Well – I’ve been putting it off, but I guess it’s about time I addressed the elephant in the room. COVID-19 is here to stay for a little while, and I’m sure we’re all tired of discussing it, hearing opinions about it and watching the 24/7 news coverage. However, it would seem remiss of me not to write a few words about how this thing is affecting my business and the longer term implications.
I’ll write a separate blog on the specifics of what this means for my wedding couples, but the rest of this blog will be more of a personal take on the situation, and a little look back at what has happened, and how quickly it all escalated.
In the middle of this strange and unsettling time, there’s also a few positives to gleam from it, so I’ll end this blog post with some of things that have picked my spirits up during the Coronavirus outbreak.
This thing has moved so quickly, it’s been hard to keep track! The last couple of months have been bizarre, so let’s rewind to the start of year and remember how it unfolded…
The Coronavirus outbreak hits China hard, with severe lockdowns announced. The first UK nationals to contract the virus are confirmed, but are quarantined to prevent the spread of the disease. Britons returning from Wuhan are placed in isolation when returning to the country, and we saw video footage on the news of people in hotel rooms trying to keep their spirits up, whilst confined to the four walls of a Premier Inn for 14 days!
At this point, I don’t think many of us acknowledged how serious this was going to become. We watched it happening elsewhere, not realising that it was absolutely inevitable that the same would happen on our crowded island.
In February, the national mood here in the UK started to shift a bit as the virus began to spread in our country, on a small scale at first. It seems crazy now to think back to what I was doing in February, and how unconcerned we all were about it!
I’d had a busy January of wedding fairs and meetings with couples, and was looking forward to another manic year ahead. In mid-February I played at my first wedding of 2020 down in Plymouth, in the middle of Storm Ciara. It was a hair-raising journey down the M5, and it was still blowing a gale and raining just as hard on my trip back home later that evening. It was a late finish anyway, but the slow journey time due to the storm meant I didn’t get in until gone 3am.
The wind was blowing so hard down on the coast that the videographer went out to get something from his car, only to find his vehicle 20 metres or so down the road from where he left it!
Anyway, back to Coronavirus, and I although I remember hearing about it in the news, I hadn’t even considered the disruption that lay ahead. I, like the rest of the country, was just carrying on as normal. Little did I know that February’s wedding would be the last wedding I would play at for some time…
Well, March was quite the month, wasn’t it? This is when it all started happening, and the nightmare became a reality.
In Mid-March, the number of UK cases started growing quickly. In Italy, the numbers were staggering. Hundreds of deaths per day. Tens of thousands of cases. Spain looked to be on a similar trajectory, and other European countries were being hit hard. It was clear that this thing was about to hit us with the same severity – if there’s one thing we’ve learnt, this virus doesn’t discriminate. Celebrities, footballers and other public figures were testing positive – it all started to become very real.
The immediate threat seemed to be to older people, and people with underlying health conditions. A letter was sent out to all over-70’s in the UK asking people to self-isolate. The government stopped short of announcing a full lockdown at this point, and for those of us in the wedding industry, this was probably the hardest time, as everything was just so uncertain.
No lockdown yet… but could weddings go ahead?
The UK government started holding a daily briefing, and advised people to avoid social situations whilst limiting their contact with other people. Steer clear of pubs, clubs and other public gatherings and work from home where possible, we were told.
But what did this mean for weddings? Our industry was thrown into chaos as us suppliers started receiving (understandably) panicked phone calls and emails from brides/grooms who wanted to know how we were reacting to it, and what they should do.
Confusion reigned supreme and there was no guidance as to what we should do. Registrars started downsizing their ceremonies and venues pondered whether to close their doors, some taking the difficult decision to close. Brides and grooms didn’t know whether their Spring/Summer weddings would be able to go ahead. The financial implications were huge – people stood to lose a lot of money, as it looked like insurance companies wouldn’t pay out unless the country officially went into lockdown.
It’s hard to emphasise how stressful this was for everyone. I was completely overwhelmed by enquiries, most of which were understanding and perfectly reasonable, but I was juggling trying to do the right thing on a human level whilst making decisions that would seriously affect my small business. I had a few moments where the anxiety and stress hit me really hard, and I’m not ashamed to say that I cried in the arms of my amazingly supportive wife on more than one occasion!
She, meanwhile, was dealing with managing a theatre school and was due to put on two big shows, just as the situation was escalating. With roughly 150 children and their parents to deal with, a team of teachers to manage and a rapidly changing situation, she was also near the end of her tether. Our self-employed businesses faced an uncertain future.
And then, the announcement…
Glued to our TVs, phones and tablets, we watched as our usually jovial PM stern-facedly announced that we were now entering a period of lockdown.
As I watched, I recall a chill running through me. The implications of this were huge. We’re incredibly lucky in the UK live in a free society. This was a completely unprecedented thing – we’re being asked to stay home and isolate ourselves. No exceptions, we’re not even able to see our friends and families. All these things we take for granted, suddenly our entire perspective changed and we realised – this thing is much bigger than any of us.
So that brings us up to the present day. It’s April 13th as I write this, and after the fast-moving, ever-changing situation in mid to late March, it now feels as if things have settled somewhat, in my little world at least.
After the initial shock of the announcement wore off, I felt a strange feeling of relief take hold. At least now we had some certainty. Weddings would be postponed during this lockdown period, now it was a case of working out the logistics.
After initially only announcing financial help for the UK’s employed workers, the government eventually launched a scheme for self-employed workers like myself. Although this will not come close to replacing my lost revenue, it will at least mean that I can continue doing this as a full-time job, assuming that we do get back to some kind of normal before too long.
The tone of my conversations with wedding couples changed from panic and uncertainty to a resigned acceptance. If there’s one thing we’re good at in Britain, it’s our “stiff upper lip” attitude. It’ll all be ok in the end! So some weddings have to be moved – it’s not the end of the world. We’ll deal with it, and maybe it’ll be a bit later than planned, but these celebrations are going to be all the more meaningful when they end up taking place.
My lockdown life
Other than having no work at the weekends, lockdown hasn’t actually had a huge impact on my day-to-day life. Yes, it’s been strange not going out of the house or seeing anyone, but it’s not been a huge change as I do most of my work from home anyway.
To finish this blog post I thought it would be nice to reflect on some of the positive aspects to come out of this peculiar situation we find ourselves in.
Long walks and quality time with Mrs Mac!
It’s been ironic really that since this lockdown was announced, we’ve had an almost unprecedented spell of glorious, sunny Spring weather. I can’t really remember a period in March/April when it’s been so warm for so long. We’ve enjoyed heading out and enjoying the lovely parks in our local area, and have dined al fresco in our small garden.
In a world where work tends to dominate everything we do, it’s been really nice to slow the pace of life down a little. We’ve done lots of gardening, done odd jobs around the home that have been put off for weeks/months, and done an almost unnatural amount of baking! I love cooking, so it’s been nice to put lots of care and attention into creating delicious dinners, and we’ve tried to eat as healthily as possible.
An exercise a day keeps Corona away
Well, that’s not entirely true, obviously, but I do think it’s SUPER important to get outside and get your one form of exercise in for the day. Staying fit and healthy will definitely help keep your immune system in check, and getting exercise does wonders for your mental health. Whether it’s a run, bike ride or a walk in the park, it’s important to get the blood pumping and get those endorphins flowing.
I’m so glad the government stopped short of a complete lockdown and allowed us out at least once a day for some fresh air. I’ve enjoyed runs down by our local river, and many of you will know that I’m a passionate cyclist so have been out most days on my bike.
The distance covered has been a little shorter than usual, as I think it’s important not to stray too far from home, but it’s been beautiful getting out on my bike with hardly any traffic, lovely clean air and some stunning sunshine.
Getting the creative juices flowing…
One thing that’s been a huge positive from having more time on my hands has been sitting down and making a list of things I want to achieve. I’ve started planning projects that I’ve just not had time for in the last few years! One of these includes FINALLY releasing a solo album of my original songs – long overdue. I’ll be writing, re-writing, finishing off and recording some brand new songs over the coming months, so keep your eyes peeled for that!
One thing that’s been brilliant throughout the isolation period has been the use of technology to stay connected. Using apps like Zoom, Houseparty, Whatsapp and FaceTime we’ve all been video calling each other to check in with friends and family. Services that we take for granted usually have become essential methods of communication.
Many of us performers have taken to live streaming performances from our own homes. While it will never take the place of a proper live performance, I’ve found it a really fun way to interact with people – seeing the comments come in and having people request songs in real time has been a joy! I really enjoyed my first #tuesdaytune live last week, and will be broadcasting again tomorrow at 7pm on Facebook live. Here’s an HD recording of last Tuesday’s performance:
Other creative projects on my list include recording the Acoustic Wedding Album volume 3 (vol 1 and 2 available here) and re-learning the piano! I’ve launched a brand new website:
I actually learnt to play piano before I taught myself guitar, so I’ve wanted to improve my piano skills for a long time. Now seems like the perfect opportunity to take some lessons and hopefully get myself up to a standard where I can start performing at weddings. I love the idea of being able to combine both instruments and give more flexibility to my wedding performances.
I’m hoping to launch this website properly in 2021, and maybe start tinkling on the ivories at my first wedding!
Community spirit and the kindness of humanity
It’s been truly heartwarming to see some of the amazing tales of kindness and compassion as a result of this crisis. In all walks of life, people have been doing amazing things, from large fundraisers to small, but equally important gestures like checking your elderly neighbour is ok.
The NHS asked the general public whether they’d be willing to volunteer to help with everyday tasks, and were overwhelmed at the incredible support received! Within hours, hundreds of thousands of people signed up to register their interest in helping out. At the last count, it was about three-quarters of a million people – incredible!
The #clapforcarers movement has been wonderful – a show of appreciation for our incredible NHS health workers who are literally putting their lives on the line during this. These people are the true heroes, and once again we appreciate how incredibly thankful we are to have free universal healthcare in this country, and amazing people working to save lives.
It’s also been lovely to see the outpouring of love towards usually undervalued workers like supermarket staff, delivery drivers and bin men/women, to name but a few. As a former postie, I know how important it is that these services are still running. These brilliant people are literally keeping our country moving during a time when everything else is grinding to a halt, and retaining a sense of normality when things are far from normal.
Well, I’ve rambled on far longer than planned, but in honesty it’s been quite cathartic articulating my feelings! I do feel that it’s a time when we all need to talk this through, and make time for each other.
If any of my brides/grooms (or wedding industry friends!) want a chat, do pick up the phone and we’ll have a chinwag.
Take care, stay safe and look after one another.
Pat McIntyre – singer/acoustic guitarist for weddings. Bristol, UK