The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

First steps back into the outside world...

While Meg was clearly delighted to be out of the house and in a café for the first time in nearly 15 months, Maggie and I were on edge, trying not to show it.

With all three of us now double-vaccinated plus a few weeks to bring us up to best level effectiveness, now was the time to start making our tentative steps to reintegrate into a post-Lockdown society.

Meg's Down's Syndrome meant she was in a super-high risk category – 10 times more likely to die if she contracted Covid-19 – so we've been in shielding mode since the beginning. While others might have had a chance to learn the new normals during the times when restrictions were eased somewhat, we didn't want to take any chances so continued with our protective regime.

I have done only a handful of photo shoots over the past year, but they have always been outside and socially distanced. I've been very clear about the level of risks I've not been prepared to take. Fortunately most have been completely understanding, although I have also lost several jobs because of it.

Waiting for the vaccines to be created and approved.
Waiting for Meg to get her first jab.
Waiting for Maggie to get hers.
Waiting for me to get mine.
Waiting for Meg to get her second.
Waiting for me and Maggie to get ours.
Waiting for the immunity to build up after the second vaccine.

Hope, anticipation, and terror in equal measure.

15 months of living in fear that if I inadvertently did something wrong like touch an infected surface without noticing, or if someone else walked past me too close and I accidentally breathed in an infected out-breath, which could result in my daughter and/or wife dying or seriously suffering.

The weight of responsibility each time I left the house.
The weight of responsibility each time we took in a postal or food delivery.
The weight of responsibility each time I met someone in a carefully arranged socially-distanced setting.

Is it any wonder my ME/CFS has worsened?
Is it any wonder I have become more fearful of the world?
Is it any wonder that when I sat down in the café for a cup of coffee and a tray bake, I had to battle the primal parts of my brain, which were screaming at me it was all way too risky and we should leave immediately?

A few days before we allowed ourselves our much anticipated first trip out for coffee, before I would even arrange to hug my grandson, I made a 500 mile round trip to see my 84 year old father.

For reasons not remembered I didn't get to see him in the latter part of 2019, but that was all unquestioningly going to be rectified the following year.

Except of course it wasn't

And when Covid hit, the over 80s were the most vulnerable of all groups.

Could it be that the last time I'd seen him was going to have turned out to be the last time I would ever have seen him and I hadn't realised? This was certainly the case for so many.

So I knew I had to see him at the first possible safe opportunity.

I even did one of those home tests, with the swab on the tonsils and up the nose, an hour before I got into the car (wiping down the handles, of course, in case someone had sneezed while walking past it).

It was the first time my father and his partner had allowed anyone in their house since it all began.

A moment of hesitation, then one of the longest hugs my father and I have ever had – outdone only by the one we had as I was leaving.

So with no further barriers to begin our reintegration into society, Maggie, Meg and I walked down the road to Street Lights café.

On the corners of the first junction are the pharmacy where I've been picking up household prescriptions once a month, and the post office where I've occasionally shoved letters into the mailbox outside.

That has been the limit of heading down King Street. Beyond that it gets busier. This has been the place where either I have turned round and headed home, or turned off down one of the side streets to take me on my daily walk.

Castle Douglas is only a small town – population approx. 4,000. It's not like a city, or even an average sized town. The pavements were not heaving with people brushing up against each other.

But still I kept wanting to leap into the road every time we walked past someone.

It all felt wrong, as though I had wandered into a no-go zone and instant and unexpected death could happen at any moment.

Arriving at the café should have felt like heading into a safe place, but in some ways it was worse – it was heading into an enclosed space.

We masked up and used the hand sanitiser at the door.

We sat down at a table but didn't know whether we could take our masks off or not. No one else who was seated was wearing one. We looked around and back at each other for a few minutes, then tentatively removed them.

When the server arrived, we gave our order, along with our surname and a telephone number as part of the track & trace system.

The coffee was good and the tray bake was tasty, but I felt like a stranger in a strange land.

Everything was at once familiar and unfamiliar.

I knew the café and I recognised the people who worked in it, but the layout had changed: there were screens between the tables, and there were no menus to hand, instead everything was chalked in large letters on black paint on the walls. And the staff were wearing masks.

Now one part of me knows that we are now as “safe” as we are going to be. But the deeper, emotional, fearful side, who has no real idea how to risk-assess all this, wants to scurry off to safety and hide from it all.

However, if we can't cope with the world despite being double-vaccinated, then we are going to have to be hermits for the rest of our lives – and I can't live like that.

So it's time to learn, and create, the new normals. And the only way to do that is to do it.

We have to keep pushing ourselves back out into society until we feel comfortable with how to act and react – and that will take time.

Next on the list is the garden centre...


neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

The fear has been dreadful. I'd be all the way over here, across the sea, warning my brother in the UK to be careful. When my sister-in-law got ill, I freaked out. I don't know if she had covid.

I didn't have a choice while in Guyana...I had to go out to get things done. And Guyanese aren't exactly the most careful people. Then I had to get on a plane to Florida, because my mother needs my help.

Maggie and Meg are so pretty.

Stay safe, all of you.

Kim Ayres said...

Neena - part of the problem is the lack of existing frameworks to make sense of the changes in societal norms.
I remember back at the beginning of Covid and Lockdowns talking about the Zombie Apocalypse being the only frame of reference, but it not being particularly helpful.
I was on the phone to my brother earlier today discussing the fact of going back out into the world where ordering a coffee had someone in a mask serving us and now the only reference was some kind of strange dystopian post-apocalyptic future.
I found myself wondering whether I should be welding long spikes to the front of my Mini and fitting a gun turret, in a Mad Max kind of way...

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