Rosie and Jim: ‘Why was I always so busy? How did I cope when I wasn’t busy at all?’

Our writers come to the end of lockdown, one with a Zen-like sense of acceptance, the other with a trip to Italy. We know which we'd rather copy (sorry James).

Our writers Rosie Paterson and James Fisher — who have both, one way or another, ended up alone for the duration — are sharing slices of their lives.

So far they’ve ranked musical instruments (and not in a good way), mused over mysteries, shared tales of curious robins, video chat and little old ladies winching shopping through windows.

I marked the end of my Devon residency (and delayed my return to London) with a week in Italy. If anyone in the UK is still complaining about having to wear a mask, I suggest you try doing so in constant 30+ degree heat. But despite the heat (and the fact that masks are compulsory, even outdoors, after 6pm), in seven whole days I didn’t see one person trying to get away with not wearing one, or wearing one below their nose. Every other person on the London Underground, please take note.

It was surreal to travel after so many months in lockdown. I felt like I was complicit in something very illegal. Italy is on the Government’s travel corridor list, but I looked so guilty coming through passport control, I’m surprised I wasn’t pulled aside and searched.

I started in Lake Como, travelling by train to the Amalfi Coast and lastly, Rome. This is a country that bore Europe’s first brutal outbreak of coronavirus, but has rebounded with incredible grace and open arms. Along the coastline the beaches were popular, but not overwhelmed and in Rome, the main attractions all open, but to limited numbers. Pre-booking was essential.

On Sunday, I emerged from St Peter’s, with a friend, to find the square full of expectant locals and a visiting group of young American priests. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t waiting for us — we’d managed to time our visit with the Pope’s public Angelus prayer. It was the first time I’d seen a large, celebratory crowd (distanced where possible; all in masks) in months.

We didn’t understand what he said until it came up on the news a day later — our Italian only stretching to grazie mille — but it was meaningful all the same: to see people genuinely happy and all clapping (and not just along with it, like us).

Time works in weird ways and does strange things to people. By which I mean me.

This year has lasted, seemingly, forever and yet it is September. The months between March and June, in which I revelled in Government-sponsored isolation, seem to have almost been deleted from my memory. It was a long time, as you might be remember (or not), to do almost nothing, but when someone asks me ‘What I Did During Lockdown’, I can remember almost three things — three actual events — that occurred.

I kept thinking about it though, and realised that rather than doing things, I simply focused on routines and habits. I have also now realised that all those routines and habits have now roundly been deposited back into the bin, now that I’m allowed outside again to go and play with my friends.

I got a subscription to the New Yorker. The magazine, which is allergic to pictures, arrives weekly, and during lockdown made me feel very smug. There I would be, in my bath, perhaps a scented candle, perhaps not, reading, nodding, ‘yes, yes, very interesting, I am now an intellectual’. Now, like letters from Hogwarts, they keep coming, over and over and over, and I just can’t find the time to read them, but they are good emergency drinks coasters.

The gym! Naturally I couldn’t ‘go’ to the gym during lockdown, but like I said, I Had Time, so a home gym was set up and an hour of my day would be spent wriggling around like a possessed worm, following YouTube videos presented by beautiful people packed with lies such as ‘yes you can get ripped with just a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica and some rope’. Now, my intentions are still pure, and I plan to go, but then a text appears offering ‘pub’ or ‘cricket’ and… well, it’s not really a fair competition is it?

So, what have I learned? As usual, not much, other than that time, and certainly my time, is precious. I still have more, as I don’t commute to work these days (sorry Boris/Dettol) and can spend more time doing things that I like, which aren’t just cricket and beer, but walks at lunchtime, a bit of gardening, the occasional press-up.

Both ends of the lockdown spectrum seem strange now. Why was I always so busy? How did I cope when I wasn’t busy at all? I’ve found a happy medium and I hope I’m not the only one.