Let me start by telling you that I’m someone who has never been in trouble before. I’ve never had a detention, never been fined or arrested and have most certainly never been to jail. I’m quite a cheeky, playful person, but I have respect for the law and the brave men and women who risk their lives maintaining order on our streets. I had a riot officer mentor me when I was bullied at school, I’ve watched every cop show going since I was about five years old and even wanted to join the police for most of my childhood, so it seems obscene that I would turn against them now.
It all started at the mention of coronavirus “support bubbles”. If a single adult lived alone then they could form a “support bubble” with another household. If an adult had adult children living with them, then they could not. Herein lies part of my problem.
In 1990, my father-in-law was widowed by septicaemia. My husband is an only child and we’ve always supported his Dad. Mostly we just provide emotional support or general guidance when he calls on the telephone, but we provide companionship from time to time too. Until the lockdown, my father-in-law had worked his early retirement as a volunteer in a charity shop. When non-essential stores opened, he went back to the shop. At least, he did until Thursday.
In March last year, I lost my father to leukaemia and sepsis. My parents were together for 32 years and the loss had a monumental impact on my Mum. She was lost and devastated without Dad, even inflicting harm upon herself several times to release the pain she felt inside. Being the person that I am and understanding mental health, I tried to be someone that she could lean on. Fortunately for me, my mother opened up to me. She confided feelings she didn’t think I’d understand and my brother, who still lives with her, has been there to help her too. Slowly but surely, Mum has been getting her life back on track.
Earlier this year and at the start of the pandemic, my mother and I went dog walking together. On the walk, we met people who told us about the new measures in place that were designed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. People laughed and joked about the “Wuhan shake”, we had no idea that the walk that we ourselves were on would soon become illegal.
In March 2020, the UK’s first coronavirus lockdown began. Families were torn apart and the only contact we had was through our phones and computer screens. Schools closed, my husband’s work station moved into our bedroom and thousands more lost their jobs. It all felt so dystopian – would we ever see each other again?
“There are fines for not following the rules” we were warned. I led on the sofa, cold, shivering and weak with fear. I was someone who always fawned when my anxiety got the better of me. How on earth would I manage three weeks without seeing my Mum? What state would she get in?
But then three weeks became six weeks, and before too long, it was seven weeks before we would see one another again.
In April, my greatest fear happened and my mother herself developed Covid-19 while working in a care home. I stayed up and begged and prayed that she would be okay. Mum was of the age where the mortality risk in coronavirus patients does increase and after losing Dad, I couldn’t face losing her, too. As selfish as that seemed, I wasn’t ready.
Fortunately, after 10 days of bed rest, she pulled through.
In May and soon after the Dominic Cummings scandal, the British public were told that we could meet one other person from another household and form “support bubbles” with adults who live alone. It was meant to allow widowed grandparents to receive support and for couples to “bubble up”. It allowed us to accommodate and support my father-in-law, but inviting my mother indoors or hugging her was still not allowed.
I felt sick.
In 2007, at a New Year’s Eve party, my husband’s Dad tried to kiss me. Not just a quick peck on the lips, but a more full, intentional kiss. I felt violated and refused to visit my husband again because I was so afraid. He resolved it, and slowly but surely I rebuilt some of my confidence again, even though I’ve been wary of his Dad since. It was now law for me to be allowed to physically touch his Dad and for his Dad to touch me under the coronavirus restrictions, but I still couldn’t hug my Mum or invite her indoors for a cup of tea. I felt torn inside, this is a woman who I am so close to and has done so much for me, for us, for our whole family. Not only do I depend on her for my care needs sometimes, but after losing Dad, she also depends on me.
Once we were allowed to exercise with one other person, my mother and I carried on with our dog walks. We still missed our cups of tea and chat, but we made the most of getting out and going on stop-and-start walks instead. It was tiring, but it was still time together and we relished it. Without a carer, I don’t get out at all. If I fall in the woods, I joke, I don’t want to find myself “prone and alone”.
Then the ‘Rule of Six’ came, and we were delighted. Six people? That was my family, my husband, his Dad and me – six people. Perfect! We hosted my mother and her lodger for an outdoor 4-person dinner party.
“You must follow the rules” we were reminded. That was fine, I didn’t care. I had my six people back, I would now do all that the government asked without a care in the world. My six weren’t just six of my social circle, my six are my social circle.
Six people between three households? We can now have our own mini lockdown!
I could see my family again, and I was happy.
I was the only one in my group of six to install the Track and Trace app and I too condemned it. The app does not work by your location, it gives you an outdated rating from your region. Even before I deleted it in a fit of rage on Wednesday, Bristol still ranked as “one of the worst cities” (according to Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees) with 404 cases per million people in our city. However, even in spite of that, the app is still only flagging my area as only being a ‘Medium’ risk. A few kilometres away from me lies one of Bristol’s hospitals where, I presume, a vast majority of the most local cases are being detected. Some parts of Bristol are indeed worse than others with one area being recorded as the hotspot for 75% of all cases. In my Mum’s area, there are 56 cases in a population of about 10,000 people. Despite the hospital, my area isn’t even on the ‘most cases’ list. Just how scared did I really need to be?
We’ve always been a little bit careful, or as careful as you can be. Six people meant more risk of transmission and we knew that, so we were careful to spread ourselves out. No touching, no kissing, no car sharing with other households and stay home if you felt unwell, those were the rules of our group of six. We washed our hands and called one another out for being “gross” (using a handkerchief instead of a tissue was the worst offence). We also sat outside as often as we could to be as safe as we could be. Just because we were reunited didn’t mean we could let our guard down completely, not just yet.
I do know somebody who attended one of the lockdown raves and upon learning it, I was immediately careful to maintain social distancing from him. We were sat outside, so I know that the risk of transmission is low. Still though, to me, he was a risk.
But then the cooler nights came, and slowly but surely, we were all drawn back indoors.
“Sod it, I say these meetings happen now no matter what happens,” Mum concluded, we all chimed in our approval. “The Pact” as we called it, our little group of six. The world could go to pot; if we had each other, we had it all. Even in spite of that, I’ve only briefly seen my Mum once since, outdoors, and from two metres away. It was the last time I’d see her before she went to Cornwall for two weeks.
But last Saturday, it happened again. As the ultimate Halloween trick, Boris Johnson announced another month-long lockdown.
We could form a ‘support bubble’ with a single adult who lived alone, but we could only meet one person from another household, outside, in public and with social distancing. Not even in the garden, it had to be in a public place.
Yes, I was angry.
Yes, I felt betrayed.
There was no way that I was going to making my mother, my 59-year-old widowed mother who has had and recovered from Covid-19, stand outside in a public park in November rain and stay two metres away. All the while, I can invite my 68-year-old father-in-law indoors for a cup of tea and a biscuit, with absolutely no necessary social distancing at all, simply because he doesn’t live with anyone else. To me, one person is still one person and it makes little (if any) sense. A charity shop worker who isn’t diligent on face mask compliance and depends on public transport is probably far more of a risk to my health than a woman who lives with two other adults who both have their own cars. They all use PPE, social distancing and regular screening in their work. Where is the logic in this?
I would understand if the government slashed the rule of six to the rule of three. I would even understand if they said that only one person from two different households could meet indoors, but they didn’t, they penalised us for having extended families.
But I have more to worry about than just my risk of developing Covid-19.
As many of my readers will know, I am a disabled person. In the winter months, my chronic pain is made considerably worse by the cold weather and I struggle to get out of the house. When my foot is swollen and sore, I can’t even get a shoe and sock on. How, then, am I supposed to go for a walk with my Mum? I suffer the winter, I also suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and my husband and family have long been the ones who support me when my winter anxiety spikes. How will my mother support me while my husband works if she’s not allowed inside? I don’t want to be supported by a crisis helpline worker (as great as they are!) who has received countless calls like mine and is being forced to work from a script, I want to spend time with someone who knows and understands me and understands the grief that I’ve been feeling even more intensely this year, on top of the winter anxiety. I don’t want a phone call, I want to be with someone who I can spend some time with, that I could and would spend some time with outside, if I could only I could get my shoes on.
In my life, I have two carers, my husband and my Mum. My husband is my primary carer, but my Mum steps in to help with transportation or if my husband is working. I’ve been fine with social contact until now because of the warmer weather and the rule of six, but now that the winter is creeping in and I can only meet my Mum outside, I have some very difficult choices to make.
Visits to care homes and prisons are also to be allowed, but care visits for disabled people appear not to be exempt. My Mum can interact with plenty of potentially infected staff, residents and visitors at her work, but she’s not lawfully permitted to visit me as one of my care team. Why?
I can’t have Mum visit me as one extra person, but if I’m fined for breaking the rules, refuse to pay and consequentially imprisoned, she can visit me then.
It doesn’t make any sense, does it?
Support for disabled people in this crisis has been absolutely appalling. I depend on grocery deliveries as I can’t carry weights due to my spina bifida and lordosis, but I’ve been unable to get a delivery in months as I’m not clinically vulnerable, so I’ve been forced to buy expensive meal boxes and depend on Deliveroo instead. I’ve been unable to get the normal personal care help that I receive from my Mum while my husband works because she is lawfully unable to be within two metres of me. Like the thousands of other disabled people who have had their support crippled by this pandemic, I too have been suffering immensely.
So for the first time in my life, I may wind up breaking the law intentionally.
Do I feel scared? Yes, absolutely. Frankly, I feel absolutely f*cking petrified. I have a fantastic working relationship with the police and I don’t want that to change, and I doubt, neither do they. I’ve worked with the police to prevent my neighbour from taking his own life and, after a spat of crimes in the area, I was the one who suggested a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme. Needless to say, I am not your average criminal!
The scenes I saw last night in Bristol were the last straw. Groups of people huddled together and making faces for the camera while hospitals are reportedly in crisis. Queues of people with little to no social distancing, lined up to cram into a bar for last drinks before the lockdown. Where were the police? Where were the Covid Marshals? Whatever happened to the ‘Rule of Six’ that was supposed to be in place before Thursday? The virus wasn’t dormant before today and now, potentially, we have dozens more infections. All for what, a selfie?
Around me, circular saws still whirr on building sites. Drug dealers and drug takers are still scoring their deals and kids are still playing in the streets. I watched in dismay this afternoon as one man walked across the street and made the inevitable sneaky ‘handshake” with the known peddler opposite.
They don’t care, so why should we?
I’m done, I’m broken, I’m dispirited by the system. I followed all the rules for eight months and I refuse to do it anymore. I’m done with living in fear and I’m done because of a law that makes very little if any sense. One person is still one person and now I’ve been pushed too far. If I want to invite my Mum in for a cup of tea and a chat, I will. If she wants to walk with me and offer me an arm for support on the muddied autumn paths, she can. We only see one another once a week on average because of her work schedule, even without a pandemic going on. I am happy to provide the government with the only two residential addresses that I socialise with if that’s what they want me to do. My social contacts can all be traced, even by me!
As former and present pandemic workers, my mother and I will still take precautions. We both understand the importance of regular hand washing and I’ve already measured the distance between my desk chair and the far end seat on my sofa – 185 centimetres. It’s not quite two metres, but it’s still more social distancing than some of the photos that I’ve seen. I’m now taking 2,000 IU’s of Vitamin D3 a day because I read it on the news, researched it extensively and immediately recommended it to everyone that I know. I’m not waiting for Boris Johnson to release the recommendations anymore, I’ve already started them. Mum, for her part, is also taking vitamin D3 every day and will stay away from me again if her work develops more coronavirus cases. I’ll be returning to video calls with my brother, who is not part of my care team and therefore has no real reason to see me. It’s still far from normal, but we’re using that “great British common sense” that our beloved Prime Minister urged all those weeks ago.
So could we wind up breaking the law? Yes, by all means. But if we do, at least we’ll do it sensibly. This isn’t a protest, it is civil disobedience, and after grossly exaggerated statistics, a failing Track & Trace system and the continuous blaming on the British public, our government can now expect it in spades.