Having almost completed five weeks of lockdown, I feel that I simply cannot contain it any longer. I just have to say it. I know I am probably in a minority (and I’ve just had a quick look for any polling data, but to no avail). Here goes: I am quite enjoying lockdown. I happily consider myself a fully paid up founding member of the Lockdown Appreciation Society (membership = 1).
I don’t want to suggest in any way that I am trivialising lockdown, nor would I expect many other people to share my positivity for a host of reasons. It is my personal opinion, based on my experience and it needn’t have gone this way. In the beginning, I had the virus. Or rather I think I had the virus. Literally as we were ushering the remaining students out of school on Friday 20th March, I felt the symptoms creeping up on me. I spent the best part of the first week exhausted as my body battled and then started recovering from the virus. Even then, as soon as it became clear I was going to be one of the lucky ones who’d only be mildly affected, I was finding the positives: I lost the best part of a stone in weight over the week. Unfortunately the subsequent four weeks of lockdown diet and drinking have put pay to that. One of the most unsettling experiences of the virus was losing my sense of smell. There is something oddly disconcerting about visiting the toilet sans odour; maybe that’s just me.
As soon as it became clear that I was on the mend and I had the energy to start making the most of the time, I quickly appreciated the novelty and luxury of the situation. I had suddenly switched from being someone who is normally time poor to being completely time rich. Far from ever being bored, I have found myself constantly engaged in a multitude of activities which I have satisfactorily entitled ‘pottering’.
I have been able to read more, especially the weeklies which drop through my letterbox, normally on a Friday, but just form a pile of the great unread. I found the time to do a flurry of writing of which this diatribe is just the latest example of. Perhaps most significantly I have relished the time to cook, exercise and quiz.
I came across a wonderful comment that the best way to encourage the British people to do more exercise is to impose a lockdown. I am very much guilty as charged. I have been out on all but one of the days since I completed my seven days of isolation. I have loved the walking, helped by the wonderful weather. Truth be told, the walking isn’t making enough of a dent against my calorific intake which has ballooned with boozing and snacking, but it has done wonders for creating that headspace. While walking I have also truly become fixated with podcasts. I love listening to the latest episodes from The Economist or The Spectator, interspersed with the odd show from the Local Government Information Unit (rock and roll). Occasionally though, I leave the headphones off. I just listen to nature and the quiet.
When I get back from my walk, which I invariably set off on at around six o’clock, I indulge another new habit: cooking. Growing up I never learnt to cook properly. I put this largely down to the fact that my mum, who was disabled, often cooked ping and dings or other oven ready, quick and easy stuff. She showed me how to do this. So I knew how to use an oven and a microwave but while I would never starve, I have never truly considered this as cooking. Back in February, a colleague at work put me onto a service called Gousto (thank you darling Dan). When at work, I muddled through recipes but found one or two a week wouldn’t get made. It was tough to get into a habit, or rather to break old ones. Now, with so much time, I have cooked from scratch nearly every day. Obviously I cannot eat out during lockdown, which I would do multiple nights a week, but even on the takeaway front, I think I’ve done a grab and go three times at the most. In five weeks. That is a seismic shift only akin to the shockwaves I would generate if my lockdown blubber-fest of a body trips over a tree root next time I go for one of my woodland walks. As well as taking away the excuse of not having ingredients, or not knowing what to buy, the Gousto menu cards have literally been like a cookery course. For someone who lacks practical skills or dexterity like me, this is an achievement where the credit lies solely with the teacher and in no way with the learner.
After dinner I begin my stint as a community key worker, in the form of a virtual quiz master. When I came up with the idea, or rather stole the idea, only a few people had started doing them according to social media. Now of course they’re the new normal. What started as two or three quizzes a week on Zoom became a commitment, between a mate and myself, to provide seven quizzes a week. Having been a quizmaster in a real pub, some years ago, this seemed like a rebirth. It’s been great. As well as hopefully providing some entertainment and social contact for others, it also gives me something to do, some structure to my days. It also provides that need to perform which is normally catered for in the classroom.
If there have been any drawbacks to this new paradise called lockdown, it is the fortune I have spent on upgrading the tech in my house so I can work (and quiz) easily from anywhere in my house or garden (first world problems, I know). The other drawback is that all my new habits, the key ingredients in my house arrest happiness, are they are all evening based. I have a superbly structured day from 6pm onwards. The problem is motivating myself for the better part of the day before that. As is usual, though perhaps worse than it has been recently, the absence of getting up for school has shifted my body clock back to nocturnal. This isn’t the greatest of problems, except for I will kick myself if schools reopen and I haven’t made at least the slightest of dents in that to-do list which all teachers have ‘for when they have time’. Sadly, without the time constraints and deadlines built into a typical school day, week or term, on which I have become so reliant, I am almost useless at motivating myself and holding myself to account.
A couple of people, quite randomly, have commented that I probably needed this unexpected break, both physically and mentally, after the six months or so I’ve had with the election on top of a typical school year. I hadn’t thought about this but there is a truth which, if nothing else, seems to justify my current approach, so I’m all for it. More than any of my new habits though, I am trying to spend some time thinking about ‘what next’. Yes, a bit on an intellectual level thinking about politics, society and the economy. But more importantly, what next for me. Having time and space to think is so precious and normally so rare. The growing fear I have at the back of my mind is that I won’t be able to take enough of this lockdown lifestyle on when we ‘go back’. My answer is just to find a way to retire or somehow monetise my pottering activities. Lots of people are talking about learning lessons from the pandemic. I think I have learnt my most important one already, now I need to find out how to live by the lesson.