This week, Rosie encounters a real, live person while James ponders how he's wasted this unique opportunity for self-improvement. On the plus side, at least he's come up with a reasonable excuse for why it doesn't matter.
Our writers Rosie Paterson and James Fisher — who both, one way or another, ended up alone for the duration — have sharing slices of their lives since lockdown.
I’ve started cohabiting with actual human beings again. My flatmate returned from the depths of somewhere or other for work, and I had my first hug in nine (maybe ten?) weeks. He turned a blind eye to the fact I’d cleared out the cupboards and chucked away most of his kitchenware; I turned a blind eye to the teabags that have suddenly taken up residence in the sink (yes, the sink that I mentioned in my last column was blocked…). We bonded over our mutual horror of a bloated dead dog drifting down the stretch of the Thames we look out over. But let’s not dwell on the dog, or my aggressive de-cluttering.
Restrictions are easing. The last clap for the NHS came and went. The houseboats below us joined in, blasting their foghorns, and someone brought out a guitar — the wide expanse of river amplifying everyone’s efforts to the din of a football stadium. Somehow, it also felt like a goodbye to the more hard-hitting parts of lockdown.
Aware that the office might soon reopen, I took time off work and made the long and arduous journey down four flights of stairs to the garden — the closest I’m getting to a summer holiday. The jet lag was brutal. At the weekend, I ventured further from the garden and cycled through a still-deserted central London (everyone else was in a park), towards Hampstead and an equally deserted Abbey Road. The zebra crossing looked so innocuous without the usual hordes that I rode straight over it, totally oblivious.
This week, the crowds will surely start to gather once again and not just to pose like The Beatles. Shops are reopening; more industries are going back to work; there are more planes overhead. And though I’d happily trade my flatmate in for a one-way flight to the Mediterranean, I think I already miss the slower pace of life that London had finally grown accustomed to.
What is a skill? According to the Google dictionary, it is defined as ‘the ability to do something well; expertise’. This suggests that practice is required, that a skill must be maintained and worked on constantly.
Excitingly, the internet is awash with stories of new skills learned and mastered during lockdown. We love to bake now, apparently, and we love to knit. We love to birdwatch, we love to garden (if we’re lucky enough to have one) and we love to TikTok. I still have no idea what a sourdough starter is, and nor do I care, but it’s nice to see pictures of everyone’s amorphous blobs that they seem to adore more than their own children.
The last week or so, as we’ve emerged from our Covid crypts into the baking sunshine like translucent tea-drinking ghouls, has had me thinking about skills that we’ve lost (I like to focus on the negatives, it makes me fun at parties).
There are the tangible ones (tennis, golf, knowing exactly where the train doors are going to stop on our morning commutes). There are the less tangible ones (maintaining eye contact, regular meal times, wearing jeans). And then there are skills that, despite having the time, I will never master (opening the oven door to check on the fish I’m cooking without having my face melted like a German scientist in an Indiana Jones film; wondering why I’m so anxious as I sip my fifth cup of coffee; keeping any kind of plant alive. What is it you want Mr bay tree? Is it abuse? Is it love? Please, just tell me, tell me what it is that you want).
There’s a certain amount of pressure to have become ‘improved’ by this virus — my meals should be Instagram-worthy, I should be running 5k in under 25 minutes, I should be able to hold a singular narrative in a 350 word weekly column without getting irrationally angry at a dying plant, and so on. Have I done any of these things? No. Will I likely be able to do any of these things, at any point in the future, assuming we all survive this miserable curse of a year? Probably not.
I have instead been working and trying to maintain the skills that I already have, and that’s because just staying sane and normal and happy is a skill, and one that requires constant practice. It may not be as tangible as a sourdough starter, but it’ll last a lot longer.