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Rebuilding from a year ago

One year ago today I woke up in Paris. This was a deliberate act – I was not the victim of a stag-do prank in a lazy sitcom – as my partner and I were visiting for a short break.

Three things stand out in my memory from that trip.

The first was the excellent Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the Louvre.

The second was the fact that I had an extremely bad sore throat, making it incredibly painful to swallow or, at some points, even speak. At the time I just fought through it with a combination of wine and Lemsip, but with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps it was coronavirus. I didn’t have a persistent cough or a loss of taste or smell, but in the twelve months since, it seems that pretty much any symptom can be associated with Covid-19. Or it might just have been a sore throat.

The third was an evening stroll past Notre Dame. I hadn’t seen the cathedral since the catastrophic fire of April 2019, so it was rather moving to see the building surrounded by hoardings and cranes, with its famous spire gone.

Notre Dame, Paris, 21 February 2020

Covid-19 has spawned or appropriated many clichés, such as “now more than ever”, “the new normal” and “build back better” – the last of which always makes the pedant in me wonder why we use two words (“build back”), when one (“rebuild”) would do; I suppose the triple-b alliteration wins out. On the night of the Notre Dame fire, President Macron declared that the cathedral would be rebuilt, and while it will never be entirely the same, and no one would say the fire was a good thing, it’s not as if Notre Dame was built in 1163 and then remained unchanged until 2019. Indeed, the spire destroyed in the fire was completed in 1859, replacing an earlier structure which had to be removed in the late eighteenth century due to irreparable damage.

On the morning of 22 February 2020, I headed to Gare du Nord for the Eurostar on my way to a very important appointment in Oxford: the first-ever Jody and the Jerms gig, at the Wheatsheaf. It was a great night; we played to a very enthusiastic audience without forgetting too many notes, and we hit a hotel bar afterwards with full rock ’n’ roll commitment. The band had a varied schedule of gigs booked for the next few months – but, of course, none of them took place in the end, as then all of us had a very unexpected year ahead.

The Mall in London with no traffic during lockdown

It’s now 22 February 2021 and today we’ve been given, in England, a sense of when life might start returning to near-normality, given that vaccines are being deployed with very promising results. So after a year of disruption, from minor first-world inconveniences to serious life-changing events, it feels like it might finally be time for people to allow themselves a little optimism and look ahead to a more positive future.

Notre Dame had a head-start, but we’re all rebuilding now. We’ll never be entirely the same, and no one would say that Covid-19 was a good thing, but we will evolve – and who knows, we might just be a bit better than before.

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