BLOGGER’S NOTE: Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on people across the globe. The intent of this series is not to make light of the pandemic in any way, but rather to examine the author’s idiosyncrasies, which existed long before the virus and, all being well, will be there long after. In these uncertain times, we must continue to take every available measure to protect our personal and communal health. Thanks for reading and stay safe.]
One thing I’ve learned in these many months of hand sanitizing, nasal swabbing, and banana bread baking is that I am a creature of habit to the max. Admittedly, I’ve shown signs of this tendency in the past – for instance, I’ll eat the same thing for breakfast every day for weeks before I force myself to switch it up. But under the string of lockdowns imposed on Britain due to the coronavirus, I morphed into my super-boring alter-ego, Captain Routine. While others bemoaned the tedium of one day blurring into the next, I reveled in the same old same old. I went grocery shopping at the same time every other day – mid-morning, before the lunch rush. I stuck to a fixed rotation of exercise walks, ambling in an easterly direction one day and west the next, traipsing south on the third day and north on the fourth before starting the cycle over again. I listened to an album every time I sat down to lunch – just one, all the way through, though I permitted myself the whimsy of choosing from a variety of genres. And I worked on this blog most weekdays from 2:00 pm until 3:30 or so, allowing for breaks to surf Amazon and Discogs. (Given that I’ve only managed to produce one post every couple of months, I’d say those breaks were many and lengthy.) It’s been a regimented, repetitive existence that has suited me just fine.
I also took to social distancing like the proverbial duck to water. I don’t consider myself an introvert, but I’ve always been comfortable in my own company and when Covid put public gatherings on hold, I found that I didn’t really miss mingling with other people that much. Before I get into trouble, let me clarify that I’m not talking about my friends, all of whom I worship and adore with the intensity of a thousand suns. Besides, we kept up with each other regularly via Zoom and social media, so there was still a strong link between us even if we couldn’t be in each other’s physical presence. If anything, the Zoom boom has put me in touch more frequently and for longer chats with pals all over the map. And in the way-too-brief easing of the rules here late last summer, the spouse and I did manage a few boozy al fresco reunions with local chums. No, I’m talking more about jostling shoulders with the hoi polloi in a packed, noisy pub, or trying to make small talk with a friend’s neighbour’s visiting second cousin at a holiday get-together, or finding myself in the midst of a boozy rolling hen do – that’s a bachelorette party to us Yanks – on the slow train to London. I didn’t exactly pine for those kinds of encounters.
But I’ll have to gird my loins for more of them to come, because the last of the lockdowns ended recently and I know my hubby is psyched about resuming face-to-face interactions and travelling. (He’s much more of a social butterfly and spirited globetrotter than I.) After working from home for 16 months, he’s now returned to the office for one or two days a week and is quite enjoying the camaraderie of his colleagues – at a safe distance, of course. Since we’re both fully vaccinated, he’s inspired me to shed Captain Routine’s constricting cape and cowl and take a few small steps out of my comfort zone. Here goes nothing…
STEP ONE: FROM FREEDOM DAY TO A HECTIC HIGH STREET
On Monday, July 19, the British government lifted all Covid-related restrictions within England, so it was goodbye mask mandate, hello heaving nightclubs. Some Brits celebrated “Freedom Day,” as it’s been called, with great fanfare – there was news footage of a drag queen in Manchester cutting the ribbon at a club entrance at one minute after midnight, to the cheers of a jubilant crowd. But to keep my nerves in check I vowed to have a hullaballoo-free day. My one scheduled errand was to pop into our local health food shop to buy a certain brand of veggie bacon that has us reevaluating our love of the pork kind. (Seriously, it’s that good.) Not much had changed there, although the shopper capacity had been increased from 4 to a staggering 6, inviting pandemonium in the aisles! 😉 And instead of a sign decreeing that shoppers must be masked, there was a new one that gently suggested it still might be a good idea to wear one – or not! It’s up to you. I decided I wasn’t quite ready to ditch mine just yet, so I stretched it over my ears for what felt like the millionth time. Comfortingly, all the employees also wore masks and the woman who runs the shop’s deli sported a plastic face visor. And best of all, they weren’t sold out of the fakin’ bacon.
Two days later I shopped at a nearby Sainsbury Local, one of my habitual haunts during lockdown as I’d been steering clear of bigger supermarkets. Here the changes were more evident, with fewer customers and no staff wearing masks. Nobody gave me a hard time for wearing one, which was lucky for them because I was ready with a few tart comebacks along the lines of “It’s nunya business, Karen!” Still, I did suffer my first pang of post-lockdown mask shame. Is there a hotline number I can call for that?
The biggest leap of the week for me came on the Saturday after Freedom Day. The spouse and I decided to spend the afternoon in Chichester, a picturesque town in West Sussex not too far from our home in Portsmouth. This meant taking the train and leaving our city limits for the first time since the pandemic hit, so needless to say, my pre-trip anxiety level spiked. Still, I’d resolved to put myself out there a bit more, and chilled-out Chichester seemed like a good trial run for possible later outings to big bad London or – gulp – even further afield. The rail journey there was pleasant, with a manageable number of commuters on the station platform and in the passenger cars, although we did notice that it was only the old fogies like us who wore masks. Most of the passengers who looked like they were under 30 were bare-faced. When we arrived at our destination, things got dicier. I think everyone in England had the same idea we did because Chichester was hella crowded. It was a hot afternoon and the narrow pavements leading from the train station into the city centre were packed with perspiring, panting day-trippers. There was no way to avoid passing them at close range and heavy car traffic ruled out stepping into the street. I kept reminding myself that I was double-vaxxed and we were outdoors, so my risk of contracting the virus was low. Nevertheless, I had to duck into side alleys and shop doorways a few times to wait for breaks in the sweaty procession. When we finally made it to the high street shopping district at the city centre, it was chock-a-block as well, but its wide thoroughfares offered more room for the pit-stained populace to spread out, which eased my worried mind a little. We wore masks to make our way into a restaurant for lunch and to do some shopping at an M&S Food Hall before taking the train back to Portsmouth in the early evening. On the whole it was an enjoyable day, despite a few freak-out moments.
Step one – check! The next step’s a doozy: We’ve got tickets for an outdoor music festival coming soon. Watch this space…
Anxiety level for the week on a scale from 1 to 10: Every day except Saturday: 3. Saturday: 4000. (Just kidding, more like around 8)