Photo by Josh Hawkins

I was working in Bristol on a new dance creation when I heard about the outbreak of COVID 19. I didn’t take it seriously at the time. The toilet roll saga was just beginning, and it seemed like a ridiculous response to what was being called ‘the new flu.’ Little did I know that this would soon become a world-wide pandemic. 

‘We might have to cancel the performance’ said the organiser, which I thought was a little extreme for an outbreak of the flu, but she knew something I didn’t. She said it would get serious, and it did. 

It took me a while to really understand the epic nature of this deadly virus that has crept up on civilisation and tightened its grip. I started to watch the news, and it scared me, but life had to continue. 

We were halfway through the spring tour of my most recent work, Wasteland, when it was abruptly stopped, and one by one, the theatres began to close. Cinemas became dark, shops and bars pulled down their shutters, and towns and cities became apocalyptically quiet.  

We were in Lockdown. 

Me and my siblings took residence at my Mum’s home in Grimethorpe, a quiet yet naughty little village in the heart of the Yorkshire coalfields. I feel very lucky to have a family network to rely on in these challenging times, and we have become a tight-knit unit that is working well together with tiny arguments. I feel for those alone in isolation or with challenging situations, and I constantly wish I could do more to help, but my options are limited. 

Lockdown has been a strangely cathartic experience for me. For someone that is erratic, hyperactive, a workaholic, and spontaneous, I have been surprisingly calm and still. Once I had accepted the situation, my body and mind seemed to relax into it instantly. I have a bizarre sense of togetherness amongst the constant chaos and uncertainty. I somehow take comfort that we are going through this together, and it is not just a personal struggle. I have needed a break from my fast-paced and slightly destructive creative lifestyle for some time now, and the lockdown has given me just that. My creativity has fallen silent, and I have no real desire to be creative or to find ways in which to keep my art busy. It feels like my creativity has gone on holiday and is laid on a beach somewhere soaking up the sun, sleeping, relaxing, refilling, and taking stock ready for the next burst. I am not going disturb it, and I will allow it to rest for as long as it needs, or as long as the lockdown says so. I am enjoying this quiet time for myself. I feel like ‘me’ again without the stresses and strains of modern-day life. I am enjoying being bored, and I have totally embraced boredom. As a freelancer, it is sometimes hard to know when to take your foot off the accelerator, but I have come to realise that I need more time like this and should not wait for another pandemic to force me to do so. I am getting older, and I need to recognise this. I was 40 in February. 

Gary Clarke in Lockdown
Wasteland by Gary Clarke © Boneshaker Photography

Reading the daily updates from Arts Council England and seeing theatres and arts organisations falling into administration, I feel like I should have a greater sense of fear about the future of the arts. Still, I am taking each day as it comes. Maybe later down the line, I will come to understand the catastrophic effect this virus has had on the landscape, but for now, I am just trying to be patient. I find it hard to plan for the future when the future is so unknown. I have saved some money to survive for a while, and I feel relieved that I don’t have any children, mortgages, or heavy debts hanging around my neck. I am aware that times are financially hard for many people. I have managed to salvage some of my work, and with some brainpower, creative thinking, and the magic of Zoom, we have managed to work out systems and approaches of running projects digitally. For a profession that heavily relies on human interaction, it has proven to have its problems and complexities, but for now, this is all we have.  

The internet has quickly become our primary source of communication, and I thank the guy who invented it. Without it, we would be in a very different situation. Zoom meetings, house parties, Tick Tock, dance classes, keep fit videos, art lessons, and self-isolation monologues saturate social media with force. At times it feels like a cry for help, a desperate plea, and an attempt to keep interested and inspired. I wasn’t initially inclined to contribute as there seemed to be so much of it around, but as the days past, I knew I had to try and find a way of adding to this ever-growing online dance community. Over the last few weeks, I have developed a programme of online activity that I have rolled out to replace our cancelled tour. It is an attempt to reach out to our audiences and communities and somehow feel useful in this turbulent storm. 

My daily routine has fallen into a structure which (by accident) I have religiously followed. 

I begin the day with a lay-in, and I am not feeling guilty or selfish for having lazy mornings. I am not setting any alarms unless I have to. It has been a real treat opening my eyes some mornings at 11 am. I roll out of bed have good breakfasts followed by long hot showers to the sounds of pop power queens Dua Lipa, Sia, and Madonna. I am re-discovering albums I have not listened to for decades. 

If I feel inspired, I get dressed. Somedays, I lounge around in my pyjamas, slumped on the sofa feeling useless, but I have learned that this is how couch potatoes are formed, so I try and slip on some clothes at least once a week. 

Like most people, I open up my laptop to connect with the world. I type in my daily update on Facebook, reminding everyone what day it is. This has become a daily uplift for many people. As each day slipped into the next, people were struggling to keep up to speed on what day it was, so one day, I gave a helping hand with a fist full of humour and irony. ‘Today is Monday. Have you brushed your teeth today?’ People thanked me for the reminder with a cheeky smile, so I continued. I am now on my 7th week of reminders. I am sure some people are rolling their eyes at these ridiculous updates, but I am totally committed to this now and will keep on going until the lockdown has lifted. It is probably the only thing that is consistent at the minute. 

I try to walk every day. It is good for my mood and makes me feel ‘active.’ I have not done any keep fit exercises, yoga poses or physical workouts since lockdown and my body really feels it. Grimethorpe is known for it’s crime and deprivation, yet for the first time, it seems to have a real beauty and colour that I have never seen before. We have the most beautiful countryside in Grimethorpe, and I have seen it blossom. I have taken total advantage of this, and I walk amongst the fields and trees with my sister. We play games, take pictures, laugh, joke, sing, dance, and breathe in the stunning views. I feel like a child again and lucky that we have all of this to indulge. I have been very thankful for the long days and the beautiful weather we have had. I could not imagine this situation under constant thunderstorms, it would have been hell. 

I have been doing jobs that I would never do in day to day life, and I am sure this is true for most people. Cleaning out cupboards, sorting through wardrobes, throwing old things out, buying new things in,  gardening, filing, baking, cooking, DIY, rearranging furniture, mowing the lawn, and painting. I have also been helping out vulnerable family members by picking up prescriptions, shopping for them, and any other odd jobs they want me to do. 

Like most people, I have been through a number of box sets and trashy programmes while taking many trips to the fridge. I have binged through numerous box sets in just one day. Killing Eve, Ozark, Ru Pauls Drag Race, The infamous Tiger King, and the odd YouTube clip have all been on the hotlist. I have ridden virtual roller coasters, witnessed horrific sharks attacks, and watched the worst celebrity moments of 2019. 

I have connected with numerous friends and colleagues over House Party and a bottle of booze where we have laughed, cried, chatted, dressed up, and danced around like the good old days. The hours pass by. I try and keep in touch with most people and make sure I am continually sending messages of support in these empty days. 

Overall, the days seem to be over really quickly, and the hours pass by, which is strange considering the circumstances. I know I am not alone in feeling this and for some reason, 5 pm seems to be a significant time of the day (I will not go into politics at this late stage in the blog) 

Underneath my daily slumber, I am also incredibly sad and worried about our society. It feels like we are breaking. I am sad that we have had to go through this awful time and witness the horrific daily death toll. Our hands are tied, and all we can do is follow the rules and hope. While some of us are basking in the sunshine and sipping away our Martini’s with little to do, some other amazing superhumans are still out there, working round the clock, fighting the virus to save lives while putting their own in danger. It is a testament to the human race, and I thank them. 

Gary Clarke