As the weather turns after a week of blissful Spring sunshine, so does my peaceful philosophy on isolation. I am home with my parents and sister, all of whom have not been under the same roof for longer than a weekend in approximately 12 years. After seven days together, the water in the pot is starting to bubble.
Less than a week before Boris Johnson announces the population should retreat to their homes, I have surgery, so spend the first enforced isolation period napping under a codeine induced fog. I emerge five days later to an equally sleepy world, as millions of families stay within their kitchens and living rooms. The idea of hunkering down to hibernate for a few weeks in the countryside seems too good to be true.
And for a while it is heavenly. My mother and I sit after dinner, luxuriating over a crossword, both of us united in our love of the literary as well as proving our academic prowess over the other. My sister and I take long, explorative walks around our local National Trust park, listing the positives of being forced to slow down. I watch my father, pearls of laughter pouring out of him, as he watches the latest meme circulating on social media. Every morning I listen to the birds singing and watch the blossom blooming. Queue menacing soundtrack.
As headlines detailing the end of the lockdown begin to suggest June as the finish line, rather than April or May, the reality of the situation begins to dawn on me. This lockdown could last beyond my happy hibernation threshold. I begin to adjust my mindset so plans for early May birthdays and bank holidays won’t be as painful to forgo. The idea of using the house party app to speak with friends suddenly seems like a lifeless alternative. I tug at my psychological collar, suddenly becoming tighter around my neck.
I feel like I have survived a long winter, only to be told the coping mechanisms used during the wet, cold months, will have to continue past their sell-by-date.
A trip to Bologna to gorge on tortellini and admire elegantly dressed gentlemen in piazzas is cancelled. A long weekend to Provence to celebrate the fete de la musique, a pilgrimage I have made for the past six years, suddenly seems in jeopardy. I feel like I have survived a long winter, only to be told the coping mechanisms used during the wet, cold months, will have to continue past their sell-by-date. I am like a Tiger pacing in one of the cages featured in the wildly unsettling ‘Tiger King’, the latest Netflix documentary I watch in an attempt to feel part of a social trend.
Then comes a vicious family argument about the best strategy for catching and releasing a bumble bee. The poor creature has accidentally wafted into the confines of our bubbling cauldron. All seems hopeless.
But then things change. I spend a morning reading, something I never normally have the freedom to do, and find two articles which jolt me out of my cantankerous stupor. The first is by my heroine, writer and war correspondent, Janine di Giovanni, who pens her ‘Letter From France: A War Correspondent’s Survival Mindset Shapes Her Coronavirus Exile’ for Vanity Fair. Her words are like a poetic balm for my frayed nerves and remind me that we are living through extraordinary times. I am inspired to write my own piece, as I do now. It is my small donation to a wider body of work documenting this blink in history.
The second is a short news story for The Times explaining the rise in work for paper boys. The piece features a retired teacher who has had a paper delivered every day since 1969, when he took a clipping detailing the moon landings and pasted it into a sketchbook. Mr Hudson, who now has 100 scrapbooks, fills each one with stories from his lifetime. I add a copy of The Times and Telegraph to the communal shopping list and spend the afternoon cutting out stories for my own diary. I am completely re-energised.
While colleagues on conference calls talk about the ‘new normal’, I know this will not last forever and decide to enjoy this unhurried pace of life.
I am no longer naive about the situation we face. My family and I are the lucky ones as we continue daily life with our health intact. My surgical scars heal quickly, probably spurred on by my relative inactivity within the comforts of my parent’s home. While colleagues on conference calls talk about the ‘new normal’, I know this will not last forever and decide to enjoy this unhurried pace of life. I ignore the passive aggressive check lists on instagram explaining why this is the perfect time to be ‘your most productive self’ and instead commit only to one hour of fresh air exercise a day and one hour of reading. Slow and steady will win this race.
There will still be arguments. There will still be anxiety. But there will also be learning. I hope to take elements of this imposed simplicity of life with me and plant them as seeds in the new world after this. Emphasis on looking after one another, whether they are family members or an elderly shopper you see in the supermarket, goes a long way in healing a society. A smile to a stranger goes beyond a two metre radius. The sun will shine again.