Tales from lockdown revisited – author’s note

Well that’s it folks, the final Tales From Lockdown – Revisited has been published. What an absolute JOY it’s been to chat again to these people and tell more of their life stories. Nearly two years have passed yet the first conversations seem like only yesterday. So many different things to talk about, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.

It shows that life still happens, doesn’t it? Whether we want it to or not, even in a global pandemic with multiple lockdowns. People change jobs, lose family, have babies, fall in love, fall out of love, move house, make mistakes, do great things. It happens, we deal with it, we get through it.

A big thank you once more to everyone who’s given their time to chat to me again, and for opening up their life for my little part of the internet. These stories are my gift to you.

It’s hard to think that before I started this I hadn’t really interviewed people, I didn’t know what I was doing, and it was all new. Now it feels as familiar as an old comfort blanket I can hold in my hand, and I’ve found I LOVE it. I bloody LOVE it. Interviewing someone, learning about them, and writing it down. It’s a wonderful way to spend my time, and has helped me understand that feature journalism is the path I want to take for my writing just now. Although if anyone has any other ideas of how to monetise this stuff I’m all ears – I don’t want to earn a fortune, just enough to be able to spend more time writing.

There weren’t any real themes for these stories like there was in the first series, since it was less about Covid and the shared lockdown experience, and more about where individual lives had gone since then.

I didn’t stress myself out with deadlines, even though I took a couple of months to write some of them up. I was honest with myself, and the people I wrote about, with what was realistic. See, I’m learning and growing.

I doubt there’ll be a Tales from Lockdown Revisited, Revisited, but I don’t think this’ll be the end of me writing about people. I’m just not sure what form it’ll take.

What do you all want to read?

Babies and back to work

‘We last chatted in May 2020, so it’s been nearly 2 years since we last spoke,’ I say to the screen. ‘How’s it been for you?’

Natalie looks at me and laughs. ‘Well, this,’ she says, holding up the cutest little baby in a pink babygrow. ‘This happened! We’ve been pretty busy, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.’

Nat found out she was pregnant in November 2020. ‘Lockdown made us both realise that we just wanted to have children now, because life is precious and things can change. We’re not getting any younger and so decided to start a family.’

Little Olivia came along in August 2021 and Nat says she’s been an anxious mess ever since. ‘Having a baby has turned me into an anxious lunatic,’ she laughs. ‘It was interesting to be pregnant in Covid-times.’

Pete, Natalie’s husband, wasn’t allowed to many scans or appointments. She says: ‘The only scan partners were allowed to go to was the 20 week one, so that was the first time Pete got to see our baby. I think it’s really hard for any partner who’s not carrying the baby to go through pregnancy but not actually see the baby.’

Because the UK kept going in and out of lockdowns, Natalie didn’t see her Dad all through her pregnancy. ‘I kind of got used to it, but I was quite anxious the entire time and if I’d been able to see people, to talk in person, I think it would’ve really helped. My best friend was pregnant at the same time [they had their babies a day apart] and I never saw her. We had video calls but it’s not really the same. We’d have loved to go shopping for baby clothes and stuff together.’

In our first chat, Natalie found spending time with Pete in lockdown made her realise just how much she loved him. ‘Now I’ve spent too much time with him. Now I want to kill him,’ she jokes. ‘Don’t put that in, will you?’ I give her a wry smile.

Nat’s going back to work soon but will be mainly working from home rather than having the same amount of travel she used to, an unexpected positive of the pandemic. Pete has sold his share of his business and is going to become a stay-at-home-dad. ‘Our priorities have changed, things have changed, and we’re thinking about doing things differently,’ she says. ‘It feels like having a baby is a lot about trying to find a balance with everything. Pete will do some work, but we’ll have more flexibility. He’s really excited about it. I think it’s really important for men to have that time with their children, because sometimes it’s hard for men to get so involved when they’re quite small. Pete’s such a good Dad, he just loves it. It’s so cute to watch them together.’

Natalie loves her job, and is excited to go back to work. Her eyes light up as she looks at me through the screen. ‘You know what Tara, I love working. I love being a mum, but I need more than that. For me, that’s really important. I have to use my brain. I had a KIT day the other week and I struggled to write the letter N on a piece of paper. I’ve not written anything in so long.’

Natalie picks Olivia up with that ease that mothers just seem to have, and Olivia looks at me through the screen, transfixed. ‘Sorry there were no cocktails involved in this chat,’ laughs Natalie.

‘Is that chapter of your life over now?’ I ask her, ‘Or will they be making a comeback?’

‘No they’re definitely not over, the cocktails will be making a comeback. Pete’s going to make me a tiki bar for the garden, and that’s when I might relaunch them. I want to be Instagram famous,’ she laughs.

My 40th year – April (month #12)

Well it’s been quite the year. I started it terribly burnt out and am ending it feeling much better. Slightly battered and bruised, but much, much better.

I’d known I was burnt out, I’d already spent months trying all sorts of things to keep a handle on it. Float pods, reflexology, exercise, you name it, I probably tried it. All the things the articles tell you to do. It took me too long to remove the source of the burnout (my job) but that’s what I did a year ago, and I started my current job just before my 40th birthday last year.

Starting a new job with trauma from an old one was so hard. I was being triggered all the time yet felt I had to be on top of my game. I was finding it so hard but there wasn’t an option to fail because my life, my visa, was tied to the new job. I was so scared I’d fuck it up and lose the option to live in New Zealand, and I just wasn’t in a place to deal with that.

Hence the year of self-nurture; I knew I had to slowly try and help myself recover while still trying to get through life. The option of taking a few months off (what I really wanted to do) wasn’t an option. Well, it didn’t seem like an option. I actually spoke to my boss recently about how I actually felt last year, and he told me if I’d said something back then, he was sure we could have worked something out. He made me promise that if I ever felt like that again to talk to him about it.

Lesson learnt; honesty is always a good call (and people are kind).

This final month before I turn 41 next week has been about reflecting back over the year, seeing what’s resonated, and thinking about what I might want to carry on doing. It’s been good to remind myself of the things that are already meaningful to me, as well as remembering how important it is to me that I keeping trying new things, so I don’t stagnate.

Putting myself first has been necessary, and I’ve enjoyed leaning into slowing down. I feel a lot more grounded and chilled now than I did a year ago. I’m comfortable with where I’m at in myself and life.

But oh do I want some fun now. I want to laugh. I want to play. I want to leave the serious stuff behind for a bit, or it at least be in the background rather than taking centre stage.

May my 40’s be fun, carefree, a bit wild, meaningful, creative and on my own terms. Just not necessarily at a million miles an hour, like my 30’s. I’m wiser (and older) now.

My 40th year – March (month #11)

This is the penultimate post in this series, the second to last nurturing activity, and I’m trying to work out whether I think it’s gone quickly or not. And I don’t just mean trotting out the usual ‘ooh well I just don’t know where this year’s gone to’ phrase, I mean has it actually gone quickly? Because honestly, turning 40 seems fucking ages ago. It’s probably been one of the worst years of my life. Actually, there’s no probably about it. It was.

When I decided to try these things each month, it was more of a ‘I feel like I’ve neglected myself a little bit’, rather than ‘I need these’, but actually, that’s exactly what I’ve found as I navigated through a tough year. To even stand a chance at recovering from the awul burnout, I’ve had to put myself first and prioritise my wellbeing.

As I’ve got towards the end of the year I’ve been feeling a hell of a lot better. So, so, so much better. It’s not just these monthly things that have done it, but they’ve no doubt helped. This month’s activity – March – has been getting out running in the hills.

But wait! That’s nothing new! Don’t you do that already? I hear you cry.

Actually, I haven’t for some time. Last year my body went a bit on strike and for the first time ever I found myself physically unable to do much. The burnout and stress meant that everything seemed an incredible effort. I struggled to run or walk much uphill, and I could only run about 4 or 5km before I felt absolutely exhausted.

At one time I might have pushed through, kept forcing myself to do more, ignoring any signs. This time though, I listened to my body and dialled everything back. I did what I could, took it easy, ran gently around the park near home and didn’t beat myself up for not doing more.

This month, I’ve headed out to the hills to dip my toe in. I’ve done a few hikes recently, felt good, and now feel a pull to get back out on the trails. The motivation’s there, the want is there.

I’ve started gently, running trails I know and love, not committing to any distance or time, just running for fun and endorphins. I’ve ran with friends, making it social as well as on my own.

I’m loving it. It makes me feel so free, so alive, and a total badass. It’s different each time and puts a smile on my face 100% of the time.

I feel like I’m finally getting back to being me.

Covid Culture

‘I’ve got wine, is that OK?’ Katie asks me, holding a glass of red up to the screen.

I laugh. ‘Of course!’ She laughs too, and I think how different the start of this interview is to the previous one, where she started crying before she’d hardly said a word.

‘So I’m in a unique position because I haven’t been in the same place, nor country even, over the last 18 months,’ Katie says. ‘The pandemic for me has had three parts; that first lockdown in March 2020, the Covid experience in New Zealand with, well, zero Covid, and then coming back to North America right into Covidland.’

Katie moved back to Canada from New Zealand 7 months before, in April 2021. ‘I’ve had a very bizarre experience of arriving in Canada at the height of the third wave, the wave with the most cases across the country and before vaccinations. I remember getting here from New Zealand where it wasn’t a thing and thinking, ‘OK I have to sanitise everything, where’s the masks, where’s the backup masks, OK let’s switch masks every hour’, like, I was so, so, intense about it.’ She covers her face and laughs.

She said: ‘I had a friend visit a couple of weeks after I got back, and we were outside on the deck. He asked me what I was comfortable with, and I said ‘let’s wear masks, let’s stay at least ten feet apart’, things that were beyond the measures necessary, and he looked at me and said ‘OK, whatever makes you comfortable’, but was laughing about it. I thought, OK, maybe I need to learn more about the culture of Covid here.’

Katie asked her friends to explain how things worked, and was told there were the rules that had been imposed by the different provinces, and then there were (she makes air quotes with her fingers) “The Rules”. She said: ‘The cultural rules, if you will; what people actually did. From what I could gather, the official rules had been shifted around and changed so frequently that pretty much everybody was just doing their own thing and deciding what was best for them.’

She gasps. ‘Oh! I have a wild story about that. So the bubble rules around shared housing and flatmate situations weren’t ever really addressed. However, there were some suggestions for if people were single and wanted to connect, you know, sexually and romantically.’ she giggles and covers her face with her hands. ‘It’s embarrassing,’ emphasising the word, ‘that my provincial government talked about this, but they said to create <air quotes> “glory holes”.’ She paused and looked at me.

‘No!’ I exclaimed.

‘Yes,’ she nods.

‘They did not say that!’ I squeak in disbelief.

‘Oh they did. There were so many jokes on the internet about it. If that – that – is what’s being told to people, no wonder they’re making their own rules.’

Returning to Canada, Katie was looking forward to forging a stable life. ‘Here I have opportunities I didn’t have in New Zealand. I have a job that’s financially secure, and I can dream about things like having kids and buying a house. My goals here are very different, and so on arriving, I panicked. I thought what I really have to be prepared for is that I might never find a partner. At that point I didn’t even know whether people were allowed to meet or not. There was a lot of reconciling of having to give up my dreams; give up the partnership dreams, the kid dreams, the family dreams. I told myself to be grateful to have a job and just focus on that for however long this pandemic plays out for.’

I asked her how she felt about that.

‘Resigned. I felt resigned to a fate that I hadn’t chosen. But I had to accept it, because that’s what the world’s going through. Equally though, I think that was also a bit reflective of my personality rather than what was at play. I was really reminded of how removed I’d been in New Zealand from the struggles that everyone else went through. I was new to the mentality of ‘oh fuck, this can fuck up my life’ whereas everyone else had been dealing with that for a long time. The world was ending for me, but in reality, it wasn’t, I was just new to it.’

Katie says it was an awakening to people’s experiences in North America. ‘Hearing about it over the phone in New Zealand, and then seeing how people were living wasn’t something I knew how to expect. It’s very different. Like arriving in British Columbia and seeing how my friends socialised very differently. They were so nervous to merge friend groups. So nervous to socialise with more than one other person, like going on a hike together, even though we were outside. Although, maybe not nervous as such, they were just very aware of what that risk entailed. Some people had spent the best part of the last 12 months with either just their flatmates or themselves.’

Katie went out for dinner with a friend when restaurants opened back up not long after she’d got back. She said: ‘It was the first time my friend had been out since the pandemic began, and I thought to myself ‘holy fuck’, that’s insane. Over a year without going out to dinner. There was a nervousness to her taking off her mask when we sat down, and it made me think ‘oh my god, I get it’. I got what a massive concern it was for her, to be in a restaurant with multiple people that she doesn’t know. So for me it was a double pronged thing to learn how to be in Covid culture, as well as learning what my friends have gone through, so I can be with them as they then release that nervousness.’

One big positive for Katie to come out of Covid is that she’s been able to return to the government job she had before she moved to New Zealand, and was able to choose where she lives, as the team are now working remotely. She said: ‘I get to live in a city I love, with all of my friends and be on the [Vancouver] island which is a great match for me.’

I ask her what it’s been like returning home, Covid aside. She pauses. ‘Really, really, fucking hard.’

She pauses again, and I stay silent. For a moment I think she might cry, but she doesn’t. ‘Really, really hard. I felt so much belonging in Christchurch. But I chose to come back. I didn’t want the job and visa fight, I wanted stability so I could think about bigger things. I’ve battled with the stability of a paycheck for pretty much the last fifteen years, and I’m done with it. I’m over it.’

The transition’s been hard for her. ‘There’s been a fucktonne of grief. God, thinking back to the last interview, grief is the theme and I’m like, oh god it continues’, she laughs, putting her head in her hands. ‘Now I’ve spent eight months grieving my life in New Zealand, like anything that you love and are super grateful for. I don’t regret the move though, I’m full of hope, as I now see so much opportunity here in Canada because of my time in New Zealand. The two are intertwined forever.’

She apologises for not being specific, and I tell her no, it’s perfect. I remark that I’m just impressed she’s managed to talk about it without crying. ‘I KNOW!’ she cries, ‘me too! I’m like, ‘oh my god why haven’t I cried yet’. It’ll come T, it’ll come,’ she laughs.

I ask her how she feels now, compared to the last interview. ‘Back then, I remember feeling that this was going to shift the world. That there’d be this turning point where we all came out of Covid and it would all be different. Now, I don’t see it being such a sudden dramatic shift. I also don’t have the optimism around that anymore. Like, I do think we’re shifting, I just don’t think we’re all going to sit down and reconsider our values. I’m also a million times less scared. Not less scared of getting it – that, and the thought of how sick it can make a population, still scares me, but I was scared about things like what it might do to the world economy. Mainly though, I feel really fucking fortunate. And very, very grateful. I mean, I am still looking for that dude to bang, but, you know, on the upside we’re not in lockdown so it’s no sweat. ‘

Katie laughs and looks to her right, and notices the wine glass that’s sat untouched for the last 45 minutes. ‘I haven’t even had a sip of my wine!’ She holds it up to the screen, ‘this is still full, can you believe it. Oh god!’

She puts it back. Without taking a sip.

I laugh. ‘And you didn’t cry. Well done.’

She laughs. ‘HA! I didn’t!’

Project Ruth

‘Is this when you want a really horrible camera angle?’ Ruth laughs, looking down into the camera that shows her face and a beamed ceiling. She’s in the same kitchen as she was for our first interview, and yet again I picture her little country cottage nestled in a picture perfect Cotswold village, surrounded by rolling hills and endless green English countryside.

‘Are you wearing your pyjamas?’ she asked.

‘Yes! It’s late!’ I laugh, asking her how the last 18 months have been.

‘Do you know what? It’s been alright.There are some definite silver linings. When that first lockdown in March 2020 was called I was absolutely burnt out. Driving all over, working 80 odd hours a week, laundry mounting up and I remember thinking ‘I can’t keep going at this speed, I just can’t’ and then suddenly everyone was at home.’

Ruth decided to launch ‘Project Me’. She said: ‘When I turned 40 in 2019 there was a photograph taken of me and OK it was at a funny angle, but I looked six foot wide, it was horrible. I saw it and thought, you need to do fucking do something about that. I started running a bit during the first lockdown, and started weightlifting and boxing at the gym. I’m going to start with a food nutrition coach in January to get me into a habit.’

Working from home has taken some of the pressure off too. She said: ‘I’m quite good at closing my laptop at six o’clock now. I’m just trying to not get burnt out again and enjoying my little slice of heaven in the village.’

Although things are starting to get a bit more normal for her as a Project Manager for a software company. ‘I went to my first team meeting in nearly two years last week. Only three of us were part of the original lot before the pandemic started, everyone else was new.’

‘I’m incredibly lucky to have lots of friends throughout all this, whether I speak to them or not, I know they’re there, and I’m a big user of social media. I’ve also been dating a local chap which does help.’

A smile starts to form, and I can tell she’s dying to tell me about it. Is this the chap you’d started seeing at the end of the last interview, I ask? She giggles. ‘Oh no, there’s been about eight in the middle I’ve not told you about.’

I laugh. ‘Go on, tell me about it.’

‘So I met the new chap online just over a year ago in November 2020, and I had him round for dinner within two weeks. We laugh about it now, as he jokes about me being in such a rush, and I was like, yeah, because you meet dickheads. You have to screen fast. Chatting to someone for six weeks and really liking them only to meet and finding out they’re a bellend is disappointing.’

He lives a couple of villages away from Ruth, breaking her ‘no local’ rule. ‘If you said make a recipe for a man, that’s my recipe,’ she says smiling. ‘Six foot four, dark, bearded, 20-stone rugby player, very very direct. He makes me look like I should have a career in the peace corps. He’s what I’d say is an absolute diamond.’

Ruth says they’re very casual, and it takes him ages to make his mind up about anything. ‘We had dinner in November, and I never heard from him again until the January. I joked about him ghosting me but he just said he was busy. So we had a couple more dates but he was never particularly flirty and in the end I thought ‘this guy just wants a friend’. It was February and I’d just about given up, when he stayed round one time. I’d put him in the spare room but in the morning he came and got into bed with me, and as they say, the rest is history.’

She mocks him about it now, and still doesn’t really know whether she’s his girlfriend or not. ‘He knows I have no intention of ever marrying, or moving in with anyone ever again. As I told him the other day, I’m not going to buy the pig for a bit of sausage, no offence.’

‘He’s just a nice bloke. Everyone at work is laughing at me, saying ‘you’ve normally got two or three in back up’, and I tell them’ you know what, I like this one’. I’m not interested in looking at anyone else. We get on, it’s nice. I have noticed now that any lockdowns are coming to an end and it’s become,’ she uses air quotes, “cuffing season”, lots of exes are suddenly randomly dropping into my DMs. I’m like nope, off you pop.’

She met some of his friends last month. ‘I thought, this is my test. He’s ready to let his two best mates meet me. I think I passed,’ she laughs.

‘I’m under no illusions, it’s not like any sort of romantic love, it’s not thunderbolts, it’s not perfect, there will be problems but it’s nice having someone local who I can cook for and share a bottle of red with. He’s part of my life. If my life is a pie chart, he’s a chunk of it. We both agree that our lives are better with each other in them.’

Greenpeace and gourmet takeaways

‘My gosh, that is such an interesting question,’ Abi says, when I ask her how the last 18 months has been. ‘Weird. My life has never been how I planned but this, well, this is super weird.’

It’s November 2021, and Abi’s in a prolonged lockdown in Auckland. ‘It started just after my 40th birthday, at the start of a really busy period I had planned, I was going to go away every single weekend. Instead, I’ve just been sitting at home for three months. It makes your world very small. I’ve actually done quite a lot of stuff in the last 18 months, but right now it feels like all I do in my entire life is either sit at my desk in my bedroom, or lay on my bed.’

Abi changed jobs during lockdown. She says: ‘I spent a year working with Greenpeace which I loved. I got to be involved with a lot of the strategic campaign stuff, as well as basically begging for money for them which went really well. Then I got offered a new job which I started last month. I’m still getting my head around starting a job in lockdown, which is pretty crazy.’

‘Covid has made me a bit frantic to do things; to experience things and get out and about and achieve, but I haven’t really taken much time since I moved to New Zealand to actually think about what I’m doing. Although saying that, I haven’t really ever done that in my life.’

I ask Abi how she thinks the pandemic has impacted her move to New Zealand. She says: ‘Covid added a lot of smugness to my move to start with. I was like, you know what, it was shit of me to uproot my children and drag them halfway across the world but look – look how amazing life is, and we were going to concerts and having a great time while my friends in the UK and France were locked down.’ We laugh about the irony of Auckland now being in lockdown while Europe experiences relative freedom.

‘It’s probably made it quite unsettled for my children, because all of the problems of things like moving and puberty, have become the fault of New Zealand and Covid. It’s exacerbated those things massively. So my kids have really struggled, and as I have the kids 100%, when they struggle, I struggle.’ Her eyes flick down, and then back up. ‘Yeah. It’s pretty intense.’

I ask how this lockdown compares to the first. Abi says: ‘So fast, and yet so slow. The days drag out, yet all this time has just disappeared. It’s also tied up with turning 40. You’ve got to have a mid life crisis, right, otherwise have you even turned 40? So I got Botox and fillers, got really fit and planned all this stuff to do, and then I just haven’t done anything for the last three months. It’s been this really weird period of frantic doing stuff, while not really doing anything. It feels like such a waste of my life. Turning 40 feels like the end of my youth and I need to make the most of it while I can. Life’s passing me by.’

Abi doesn’t live with her partner, so bubbling up with him means she’s at least been able to leave the house. ‘It’s been really fucking boring though.’ She means the lockdown, not bubbling with her partner, ‘and depressing.’ I tell her I feel a bit guilty about being in the South Island who haven’t had the same restrictions. ‘You should,’ she laughs.

She does love a fancy takeaway though. ‘Some of my favourite restaurants have been doing meal kits, or gourmet takeaways, and I LOVE it. I’m in my pyjamas and I’m eating really good food. I really hope they continue it. I mean, they probably won’t, but still.’

Abi’s found lockdown a great example of how elastic people’s minds can be. She says: ‘People are good at accepting a new normal, while also changing their world view to fit that new normal. In Auckland, we’ve gone from ‘don’t leave your house, it’s so dangerous’, to ‘oh yeah, it’s not that bad, maybe I’ll go to the shops because I’m bored’. It just becomes this choice between a shit, really shit and hugely shit situation. I think a lot of us are going through a lot of cognitive dissonance at the moment, because there’s this reality staring us in the face, but we don’t like it.’

‘We’re just all treading water, and sometimes you’ve got to find some fins so that treading water’s a little bit more comfortable, and maybe a snorkel mask so you can at least look under the water at the pretty fish.’

Introspective action

‘WOW. So.’ Martin looks thoughtful, a small smile creeping onto his face. ‘Yeah. A lot’s changed.’ He pauses. ‘When we spoke last time, in May 2020, I was still living in my house, I was still married, I was working from home, it was sunny, and everything Covid related was a novelty.’

Fast forward to December 2021. ‘I’m now in the process of getting divorced, I’ve put in my papers to leave the RAF, I’m living in an RAF house with my dog, I’m about to go out of area in January and Covid has started to cause a division, like an extension of Brexit.’

Martin found the second UK lockdown in late 2020 really isolating. He says: ‘Just before Christmas, I wasn’t able to see anyone, and I was living by myself. Twitter became a really big thing for me. When I first joined I didn’t get it, didn’t really understand it, but once I’d got the hang of it, it soon became a social hub. I couldn’t go and see people but all of a sudden, I could have conversations with real people in real time.’

He explains something called Square Eyes. ‘During a week someone would be nominated to pick a film, and at 8pm on a Friday a group would all press play at the same time and we’d have a tweet thread with banter and comments while we all watched the film. It actually became huge for me, because it was the only time I was really talking to people outside of work. I’ve built up some amazing relationships with people on there.’

Pre-Covid, Martin had a big social network. He worked in an open plan office every day with over 20 other people, had a big group of friends at the local pub and through football, and his family. These were friends and people he’d grown up with and had known for years. He says: ‘Then we went into that first lockdown and I was restricted to just me and my family, then last year I was living by myself in a strange house in a different town, only seeing my daughter every couple of weeks. The only reason I left the house was Winston [the dog]. I felt like at times I was just by myself in a wild wood, in the middle of a bleak, bleak winter, cut off from the rest of the world. I literally just had Twitter. It was bizarre.’

‘It definitely impacted my mental health. I wasn’t enjoying work at all and made a decision to leave the RAF. I was on the cusp of promotion but I just wanted to do something else, get a job I’m passionate about.’

He started to notice the impact it was having on Maggie, his daughter. He says: ‘On Christmas Day, on the way home I asked her if she’d had a good time, and she said ‘I did Daddy, I loved it. The best bit was playing with little people.’ I suddenly got a taste for how she’d felt. As isolated as I’d felt, as an only child Maggie’s only social interactions were adults. That must have been really isolating for her as a kid. She couldn’t wait to go back to school, she loves it – it’s her only time with little people. I don’t know what the long-term affects will be. Kids are resilient, but things do leave little imprints on our make up.’

I ask Martin whether, or how, Covid contributed to these life events. He says: ‘I think they would all have happened anyway. More importantly, they needed to happen. What Covid did was make things a bit more extreme, highlighting the not-so-great things in life, like unhealthy relationships.’

Since his marriage break up, he’s done a lot of self work. He says: ‘I’ve had a lot of counselling, done a lot of meditating and read all the books. Isolation gives an opportunity to learn a lot about yourself, and I’ve certainly done that over the last 18 months. I’ve had unhealthy patterns from quite a young age and I’ve really been able to look at instances in my life where things have happened and work out my behaviour and how I was reacting to situations. I’ve learnt so much.’

Martin’s social network is much smaller now. He says: ‘I’ve looked at friendships I’ve formed and realised I put a lot of energy into the wrong friendships. I’ve learnt about attachment styles. I’ve gone from thousands of Facebook “friends” to a couple of hundred. I’ve gone from seeing friends down the pub to not going to the pub anymore. I’ve detached myself completely from my old life. Turning 40, Covid, leaving the RAF, my marriage breakdown and everything that’s happened in the last 18 months has given me the chance to strip everything right back down to me, my daughter, dog and immediate family.’

Martin sees this as a chance to start again, a blank canvas. He says: ‘The point I’m starting from has everything that’s good. I have the people who are going to stick by me, I’ve got much healthier boundaries and I’m getting a lot less triggered by people not being in alignment with me. I’ve got a better grasp of my hierarchy of needs, and have improved relationship boundaries – both mine and other peoples. It’s like I had this mess of a painting that I’ve put a load of paint thinner on, cleaned it all off and was left with a fine outline of something that now made a lot of sense to me. I’ve slowly started to expand on it and I feel like I’m getting towards building up the picture and colouring it in.’

I ask what’s next for his career, and he says: ‘I’ve booked myself onto a course to potentially become a professional coach one day. That’s my passion. The best part of the RAF was being able to mentor and help people, and it’s so rewarding to feel like you’ve had a positive impact on someone. I want more of that, and I’m in such a better position to listen to people now.’

Straight after our conversation he’s going to an Open Day to find out more about going into teaching. ‘My approach at the moment is to keep following my gut, my interests, trying things, speaking to people and seeing where it leads. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to become a teacher, or a coach, but if I follow the things I’m interested in and passionate about, it might lead to something else. I’ll be surrounded by like-minded people, putting myself into areas that are aligned to me, and the more I do that, the more I might see opportunities.’

Martin says he’s in a fortunate position that he’ll have a pension from his time in the RAF. ‘I have some sort of financial security there, and that’s important to me. It’s hard for kids to get that nowadays, it’s hard for people to buy houses now.’

‘I feel like I’m taking baby steps into a new life. I’ve always looked from the inside out, for as long as I can remember, but now I’ve been looking at myself from the outside in, I have so much less baggage. I’m in such a privileged position where losing a lot over the last 18 months has provided me with the opportunity to gain so much more, and I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.’

Loss, life and muddy shoes

How’s the last 18 months been for you Dylan?

‘Shit.’

He laughs, then I laugh, but it tails off.

‘Yeah, it has been a bit crap.’ he says. ‘My best mate went into hospital with a surprise liver transplant. So that was November all through to about March, with her recuperation, and in February my Dad passed away.’

Dylan’s parents moved to New Zealand some years ago. “I always knew, one day, I’d get that call, but I was hoping it wasn’t going to be this soon. It feels too soon to have happened. That was really difficult. Well, it’s still difficult now. I can’t get out there. I get why the borders shut, and I applaud it, but at the same time it’s frustrating, because there’s no way for me to get there. I can’t see my Mum, who’s on her own. It’s my Dad, and I couldn’t even be at his funeral.’

Dylan did apply to get a special exemption to get to New Zealand from the UK, but was turned down. “Because he had already passed, they decided there was no reason for me to go over. He wasn’t dying.’ His Dad was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease at the beginning of the pandemic, which was a huge shock to them all. ‘He was such a healthy guy, had survived a baseball bat to the head in Australia, but this is what took him out, and that was the harshest thing. It was something that took away his independence, and he hated it.’

Dylan’s wife’s Grandma also passed away. ‘She had a stroke and went into a home. All through lockdown no one could really visit her, which was really hard. Kerry was going to visit her when lockdown restrictions eased, waiting the whole year, but she passed away before that could happen, so she didn’t get to see her at all.’

‘It’s just been a combo of things, and to be fair, those are the horrific parts, losing people we’re really close to, but the rest of the time’s been alright. You know, getting to finally see people again, and going away. We went to France for a mates wedding. I’ve never been to France, and it was sunny in November so I was happy! Peaks and troughs.’

Dylan turned 40 in January 2021, when the UK was in lockdown. ‘So I turned 40, which is horrible, as you know.’ I laugh. ‘I couldn’t do anything. Had all these great plans for me and my mates to go to Disneyworld in Florida, which had been planned for 10 years, but nope, that went out the window.’

Kerry asked Dylan what he wanted to do instead. ‘I told her, just want to go outside.’ He laughed. ‘It had just rained, and me and Kerry went out for a walk, and I lost my shoe in the mud.’ I asked him what he was thinking at that point. ‘Fuck my life.’ He laughed. ‘Nah, we couldn’t stop laughing. It just summed everything up. We went home and ate a whole salted caramel cake. Despite all that, it was a great day.’

Dylan’s still enjoying working from home, although he doesn’t mention whether they’re still doing the yoga he talked about in his original post which he and Kerry started doing together in place of the daily commute.

He’s also loving meeting up with friends. ‘Hugging is nice. When you haven’t hugged other people for a while, it’s really nice. ‘Oh, and going to the cinema. I’m loving that.’

I ask Dylan what he thanks he’s learnt over the last 18 months. ‘Ooh that’s tough,’ he says, staring off into the distance. There’s a pause. ‘I don’t know. Hmm.’ He looks at me. ‘Can I say I don’t know? I genuinely don’t know.’

I’m not letting him get away so easily. ‘Is there anything about yourself that you think you’ve learnt?’ I ask.

‘Yeah. I guess..I don’t deal with loss very well. I knew that, but I don’t like to dwell on it. But I guess also I’m a bit stronger than I thought I was. I’m quite an emotional person, I always have been, but I know I can just about cope. I learnt things will affect me in ways I don’t expect. Like, I haven’t felt a drive or motivation sometimes to do the things I normally would. It was like my mental state said nope, you’re not going to do anything that’s too strenuous right now, just do the basics. My brain and my body will tell me what to do.’