My lockdown had been fairly standard; it consisted of the odd 5K and many hours spent watching Netflix, until my dad spontaneously announced he was undertaking a career change in the midst of a global pandemic. For those who know me, my slightly strange West-Country-esque accent is actually an anglicised Northern Irish one so, of course for my Dad, this career change involved ‘going home’ to his beloved County Down.
“Home?!” I exclaimed in horror upon hearing this news, “Cheltenham is my home! The pubs are about to open and you’re taking me to the middle of nowhere with no one to go out with! You can’t do this!”.
Fast-forward four weeks and here I am, sitting in a new room with my old furniture, reflecting on how my lockdown experience has changed in such a short space of time. Ironically, Northern Ireland may seem far more ‘British’ than Cheltenham due to the abundance of Union Jacks flying around, yet it still managed to feel alien. Most significantly, this move has made me realise just how much of a difference the thought of being close to your friends makes – a 50 minute flight seems a whole lot further away than a four hour car journey. In spite of my fears that this relocation would equate to a second, more painful, lockdown spent with my parents as opposed to my now faraway friends, it hasn’t been too bad aside from a few small changes here and there.
The most notable difference has to be the weather. The pouring rain of Northern Ireland makes Cheltenham seem like a tropical paradise. Going from garden sunbathing in a bikini to needing a minimum of three layers each time I go outside made the first week feel like I was Bear Grylls on an Arctic expedition. Whereas the lack of layers worn during the sub-zero conditions of Michaelmas Term were justified by the potential of pulling in Parkend, the cute outfits I had planned to make up a significant chunk of my summer wardrobe are currently hidden from view under a thick jumper and a coat. However, it doesn’t really matter where I am since, despite hopes of a summer glow up, my main quarantine attire is still my pyjamas.
Moving from Cheltenham town centre to a country road where my closest neighbours are the cows in the field next door, was quite a shock to the system. During lockdown I have enjoyed my daily exercise, and Cheltenham blessed me with endless flat pavements to run to my heart’s content – or more realistically, to my lung’s capacity. Northern Ireland, however, provided a rather different running scene. My worries of being a sweaty wreck and seeing someone I knew decreased significantly, however the prospect of being run over by a tractor increased 10-fold (which, aided by a lot of blind corners, roadside ditches and potential wild herds of cows, brought my running career to a swift end).
Countryside living also meant a walk into town was no longer possible. Fulfilling my coffee addiction now includes a fight with my brother over the car and a considerable petrol cost on top of that of my over-priced latte. This has led me to splash out a bit more on better instant coffee, but it doesn’t quite hit the same way. However, lockdown life has significantly improved due to the newfound availability of all my favourite Northern Irish specialities. Potato bread and soda farl are now located on the main bread isle rather than being tucked away in the Waitrose ethnic food section, and my lattes can now be accompanied by an elite tier, coconutty tray bake known as a Fifteen. Tayto crisps and West Coast Cooler are also among my other Northern Irish favourites, although I have been caught out a few times in some countryside shops where contactless hasn’t yet been installed.
And of course, there have been changes to the dating scene. A lot of us have turned to swiping in a bid to find some lockdown love and, given my lack of success with Englishmen, I thought my Connell Waldron was on the Northern Irish horizon. However, whilst I was presented with an array of GAA shirts and the occasional chain wearer, I am still yet to find my future husband (“yeoo what’s da craic?” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it).
Despite these trivial factors, for the most part life has remained the same. It is clear that more unites people than divides them, whether that be clapping for our carers on a Thursday evening, watching our government flaunt their own lockdown rules for the sake of an eye test or a funeral, or having an intellectual debate on whether or not Carole Baskin really did kill her husband. If anything, the distance has made me appreciate my friendships more, and the necessity of a flight does make it feel like more of a holiday when they come to visit (just with a bit less sunshine).
And, despite my fears, I have been able to reconnect with old friends as well as make new ones, so my occasional pub trips have been a lot less lonely.