How is this eternal lockdown really going for you? (And despite the recent confusing relaxation of the rules, we are still far from out of lockdown.) Looking through the lens of social media and watching the news – which is the only barometer for most of us, deprived as we are of normal human interaction – lockdowners fall into two camps.
Firstly, there’s the smug lockdowners. As if show-parenting and social media boasting aren’t torturous enough in real life (and I mean back in the Real World, before Quentin Tarantino started directing 2020), I present to you …. drumroll ……. show lockdown! “We’re all having so much fun” wholesome parents trill via YouTube as their family showcase extravagant baking sessions or form a philharmonic orchestra. (Where does that flour come from? F****d if I can find any!) These are the parents who are teaching their kids Greek and hanging exquisite rainbows fashioned from paper origami birds in their windows. Meanwhile, the rest of us worry about finances, work in cramped conditions at home, struggle to look after vulnerable parents and try to home-educate bored, hyperactive children. A friend who is working long hours to keep the family business afloat while home-schooling her two kids described a dark moment when one of the bored non-working school mums delivered sunflower seeds to all the children in her son’s class and suggested a fun online flower growing competition. “So now I have to keep bloody plants alive too!” wailed my friend.
Then there are the annoying couples who take competitive lockdown to the extreme: they run marathons round their front garden and boast of enjoying quality time together. Fun new hobbies such as painting watercolour meadows and making smoothies in matching leisurewear are documented ad nauseum for all to see on social media. Often while many of us are having dark, murderous thoughts about our partners.
The show-offs, in the midst of their wholesome Famous Five family fun, seem oblivious to the real reason for the lockdown – thousands are dying from an invisible, deadly killer. This isn’t an extended summer holiday, ffs! We are all in survival mode and it’s terrifying. But hey, you carry on telling me how much fun all this is!
Then there is the other side of the coin: the disasters. They proudly boast of 9am drinking sessions, days spent binge-watching Netflix in pyjamas, a diet of crisps and cake, houses not cleaned for months and seem to take delight in being total car crashes. Pouring scorn on anyone who does anything remotely productive or is not eating their body weight in biscuits daily, these people love to tell tales of their complete failure to home-school their children – or in fact doing anything that involves getting off the sofa. Shambling around in a mess is a badge of honour for them, and the more they can broadcast this to the world via social media, the better. The judgemental side of me finds it extremely irritating: did none of you get enough attention as children? (Disclosure: I left a bag of surplus VE Day cakes on a friend’s doorstep. If I’m coming out of lockdown fatter, my friends are too and I’m happy to be an enabler.)
The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. Most of us have good days and bad days and are doing what we have to in order to survive. Maybe there is a little of both types in all of us. I know very few people with the luxury of being paid in full to stay home doing nothing and with no children to look after: the majority of my friends are struggling to keep businesses going, educate kids, stay healthy and sane and conduct work through emails and awkward Zoom meeting calls. A few key workers soldier on bravely on the frontline. Everyone has financial concerns. We are all missing friends and family and the freedom we once took for granted. Some of us have lost loved ones and been through the agony of grief in isolation.
I’ve found lockdown a real mixed bag of good and bad. I’m enjoying the luxury of more time. Pressing the pause button on daily life means no commute and less pressure. And I refuse to treat this as an excuse to let standards slip: I shower daily, as I normally would, and wear clean clothes. I touch up my roots, paint my nails and look after myself, because it helps my self-esteem. I clean my house thoroughly every week and chat to my friends regularly, I’ve decorated, sorted out drawers, read books and drawn and painted. I have a daily to-do list in the Real World and I’ve continued with that. I tried baking but then realised I’d have to eat all 24 scones myself, which is no problem for me but perhaps not the best idea on a regular basis. I participated in an online tea party for charity and my street’s VE Day isolation party. (I have to confess, I was horribly competitive. I walked the dog round the block to see what the rest of the neighbourhood was doing and was thrilled to report that our few houses were the only ones using linen tablecloths and proper china.) One day a week I shop for elderly parents. I’ve done a few days’ work from home which has made me feel like a connected part of society again. A man sometimes sits on the sofa in the lounge and I’ve discovered we’re married. He in turn has discovered he likes gardening.
Here’s the flipside. I overeat. I worry like crazy about work, finances, the death toll, loved ones. I don’t wear my usual full face of make-up and my split ends are legendary. My eyebrows, once beautifully shaped every fortnight by my beauty therapist, are a mess. I can’t sleep, so I knock myself out with sleeping pills and then worry about becoming addicted. I can’t settle to anything and I procrastinate and often don’t leave the house for days. I watch the news to the point of obsession with a mounting sense of doom and become furious with those who avoid any media, believing them to be irresponsible, but then wish I felt less like a road traffic accident spectator. My attempts at voluntary work have failed because I have panic attacks in shops about others’ cavalier attitude and bark “TWO METRES!!!” at anyone who comes within five metres of me. I get upset and angry and miss the people I can’t see and the places I can’t go. Like everyone, I resent the cancelled holidays and weddings and events, but it seems petty to complain when others have lost so much more. But it doesn’t mean I don’t feel sad.
But, as always, my friends are a lifeline and through this I have learned who my true friends are. We speak or message regularly. Some call me in tears when they are despairing about a bad day and I do the same back. We ALL have bad days: surely even the twatty couples and annoying families who post shiny, motivational fun videos and photos on Instagram are getting on each other’s nerves by now, the novelty of “quality time” long gone. I do hope so, we all need a dose of Schadenfreude.
Lockdown will soon feel like a dream, and good and bad will come from it. But I am an optimist and I hope mainly good. We are seeing the very best of human nature (as well as the worst, but light always prevails over darkness) and incredible acts of bravery. Hopefully we all have a renewed sense of what is truly important and that is not money or status but the things that can’t be measured.
Stay safe – and if you know where I can source self-raising flour, let me know and I’ll pay cash, no questions asked.