Life in Lockdown Two and a Half

By Steven Tulip.

Photograph by Michael Crilly

Perhaps one and two halves would be more accurate. The roads don’t look any different and the towns seem like they’re dying, just like before.  

Because Mrs Tulip is an essential worker and had to go out, she decided I should shield during the first lockdown. To do my bit I would drive her to the supermarket for the 7:00am NHS hour and wait in the car while she navigated the one-way system, the crowds and the queues. By the time she emerged, she’d be infuriated to find me applauding her colleagues at the wrong eight o’clock in the day.

Once released, I found people surprised by my belligerence at wearing a mask and my slalom through the streets and aisles to avoid people bounding towards me.

Nothing seems to have changed much in two further lockdowns, and the complacency is worrying, although John’s is doing well despite challenging circumstances. Anne Allen, Chris Courtman and all the staff have worked wonders to ensure the college is as safe as can be, but please remember that some of the staff are of a certain age, have underlying health problems or overflowing weight issues.

Now I’m an essential worker, following my rehearsal for retirement. Turns out I was a natural.

The return to work, together with the disappearance of those glorious spring and summer days, has made the walking regime trickier to maintain, or at least less fun, trudging the roads lit up like Christmas trees to avoid collision with the lockdown traffic.

The boxsets have continued and we continue to get better at it. Homeland was the crowning glory of that hot furlough and if you get to the very last episode, see if you recognise the jazz musician. 

Having completed all the novels and short stories they’re based on, Justified is once again our default position, complete with its Jack Hepworth lookalike, though I’m still in full control of the remote.

It seems that everybody’s got a recommendation, and everybody’s seen more than us. We’ve started dipping into a few and allowing ourselves to abandon them if we’re not immediately impressed, always to be told we gave up just before they really got good.

We got bogged down in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a dark reinterpretation of the classic American sitcom. Miscalculating the number of episodes remaining, we followed it through a jaw-dropping visit to a recreation of the set of the original series – via Glee – as it became increasingly ridiculous. Perhaps, calling it a day after series one may generally be a prudent guide.

They often seem nearly finished, then drag on for a few more episodes. In fact, the whole thing is a minefield, but I still find myself looking forward to them, in a strange sort of way.  

Back to Life and This Country are unusual sitcoms to look out for, but be aware of bad language and sex references. I can’t help thinking that, if the latter had been set in the north, there’d have been accusations of regionalism, which may be why it wasn’t. Perhaps we all know people like this. Essential viewing for any aspiring vicars.

With my preference in music, every month is Black History Month, but I wanted to mark it with some films and literature, which became a film and a book.   

I went with Toni Morrison’s Paradise, about a fictional all-black town following America’s emergence from slavery. Her books are never easy and I felt it needed a second reading to better identify who’s who but, with so many books lined up, re-reading is no longer an option.

The film was Honeydripper, starring Danny Glover alongside real blues acts such as Gary Clark Jr, Keb Mo and Mable John. It’s ostensibly about life for black communities in the southern states in the fifties, but turned out another claim to the birth of rock and roll.

Big sister has been watching the new TV adaptation of the Philip Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials. I read part one when they first came out but, like the films, drew to a halt after the first one. The new series inspired me to read the second – the Subtle Knife – and, while I enjoyed it, the comparisons with the Lord of the Rings came glaring at me this time. The children are hobbits, the knife is the ring, and they’re about to have a great big war between good and evil. 

I’m currently on with John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. I read his The Russia House years ago, before watching the film starring Sean Connery, and found both longer than they needed to be. I’ve given this a go because Durham University alumni Jeremy Vine said it’s short, and it’s certainly going along at pace. I’m looking forward to the old film starring Richard Burton, though I fear Mrs Tulip may be expecting 007. 

I nearly started Milton’s Paradise Lost but got bogged down in the introduction. I didn’t read it during my degree, despite the lecturer urging us to do so, saying if we don’t read it now, we never will. A wise lady! 

I’ve also put some music on Mixcloud. I have a friend with a makeshift studio and wanted to do some jazz because it’s poorly served on local radio and I’m told it’s ‘cool’ again, but he wants me to do soul music, so I’ve done five so far. Because of lockdown, we can’t get my voice on them so I’ve persuaded him to do a top twenty jazz-funk; a hybrid style from the seventies, aimed at the dancefloor and despised by jazz purists at the time.

Since my friend is confined to his girlfriend’s house in Bournemouth, Michael Crilly – John’s current student tech genius – has stepped in to help with the computer side of things, so it should be live soon. 

If you like soul music, or even if you think you don’t, you may be pleasantly surprised. The first one received the best response, perhaps because it seemed a good idea at the time to start with a track called Changing Times:

If jazz is your thing, my eldest son and his band had their final gig of last year transformed to a livestream from the Globe in Newcastle. He’s recently completed his degree at the acclaimed Birmingham Conservatoire, where he gained the best recital prize. 

If you listen to it all and don’t get the reference, saxophonist Xhosa Cole was the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2018-2020, during which time he was also named Best Newcomer at both the Jazz FM and Parliamentary Jazz Awards. 

Serious stuff, and great in these troubled times to see a multi-cultural band, though sadly no ladies this time. I believe it’s a fiver to watch the whole thing, but here’s a taster:

Listening to the radio the other day, I was reminded of a Mike and the Mechanics song with the opening lyrics ‘every generation blames the one before.’ I’m embarrassed that we bequeathed so much for you to blame us for.  

During the first lockdown, I was optimistic that we were being forced to address many of the problems in society: the environment, racism and xenophobia, mental health, the work/life balance and the shocking imbalance between the haves and have-nots. It seems our leaders now just want everything to go back to exactly how it was.

As students of one of the world’s great universities, it’s over to you now. No pressure then.

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