3. Space/Time – Pandemic Temporalities

The first lockdown
The first one?  It was the glorious weather and there was gnawing dread during the first lockdown, but at the same time there was that opportunity to recalibrate, so spend time with family and to be outdoors in that glorious summer, even though it was at the wrong time of year.  We’d recently moved and to find ourselves just right at the edge of the city with all that going on and have ready access by foot to proper countryside was the making of us, I think.  That’s how we managed to survive probably both of them to be honest, it really took the edge off.  And I’d just done my thesis corrections, so yes, I was all the theme of happy at that point.  #13

Lockdown 2 – different expectations
When lockdown started I had already had a period of time away from the office working on some research and so in total it is nearly two years that I have been working mainly from home . The second (third?) lockdown after Christmas was much harder to cope with than the first. Expectations from the University were much higher, pressure from school was much greater so there was more learning management to do and some colleagues with small children needed more support, so there was more work to do.  #20

Lockdown in winter
A lockdown in winter is a very different kettle of fish, and that was really difficult I found.  And it just became a long grind and just keeping the show on the road was a lot more challenging after that. The final lockdown in early 2021 was a real slog on every front.  Home schooling was much more organised, and we felt the lack of tech acutely.  Our eldest used the PC as he was online for much of the day doing Teams classes, leaving the younger two to fight it out for whatever would connect to their online sessions.  My husband was feeling the strain of lockdown and would go to his work unit on most days, leaving me to provide whatever direction to the kids that I could, in between teaching.  Our students were feeling the strain, too.   I was okay in myself, albeit pretty exhausted and very much at capacity in terms of workload.  #13

Second shutdown
We had had the second shutdown. And I had the second period of the kids at home, which was as bad, but very different, bad in different ways and good in different ways.  It was better because they had online learning as well. They still needed constant support. They couldn’t do it on their own, but at least it was more engaging for them.  The second lockdown, I actually sent an email to my line manager, head of institute and the associate dean and said, “I need an urgent meeting. I can’t do everything I’ve got to do in these circumstances.” Because the second lockdown with the schools being closed happened at my busiest time of year for my responsibilities.  And I just said to them, “I can’t do all of this. We need to have a meeting”.  #1

Blue skies, black clouds
When I recall the first lockdown and the start of working from home, I remember blue skies and sunny days. My partner and I would wake up early in the morning to go out for a walk. We were optimistic. It was not particularly difficult at the start.  I had always had the flexibility to work from home or my office. We did have to negotiate how we allocate ‘work space’ in a tiny, rented house. We are lucky to have each other’s company, a funny, clingy cat, and no other caring responsibilities. I knew that there may be some time before I would be able to see my family and friends overseas, but at least they were safe, much safer compared to how the UK wasn’t – and still isn’t – dealing with the Covid-19 properly. I remember I was anxious; and I crafted and used photography as a way to process my emotions. One of the emotions, according to my friend, was ‘trauma’. I never really acknowledged this, I always thought trauma was much more drastic and instant and violent as an event. A car accident or abuse would be traumatic, I thought. My contract was ending soon and there was a black cloud hovering over my head.  By the time November 2020, it was all dark and gloomy. I could not sleep well – and the harder I tried, the worse it got. My body was acting up. #25

Crawling to the end
Before you knew it we were back in and I remember thinking I cannot believe – normally I get to the point in the summer and I am desperate to see the students again because I get so bored of not seeing them. I am – this is what we do, what gives me the buzz is like being in a room full of students. And it didn’t at that time, I just felt like I haven’t got the energy and I don’t know how I am going to do this. I literally felt like I was crawling to the end of a marathon or something. That is not a good place to be starting semester one going up to winter.  #9

Three phases
So, thinking retrospectively and reflectively about my experience of living and working during the COVID-19 pandemic from March 2020 to now, May 2021. How has this been for me?  I think I can divide this into stages, or into periods.  I was quite philosophical about this at the beginning, and I tried not to kind of be too concerned or too depressed about it, because one of the fields of research that I work in is digital technologies.  I didn’t find a lot of difficulty in changing to an online environment.  Remote working didn’t upset me either, because I am a loner, so I like to have my own space to work and think, I think I am also privileged in a sense that I don’t have children, so it was just myself and my husband working in the house.  So, the first part was actually not too hard in that sense, and it was just a change obviously and we had to accept this change because it was an emergency, and it was to protect us, and I felt very privileged to be able to work from the comfort of my home.  Coming to the second part of COVID – this brought some good things, but brought other things to the fore. I actually didn’t manage to take all my annual leave, but apart from that it also meant that I didn’t feel like I had any break, because even on days that I was moving to a new house, I was still having to check emails, or I felt compelled to be connected because of student support and trying to kind of keep abreast of the difficulties of the time.  Then now, the current time is starting to become quite heavy because I kind of feel as though I am on my knees now in terms of how tired I am and also how unproductive I have become.  #6

Missing out
The past 18 months has really drained out all the ‘nice to do’s from work, with only the most pressing and urgent things needed for the next hour / day making it through to the action list.  Time has warped in strange ways – the sense of urgency and the pace I’ve had to work at is really hard to describe.   You’ve got this huge swathe of the whole of the last academic year that… you know, just seems to have gone incredibly quickly and I can’t…  So it’s very much that telescopic back to the start of the pandemic and it almost feels like we’re still there, that’s still the focal point, and it feels that that urgency has kind of gone all the way through.  I would say it was the whole of the last academic year feels like it’s not happened, it didn’t happen at all, which is very, very strange to look back on from a work perspective.  And then you feel the same, like I’ve just lost a year of my kids’ life and it’s just very, very difficult to look back at actually and think of all the things that we’ve missed out on. #21

Pandemic – and childbirth
One of the things that I find quite difficult with the pandemic and thinking about the effects of the pandemic is it happened at the same time as I had a second child, so it’s quite difficult to know what’s pandemic versus what’s second child. And even then – I’d actually only been back at work for a year before I went off on maternity leave again. My second child was a little bit of an unexpected surprise, so I hadn’t even really been back that long before – so, it feels like, since 2017, I’ve either been pregnant, on maternity leave or in a pandemic. And so, that’s like four years – it’s quite hard to unpick what the pandemic has caused in that versus all of these other things.  #14

Life goes on, despite COVID
Life goes on despite of this stuff happening.  So obviously there’s the whole big thing about COVID and then there’s puberty going on and life changes going on and growth and all of that, that’s all happening around you anyway.  I mean you see that when you spend so much time walking the tiny space around your house don’t you.  You see this kind of continuation of life regardless.  I think for my daughter, that really struck me that her life was still unfolding with all the fears and all the worries and the puberty and all of that, that was still kind of going on, but in a sort of magnifying glass because she had nowhere else to take it.  #2

In person to online to hybrid
As I sit to rewrite my module from online to hybrid (having spent weeks last year rewriting from in person to online) I’m thinking about how difficult it is to plan anything around teaching when you can’t really plan your teaching. Last year in this semester there were so many student requests for exceptional circumstances on assignments, missed tutorials, change of location that I spent almost all day on my non-teaching days undertaking admin work. So far (fingers crossed) I’ve fewer emails with administrative issues coming in than this time last year (today I’ve had about 17 ‘real’ emails which is just about workable). But for everything I sign up for, I’m already concerned how I can deliver when and if the pandemic takes another twist.   #14



Participants’ accounts
Changing spaces
Therapeutic spaces
Stretching time
Pandemic temporalities