Who had it hardest in lockdown? I’ve got a plan to resolve this needless competition | Hadley Freeman

My four-year-old twins went back to nursery on Monday, so lockdown ostensibly ended for them this week. Thrilling for them and, let’s be honest here, thrilling for me: I take the easing of the pandemic restrictions incredibly seriously, of course, but I’ll admit, there may have been some quiet crowing about my rediscovered freedom, albeit one in which I’m still unable to see my friends or parents. Whole hours when I can work – work! – without being interrupted by someone asking why Snoopy doesn’t talk, or why they aren’t allowed to drink Toilet Duck. The great wide open stretching in front of me is positively giddy-making. Time to rewatch the whole of Parks And Recreation… I mean, write that novel!

But this kind of talk does not go down well with two demographics who make up the majority of my friends: people whose kids are not back to school and those who don’t have kids, and so take such crowing as an implied suggestion that lockdown has been a nonstop box set binge for them. Although really, you’d think my friends would know by now that I’m not talking about them: it’s always all about me.

The beginning of lockdown already feels more distant than my school days, but I distinctly remember there was a hope – an expectation, even – that we would feel some kind of collective unity during this. We’re all in it together! After all, why else were we doing this, if not to protect one another? But the cracks started to appear pretty quickly. There was anger (justified) at those who fled to their second homes, and a general feeling (less justified) that everyone had to acknowledge what is now known as their “privilege” any time they spoke about how they were finding lockdown. Rare was the text I received in April and May that didn’t include some kind of embarrassed apology for complaining when the sender had a garden/food/functioning lungs. I’m not sure when the memo went out that unless you were on your deathbed you weren’t allowed to find living through a global plague an ordeal, but I haven’t kept up with the daily briefings.

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I’m a great fan of venting. Unless people feel free to vent, their dusty complaints turn into corrosive resentments. This, I think, lies behind a tendency I increasingly noticed in myself and others this spring, which was not to complain about one’s own lockdown situation, but instead to point to others who have it so much easier. Gardens were the first battleground, with people rightly pointing out that limits on outdoor activity weren’t such a hardship if you have a 20ft garden out back. Then parenthood became a flashpoint, with arguments raging online about whether being locked down with children was as much of an ordeal as parents said, or just a grownup temper tantrum.

Dominic Cummings blew all this skywards when he claimed that it was totally reasonable for him and his family to go to Durham, because of his “exceptional circumstances”, which turned out to be being a parent. Suddenly, the whole of Britain, from newspaper letters pages to people on Cummings’ own street, was shouting about their own circumstances – single parenthood, loneliness, looking after toddler triplets while sick with the virus – as the frustrations of the past months burst forth in an outraged gush.

Cummings unleashed it, but this frustration had been building; the lockdown has been a slog for all. If Cummings had just acknowledged that in the first place when asked about his trip, instead of suggesting his struggle was “exceptional”, he’d have saved himself a lot of bother. Yes, some people have had it easier than others, but engaging in lockdown hardship top trumps is only going to hurt you, as you lie awake at 4am, feeling your anxiety headache morph into a rage. Or so I’ve, er, heard.

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There is an easy way to resolve this: the government needs to introduce a points system, awarding compensation according to how hard an individual’s lockdown has been. This will make everyone feel that their own struggle has been acknowledged, which is really what lies at the root of any competition over who had it worst.

This is just a rough outline – I haven’t ratified it into law yet – but the system of suffering and reward should work something like this:

Being so deathly bored you watched the bloody briefing every day: an adventure holiday

Enduring tedious people on Instagram brag about how many online exercise classes they were doing every day: a fabulous new wardrobe

Your neighbour spent lockdown learning the drums/doing daily DIY/digging a basement: a new home

You have a slipped disc from hunching over your godforsaken laptop all day working from home: a year of massages and a fancy new PC

Parents of small children and babies: holiday in Durham, one week per child (post-lockdown)

Parents of toddler triplets: anything their heart desires. They deserve it.



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