Who knows what phase of lockdown easing we are in right now – bubble-speak makes for confusion. I like clear rules (I hear you, Monica), but there is a fuzziness about this current phase that makes me worry that I am stepping over lines I can not see. From what I hear, I am not the only one feeling out of sorts.
Although I am now physically back in my workplace full time, many of my friends are still juggling home-schooling and ‘flexi-working’. Others have worked throughout and must be impatient for the rest of us to shake ourselves down. In this new phase we all try valiantly to navigate diaries that refuse to work in the way they did a month ago. ‘What do you mean you can’t make a HouseParty hob nob break at 3?’ or ‘I keep getting unobtainable on your mobile but really need to show you my new home hair cut’.
Because we are now allowed to meet a bubble of socially distanced friends outside (I hope I read this proclamation correctly), I have chosen to maximise this option over the last 7 days in order to catch up with chums I have only been able to Zoom and FaceTime over the last months. Suddenly, because my physical working day is pinned down, I have to start diarising to plot my evening schedule. I also have to consult an uncooperative weather app to make these outside appointments.
Meeting up with my BeMilitaryFit ladies in the flesh was my first social outing this week. We have exercised and whatsapped together throughout StayHome and I feel that I know their kitchens and gardens in an intimate way. I suddenly feel strangely shy about meeting up with my ladies for real, even though some of us have now known each other for over 12 years – 12 years of 6 am meetings on the The Downs through mud, snow and storm flies. There is not much we don’t know about each other.
Lately we have become accustomed to the etiquette of socialising on line; we know the p’s and q’s of virtual interaction, namely mute yourself when someone else is talking (the drill sergeant) and only unmute yourself to say, ‘thanks sarg’ and goodbye ladies’ at the end of the session. Suddenly, this week – after a virtual group hug – we find ourselves socially distanced on our respective picnic mats, giddy as kippers to see each other and wondering whether we need to wear plastic gloves to share a glass of Prosecco.
It soon becomes apparent that during lockdown we have all become better listeners. We have become so used to not talking over each other on line, that we are now ridiculously polite about allowing each other to fill in the gaps of their lockdown life. ‘No, no, you finish what you were saying, I’ll wait’. It is absolutely freezing on the night we meet, but none of us wants to leave; we channel years of frozen exercise classes and rue that we forgot to bring out thermal gloves. Goose-fleshed we stick out the howling wind and only finally blink when we realise that the public toilets are still in lockdown – bladder control is sadly something that even boot camp has been unable to fix over the years.
Later that night we post a photo of our meet up on line and our male boot campers then complain that we didn’t invite them. I briefly worry at my lack of politeness but then realise that the chaps would have needed a separate bubble if I was to keep my brownie ‘rule follower’ badge; I am just thankful not to have had the headache of juggling more than one diary.
As the week progresses, I gain confidence with calendar orientation and meet other friends in torrential rain and howling wind; on each occasion, again I notice how there is no finishing each other’s sentences, there is no talking over each other, there is just deep, respectful listening. Only difference is that we are not looking directly into each other’s faces any more. After each meeting a quick thank you comes through on my phone, asking when we can meet up again. I quite like the etiquette of lockdown easing.
As my diary fills up a little I wonder whether – as we move forward and get busier – we will all have the time to be so bountiful with our p’s and q’s. I hope so, but realise I will probably be the first one to lapse.
I remember reading a psychologist at the start of StayHome who predicted that weeks into our lockdown stabilisers being removed, we would very quickly forget to include all the things many of us have welcomed over the last few months – the long emails, family walks, home cooking and proper conversation. He predicted that however high our resolutions, sadly life would soon be too paced again to accommodate our slowed down best intentions.
Yesterday I went to visit my 94 year old mother to celebrate the arrival of her new hearing aid and the end of her ear infection. She is excited to hear that we are allowed a second ‘proper’ bubble now and wants me to dive into her’s and move in permanently. I don’t think she realises I am back at work full time. I pretend not to hear.
Mum believes that the high street is well and truly open again so she sends me an ambitious shopping list of ‘essentials’ including Clarins foundation and a specialist brand of vitamin D tablets, which she would like me to ‘pop out and get’ before seeing her. Grateful for on-line shopping, I arrive at mum’s bearing gifts and interrupt a Zoom session she is listening to from her local church. She beacons me over, not realising she is unmuted, and asks me how old I think the lady taking the session looks. I mute mum quickly and just hope the host couldn’t hear.
Over lunch mum constantly interrupts me and I wonder if her new hearing aid is working properly; I am too polite to ask. I try hard to say nothing, but as she cuts across another story I have just begun, I hear myself snipping, ‘mum, can you let me finish?’. Mum is not at all offended, and parries with, ‘No love, I am sorry, but when you get to my age and when you have had no visitors for weeks – thanks to that Downing Street jester – you find yourself with a lot to say and you worry that you will forget to say it – or even what you were going to say once you have started. I am sorry if I sound rude but you can just thank your blessings that I taught you to listen to your elders and that you have plenty of time to listen.’ I feel mum may have burst my bubble and that we are entering a new phase.