Blog post

2020 Vision: My Pandemic On View

Since the beginning of the pandemic and the lockdowns here in the UK, I’ve made half a dozen posts on how I’ve felt about the situation and how it’s affected our local area. As often happens the turn of the year encourages you to look back and take stock of how life has been over the last year. And what a year this has been, simultaneously a year to both remember and forget. So here we go with my view of this last pandemic of a year, with the benefit of hindsights 2020 vision.

Back in the beginning of March before any lockdowns had been put in place, Merseyside was, on the face of it as normal, HMS Prince of Wales was in dock, inviting people on board for tours, plus it was International Women’s Day and the Liverpool Sisterhood and others were demonstrating as part of the Women’s Strike movement. Yet despite this apparent normality, the news from around the world, in particular from China and Italy, was making its way into our consciousness.

🔼 HMS Prince of Wales and The Liverpool Sisterhood

Before too long we started hearing news of rising numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the UK, and so on the 23rd March we entered into a strict lockdown, and began to try living this new type of existence. Being very restricted on travel, any record of this period I made was restricted to my daily dog walk, the big event of the day. During these walks, where I was unusually local for a change, I was prompted to wonder whether I really enjoyed living exactly where I do. I wasn’t convinced then, and I’m still not. To paraphrase, you can take the boy out of the heart of Liverpool but you can’t take Liverpool out of his heart.

🔼 Scenes from my dog walk.

Come the middle of June and we started to get some encouragement as the R number began to come under control, and news came that the shops may be opening soon. That along with some relaxation on exactly where you could stretch your legs, gave me encouragement to dare to set foot in Liverpool city centre once more. A chance to capture the city in such an eerie state of stillness may not come round again, or so I thought.

🔼 An eerily empty Liverpool city centre.

Wandering around the mostly empty city got me reminiscing, about when I used to live within easy walking distance of the hospital where I worked and all of the downtown pubs and bars. The 1980’s city centre had much to offer a young single man, although another virus, HIV, was hanging over us like a cloud back then. I was only too aware of the virus, working in the hospital testing laboratories, handling HIV positive samples as they came through the lab on a daily basis, highlighted for all to see, a warning to take extra care.

Thankfully in my group of friends we never had any direct experience with HIV, and so we carried on partying on many a Friday night in downtown Liverpool. But what of those places where we partied the night away, what of them now in this latest viral attack on our community. Forced closures had put their continued existence very much in doubt. It had become just a matter of time, just how long could the owners hold out without being forced to close the pub or bar forever. Obviously a dire situation for the owners and staff, but also for all those people who have memories invested in those places, if they close the doors for the final time, then the chance to revisit and refresh those memories is gone, no chance to relive our youth.

🔼 Pubs and bars from my youth.

As the lockdown had its desired effect and restrictions began to be lifted shops open, pubs and restaurants open once more, it didn’t require a virologist to predict that we would end up back at square one, and new national restrictions or a second lockdown was upon us before we knew it.

🔼 Second lockdown, Liverpool.

It was November, and by this time we were all lockdown specialists, and could cope with it easily, or would we ? I think for many the second lockdown was the time they really began to feel the loneliness. In the first lockdown there was always a sense that one day this would all be over, but then the second lockdown happened. We began to think maybe life will just turn into an unending succession of lockdowns. That fading of hope was very depressing for many I suspect, especially those living alone. With that in mind I set about trying to capture that feeling within the city centre, all the lonely people so to speak. To do so as a reminder to be kind and remember what people may be going through.

In this second lockdown, people really started losing jobs, furlough arrangements just seemed to have reached their limits, especially with reduced support from the Government. The sectors really being hit were hospitality of course, but also retail, shops selling food were doing fine, and most of the big stores had reserves to fall back on or an internet presence to carry on trading. The sector really hit badly was the independent non-food retailer. With no chance of opening and little online income, surviving was becoming increasingly difficult, nigh on impossible, so staff were let go, and owners struggled with little or no help from the Government. My plan was therefore to photograph some of these shops as reminders of the first places we should shop as, when and if the shackles would be released in time for us to do some Christmas shopping.

🔼Indpendent shops suffering during lockdown.

December and the shops were allowed to open locally, just in time for people to try and do some Christmas shopping, but the news about survivability in the retail sector was still dire, news came out that Debenhams was finally going to close post Christmas trading, and soon after this followed the news that the TopShop group was to close also. Even more workers with a difficult future to face, and I was getting the feeling that this virus had not finished kicking us where it hurts just yet.

🔼Debenhams and Top Shop Group shops, due for closure post Christmas.

Then at the end of this truly annus horribilis we get some positive news about vaccines, two of them were now close to being rolled out in the UK. A new hope.

So at the end of the year I am left crossing my fingers that 2021 delivers in a way that 2020 never did, and hoping the vaccines can take effect before the virus mutates, ducking and diving to try and avoid our blows in this war of the worlds. We are moving into 2021 with a glimmer of hope, but let us not forget those we have lost, for auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne.

All photos taken by myself with analogue SLR equipment and processed at home.

© Copyright owner Steve Starr, first publication 3rd January 2021.