The world has felt different these last few days. Walking out with my toddler along the cliffs near my house yesterday, a change was evident.
The flags were back on the municipal golf course around the Martello tower. The tennis nets were up on the courts at the local sports facility and two games were under way. Meanwhile, at the National Coastwatch Institution station, which we have become used to seeing shuttered, the lights were on and the outer door was flung wide.
Of course, it wasn’t all business as usual. The hazard tape and coronavirus warning sign on Marc Schmitz + Dolgor Ser-Od’s Siren on Wear Bay Road, instructing passersby not to touch or try to speak into it, was a reminder that life is still not as it used to be, as were the social-distancing notices at the East Cliff tennis courts. Still, the signs of everyday activity were a marked change from the stasis of the preceding weeks.
The mood on the streets was different yesterday too. Gone was the giddy aimlessness of a bank holiday outstaying its welcome, which prevailed when the restrictions on outdoor exercise were relaxed back in May and people surged out to stroll and picnic in the sun.
Instead, a quiet purposefulness suffused the neighbourhood. The world was starting to get back to work, the implication seemed to be. Life was shifting, if not back to how things were, then on to a new phase, in which people go about their business, filling some of the hitherto dead hours with a wider array of constructive tasks.
I found my reaction interesting. Although I am sceptical about many of the decisions the UK government has taken during this crisis and fear that relaxing lockdown too soon may lead to another deadly wave of Covid-19, I can’t deny how welcome the changes I saw yesterday felt. My body seemed lighter walking around those quietly bustling streets. The fist that has been clenched in the pit of my stomach for much of the past three months began to uncurl.
It was as though, after weeks of holding its breath, the town was starting to breathe again. And while I might find many of the implications of these changes worrying on an intellectual level, my emotional reaction to the experience of life opening up once more was one of relief. My cerebral and my sentient selves responded to what I was seeing in different ways.
But perhaps this feeling of head versus heart is one of the hallmarks of this crisis – the way it has pitted our intellectual awareness against our instincts, requiring us to curb many of our natural inclinations in order to adhere to rules that we know, coldly, are in our best interests. It remains to be seen whether intellect or emotion will win the day.