Did anyone else forget that lockdown restrictions were lifting this month? No? Just me, then…
The realisation hit me during a phone call with my mum.
“What are you up to today?” I asked idly, imagining she’d talk about a Netflix series she had lined up, or a walk along the local canal, or a takeaway omelette in the garden.
“I’m going out,” she replied, much to my slack-jawed surprise. Then she started talking about a shopping trip, and a pre-booked meal in her local pub garden, and counting down the hours to a much-needed hair appointment at her local salon, and it hit me like a ton of bricks; lockdown restrictions had lifted, I’d completely forgotten to do anything about it, and now even my bloody mum has a more exciting social life than me.
As you’ve probably already guessed, my first day in our more open world passed by in very much the same way as any other in lockdown. I logged into my morning meeting at 9am, worked through until lunch, took the dog for a walk, returned to my laptop until 5.30pm, made myself dinner, and caught myself staring wistfully out the window more than once. A lot more than once, if I’m being brutally honest.
Thankfully, it was snowing for the first half of the day – and heavily, too – so I was able to convince myself that ‘the gods’ were telling me that I had made the right decision by staying in. But, come the end of my shift (around the same time my WhatsApp blew up with photos of friends and family clinking pint glasses at their local boozers, the bastards!), the snow had stopped and been melted away by a suddenly blazing hot sun. Which only made my absent-mindedness all the more annoying, to be honest.
Had I forgotten, though? Had I really? I couldn’t help but wonder if, just maybe, I’d forgotten to book anything on purpose. Because – confession time – I can’t help but feel nervous about life suddenly flicking back to normal.
As someone who’s been lucky enough to be in a position to work from home over the past 12 months, I’ve grown incredibly accustomed to my home comforts. Living in the suburbs, far from my citybound pals, I’ve had to reconcile myself to the fact that any walks I take will be a) pretty much taken alone, and b) close to home, as I can’t drive and Boris Johnson’s 5-mile radius rule put the fear of god into me during lockdown. (I visited my mum’s doorstep to drop her Christmas presents off on 24 December, and I genuinely kept thinking that an undercover police officer would pop up and arrest me at any given moment).
My partner, being a gardener, has still been going out most days (sometimes weekends, too) to work in the outside world. And all of this means that I’ve gotten very, very, very used to spending time alone.
Yes, there are daily Zoom meetings with my colleagues. Yes, I enjoy regularly-scheduled virtual catch ups with my best friends. Yes, I signed up to a virtual Reiki course. Yes, there’s still a weekly online quiz on Sunday nights. Yes, I made a point of seeing people in that brief respite period before the holidays. Yes, I’ve got a book club, a movie club, and a podcast on the go (I truly have made a point of fulfilling every single lockdown cliché, sans baking banana bread). And yes, I make a point of phoning friends and family on a regular basis – not just to keep those connections strong, but to keep myself in the habit of talking to other humans out loud.
Still, though, I’ve become something of a hermit. I read the news intensely, never quite able to believe that this pandemic will ease (honestly, that sudden return to lockdown ahead of Christmas 2020 pretty much transformed my inner Disney princess into a permanently disgruntled pigeon), and all those rumours of a third Covid-19 wave have basically caused me to roll my eyes over the prime minister’s roadmap and assume that… well, that it would never actually happen.
It’s this – this strangely potent mix of cynicism and solitude – that means I’ve paid little attention to the world opening up around me. I scrolled past upbeat headlines, ignored the ‘welcome back’ posts from my local pubs and restaurants, and kept my head firmly down.
Much like the inimitable Bridget Jones, though, it seems I now have two choices: to give up and accept this permanent state of hermitude and eventual descent into madness, or not. And this time I choose not. I will not be defeated by a neverending pandemic and a lack of organisation!
Unlike Bridge, I won’t be drowning my sorrows at home with a bottle of vodka and Chaka Khan on repeat (or, if I do, it’ll be purely by chance). Instead, I’ve slowly, tentatively begun filling up my diary. Nothing too crazy, mind; there’s a booking at our local pizzeria (literally a five-minute walk from the house) to ease me in, and a desperately-needed appointment with my hairdresser, and a pub lunch at the end of the month. I’ve even booked tickets to an outdoor food festival.
The aim of this game is to do things slowly. Slowly, I’ll ease myself back in. Maybe there will be a trip to the local lido at some point, or a potter round the shops. Maybe I’ll book an outdoor table for six. Maybe I’ll hop on a train for the first time in forever and visit London once again.
Maybe not, though. Because all I really want to do is get myself feeling OK with the real world again, not push myself well out of my comfort zone and go scuttling back to my house with my tail between my legs.
So, in that sense, I’m glad that I forgot (or forgot on purpose) to book anything massive. Because it’s granted me the opportunity to take things at my own pace, dip my toe back into the water, and never put too much pressure on myself.
Hopefully, I’ll see you out there.