Amidst the Coronavirus crisis, there was much to enjoy about the lockdown — the slower pace, the camaraderie. And then the honeymoon period ended
Human beings are remarkably adaptive. We marvel at nature’s ability to evolve but the Homo sapien is protean, too, weathering wars, natural disasters, economic collapses, global pandemics, personal trauma, toilet roll shortages. Hope is survival.
But pride is another aspect of the human condition and, as the saying goes, it really can come before a fall. There I was, dazzling myself with my calm, and occasionally cheery, navigation of the lockdown; enjoying the freedom of working from home and keeping to my own schedule. Ironically, I – an insomniac – was sleeping well for the first time in years. And then something changed. It wasn’t so much as a meltdown but a comedown.
While everyone had long discussed the coronacoaster, it appears I was only getting strapped in. I had somehow cushioned myself with a good work/life schedule, tuning into the local wildlife, keeping friends and family close while apart, and consciously uncoupling from divisive social media platforms, profiles and pages. And for a long time it worked. Eleven weeks, to be precise.
Creeping sense of unease
The novelty of sharing a makeshift desk at home with my partner of 13 years was initially reassuring. Like most long-term couples with full-time jobs and commutes, our weeknight conversations generally revolved around what we’d eat for dinner, who would cook it and what should we binge-watch afterwards. And thank you and goodnight.
Now, we witness each other’s “work selves” in real time, gleaning new personality insights that we wouldn’t ordinarily know (most of which have turned out to be favourable, thank god), interspersed with long, talkie walks that we never took together before. We have unfettered access into each other’s professional minds, which is quite the turn on. Until it isn’t.
After a full day’s work we close our laptops and walk a three-feet commute to the sofa
No one had time to prepare for a home office and, in our case, living in a rented flat with an open-plan living room/diner/kitchen, we’ve nowhere else but to set up camp at our dining table that’s now festooned with laptops, Bluetooth hardware, notepads and pens. There’s no space for eating anymore, it’s TV dinners central. After a full day’s work we close our laptops and walk a three-feet commute to the sofa. Thank you and goodnight.
Like so many other office-starved homeworkers, we ritually perform a pas de deux of moving chairs, or rooms, so as not to disturb each other’s video or phone calls. In fact, my route around the table/desk is entirely governed by whether it means Zoom-bombing one of his many meetings, bedhead, kimono, inappropriate coffee mug and all.
Moreover, for the first few weeks of the lockdown, our soundtrack was pure, live, galvanising birdsong. But with every governmental easing comes greater activity, chief among them traffic and construction work. This creeping, insidious noise is undoubtedly adding to my sense of unease.
Improvements for who?
Right before the bank holiday weekend, cacophonous Irish Water works started arbitrarily early; simultaneously a neighbour started “home improvements,” the obligatory builder’s radio at full volume. Permissible weekday hours for construction work is 7am until 6pm, however, during a pandemic, when many jobs have been either lost, furloughed, reduced or redeployed elsewhere, and many folks are grappling with life, death and baking, these relentless hours of nerve-shredding noise from which there is little or no escape, feels borderline barbaric.
Of course, anyone reading this that has kids is probably scoffing, not having had a moment’s peace in several years (and certainly not getting it now, what with home-schooling as well as home-working, and an absence of childcare, play dates and grandparents). But that’s the trade off. You have kids, you have a noisy home and sleepless or interrupted nights in exchange for unconditional, fervent, life affirming love. We don’t have that, so we hold dear the serene treasures we do have. Which is not being rudely awakened first thing, in our case, aurally tortured by “vehicles reversing”.
A month ago, the lockdown taught me that I was more patient than I thought I was and that familiarly doesn’t breed contempt but compassion. But early that weekday morning, I overruled those claims: it took waterworks maintenance to finally switch mine on.
I can’t lie, after two rude awakenings, 12 episodes of Normal People, one race war erupting in America and 11 weeks of proverbially treading water during a global pandemic and hugging zero friends and family, I had a little cry in the bathroom, the stiff upper lip finally crumpling. I wasn’t even premenstrual. I was simply halfway through a lockdown. That’ll do it for anyone.
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