Archive for the ‘Covid-19’ Tag

One Hundred Years of Solitude

The UK formally went into lockdown on 23 March 2020. Which wasn’t actually a hundred years ago. It just feels like a hundred years.

In July and August things started to open up again – pubs and restaurants, shops, hair and beauty salons, sports centres and gyms. In August, when the government messaging changed from ‘work from home if you can’ to ‘go back to the office if you can’, our office in Westminster opened up again (albeit briefly), and we were taking it in shifts go in, one or two days a week. There were only ever a handful of us in at one time, and things were a bit strange, but it did feel like a shift back to normality. But then the government message changed once more, and the office closed again. We were told that we should go back to working from home again, and be prepared to do so for perhaps another six months. But we had the ‘rule of six’ at that point, which meant people could meet in groups of no more than six indoors or outdoors, and that meant we could start running round-the-table D&D games again with some extra safety precautions (individually wrapped snacks, for instance, instead of everyone dipping into the same big bowl).

But now England has a ‘3-tier’ system depending on the number of cases in an area, and from today all of London is in Tier 2, which means you can’t have anyone in your house who doesn’t live there, and you can’t meet your friends in a pub or restaurant. or anywhere indoors. Some parts of the north of England are in Tier 3, which has further restrictions, and in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all of the rules are different again.

It’s all very confusing, and as well as no more D&D games this means I will no longer be able to go out for dinner with friends to celebrate my birthday next weekend, as I was planning to. The only person I am now allowed to go to a restaurant with is my husband, since we live together. So I guess it’s going to have to be just him and me celebrating.

Over the last six months of lockdown, there are a few things I have learned about myself.

  1. I don’t really like working from home. It was OK for a couple of weeks, and it would still be OK if it were one or two days a week, but five days a week with no face to face contact with anyone I find really isolating. It’s making me seriously question this lifelong ambition I always had to be a full-time writer. It won’t suit me. It’s too lonely. Which leads to…
  2. I am not an introvert. I always assumed I was, since I spent a lot of time alone when I was young, but this was mostly because I had trouble making friends. Truth be told, I like talking to people. Being alone I find exhausting. Over the years I’ve attended many conventions and gatherings alone because I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, and if it was something I really wanted to do I would just go, confident that once I got there I would find plenty of people to talk to. And I have made friends that way, so I would recommend it.
  3. I really like swimming. I have a love/hate relationship with exercise of all forms, but since the pools opened up again I have been swimming three mornings a week and it has greatly improved my mental health. Swimming is actually the only form of exercise I do enjoy, and I hadn’t realised how much until I wasn’t allowed to do it.
  4. I am really struggling to write during this crisis. Particularly horror. I am working on a sequel to OUTPOST H311, but I’m finding it really difficult to write an apocalyptic book when it feels like we’re in the middle of a real-life apocalypse. I think perhaps I am not alone in this – there seems to be a collective anxiety about the coronavirus crisis that is affecting creativity for a lot of people.
  5. I don’t like surprises. I like to plan. I did already know this about myself. I set myself up at the start of the working day with a list of things to do, and another list of things to achieve by the end of the week. I like to put conventions, and gigs, and weekends away, in the calendar. I like to know what I am doing tomorrow, and next week and next month, and even this time next year. Covid-19 has taken all that away. All the things we had planned for this year have been cancelled. We can’t plan any trips away, or even an overnight stay in the UK because everything is changing so fast and we don’t know where we’ll be this time next months, or even next week. The move from Tier 1 to Tier 2 in London was announced with just over 24 hours’ notice. There is still talk of Tier 3 if Tier 2 doesn’t work, or even another ‘circuit breaker’ full lockdown for a couple of weeks when the schools break up. How can one make plans to do anything, under all of this?

In an attempt to find some balance, I am now going to try and list some positives that have come out of the last six months:

  1. We are saving a lot of money by not having to pay for train fares every day.
  2. We are both getting more sleep, since going into London for work required getting up a lot earlier.
  3. Hubby and I are actually having conversations with each other during the day, whereas when we were both in the office all day, we’d just communicate via email. We are also getting to eat lunch together every day, which is sort of nice.
  4. I have actually learned to cook. A bit. Although I am still largely hopeless, there are now a couple of recipes I can make for dinner, and they actually turn out quite well. I just have to make sure I make a point of buying the ingredients in my weekly shop, if I’m planning on making one of these recipes.
  5. I still have a job. A lot of people I know haven’t any more, and every day it seems there’s someone else in my social media sadly announcing they’ve been made redundant, so maybe I need to be grateful about the fact I am still earning a regular wage.

I am reaching a bit here, because on the whole I am waking up in a rather dark mood every morning and struggling to find reasons to be cheerful. With everything I was looking forward to this year cancelled, and not able to book anything for next year because of uncertainty, there’s nothing to look forward to.

I also hate this time of year, because I hate the dark and the cold weather and I really struggle with depression in the winter. I brought my anti-SAD lamp home from the office and I start each morning at my home working desk under its very bright light for two hours. It does seem to help for a while – until I start thinking about the state of the world again.

At the moment shops and retail service providers are still open, I am still able to go swimming, and if Hubby and I fancy a night out we can still book to go to a local restaurant, as long as we follow their Covid-19 rules. So I guess we should be making the most of these things while we can, as we may well go into full lockdown again with everything closed at some point.

But by God, I can’t wait for this year to be over. There has to be an end to all this eventually. I struggle to see that far ahead, but I guess all any of us can do is get through this terrible year as best we can, and hope that better times will eventually come.

Lockdown

Well, what a strange world we currently find ourselves in. In the UK we are now in the seventh week of lockdown. I think. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what day or even what month it is.

The beginning of March started ordinarily enough. Covid-19 (which I refer to as the C-virus) was in the news every day, but no one seemed particularly worried about it. On 7 March we flew off to Argentina for what was going to be an amazing two-week holiday. It was amazing, but we had to cut it short. For about a week or so everyone in Argentina was incredibly relaxed about the C-virus, and they are a very tactile people, with men and women alike greeting each other with hugs and cheek kisses. But then, on Sunday 15 March, we got an email from the airline to say our flight the following Thursday was cancelled. We somehow managed to get seats on the last flight to London from Buenos Aires the following day. There’s a lot more to this story and I will save it for another blog post. The day we left Buenos Aires, I noticed that the locals were no longer greeting each other with cheek kisses – they were using elbow bumps instead.

The short version is, we got back into London the morning of Tuesday 17 March. Since that day, our house has not been empty. The UK wasn’t in lockdown at that point, and we had not been told to self-isolate having been out of the country, but we tried to stay home as much as we could. We did have to go out foraging for supplies. Panic buying was in full swing. There was no toilet paper to be had anywhere, no fresh fruit or veg, and most places had sold out of bread. Over the course of three days, with the two of us taking it in turns to visit as many grocery stores as we could get to, we managed to find enough food to keep us going for a week or so.

I was in contact with my colleagues, who had heard about Argentina going into lockdown and worried we got stuck there. I reassured them I was safely back in the UK. Initially I was going to go into the office to pick up my laptop so I could start working from home the following week. Things were changing so quickly it was soon decided to courier my laptop to me so I wouldn’t have to go in.

Hubby’s office had already decided to close down their London office, and he keeps a laptop at home anyway, for home working. So the week of 23 March saw us both setting up work spaces at home. He was working from the dining room table. I moved my personal laptop out of my writing den and set up my work laptop there, on the strength that I had a desk and proper chair in there, and I know from experience that if I spend hours working on a laptop on a stool or dining chair, I get backache. And so, ever since then, this has been the arrangement. It has taken some getting used to. This is a new way of life.

There are some positives. I am not on the train every day to work so I don’t have to get up so early, and I am saving a lot of money by not having to buy rail passes every month. Hubby and I have actual conversations during the day when we have lunch and tea breaks together. In pre-lockdown life we would largely communicate by email during the day. We are both still working, and largely able to carry on our jobs from home, although adjustments have been necessary. A lot of people are out of work. There are two of us, and we have a four-bedroom house so there is plenty of space for us both to be able to work without disturbing each other. We are spending less money, because there’s nowhere to go to spend it.

But on the whole, it’s been difficult to adjust. I miss not being able to go out and meet friends in a restaurant or a bar for a meal or a nice glass of wine. All the things I was looking forward to this year – weekends away; gigs; open mic nights; conventions – have been cancelled. Although we were lucky enough to get our holiday to Argentina, or most of it – a lot of people have lost their holiday completely and are still struggling to get the money back.

I am particularly missing my swimming. I had a good routine going, and I had finally found an exercise routine I could stick to. I am probably eating too many cakes and drinking too much wine because these are the only pleasures I seem to have left in lockdown.

It’s been over two months now since I was last in the office and I am finally starting to get used to this new routine. I am going out for a walk on a daily basis. We go grocery shopping once a week, and put up with the socially distanced line that is necessary in order to get into the supermarket. Generally it’s me that goes to the grocery store while Hubby cleans and vacuums the house. I am OK with this arrangement. I hate grocery shopping, but I hate cleaning the bathroom more. We are buying a lot more food. In our pre C-virus life we generally both ate breakfast at lunch at work, so the only meal we’d have at home was dinner.

But as well as struggling to maintain physical health, mental health is a struggle as well. I found this article from the Harvard Business Review online in the first week, and it helped me realise that the feelings I was struggling with were a form of grief. Mourning for the life I used to have, that is probably gone for ever. I’ve also been having a lot of really weird dreams. Apparently this is common amongst people trying to cope with lockdown as well. It’s our brains trying to deal with the general anxiety of the situation. Some days I end up feeling really down and crying for no particular reason. Some days I am OK. This week, I feel I should add, I have been largely OK.

But the writing has been non-existent. In the first week of lockdown I got up at 6:30am and attempted an hour and a half writing session. I managed less than 700 words in that time, and each one was a painful struggle to get down on the page. I’ve been avoiding writing ever since. Six weeks now, and I haven’t written a word. And that really bothers me.

The government in the UK is now talking about ending the lockdown. We need to be cautious, no matter how desperate we all are to regain some semblance of normal life. It’s going to be a long time until places like bars and concert venues will be able to open again, and there is no doubt that even when we achieve some degree of normality, life will not be as it was. I will certainly be continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, as our Chief Executive has already informed us all that she expects it to be ‘several weeks, if not months’ before the office can open again. It’s the getting to the office that is problem – most people in the London office travel by train or tube, and you can’t social distance when you are in a carriage so crowded your nose is in someone’s armpit. And I really can’t see a solution to that any time soon.

So, like everyone else, I am doing what I can to get through lockdown. We are spending our evenings watching a lot of films and TV shows. We are looking for fantasy and escapism; we have discovered that right now we can’t deal with anything that features a dystopian world (like The Walking Dead, for instance). Last week we went through the entire Lord of the Rings extended DVD trilogy (that’s nine hours of viewing). Video chats with friends on Zoom and other forms of video calls are really helping. I can’t meet my friends for a glass of wine, but we can talk to each other while we drink wine at home. We are even running our D&D games using video calls – not ideal, and you have to shout a lot at the screen to make sure everyone hears, but it’s better than not playing at all. And everyone needs the escapism of being in a fantasy world for a while.

I’ve also been wasting a lot of time on social media, enjoying the rather ingenious lockdown videos created by people with far too much time on their hands. I leave you with this rather ingenious stop motion Lego creation, to the tune of Abba’s ‘The Day Before You Came’.

This, too, will pass, and one day we will all be able to see each other again. But until then, stay safe, friends.