a few hours of daylight to look out the window and pine every day, and it’s inevitable that we’ll upgrade the first lockdown’s “one national scandal a week” to a more feasible two. In short, Kirstie Allsopp is going to be caught driving somewhere in a way that is so flagrantly against the rules we’re going to petition to have her imprisoned.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Summer 2020 was a nationwide exercise in self-delusion, telling ourselves that touching elbows and going for nudge-nudge wink-wink socially distanced park drinks and navigating a thousand shoddy apps in every pub was actually a good way of spending our time, and actually a very close analogue of real life, despite the fact that: no, it wasn’t. I’m unsure a festive season can really withstand an onslaught of abnormality the way summer did, though: the ugly jumper parties will necessarily hit differently when done over Zoom and I dread to think what “Mulled Wine For England!” 2-for-1 scheme Rishi Sunak will think up. Pretending life is normal while rain fills up your pint glass and a very aggressive bouncer tells you it’s against the law to be outside this close to 10pm is going to be a lot more difficult this time round, but we’ll try.

Stage 4: Complete loss of Zoom protocol

This week saw the first international headline Zoom masturbation scandal, and frankly I’m astounded it took this long: every Zoom meeting I’ve personally been to in the last eight months has involved unflattering selfie angles, harsh-edged audio bouncing off spare room walls, and a special gesturing code we’ve all developed to tell people to turn their microphone on if they’re going to keep talking, so it’s clear that not only have people not adapted to the technology but they’ve already forgotten they don’t know how to use it. If anything, Toobin-gate is just going to give randy first-year students dialling in for Christmas from halls ideas about what they – actually digitally competent enough to know when the camera is off – can get away with. It’s not going to be pretty.

Stage 5: Fatigue, Dread

I’ve been thinking lately that, in these stressful new times, we need to invent new words for the new feelings we’re having, like that looming sensation of both fatigue and dread that I currently have ahead of lockdown #2 (normally I would joke “surely the Germans have a word for this!” but they don’t because, fundamentally, they dealt with the pandemic better than we did). It’s hard to keep caring all the time, isn’t it? It’s hard to quash those strange intrusive feelings of freedom that bounce up inside you – last week my brain, out of nowhere, went “remember going bowling?” and from there I lost a day of work – and it’s hard to maintain the alert feeling of fear that is necessary when you go outside in a mask and try not to touch too many public surfaces. The truth is lockdown #2 is going to be long and awful, but at its core it’s going to be fundamentally dull, because if there’s one thing our culture has taught us, repeats always are. I really hope Joe Wicks has something good up his sleeve for the next 16 weeks of my life.

• Joel Golby is a writer for the Guardian and Vice, and the author of Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant