An intermittent diarist throughout most of my life, I began keeping a journal from the start of the March 2020 Coronavirus lockdown. Like many others, I sensed the important intersection that was about to take place between what the American sociologist C Wright Mills called ‘private troubles and public issues’. I maintained my journal until mid-August. Then, as on past occasions, it gradually petered out, perhaps this time due to the (false) sense of relief that was by then beginning to wash over us.
The month of April was perhaps the most intensive writing period for the journal. As the pandemic unfolded, I found myself grappling to keep up with developments in my professional field of end of life care and in my wider understanding of the forces at work in the spread of COVID-19.
I was also trying to make sense of the significant changes taking place in our quotidian lives, interested in the commentaries that were starting to emerge on these, and intrigued by all the talk of the ‘new normal’.
At the same time I was working at home, doing my best with home-schooling and trying to support my wife, who was going to work as a doctor in the local NHS every day, and unequivocally ‘on the front line’.
Re-reading my journal, some of it already feels like a glimpse into another world, one where we grappled to come to grips with the virus and its deadly and multifarious consequences.
In reproducing some of my journal writings for a wider audience, I have decided to focus just on the 30 days of April, famously described by TS Eliot in The Waste Land as ‘the cruellest month’. April 2020 remains the only calendar month in which the whole of the (dis)United Kingdom was under an otherwise uniform set of restrictions. It was also the month in which the COVID-19 figures ‘peaked’ in what we later called the ‘first wave’. It was spring time, beautiful weather and yet a dark and frightening time.
In recent days there has been much reflection on the start of the lockdown, our experiences then and how we filter, make sense of and interpret things now. I think my journal offers something different. It is a contemporaneous account, untinged by hindsight.
But let me be clear on my method. Each day I wrote, sometimes at length, on things I had observed that day. Later, I confess, I did elaborate these entries, but in every case this was only with sources and information that were available on the day in question (though at the time I may have been unaware of them). I hope the result makes for interesting reading. It shows something of my own rural living in a single month, observations of my garden and the nature around me, combined with a measure of wider analysis and in some instances with personal memoir concerning earlier periods in my life.
The diary is in effect a short book and as such I must record some thanks to others who supported its compilation. To my immediate family, who lived through and indulged my diarising preoccupations. To Erin Craighead and Anthony Bell, who helped to collect and collate additional source material. To my (now former) colleagues at the University of Glasgow, who encouraged the idea. To Atlas Pandemica, for allowing my boat to draw alongside their ship.
Starting on 1st April 2021, I will publish each day my diary entry for that day in 2020. I invite people to read these entries and in doing so to reflect on their own lives on the corresponding day, one year before. In this manner I hope that an invisible thread of reflection and collective memory may be created by the inter-twining of our diverse experience. I recognise that such an exercise may bring pain to some people who re-visit illness, loss and bereavement. I hope it may also bring joy and insight, born from something gained in those extraordinary days when, as Zadie Smith observed ‘an unprecedented April arrives and makes a nonsense every line’.*
You can find the journal on one single page of this site Because of this there will be no notifications about it for existing followers, but I will issue a daily tweet as a nudge.
* Zadie Smith (2020) ‘Peonies’, in Intimations. Penguin Random House UK, p8