Vivien Robertson from Rutherglen works as an admin worker in Further Education. She has been a Unison member for most of her working life and recently completed a creative writing course with WEA through her union. This is her story.
Life slowed down. Once it was places to go, people to see. Now it was stay home, stay safe and cross the road if you see someone coming towards you. The college where I worked closed its doors, and the students sent home to finish their courses online. I packed up my laptop and brought my files home. I said farewell to my colleagues, from a distance, in the car park. A forced joviality masking the sober thought that I might not see some of them in the flesh again.
I was already set-up at home with an office to work from. No fighting for space at the kitchen table. Warm, cosy, quiet, and complete with a sleeping cat on a chair beside me. Day 1 and first Teams call of the day was a check-in with the girls from work and a virtual cuppa. Talk soon turned to pandemic news stories in the media, anxiety was high amongst us, and it was impossible to avoid fuelling that fire. In hindsight it was all part of the hysteria.
The memes circulated round WhatsApp like a possessed merry-go-round that wouldn’t slow down. The need to feel connected and support each other was overwhelming and comforting in equal measure. Daily check-ins began.
“Anyone seen flour or eggs anywhere?”
“What’s the queue like at Tesco?”
This was how we lived now, ‘the new normal’. How quickly we had morphed into a crazy existence where masks and hand sanitisers were just as important as keys and wallets. Denial and disbelief had quickly become acceptance.
I had a ‘good’ lockdown, no one I know has died of Covid-19, although it has taken a few casualties. Two friends passed away, one with a terminal illness and the other took his own life. When we couldn’t attend the funeral, we lined the street, socially distanced from each other, and clapped to pay our respects to our friend. Later in the pandemic, we watched a service being streamed from the crematorium. Modern technology this time helping us grieve for our other friend.
Despite the losses, I was lucky. I wasn’t on the frontline like many other Unison members. I still had a job. My husband still had a job. My son got to finish 5th year with no exams. He was ecstatic, until he got his results. My employer shortened our working day to help with the stresses of working from home and home-schooling. They gave us resources to help with our health and wellbeing. Tuesdays a Circuits class, Wednesdays Dancersize and Thursdays Mindfulness and Yoga.
Being forced to stay at home made me realise how much I liked being at home. My garden had never looked so tidy, the bikes resurrected from the back of the garage still worked, and I enjoyed working from home; the extra 30 minutes in bed, the stress-free commute from the sofa to the home office, the banana bread and the scones. I even got to know my neighbours a bit more. Every Thursday night at 8.00 pm we stood outside our front doors and clapped. Clapped for the NHS and all the other frontline workers out there helping us keep food on our table and delivering care and services to those who needed it. It was heart-warming and emotional.