The lockdown experience caused John to re-evaluate his life
Lockdown Stories: John Lewell
John Lewell is a mature student, married with three children. Here he explains how lockdown enabled a complete rebuild of his life and a greater appreciation of his brick shed.
My dad believed that now and again, the house needed to burn down, assuming a new, improved structure could rise out of the ashes. But how many times, I wondered? I’d seen my family lose everything in the 1990s recession and again in the 2008 Credit Crunch. I’d spent an entire decade building an online furniture business but mass factory closures, Brexit, a shift in consumer habits, and changing algorithms reduced me, in 2018, once again, to rubble. I took up, in my despair, writing. I wasn’t sure if it were part of a delusion manifested from the trauma of failure. Even if it were, I realised quickly that it was soothing, and by entering my imagination, I could leave my troubles behind in the real world. My partner and mother to my three boys, Kerry, supported the family by returning to her former vocation, as a care worker in a nursing home. I went through a short depression and took up convalescence in the shed, medicating myself with burning pixels on a white screen.
When Covid was first announced, I reacted as any sane person would, going straight to Screwfix and requisitioning every mask capable of filtering deadly airborne pathogens. I drove into Lincolnshire, bought sacks of potatoes and cabbages. I purchased enough food to see us through a nuclear holocaust, and if this was a zombie apocalypse, I was ‘Rick Grimes’-ready. I’m proud of the fact (kind of) that I put my family into lockdown a whole fortnight before the rest of the country. We enjoyed early morning walks so as not to bump into any of the infected. We discovered homemade pancakes and realised it is significantly cheaper than eating out. We watched, on telly, a confused PM stood behind a lectern being asked questions that he passed to a bulging-eyed scientist. I quickly developed greater appreciation (and guilt) of my garden after seeing Michelle from Peckham on the news in her tower block maisonette with her three kids and poodle, sweating it out.
My children, Kerry, and I would go on bike rides. Some days Kerry went to work. And without the guidance of a responsible adult, I would show my children the age-old art of trespassing. Sounds simple; hey, well, it’s not. We had to scramble ourselves and our bikes over a fly-tipped mattress, scale a near-vertical crumbling embankment and climb a brick wall. With everything closed, we had to create our own adventures.
Through lockdown, I did worry, adult worries: contemplating what comes after lockdown? I’d been, the year before, to an open day at Nottingham Trent University. This day drifted in and out of my lockdown state, and after being encouraged by a friend, I decided to apply for the course. Applying was a shot in the dark. I’d been thrown from my last educational establishment by the scruff of the neck. I waited a few months, not expecting a reply. I received a place by email. I was ecstatic; if nothing else, I would get a Student Finance cheque. I was going to be a student, and no amount of viral load would stop me. I prepared my arse off reading DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow, half of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and dozens of other texts. I attended about four, maybe five seminars before Boris put us back into lockdown. University adjusted by transporting me into an alternate dimension: Microsoft Teams. The initial weeks of remote learning felt much like attending the first day of secondary school ¬– in your birthday suit and carrying a My Little Pony lunchbox. It was horrific. But compared with what was to follow, it wasn’t a flashlight flickering behind the sun.
Kerry came home from work one Friday, excited to have the weekend off. She got a text later that evening from her manager at the care home saying that a member of staff had tested positive for Covid. This was pre jab, and trust me when I tell you, doubters; Covid hit Kerry like a car doing fifty-five in a thirty; she went in and out of consciousness, and blood came from her lungs. I drove her to the hospital, having to leave my children to fend for themselves. In the following hours, I did a deal with the Devil, bartering my existence for her safe return.
When I picked her up, she was pale, gaunt, and very shaky. She told me on the drive home that she had been taken to the Covid Ward. It had the only X-ray machine they could use; she had seen a conveyer of stretchers going in and out, the barely living and the recently deceased. Kerry picked up over the next few days, and I went downhill. Returning a favour, Kerry drove me to the hospital, where I slumped in a chair until I got to see an overworked doctor who threw a packet of anti-sickness drugs at me and said, ‘You can’t go on the ward; it’s full, and I’ve got no drugs other than these.’ It took me six weeks to recover. Kerry returned to work in a care home that had lost ten residents out of forty.
I am, like my dad was, an optimist, and lockdown allowed me to stand back and look at the pile of rubble that had been my life and reassemble it. I no longer aspire for a house with a porch the size of London, and a swimming pool; I want something simpler and easy to manage: A brick shed where I can create, write and dream close to those I love.
'Degrees of Isolation' is based on the experiences of University students who were interviewed between 2020 and 2022’.
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