COVID-19 A Year On: 92-year-old Dennis shares his pandemic experience

Dennis Lewis, 92, who has lived in Welwyn Garden City since 1956, shared his experiences of the coronavirus pandemic

Dennis Lewis, 92, who has lived in Welwyn Garden City since 1956, shared his experiences of the coronavirus pandemic - Credit: Supplied

My name is Mr Dennis Lewis, and to my great surprise, I recently received an invitation from the editor of the Potters Bar Bugle, aka the Welwyn Hatfield Times, asking if I would be "at all interested in sharing my experiences and describing my perspective on how the pandemic has been for me".

I've never been known to refuse a challenge, so in spite of there being no mention of payment, I accepted Anne Suslak's invitation - I do hope that it will interest readers and have resolved to set aside the honorarium issue until a later date...

But first a quick outline of who I am and why I'm here. I was born in October 1928 and share my birthday with Mickey Mouse - we are both 92.5 years old. I was born in Queen Charlotte's Hospital in London and I recall my mother was there at the time, but not my father - he was supporting Chelsea at Stamford Bridge!

After a couple of years in the RAF and six years of concentrated study at London University I arrived at Welwyn Garden City in September 1956 with a new wife (my life partner for 54 years) to be a research chemist with ICI.

The ICI Plastics Division had its headquarters, Research and Tech Service here, at ‘Welwyn’. Like so much of the UK’s industrial strength, ICI has disappeared, but I enjoyed 25 years there, switching to industrial intelligence in 1966.

Dennis Lewis with his son Ian, and Ian's son Kieran

Dennis Lewis with his son Ian (top right), and Ian's son Kieran (top left) - Credit: Supplied

From 1981 I pursued half a dozen careers over the  next 30 years. Ranging from working for the British Council, the European Commission, ASLIB/AIM Association of Information Management and my own company, Applied Information Management– plus election as a district/borough councillor, representing the Handside ward of Welwyn Garden City for 39 years.

I was privileged to be Mayor in 1976/7 and have been actively involved in the community in a large number of local  voluntary organisations over my 65 years in this wonderful town – and I still live in the same house! And I still cannot believe that both my sons are of retirement age, in their early 60s !

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Oh – and I was fortunate enough to receive the MBE from the hands of the Queen in 2015 for services to the community in WGC.

Turning to thoughts  on the pandemic, it’s difficult to know where to start, but here goes:

The HM Government (and most other governments) was taken totally by surprise by COVID-19 in February 2020. So much for forward planning! We were all at the bottom end of the learning curve, and looking for info/data/advice/encouragement/ paracetamol – and for some reason, toilet paper !

Headmaster Boris had (correctly!) consulted the science teachers in order to tell the skool what was to be done.

What was done was to appropriate the word “lockdown” which is defined in the dictionary as “the confining of prisoners to their cells in order to regain control during a riot”  So that put us in our place! Which is exactly what happened – and we have been confined to “our places” at some level or other for well over a year!

At that early stage, each afternoon the nation huddled around its TV sets at about 4.30pm, not to hear the Queen’s Xmas speech but to receive the latest bad news and even worse statistics from The Headmaster and his senior science staff.

And very soon, that grave look on the features of the BBC’s newsreaders told us that the Head actually had the dreaded bug himself. He was transferred to hospital, but, being  Headmaster Boris, naughty boy COVID abandoned him and he was discharged a few days later - and someone had even accidentally combed his hair!

After a couple of weeks the Head reappeared on the now popular “Boris and Matt Show” and national concern for his welfare evaporated……

We  are still awaiting news from the major countries in Europe to discover when 15 million people can leave our shores in order to find out where the Dreaded Bug went, and to bring it back to the UK so that we can all enjoy again the comforts of home for 24 hours a day.

In the meantime Matt has found a winning formula which involves sticking a needle into the left arm of willing volunteers, while some poor bugger keeps count, and ensures that each daily total is greater than the day before.

The Audit Commission is keeping a very close eye on Matt’s statistical machinations to ensure that the final total of vaccinations does not exceed the total population of the United Kingdom…except by a factor of two.

On a personal level the pandemic has not made that much difference to my life, which remains as interesting and challenging as ever, From my own personal experience it’s always a stern test of character to depend on the various and ever-changing digital wonders of the Internet.

Email, text, search engines, Zoom meetings, social networks, apps, USB, Fire TV sticks, 5G smartphones etc etc etc all ever-changing and ever-expanding. In my experience they now combine to waste more time than they save. And on chatting with friends and colleagues about this phenomenon, I find very few opposing views.

I’m not a Luddite – I made a modest contribution to the development and adoption of the internet in the 1970s and 1980s and in those early days systems were simple and effective. Today they are unnecessarily complex, with dozens or even hundreds of useless and unwanted options.

Give me back my simple abacus or even a gleaming Otis King sliderule!  – plus a subscription to Instagram, Viber, Facetime or Skype so I can see and chat with my grandchildren and friends overseas !