Manoeuvres

It’s December and I’m wearing my leather gloves as the temperature is dropping. I was wearing them constantly in March. For a while they felt like my armour against the fearful global climate. It was a bewildering time and I’m not sure if that time has ended.

We block out stressful periods so I remember only snapshots from earlier in the year. The eery feeling just before it all became real. The sense that in seeing a friend just before Lockdown 1 we’d ‘gotten away’ with something. Watching the Government announcement whilst on the phone to my Dad; crying, then trying to reassure him I was ok. Muddling through the uncertainty.

There were lots of happier moments of course. When I did finally see my parents, one day we walked through a forest of bluebells soaking up the beauty and the peace. I also enjoyed getting to know my neighbourhood through the new lens of more time, fewer people and fewer planes overhead. In my immediate surroundings it is quiet, despite being urban. Regular visits from curious squirrels just outside my window, the local cat dropping in for a snooze on my sofa, growing sunflowers and tomatoes on the patio – little things enhanced my days.

In the bluebell woods

Friends have been such a source of strength. It seems that our culture promotes romantic relationships over friendships. We’re supposed to derive so much support from one person. But I’ve realised this simply isn’t possible. We need a network and it is a living, shifting thing. There is always room to add a friend or to find new value in old friendships. You have to keep cultivating.

I now go for long walks, coffee and deep chats with a friend who lives within walking distance. It refreshes me in a way I can’t explain after sitting in front of a screen all day. It’s like a long exhale. We both had a go at NaNoWriMo in November, trying to write a 50,000 word novel by hitting a daily word target. For me it’s one to try again next year, but I did get a story started before I got distracted and ran out of steam. Maybe I’ll get back to it.

I’m a couple of months into a new job with a design team at a great company. My new colleagues have proven to be a very social and friendly bunch, so I’ve found myself pumpkin carving in Halloween fancy dress and joining craft sessions via Zoom. I’m also studying for an Executive MBA which means I have plenty to keep my mind busy. I still find time to immerse in TV on-demand, with the The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown being recent companions.

I’ve also had a lovely time meeting one friend at a time at Kew Gardens and Wisley Gardens, taking in the wide open space as we caught up on life over takeaway coffee. There is a real sense of triumph over adversity to seeing loved ones these days, like you’ve completed a very tough level of a computer game. You get rewarded by that wonderful familiar glow – yes, they are just as funny, warm and kind as you remember. Yes, you do still have loads in common even if lives look different.

Kew Gardens

On the eve of Lockdown 2, I felt familiar anxiety. I had gone to the local pub, driven by a desire to get out and live but also in a downbeat mood anticipating what lay ahead. I sat outside wrapped up in my coat, reading a book called Exit Management. It’s a dark story about disconnected lives in London and very well-written. The scene felt surreal and sad, until I bumped into a neighbour. He asked how I was and I told him honestly, not great. This opened up a conversation about the challenges of living alone and how much this year has tested us. I think people value openness about loneliness and there is a relief in knowing we are in it together, despite such isolation. Everything is easier the second time though, even lockdowns.

Now we are out of lockdown again in England the sense of time still feels warped. People speak of limbo, having lost the thread of what they were planning, scaled back or stopped activities all together. I think of one of my favourite film clips, from Austin Powers. Some days, it feels like how life is going. I hope to move forward but I’m stuck in a cycle where I simply keep starting again.

There is hope on the horizon though and we must continue to appreciate the highlights. Stay safe, warm and well.

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