13th April 2020: Slowing Down

Covid19 Diaries

I don’t know what day it is without checking my phone, the Argos website has given up and I’ve lost the ability to extract anything from my wardrobe that isn’t grey and slouchy.

It’s day 84,533 of lockdown. Or thereabouts.

The hardest part, hands down, is the inability to meet family and friends. Video calls are better than nothing, but it’s hardly quality time when you’re mostly speaking with loved ones’ eyelids and nostrils. There’s a hole where weekly countryside tramping, coffee drinking and endless chatting with my Mum used to be. The glimpse of a National Trust logo has me gulping down sorrow. Hearing ‘Yorkshire’ from the Calendar Girls musical on Elaine Paige’s BBC2 slot intensifies how much I miss everyone up there and the undulating grass, stone walls and reassuring mooing they’re surrounded by. How I’d love to be stomping across those rugged fields, rather than jogger-dodging on my way to Tesco.

My husband and I are introverts, so fortunately we’re not suffering an entire change of lifestyle like many are. We love meeting friends, but socialising is conducted in manageable quotas interspersed by the restorative isolation that refuels us. However, although we’re ticking along in humble harmony during extended downtime, those post-Covid free-flowing conversations over brunch, with no time lag or freeze framing, can’t come soon enough. Neither can the simple act of sharing experiences. When you’re out in the world, novelty and spontaneity create memories and form bonds, even if it’s just an unexpected vista or ‘that time Dave lost his pasty to a seagull’. Skyping from your kitchen island, the most that’s going to happen is the upending of a cup of tea, possibly killing your laptop and severing your last remaining arm of connection.

Still, I’m coping surprisingly well considering I’m not normally a home bird. In a previous life, I’d always opt to write or read from a coffee shop rather than my living room. Changes of scenery stimulate my cogs and I feel starved of oxygen if I can’t breathe fresh air every day. I think I’m only OK because we’re still allowed out, albeit under restriction.

The opportunity to work on our new house is keeping my mood afloat. Rather than the process of moving being a mad rush one weekend, there’s time to pad around the different chambers of the domestic realm to find the perfect spot for a cactus.

Chores previously raced through are now pillars to the day’s structure. ‘Kitchen Floor’ is an activity worthy of a time slot, not something I scramble to take care of before a pan boils over. Not only are the banalities of housekeeping enjoying a rebirth as welcomed projects to focus on, they’re also spaced out so as not to consume all the excitement in one go. I can’t quite believe I find myself ‘saving’ the window vacuuming until tomorrow because I’ve had enough time-killing indulgence for one day. Then, a text from Mum divulges she’s executing similar rationing and I imagine we’re two of millions.

This stringing out of basic tasks extends beyond household chores. I used to make a coffee and take it back to my computer, life admin or other productive outlet. But the other day, for the first time in forever, I made a coffee, curled into a chair and just…drank and thought. Watched bees. Let musings roam and roll with no intention to shoehorn them into purpose. Have I finally grasped mindfulness, in the somewhat inappropriate setting of a pandemic?

Gardening is the element of nest-feathering I’m most excited about. Being both novice and lacking in practicality, I’ve exhibited standard behaviour of downloading dozens of horticulture podcasts and reading countless webpages whilst cradling coffee. I do love the prep stage of a project – knowledge acquisition is so much easier than action.  

But now, the sunshine’s arrived and I’m getting my pretty paisley gloves muddy. Adhering to abundant advice to establish routines, I generally save the outdoor stuff for the weekends as a break from bleach fumes. Last Saturday’s weeding quest was cathartic. This weekend was inspired by the Skinny Jeans Gardener, whom I first heard whilst tugging at nettles and suddenly realised I was wearing his trademark style of denim. I was also in my back-up bridal shoes: previously pure white canvas sneakers, now peppered with soil and sludge. Perhaps I need to boil the kettle and launch a new research project into gardening attire…?

I quickly found I’d unearthed a guy who motivates parents to introduce children to the wonders of green-fingered pastimes, so I’m not quite his audience, but the episode I listened to was very valuable. It may have been billed as an activity to stop bored kids whining for an hour or two, but I lapped up the brainwave of using household waste to make containers for growing seeds.

Now, I’m screening everything before it goes into the recycling bin for its efficacy in propagation. My husband’s under close surveillance in the kitchen as I silently pray he’ll use up the last of something so I can swoop in. Last night’s plunder was an attractive olive tin that I may save for a houseplant and a coveted mushroom tray that’s perfect for some of our Armenian cucumber seed glut. Along with mini bottles of Sheffield’s proudest output, Henderson’s relish, packets of these seeds formed our wedding favours to marry two elements of our heritage. We’ve still got enough of each to establish an enterprise of fruity, spicy cucumber pickle, which might not actually be a bad idea in the current climate.  

In summary, the past couple of weeks have mostly been about slowing down and setting goals. It feels amazing to achieve something, as after losing my job I’ve been struggling with finding this kind of satisfaction. Cue my new strategy of turning a household molehill into a mountain. And volunteering, which I’ll talk about later…

((after writing this I found a few good tips on improving the video calling experience – find them here))