This week … under lockdown (six)

We’re entering week seven of lockdown here in the UK. There is a tentative feeling of hope in the air. It’s like we have all been holding our breath. Finally, we’re coming to the end of a long, dark tunnel and we can breathe out once again. We’re all anticipating the re-opening of the UK like excited children before Christmas.

As we await the government’s strategy for reemergence to be announced later this week, everyone is daring to plan their own exit from lockdown. Top of my list is being with family and, more daringingly, thinking about where I’ll be able to travel to, responsibly and safely.

This has been a sobering period in history. Next weekend (8 May) marks the 75th Anniversary of VE Day. Once again, the world has changed and I’ve been thinking about about how society recovered after World War Two. How do we adjust, not just in practical terms but emotionally, from collective traumatic experiences?

Wartime Britain, Brighton seafront 1942. Photo Irene Caswell

It’s true that the pandemic has been the most challenging period since the Second World War (1939 to 1945). The five-year war brought travel restrictions, a complete blackout, fear, bombings, food shortages, loss, grief, and uncertainty about the future. Transitioning back into peacetime must have been very difficult, albeit joyful. Re-emerging from the pandemic resonates, massive relief tinged with sorrow.

…street parties, dancing and singing

Acts of remembrance, being thankful and tributes are potent coping mechanisms. Next week’s commemoration of Victory in Europe (VE) Day will be especially evocative. In 1945 in towns and cities across the world, people marked the victory with ecstatic celebrations. But it wasn’t the end of the conflict, nor the impact upon people, which continues even to this day.

The basics

Although there is light at the end of this particular 21st century tunnel, sadly, it’s not the end to threatening viral infections. But like VE Day it’s a time for some cautious optimism.

“We’re all anticipating the re-opening of the UK like excited children before Christmas.” @hashtagtravelling

Over the past seven weeks my main concerns have been securing a food supply, staying healthy and appreciating family and friends. Staying home has been difficult but important in playing my part, as has volunteering for a local community support group. Similar concerns I imagine felt by everyone during wartime.

A photo taken in 1942 of my mum and grandparents on the seafront in Brighton shows clearly the utility wear, severe hairstyles and sensible shoes at the time. I imagine both women dreamed of being able to shop for pretty clothes again one day. Just as many of us now are looking forward to a visit to the hairdressers, a delicious meal at a favourite restaurant, the latest exhibition or film, or maybe a short staycation at the coast or in the countryside.

Longing to …

I’m looking forward to some staycations and maybe a trip to France or Italy

Keep calm, carry on

Last summer, I attended the preview of the opening of the Commonwealth War Graves Experience, a new museum in the Pas-De-Calais. A staggering 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth died in the two World Wars. The full story of my visit is available on Travel Begins At 40. The trip made a big impact on me emotionally.

Clockwise from top: The National Necropolis of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette; The Ring of Remembrance; Canadian National Vimy Memorial; interactive tool showing massive bombing in the Pas De Calais, Mémorial 14-18 Visitor Centre; Neuville-St Vaast German war cemetery.

I was expecting to feel sad. The big surprise was that exploring the peaceful landscapes, the formal gardens and the glorious architecture of the different memorials was a remarkably positive experience. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental the sight of so many crosses, representing a collaborative act of sacrifice, forcibly struck me as a monumental gift on a personal level.

This is how human beings get through the tough times. We remember and honour those we have lost. We build memorials, whether magnificent pieces of architecture or simple gardens. We place bouquets of flowers and we wear poppies. We clap on our doorsteps for our heroes. We remember, we’re thankful and we pay tribute.

The world will emerge from this hideous pandemic and we’ll pick up the strands of our lives again. We’ll be able to meet with friends, travel, shop and enjoy live events. Of course, it will mean limitations, more precautions and considerations. However, we won’t forget the sacrifices, the difficulties and the sobering lessons, and nor should we.

In my inbox this week

The British Museum unveiled a major revamp of its Collection Online. It includes more than four million objects, with 1.9 million photographs. Some 85,000 new object records and 280,000 new photographs published for the first time. Especially good is a new ‘deep zoom’ function so you can get up close and personal to key objects. In an age where everyone wants your personal details, I especially like the fact that viewers no longer need to register to download images direct to their devices.

Abbe Museum Indian Market, Maine

The Digital AMIM – a one-day online event on Saturday, 16 May – offers the chance to meet some of the Abbe Museum Indian Market artists. Learn more about Native arts, the process and body of work. Plus performances ranging from dancers to singers, and more. The evening will end with a film screening and panel discussion. www.abbemuseum.org/digitalamim

Think self distancing is difficult?

Read the account of early arctic explorers on this excellent blog, part of the Shakelton brand of outdoor wear (no affilicaton). Here historian Michael Smith talks about how legendary polar explorers kept their spirits high when cut off from the rest of the world. There are lessons to be learned from any experience.

“Ships and men were often stuck in the ice for two, three or even four years and some of the lessons from the entrapment were readily picked up by later generations of explorers.” Michael Smith, Polar Exploration Author.

When we’re out of lockdown, I can readily recommend Gilbert White & The Oates Collections museum at Selborne in Hampshire. The story of Lawrence Oates is equally poignant. Oates sacrificed his life in the hope of saving his comrades, leaving the tent in a terrible blizzard with the famous last words “I am just going outside and may be some time.” He was just 32 years old and his body has never been found. www.gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk

Captain Lawrence Oates (1880 – 1912). Copyright Gilbert White & The Oates Collections.

That’s it for this week. Don’t forget to share any virtual exhibitions, films or festivals in the comments! Have a peaceful week everyone.

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