When we first went into lockdown a year ago, I don't think any of us could have predicted the 12 months that have followed. People have lost jobs, and many others have lost lives. I count myself fortunate to be in neither of those categories, but I wanted to share a visual account of my lockdown, if for nothing else, to remind myself years from now how things can change in an instant.
Before I begin, if you want to read my thoughts on the coronavirus from a year ago you can do so here, but just remember things have changed a lot since then. If you want to read my review of the year 2020, you can do that here.
Lockdown for Sikhs
Ever since the Conservative government came into power in the UK in 2010, life for the most vulnerable in the country became more difficult. Large scale public spending cuts under the label of 'austerity' created significant difficulty for millions of people. The Sikhs responded by pivoting the concept of langar (a free kitchen to anyone visiting Gurdwara), to a more outward facing service. Sikh organisations began delivering langar in the streets of the UK to the most vulnerable.
In 2020, Sikhs have taken it up another level. langar as a whole has been repurposed for this goal, and Sikh organisations up and down the country began delivering food to those most at need. You can get a list of some of these organisations here.
In India, meanwhile, Sikhs have formed an important part of the farmers protests, fighting for their livelihoods and they have been supported by the diaspora in the UK, Canada, the US, Europe and Australia. You can read about the protests here, an update here, and a Spanish language article here.
Trafalgar Square during a morning run looked like the set of 28 days later.
The lockdown in the UK officially began on Monday 23 March, although my workplace closed their offices 10 days earlier. It all felt a little strange, and I remember thinking it would probably blow over in a couple of months. I lived in Central London and figured working from home for a couple of months might not be so bad, and I'll be honest, the novel nature of a lockdown made the first few weeks feel a little different and for me personally, not that bad.
Working from home might have felt a little strange, but seeing London deserted like a ghost town was something else. We were allowed out for an hour's worth of exercise a day and I used that hour to run around my local area (which was luckily the centre of London). I'll never forget the surreal scenes of empty roads right in the heart of the city, where just weeks earlier crowds would be heaving.
Here's Piccadilly Circus, the heart of central London without the thousands of people you'd expect to see here.
Regent Street is one of the busiest shopping streets in the UK, home to many famous shops including the Apple flagship. It's a part of London I tend to avoid given how crowded it is with tourists, but during my morning runs, it felt like I was in a zombie apocalypse.
Trafalgar Square is filled with people at all hours of the day, but an evening bike ride during the first lockdown showed me just how much life had changed.
As the 'stay at home' rule opened up in late spring to allow more time outside, I was able to cycle a little further out to different parts of the city. The furthest north I cycled was to Hampstead Heath where I felt like I could escape the urban trap I found myself in, if only for a few hours.
I also got to know some pretty cool places near my flat. The Regents Canal passes near Regents Park and next to London Zoo. You can literally hear the animals as you walk, jog or cycle along the canal.
As summer approached, the first lockdown opened up. Living in a bubble in London away from family and friends, the sheer scale of what was happening didn't quite register. I was doing my own thing - working during the day and jogging either in the mornings or evenings with a twice weekly shop for food. In my own selfish bubble, I was quite happy.
Two things definitely felt different;
(1) zoom calls with friends started, and weirdly, I started speaking with friends more regularly than I did outside lockdown, which I really enjoyed, and
(2) without gyms, everyone seemed to be buying these resistance bands. I thought they did a job, and used them regularly. I switched my training from low reps and heavy weights, to more body weight exercises and higher reps.
A lot of people have tried something new. For me, it has been learning Spanish. I decided to take an intense course over several months and have managed to reach an intermediate level. In practice, what that means is, if you speak slowly and you're patient with me, I can have a pretty decent conversation with you. I'll definitely be carrying on with a goal of a higher conversational level.
The White Cliffs of Dover were just as impressive in real life as I had imagined them to be when I first laid eyes on them in a children's book back when I was younger.
The opening up of lockdown over summer felt strange. The concept of 'Eat Out to Help Out' seemed a bit of a crazy one without a vaccine in sight. But, at the same time, it meant I could begin seeing people again.
After the best part of 3 months without interacting with another person in real life (other than shop assistants), it was good to finally see my girlfriend again and visit Dover - something I've wanted to do for years. We decided against flying anywhere as her mom is quite ill and even though it was legal to do so, we didn't want to risk her health - so it was summer holidays at home in the UK. You can read about my visit to Dover here.
I lived very close to Hyde Park and it was my go to place for exercise either in the morning or evening. As restrictions opened up over summer, it meant I could also spend some time relaxing in the park, watching sunsets like this.
Staying close to home meant getting a chance to explore some of London's many parks - and all of London's Royal Parks. There aren't too many cities that get parkland as good as London does, and each park has something different to offer. You can read my review of every Royal Park in London here.
Exploring London on bike over the summer was a good way of seeing the city while staying away from the underground.
Social distancing in the Gurdwara was a strange experience, but I was glad the summer opening gave me a chance to pay my respects to the Shabad Guru. It wasn't perfect social distancing, but as you can see in this picture, family groups sat together and left 2 metres between themselves and others
A trip to the Chilterns was another rare opportunity to leave London. The Chilterns is an area of outstanding natural beauty between London and the Midlands, and I took a day trip to the area to go for a bike ride with a friend who lives there. We spent a few hours cycling through the English countryside and stopping off regularly to enjoy the sun and the scenery. A lot of us, particularly from lower income backgrounds, have no idea places like these exist, and the thing is they aren't very far and it's a whole different vibe. It definitely opened my eyes to another world.
The view from the top of Snowdon was pretty special, on a clear day I'm told you can see Ireland across the Irish sea.
A childhood friend of mine from the Midlands passed away in tragic circumstances this year. It bought together a whole group of us, some of us hadn't seen in each other for years. We wanted to do something nice for his memory, so we decided to climb the tallest mountain in Wales and the second tallest in the UK, Snowdon. We did it in his memory to raise money for the Sikh Soup Kitchen, a Birmingham based charity that is one of those I mentioned earlier going out onto streets and feeding the most vulnerable. You can read more about my charity climb here.
Another nice view, if not completely different. This is a view from Canary Wharf as seen from Greenwich.
As summer came to a close, I decided to move back to the Midlands. It was at this point that it became clear that working from home was going to stick around for a while, and I was paying a lot of money for a Central London flat, but London was pretty much closed. I could visit a few museums but and the outdoor parks but that was it (you can read about my 10 favourite London museums here).
A lot of people were leaving the city around this time, and with my mom alone in the Midlands, I was quite worried that if she became ill during another lockdown I might not be able to see her. But before I moved back, I met a friend of mine who was also my old flatmate, and I went onto my old roof garden one more time for a view I had enjoyed for years, Greenwich is one of my favourite parts of London and you can read about it here.
I moved to London to work in Canary Wharf 6 years ago, and I'll never get bored of night time views of the Wharf, all lit up.
I decided to visit one last time before returning home, and while it was quieter than usual, it was still lit up. The rule of 6 (can't meet more than 6 people at any one time) meant I wasn't able to say real goodbyes to people I had lived with and worked with, but just a chance to walk through some memories was quite nice.
The sun sets on my time in London. I started this blog a few months after moving to London. The city has been a big part of my life and it felt strange as I packed up my flat into the back of a van and made the trip up the M40 back to the Midlands. But at the same time, I've been lucky to spend an amazing few years in this beautiful city. You can read a lot of my London articles here, but I'll be sure to upload a specific article on my time soon.
That's my mom doing forward rolls down a hill. She works on a farm which means throughout the pandemic she has continued to work. It's one of the reasons I wanted to be closer to her so I could make sure she was okay. My dad died when I was 5 years old, and my mom raised me and my brother alone. She doesn't speak much English, but she works like a machine, working 2-3 jobs a week. We spent the first two decades of my life in a council house in a pretty deprived part of town, but she sacrificed her present for our future and I'll never forget that.
Being back home as an adult is one of the best experiences I've had. As I wrote this article, it's been almost half a year and I've loved being back. Being able to spend considerable time with my mom as an adult has allowed me to connect with her in a completely different way to before. She feels like a best friend, even though she's still my mom and still looks after me like I am a teenager.
Having left the Midlands 6 years ago, I also left behind my friends that I grew up with. Climbing Snowdon gave me an opportunity to see one group, but coming back and playing football week in week out with my old school friends gave me an opportunity to see another group. The pandemic isn't fun, illnesses aren't fun, losing people you love isn't fun - but to find positives is always important and this was a big positive for me.
That being said, current restrictions mean no more football, and it has been months since I've left my local area, let alone seen my friends. But the memories I made over the games I managed to play were amazing and reconnected me to a lot of childhood friends.
This is the Mailbox area of Birmingham, and that crazy building is called the Cube.
Birmingham was the first real big city that I knew. I went to university in Birmingham, I worked behind a bar in Birmingham, and I spent the first two years of my post-university career in the city. I really enjoyed being back. There's been a lot of change, but it still feels comfortingly familiar. You can read the article I wrote on Birmingham here.
Did you know that Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice? More trees than Paris? And one of the youngest populations of any European city? It's also hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games and is home to one of the largest Sikh populations outside of Panjab.
It's also the UK's second city - only London is larger. It was heavily bombed during the Second World War and rebuilt in the ugly Brutalist architecture that post-war Britain loved so much. It meant the city has had a pretty bad reputation in the UK, but it's really beginning to change. The areas along Brindley Place, the Mailbox and Colmore Row are as beautiful as any other European city.
It doesn't snow in London very much, so to come home to a proper winter once again was another highlight of returning to the Midlands.
Eventually, and inevitably, we went into a second UK lockdown. It started at the end of October. That was the last time I saw friends, family (other than my mom), and my girlfriend. I'm writing this as we head into April.
I've always taken lockdown seriously, I figured I'd be okay, but was worried about my mom and random vulnerable strangers. It's not about fear, it's about respect for other. But when the second lockdown opened in December, the thought of training in a local gym was too much for me. Despite the care the gym had taken in creating a covid-free environment, I tested positive just over a week before Christmas.
It was scary, primarily because I didn't want to give it to my mom (I didn't) - but also I got pretty sick. The acute phase was uncomfortable and my breathing got so bad I had to get some tests at a local hospital 10 days into the disease. Eventually, the acute phase went, and I spent the next 3 months with aches, pains and breathing difficulties. I had follow up tests including chest x-rays and blood tests and thankfully they came back all clear - for me it was just going to be a slightly longer recovery.
While I moved to the Midlands to take care of my mom, ironically she had to take care of me. As part of my recovery, I started walking with her every night about a month after my initial acute phase. We started with very short walks, and these slowly got longer and faster. I loved creating these new memories with her.
I'm 100% now as I write this, and she has played a big role in that.
We are now into our third lockdown and this was one has been the hardest. I've had family friends pass away from covid and quite a few of my close friends have also tested positive (but have thankfully all have been okay). I've been lucky. My close friends and my family have been safe. My brother works for the NHS and has spent almost the entire pandemic on covid wards, but he has seen been vaccinated and is okay.
I've also managed to keep my job during lockdown, and I know many others haven't. I'm grateful - but I'm also pretty angry at a shambolic government response which has given the UK one of the highest death rates in the world.
But things are beginning to change. My brother was vaccinated in January, and my mom got her vaccine just over a week ago. Things are slowly starting to open and tomorrow is my first game of football in half a year. It's also the first time in half a year that I'll see a human being in real life that isn't my mom.
It seems the world is slowly beginning to turn a corner, and my little part of the world is too. In a few months, I'm starting a new job in a new city, but that's another article for another day.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.