Why I had a little cry after Mark Drakeford’s press conference

Mark Drakeford the First Minister of Wales. Picture by the Welsh Government

Helen Wales

Thursday evening marked the fourteenth week since I last touched another person. I’d have done more than pat that friend affectionately on the arm as we said goodbye on 12th March if I’d known what was to come. But hindsight is going to be one of the great gifts of 2020 – if we’re lucky.

I was curious, then, to see what the First Minister would have to say about ‘support bubbles’ in the latest announcement.

I was impressed when Boris Johnson announced the measure. It seemed to be a policy that genuinely acknowledged that being on your own and not having physical contact are hard, with no strings attached.

Loneliness has been a theme of lockdown, and rightly so. Covid has made us think much more deeply about who might be isolated in our communities. It has also created new experiences of loneliness for some.

Of course, there are different ways of being alone. Like me, you may live alone but have been lucky enough to feel connected to friends and family throughout lockdown, perhaps finding new neighbourhood support networks. But sometimes a chat through a glass door, conversations launched across a distance in the street or a badly-lit head and shoulders view via WhatsApp just don’t cut it.

There is something fundamentally important about being in the physical presence of other people. We’re bodies in space and we need to see each other and be seen. But this is a virus that thrives on human contact, and so it has forced us to deny ourselves that contact.

For those of use who are able to meet up outdoors, recent easing of restrictions have certainly made a difference. But there are moments in those socially-distanced conversations when those two metres can feel like miles.

Sometimes the only way to believe the words ‘it’s alright’ is to feel them through a hug. Sometimes, reaching out a hand can say something a thousand words couldn’t manage. Sometimes skin just feels hungry to touch someone else, or to be touched.

And let’s not even start talking about sex. There’s been near-silence on the question of sex and lockdown for people who don’t live with a partner, though England’s bubbles do allow for ‘overnight stays’.

 

Change

This, then, was all in my mind as I watched Friday’s press conference. I watched via Facebook Live, with one eye on the comments. Bubbles were a clear theme. As Drakeford spoke, the chat became a stream of demands: gyms, pub beer gardens, hairdressers, motorcyclists, partners at scans, ‘what about weddings??????’, ‘let us move around’, ‘I miss my mother it’s horrible’.

To think of any of these things as trivial would be unfair. They are all things that matter deeply to people. The chat became a catalogue of wishes, of people shouting out, ‘What about my needs? What about me?’

There’s nothing wrong with that. At this stage in lockdown, we’re all feeling the strain based on our own circumstances: job worries, anxiety about children returning to school, having nothing to look forward to, missing loved ones. One reason I was impressed by the bubble idea was, after all, that it was designed for people like me.

There was no bubble announcement. In fairness, Drakeford said it could be reviewed before the next three weeks are out. But as things stand, it’s looking like I’ll hit the seventeen-week mark before things change.

I’m not ashamed to say that after the press conference I had a little cry. It wasn’t the reaction I’d expected.

Why tears? Because, much as I knew objectively that retail and tourism are important, I had no interest in non-essential shops or booking to stay in a self-contained cottage at that moment. Because all I really wanted was to travel the length of Wales and hug my parents. And because sometimes this is hard. It’s hard for all of us in different ways, and to different degrees at different times.

Spirit

As we move out of lockdown, we’re seeing an inevitable increase in lobbying from different groups. Competing demands are getting louder and more desperate. It’s understandable given the huge challenges of recovery.

I’m not going to launch a Let Us Bubble Up petition or start an angry hashtag, though. Instead, I’m going to try and remember why we’re doing this.

Covid has taught us just how interconnected we are and how much our individual actions impact upon each other. How each of us behaves decides how safe we make our communities. It might be the difference between life and death.

Ironically, the point at which this virus taught us just how connected we all are was the point at which we realised we had to cut ourselves off from each other to stop it spreading. It’s pretty cruel.

As we slowly emerge from isolation, we must remember that however lonely it has been, we have been part of a collective throughout. There are difficult decisions to be made which cannot meet all our needs at once, but holding on to that collective spirit will help us through – however long we may need to wait for that hug.

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