I moved out of London ten years ago but, as I hate commuting, I used to stay in a budget hotel near Waterloo three or four times a month.
It was my perk. I kept part of London life, saw my friends and had an easy journey to work, rather than a 90 minute each way commute.
Time ticked by and my routine had gone on for nine years.
On Monday 9th March 2020 I went to the Self-Publishing Formula conference on the Southbank and had booked my usual room for that evening. The next day I would go to the office of my day job near St Pauls.
Running up to the conference, Covid-19 was closing in on the UK. It had already landed in Italy and we watched as the northern part of the country went into lockdown. Even though it seemed inevitable that it would come to the UK, at that point we were nervously escaping it. Could it really happen that all the shops would close and our freedom of movement be removed?
Every week the conference organisers were sending updates, confirming that they were still within government guidelines to continue, and hoping that it would remain the case.
At the conference we joked with each other about the encroaching threat, taking great care when washing our hands in the toilets.
Looking back it seems such an innocent world as a room of six hundred people freely interacted with each other. We had no idea what was really going to happen. In late February 2020 my colleagues and I would laugh about seeing someone on the Underground wearing a mask. That thought makes me smile now when I head to the supermarket, the only shop locally that is allowed to open, and the mask is part of our normal attire.
It was at the end of the day when I left the conference and walked to my hotel that the strangeness of the situation hit me. London was already eerily quiet. It was emptying out. There weren’t as many tourists. There wasn’t as much traffic. It just didn’t feel right. You could tell something was happening and it wasn’t going to be good. Not just the coronavirus itself, but the economic impact a quiet city was about to have.
When I checked in at the hotel they told me they’d had a lot of cancellations. Once in my room I broke out my pack of anti-bacterial wipes and cleaned all the surfaces. I’d never done that before in the nine years at what I called my London home.
I used to work in London two or three days a week. In the last twelve months I have been four times. Twice socially, once to go into the office and once for a podcast interview. All those trips had the planning of a military operation to reduce risk; wipes and hand sanitizer at the ready.
I have no idea when I will stay at the hotel again. I can’t imagine working in an office with as much frequency as we did. Life has changed. Despite the promises offered by the vaccine, we don’t know where things are really heading.
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