It seems ages since Lockdown began, and for some (me included) it hasn't ended. In fact I started my lockdown before the official announcement as I could see the growing number of Covid-19 infections from my desk in my open plan office with open plan kitchen and several doors between me and the bathroom that needed touching to move. And then all the ski tourists coming back in February with their sicknesses, coughs and spluttering. It was time to hibernate.
In my case I had a kidney transplant operation last July and am subsequently on immuno-suppressants. I am in one of many groups of people deemed clinically vulnerable. If the Government wasn't giving out strong advice then I needed to act myself.
So since February I worked from home, and started ordering my food and essentials online. My rather concerned doctor provided me with a medical note to show to my manager, who was very supportive anyway. It was quite liberating at first. Not having to deal with the office politics, not drinking as much caffeine-infused tea, not commuting on packed trains and buses. Wonderful.
And the WFH thing, in terms of productivity was great too. I got through a lot of work with much reduced effort. I did miss those chats in the corridor, or my the kitchen, that often provided the answers to longstanding problems. Then as the weeks set in and the actual official lockdown began I felt a solidarity with my work colleagues, as if we were all experiencing a similar thing. Those conference calls with police sirens in the background or crying babies became the norm. I didn't really notice my isolation starting to set in.
I could still speak to people, and see them on my computer screen. In fact I am the first to love a bit of me-time. I enjoy my own company. I'm not really a people-person. Introvert, I suppose. The distance was nice. I was quite happy in my safe cocoon.
My routines were good too. I always got up early, made the bed, showered, washed my clothes, cooked great recipes. I had a good selection of raw ingredients in my flat, so I was able to invent delicious dishes, despite the increasing shortage of things like flour and yeast. I enjoy the creative aspect of cooking, until it becomes a chore at least. Then tedium sets in.
Little by little, however, I noticed that I was cutting corners. Sometimes the bed wasn't made until lunchtime. Sometimes an extra bag was waiting to be taken to the bin room.
My job of 12 years was under threat and I had a lot of thinking to do. Did I continue with a salary cut or take a reasonable voluntary severance package? I chose the latter and set in motion what was to become a huge life change.
With all this time on my own, there has been plenty of opportunity for reflection. I know that many of people have been impacted terribly by Covid-19, most importantly the many people who have so sadly died, leaving behind distraught loved-ones, many of whom were not even able to attend their last moments or their funeral.
It set me thinking about what this country has been through over the past ten years. Not only did we suffer the terrible depression following the Credit Crunch, but then there was Brexit, which divided so many people who passionately fought for what they believed in. And now on top of that we have the pandemic. There has not been much chance for us all to take stock of our lives and make good plans for how we want to live it.
There must be so many people, massively concerned for their future. I was lucky in a way, in that I am of the age where I had started to consider my career, my lifestyle and my future plans. I've always been a thinker. A Level French probably set that existentialist seed in my mind.
Actually I was thinking about re-reading La Peste (The Plague) by Camus as it is now quite appropriate again. In this incredible story, the small town of Oran in Algeria is forced to cut itself off from the world as a deadly plague takes over. And in this self-imposed isolation, the people of Oran begin to reflect about their lives and respond in different ways. I would definitely recommend that folks consider giving it ago. In fact here is a link I just found for it on Amazon.
Another parallel story that is relevant today (for me at least) is Sartre's Huis Clos (No Exit). Published in 1943, this plays with the idea is that Hell is other people. It is about how three people of polar opposite characters respond in a confined environment. Sound familiar?
Of course I couldn't complete the trio of Existentialist literature without a mention of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The two men in the play wait and wait for someone who never comes. And what do they do to fill in the time whilst they wait? They chat. Beckett was acutely aware of the meaninglessness of life. The gap between birth and death can only be filled with chatter to have any chance of providing any meaning to it.
I think the underlying point in these three works is that it's the humanity that sees people through. Religion can be useful where it works with people. For others, they just want a connection, however painful it might be.
I find writing helps me to connect. That can actually just be a connection with myself, such as diary writing, or trying my hand at some crap poetry. I'm good at crap poetry. Sometimes I want to write to other people, just to send them something unexpected. Whatsapp is good for short bursts, but I also want to bore people with essays, such as this.
I think a lot of people have forgotten what it means to receive a letter. Nothing beats seeing that handwritten envelope on the doormat. When I was travelling in France as a student I used Poste Restante to keep in contact with friends and family. I have all the correspondence in a shoe box somewhere. This shouldn't be an old-fashioned thing. It's a beautiful thing, like a vintage mechanical watch.
Let's make a concerted effort to write to somebody this week, who might also be shielding in self-isolation. It might be a parent or grandparent, or a friend you haven't kept in touch with for a while.
Let's reconnect. It's good for the soul. Leave a comment below to share your story.