Back in March, when it became obvious that something drastic would have to happen to slow the rampage of Covid-19 through the country, I thought that a lockdown would be literally end of days. I was dreading it. I’m not a person who likes to be indoors or anywhere near a sofa if I can possibly help it. I’m mainly a fan of dashing about from place to place, making way more commitments than I ought to, letting people down time-wise left RIGHT and centre and happily doing a completely half-arsed job of too many things at once – usually whilst wearing smelly running kit that I didn’t have time to change out of several hours ago, because I tried to fit a run into less time than I really had available. (Another example of the way I think I’m clever and then ruin things: I keep nail clippers, a file and some clear strengthening polish in the car, because I once had a surge of genius and realised that the time-suck of traffic lights might lend itself to manicures. The fact that you can’t, in fact, paint five nails in the cycle of any of the traffic lights on my commute – and that my nails always look totally shit as a result – has never induced me to deviate from this belief).
Imagine my fury, then, when Twitter and all the other socials got all blitz spirit about the impending “lockdown” (Yeah. We haven’t had a lockdown, have we? Linguistic shittery of the worst kind, because we’ve actually been quite free compared to other countries, and now the irony is we’ll probably be curtailed for longer because we’ve done it so badly). “You can save your country by watching Netflix in your pants!” everyone chortled. “Also, this is secretly what we all love, isn’t it?! Staying in, watching box sets?! And when we’ve chilled out a bit, we can all start to do yoga and learn languages just in time to go back to work!”. Look. I’m not criticising the jaunty motivational tone. Well, no, I am, there was entirely too much jauntiness for my liking at points, this is a fucking pandemic after all, but that wasn’t my main beef. My main beef is that I’ve never really enjoyed Netflix binges, let alone in my pants, and I do yoga anyway, but my favourite sort of yoga happens in a big room full of nice people I can talk to afterwards, sometimes from less than 2 metres away. In short, for someone who’s very “impatient and spiky and not especially likeable” (daughter’s description, and it’s accurate), all the talk of having to Stay Home made me realise that I’m a lot more sociable than I thought I was. Plus, four cancelled holidays. Four, man. It’s a big deal. And I still haven’t had all of the refunds through.
The first few days of “stay home, save lives” were, as I expected, purgatorial. I couldn’t quite seem to get my head round the fact that if I got up at 6.05am as usual, and went for a quick run as usual, and had breakfast at 7.30am as usual, then I’d be faced with the whole day stretching out in front of me like a patchwork blanket of fretful boredom. People in my house would take it in turns to go out for their mandated slices of exercise, and I’d watch them go, seething quietly from my cobbled-together work desk and feeling caged and resentful. Then I’d realise it was lunch time, and then dinner time, and then there’d be a whole evening with absolutely no plans in it. Sheer horror.
By the end of the week, though, things were changing a bit. I realised that if I delayed my running until later in the day, not only could I have a lie-in (7am alarm! The TREAT of it!) but also I’d have the time outdoors to look forward to, and that could keep me going through all the petty irritations of learning to do a previously very office-based job from a tiny desk in the dark corner of the kids’ old playroom, near the cat litter tray and with no natural light available. I also realised that in lots of little ways, cat-litter-adjacent-desk aside, I was quite lucky. It felt dangerously close to the forced blessing-counting of my youth, so I was a bit reluctant at first, but it was really quite the sanity saver to stop for a minute and remind my ungrateful self that at 21, 16 and 13, my children need neither supervision nor educational input from me, so I’m spared the misery of things like making lesson plans or having to do Joe Wicks’ PE lessons; that despite the fact I haven’t ever done it from home before, my job can be done from home, without too much hassle; that I do actually like my husband, and we both really love wine, so in the evenings I have the option to drink wine with someone I like and no one will judge me for it, as long as I keep my eyes fully averted from the judgy internet and all its articles about lockdown alcoholism.
And that, to the surprise of no one more than me, is how things have basically gone on. I have had hardly any tantrums, and honestly I’d have expected to have loads, because I’m really bad at not being a brat. I miss my friends a lot, and going running with other people, and wandering to the shops and for takeaway coffee during work lunch breaks, and going dancing or to the cinema or to restaurants or away on mini-breaks. I miss all of those things desperately, but as long as I don’t think about them, I am truly shook and honestly, mildly annoyed with myself at how settled into lockdown life I’ve become. I’ve made sourdough bread and done YouTube yoga and planted hanging baskets and mended sofa cushions and painted all the fences and sanded down and re-oiled the garden furniture. (I draw the line at sorting out my wardrobe though. Fuck that shit. It’s handy that I don’t need many clothes at the moment).
Basically what I’ve realised, as the first phase of “lockdown” (still nope) winds itself up and we await today’s inevitably bungled and mismanaged announcement about how it’ll all go from here: I have realised that I can, in fact, live in the moment. Never in my life before would I have dared to make that claim. I was always waiting for the next challenge or wondering how I could possibly squeeze a bit more of something, anything, into the hour or day or week or month. But with the future taken so far out of my control as to feel like it’s nothing to do with me, and with no realistic option to do or plan any of the things I would previously have done or planned, I have had to learn to stop thinking ahead or I’d quite literally go mad. So I just – don’t think about it. I think about what I might cook later, and how much tonic water is left. I live in the moment. It’s not a bad place, I can almost see why people go on about it.
(Wonder if there’s some kind of award for being good at living in the moment? Wonder how I apply for that? Am I mindful now, forever? Is this mindfulness? Am I an expert? How’s it quantified, though? Could I do more mindfulness? Am I, I wonder, better at it than – no. STOP).