11 months ago I sat down and made a list of 40 things I hoped to achieve before reaching my 40th birthday.
I wanted to make the countdown to this milestone as interesting and as fun as it could be. I did not anticipate that a global pandemic would leave almost three quarters of the list unchecked.
All three of the half marathons I’d signed up for, the triathlon and the 100 mile cycle sportive were all postponed. My plan to conquer a mountain (a volcano, no less!) went up in smoke as my trip to Indonesia was cancelled.
One of the few list items I managed before the lockdown was to perform a song, playing guitar, in front of an audience. I was quaking in my boots, but I did it at an open mic day with other students from my guitar school back in February. I’m so proud of that, but equally not in a great rush to repeat the experience!
I was surprised to discover in 2020 how much I could enjoy doing nothing at all. I’ve never been very good at relaxing, I always have to find a thing to occupy me so I was at first bemused with this seeming unending leisure time. I’d usually have FOMO, but since everyone else was sitting at home, there wasn’t really anything to miss.
In the end, it was quite nice having nowhere to go and nothing to travel for.
I spent a lot of time making my home more homely, the main event was the terrace project. Transforming my little Hackney roof terrace from a blank concrete square into a Moroccan riad rooftop. If I couldn’t travel abroad, at least I could bring the feeling of one of my favourite destinations to east London!
After 7 years as a Londoner, I finally had my first Christmas here. I woke up at home in my own bed, drank coffee and opened presents, went for a cycle by the canal and had a delicious dinner with a good friend.
It was quite different to the usual family Christmas and I missed them, but I did feel a little wave of relief when I decided against making the journey to Scotland; 450 miles laden with presents, the ever-present face covering and a virulent new strain of coronavirus making its way through my fellow travellers.
Seeing in the new year alone affected me more. In my memory, Hogmanay was always the bigger event. There are so many traditions around the end of the old year and ringing in The Bells with loved ones. Who you spend that night with is important too, as it sets the tone for the year ahead. It felt somewhat empty this year, although I still observed some of the Scottish traditions.
I cleaned the house, prepared the New Year’s Day meal (not to be touched the night before!) I stayed up to see in the year, I wished everyone I spoke to a Happy New Year, and on New Year’s Day I welcomed my first foot – the same friend I’d spent Christmas Day with.
And now here we are in 2021.
We’re not daft enough to believe the curse of 2020 fell away at the stroke of midnight, but we’re definitely and defiantly determined that this year will bring hope, health, maybe prosperity and for sure laughter, friendship and love, just like every year before it – even the one we’ve just left behind.
Whatever we had to endure in 2020, we’ve left that year armed with lessons that will serve us well through the rest of our lives.
Most of us were made to slow down, spend more time in the place where we live, with the people we love. Others had to learn how to be content and find comfort in solitude.
Some didn’t make it, too many families have suffered losses this year. Whether or not they were taken by the coronavirus a great many people didn’t get the chance to have their goodbyes heard, or have their proper send-offs with funerals and wakes. Instead silent tears were shed behind closed doors and quiet remembrance given. Soon enough we hope to celebrate their lives as we would have wanted for them.
The lessons of the pandemic I hope will mean we take greater care of each other, in acts of charity, generosity and in the way we conduct ourselves. Giving physical space, wearing a mask in crowded or enclosed public spaces, keeping our hands clean and staying at home when we’re unwell, so as not to spread infection to our friends and colleagues.
The day will come when we look back at 2020, and the children won’t believe us when we tell them about the year everyone stayed at home. Until then, let’s not be too quick to forget what this last year has taught us about resilience, fortitude, and how much toilet paper we actually need to keep in stock.