Vin McLoughlan -Whitby and the pandemic : a virtual archive of people’s experiences



In early 2020 the Coronavirus plague descended on the United Kingdom. By23rd March 2020 my world had shrunk dramatically, and I becameincarcerated in the village of Egton Bridge. I amallowed to leave my premises each day for a walk, which basically offers me the choiceof circling the village or trudging down the Toll Road. Although I like the Toll Road, I find that one can rapidly overdose on circumnavigating the same potholes, day after day.

When it comes to shopping; alas I am not wanted on voyage. However, my youngest son invariably returns from his trips to Sainsbury’s with exotic tales. I particularly like the one about the young woman dressed in a helmet, a visor, a mask, gloves and wellie boots. We concluded that this was some new form of mating ritual. Maybe she will strike lucky, and pull either a Darlek or Darth Vader.

I struggle each morning, as I try to determine which day of the week it is. The virus restrictions have removed all the landmarks that allowed me to confidently navigate my way through the week: Rotary on a Wednesday, attending Mass on a Saturday evening, and the sound of the church bells on a Sunday morning. Rotary and Mass are now verboten, and the bells have been silenced. My backup landmarks were the fact that the milkman delivered his wares on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Recentlyhowever, and without any prior consultation, he transferred his activities to Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Consequently, is it any wonder that I have been reducedtobeing perpetually confused of Egton Bridge?’

My son and myself have declared war on our very large garden. This task force, fronted by asit-on mower, hedge cutters, a strimmer, a rotivator, a spade, a fork, and hoes, have subdued the lawns, hedges, verges and the vegetable plot. By employing a power-washer we have denuded our TYSPA (traditional Yorkshire stone paved area) of weeds and moss.

I am already well planted up with potatoes, broad beans, onions, shallots, parsnips, spring onions,radishes and French beans. Runner beans, carrots and lettuce will follow shortly.

Tragically, paradise is now lost: an unanticipated overnight frost has blighted all my early potatoes. I, like many local Catholics had planted them on Good Friday; and then thishappens. Perhaps I should consider transferring my spiritual allegiance to the Church of England or the Methodists.

Now that the gardening is under some sort ofcontrol, I have been provided with an opportunity to concentrate on hunting down my nemesis: bindweed. I hate bindweed with a vengeance; it is the Satan of all weeds. A pretty white flower, on this not unattractive climbing plant, is just a smoke-screen for its villainy. Beneath the soil its massive root system is preparing to starve your plants of nutrients and eventually strangle them. I take great pleasure; some might say an unhealthy pleasure, in carefully digging them up, root and all, whenever they appear in my vegetable plot. Then I transfer them and their tentacles to my bonfire. I understand that some plants can feel pain, so I relish the thought of the evil bindweed suffering in the flames. This is no time to be squeamish; we are fighting for mankind and my broad beans here.

Some may find the silence created by the absence of people and vehicles, to be disturbing. I love the tranquillity. Most of the time,I am alone with the music of continuous and varied birdsong, the wind and, on occasion, by the sound of gentle running water in the nearby River Esk.

During the lockdown period, it is vitally important to maintain regular contact with family, friends and neighbours. People have surpassed themselves with the measures that they have taken, to ensure that vulnerable people receive regular deliveries of food and medicines. However, as I talk to passing neighbours, over the garden hedge, I must admit to giving them the once over for any signs of coughs and or fever. I can only put this down to my survival instincts.

When it comes to technology, I confess to being a Luddite. However, I now find myselfin the process of purchasing a webcam, so that I can access a community called Zoom. I hope that I do not come to regret this uncharacteristic act of revisionism.

The elephant in the room is the toll that the lockdown will take on the nation’s mental health. What will be the long term damage to people currently experiencing loneliness, or suffering from depression and anxiety?

The Coronavirus crisis has spawned daily news conferences to update the country on the current status of the tragedy. Gradually, we are all becoming au fait with things like the symptoms, the importance of washing hands and social distancing, ventilators, the peak, flattening the curve, Nightingale hospitals, temporary morgues, heroic front-line NHS staff, PPE equipment, the rate of infection and the number of people that have died in the last twenty four hours. Mercifully, these conferences are conducted in a solemn and dignified manner. However, across the Atlantic an orange coloured man with a strange hairstyle is seriously mooting the possibility of injecting disinfectant directly into peoples’ lungs.

So, what am I missing most during this lockdown? Top of the list are my two grandchildren, but not their mobile phones and board games. Then I look forward to meeting up with my various groups of friends, and indulging in face to face banter. I dream about having a few pints of beer down at my local, when it reopens, and catching up with some choice gossip. I am sick of pasta and rice, so eating fresh Whitby fish and chips, directly from the paper, is also veryhigh on my bucketlist.

Understandably, after seven long weeks, I am in desperate need of a haircut. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate a barber with two metre long arms. My boyish good-looks are now surmounted by a thatch that Wurzel Gummidge would be proud of. Then, to add to my joy, my eyebrows have grown very large and bushy. I really do hope people do not start speculating that I might be Denis Healey’s lovechild.

Finally, there is a rumour going around that when the restrictions are lifted, that the over seventy year olds might still be confined to barracks. That cannot be true; can it? Please tell me it cannot be true!


Vin McLoughlan