The New Normal

As my daughter lays out her yoga mat in the living room and goes off to find her laptop, the cat makes himself comfortable, naturally thinking its been put there specially for him. In fact it’s for the daily House Party gym session she holds with her mates in East London and Sydney. Part of the new routine our household has settled into. Surreal and frightening though this past couple of weeks has been, life on lockdown is already becoming the new normal.

Can it really have been only a week since Boris Johnson instructed us to “stay home to save lives”? Our household has settled into quite a comfortable existence. I’m aware how complacent that sounds. There are women trapped with their abusive spouse, families with young children and no access to a garden, others working long shifts. I and my two housemates, in their 20’s and 30’s, are able to stay home and work online. I got to number eight in the queue for hip surgery before all elective surgery was cancelled, so I am quietly grateful that I don’t have to rush around and go out and meet people. I’m quite happy sitting about, glued to my phone.

My daughter, recently home from travelling, had just settled into a pub job before the pubs were all closed, so she has reinvented herself as an online English teacher. “Hello, how are you?” she trills as we creep about, not allowed to use the bathroom or the loo or create noise of any sort during her sessions. Our lodger, aka ‘the intern in the attic’ is a software engineer, so he was self-isolating at the best of times. For him life hasn’t really changed, though of course perversely he now longs to go out.

The cats can’t believe their luck. Three people on hand to talk to them, stroke them and make a fuss of them. Three people each suckered into feeding them each time they enter the kitchen and fall for their plaintive meowing, which would have you believe they’ve never been fed in their lives before. Only when we compare notes at the end of the day do we realise between us we’ve fed them five times.

We’ve established daily coffee with the neighbours, to gossip over the fence. We’ve set up a street WhatsApp group, and doorstep drinks at 6.30pm has been mooted, though the dip in the temperature may put paid to that idea for a little while. I’m sleeping more, staying in pyjamas later, and meet-ups on Zoom tell me other people are also less well groomed than they usually are, with the men getting more scruffy and beardy and the women looking pallid and a little more dishevelled than usual. I tend to wake up early, read all the news feeds, realise it really is grimmer if anything than it was the day before, and retreat under the duvet for another hour or so.

It’s interesting how various friends have reacted. One, after the inital urge to turn out cupboards and organise her books in alphabetical order, seems to have settled into a torpor. Though she and her husband go for a daily walk and devour the news constantly. Another couple, with typical spirit, have organised themselves a schedule of online learning, one determined to have acquired a new language before this is all over, the other happily learning a new magic trick off the internet each day. They’ve also had ‘dinner with friends and family’ – in Chiswick and Sydney respectively – by Skype and play Scrabble online with friends in Scotland.

Our world is becoming smaller and slower. Another friend (who is normally like a whirling dervish) reports that she has discovered the joy of stillness, ‘sitting in the kitchen in silence without moving long enough for the fox to come and dig in the window box’ and getting satisfaction from the small things in life: ‘picking all the bits of peel out of a jar of marmalade’.

We have talked about death, in passing. I saw some pundit on the TV saying we should, because if you get the virus badly, its progress can be swift. My daughter was horrified, but she now knows where the essential paperwork is. Mostly I enjoy the contact. The phone calls from people I haven’t seen for ages, the odd bag of potatoes or bottle of wine which has appeared on the doorstep, and the constant exchange of funny videos (some of which I pass on in the newsletter) and home grown humour.

I leave you with the comment of one friend (she of the magic tricks) who’s passed on the advice of a TV psychologist.

“Heard a Dr. on TV say to get through the boredom of self isolation we should finish things we start and thus have more calm in our lives. So I looked through the house to find all the things i’ve started but hadn’t finished … I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of Chardonnay, a bodle of Baileys, a butle of wum, tha mainder of Valiumun srciptuns, an a box a chocletz. Yu haf no idr how feckin fablus I feel rite now. Sned this to all who need inner piss. An telum u luvum x