Marjorie lives alone in her flat in Somers Town. Despite her ongoing health conditions, she lives an active and busy life which belies her 84 years. Because of her age she is shielding during the Covid-19 lockdown which has involved a dramatic change to her life.
“I’m never normally on my own,” she says. “I’m out and about. But now I am alone. I can’t see my friends. I ring them but it’s not the same. I’m lucky to have a balcony so I can get some fresh air and I try to structure my day. I have an exercise programme for my joints — if I’m not careful they seize up. Normally I go to a gym, but it’s not possible now. It’s very quiet and boring although I don’t mind being on my own. I watch a film in the afternoon.”
Despite living alone, Marjorie feels well supported by those around her. “I live in a block of flats. I’m fortunate that everyone wants to help because they know me. I have neighbours who have been very helpful. People get things for me and leave them at my door.” She’s also received various communications with information and advice and offers of support while shielding. “I’ve had the letter from the Prime Minister and two emails from the NHS telling me not to go to the GP surgery. Instead I must ring 111 if I’m in trouble. I’ve had several text messages telling me to stay indoors.”
However, all her routine appointments have been cancelled. “My dentist emailed me to cancel my appointment. And I have to get my regular medications through the pharmacy. I can ring up my pharmacy and they order them for me. My neighbour collects them or the pharmacy delivers.”
Marjorie is well informed and has embraced the opportunities of communication technology and the internet. “I have a background in health and care, and I can get online so I can find the information I need. I use the NHS website which is quite good. I follow the news quite carefully. I use my iPad to look it up and I have a cup of coffee and read the papers online.”
But Marjorie is concerned that others are unlikely to be managing as well as she.
“Lots of older people haven’t got the technology. I wouldn’t cope if I didn’t use my iPad. I don’t know how on earth some people are getting the information. Camden Council could deliver paper-based Covid-19 information to every door but then people can get suspicious of people knocking on the door.”
“When this is over, they need to think about communicating with vulnerable people. Someone should know who they are and how to find them. GPs should know them and have them on their databases. Age UK is doing good work.”
By week two, Marjorie reports becoming increasingly bored and is busying herself with domestic tasks. “I did all the chores last week so I’m not going to scrub the floor again. This week I’m going to cook more.”
She’d received food deliveries from the supermarket but found lots of items missing, particularly fresh goods. So she had searched online and found a place in Covent Garden that would deliver fresh fruit and veg. “I phoned them up and ordered online and it arrived this morning,” she reported.
“I’ve also got some new books, some from my neighbour and some from the bookshop. I try not to watch too much television,” she says.
Marjorie has continued to pursue her interest in keeping well informed about Covid-19. “I receive information through the Covid app. They ask you to answer a couple of questions every day. They will remind you if you didn’t check in. They give you lots of information if you want to read it, all about their new survey, about the research they are doing. I learned about the app from an older people’s charity.”
As time went on, Marjorie decided to take matters into her own hands. “I decided to rebel! So I’ve been out today. I walked along the canal, which is very different from when people would sit down and drink. I enjoyed it. Just sitting around is not good, I am going to do a walk every day. I don’t want to go too far or take a bus. I am happy to be seeing people.” She also went to the pharmacy. “They were very nice and asked me how I was. They all wear masks and only let one person in at a time. I was in and out in a flash.”
Marjorie says she’s been eating well “too well”. She’s also pleased because her cleaner, who has been having to stay away, returned this week to help her. But she’s still not able to get her hair done. “I’d love to go to the hairdresser. They sent me a video on how to care for my hair.”
By the next interview, Marjorie was feeling increasingly confident to go out and about. “I had a lunch in a garden in Muswell Hill. It was a beautiful day. I got a cab. They separate the driver and the passenger, and I wore gloves. It felt safe.”
However, she’s feeling increasingly bored. She’s been putting her time to good use sorting out her wardrobe and doing her filing. But overall she describes “the same old boring week.”
By the week of her final interview, Marjorie is resigned but fed up. “I am very bored and very stiff. I am getting very restless. I’ve managed to do my household chores. I am getting bored with TV and movies. I miss the people that I usually see. My friends ring me a lot. On the whole, I am managing. I am not ill or disabled, but I’ve had long periods when I had to be indoors.”
She continues to appreciate the advantages she feels she enjoys. “I do everything online, shopping, banking. I am blessed that I can move around and use the computer. My neighbours are very helpful, the young people are very good about asking if I need anything.”
There is one significant positive to lockdown which concerns her hay fever. “This time of the year is usually miserable for me because of pollen and poor air quality but this year has actually been better because there’s no traffic so less fumes.”
Marjorie is continuing to contribute to Covid-related research efforts. “I got an email asking to subscribe for regular surveys, I think it was from Kings College London Geriatrics Department. I’ve done this for three days. They asked questions about age, weight, ethnicity, questions about pills. Today they asked if I wanted to sign up for the tracing app.”
Television and books continue to provide entertainment. “I’ve been looking at thrillers, there’s a good one on Channel 5. I am trying to make it exciting when it isn’t. I am reading The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel.”
However, this is not a life she enjoys. “My usual boring Covid week,” concluded Marjorie.
All 8 personal stories can be found in the final Covid-19 Report, Life in Lockdown.