Staying Slow in Lockdown
It was more than 100 days ago that we got the call from work to say that we would be working from home for the indefinite future. Shortly after this our government called for a national lockdown. Looking back now, those first few weeks felt confusing, isolating, and more than a little bit dystopian.
Over the last few months we have been bombarded with articles, posts and podcasts celebrating 'the Productive Lockdown'; how people all over the country have been coping with their quarantine through self-improvement, whether they have been baking breads and cakes, learning to knit or sew, or finally starting on that project/skill/hobby they have always been meaning to begin, from learning to speak Japanese or play the guitar, to reading the complete works of Shakespeare.
For Sam and myself, while it's true that we have gained time usually lost on a long daily commute – an extra hour asleep, and some time to sit in bed with a good coffee, cats on our laps, reading – lockdown has not changed the fact that we still have full-time jobs. Our work scenery may have changed, but we still have to spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week sitting at our laptops working. So whilst our furloughed friends have been making bread every morning and delivering around the neighbourhood (I kid thee not), we have still been balancing work life with home life.
In fact, work has become busier, and at times more stressful. We don't have the time to bake bread each morning, to read the complete works of Shakespeare, or to start knitting our own winter wardrobe.
Were we using lockdown incorrectly? How were we meant to be achieving so much creativity, and when were we supposed to find the time?
At first, one of the main feelings that came with this was guilt: another day had gone, and I still haven't sewn my own dress or learnt to play a musical instrument. Were we using lockdown incorrectly? How were we meant to be achieving so much creativity, and when were we supposed to find the time? Why could I only manage to bake (and eat) my usual single cake per week, while others were clearing the supermarkets of flour and eggs in pursuit of daily baking?
However, after 100 days, the “new normal” is feeling more comfortable and familiar. I have come to realise that there is no "right way" to “do quarantine”. Lockdown is different for everyone. It was therefore unproductive to dwell on all the things I felt I should be doing. I am in the fortunate position not to have lost my job, or been placed on furlough. So, while I may not be a master at calligraphy, or enjoy days filled with bread and creativity, I can still work without any immediate worries about job security – something I have thankfully not had to worry about (so far - fingers crossed). Therefore, I should look on the bright side and think about how I could use the time I have gained to do what is best for me.
I think that for many of us this time (whether desired or not) has been a wonderful opportunity for reflecting on our lives as they currently are: what matters to us, what values we hold. A chance to put our lives into perspective: what do I want from my career? Am I happy in the direction I am going? What changes do I want to make in my life?
Right now we might feel as though our lives are paused, trapped in amber, on hold; but brighter days will come, and we'll have a better understanding of ourselves when they do. Prior to lockdown, we were unlikely to have spent quite so much time alone with ourselves – the situation we find ourselves in currently is truly a unique chance to get to know ourselves.
I am sure that this time has unlocked different truths and values in each of us, with only the occasional common thread. There is no "right way" to “do quarantine”, and we will all take different things away from it.
I have taken time to pause and think about five of the things that have become important to me over these last months. Some of them are things I already knew about myself and enjoyed, but the current situation has brought them into better focus. Others are born out of what I thought I already valued, but which have been transformed over the last few months.
1. Cooking from scratch, every single day
You don’t need endless furloughed hours to be slow and productive in the kitchen. My lunch hour spent at home is time enough to whip-up a simple Victoria sponge, or a chocolate mousse for later. The hours gained from no longer commuting mean being able to cook lengthy meals from scratch every evening. This isn't a change – we only ever cook from scratch – but during the week our meals needed to be quicker. Since lockdown we have been able to try more complicated recipes that we have been meaning to create for a long time.
We’ve also challenged ourselves to cook beyond our comfort zone. With a weekly hamper of fruit and vegetables we never know what we will receive until it arrives, so we have been forced to think more creatively about what we eat. We’d never normally buy a pineapple, but its appearance in our weekly delivery meant an opportunity try-out a delicious pineapple love cake from Meera Sodha's East, and I had no idea I was such a lover of passion fruit before I made passion fruit syllabub from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fruit Every Day! became a daily treat for a week. It’s taught me to trust my instincts and knowledge when cooking, and given me valuable time to take it slowly, learn from mistakes, and appreciate what food I do have.
2. Supporting independent, shopping local
With our favourite shops and restaurants closed for lockdown, and the fear of losing these precious independents that give us so much joy, never before have we felt the need to be as supportive as possible. For us, this has included a weekly hamper from one of our favourite independent cafes, Wright's, and placing orders for the wonderful local wine and beer produced at Wyken Vineyards (also home to our favourite farmers' market, bookshop, and Saturday morning breakfast!). Faced with the reality that, during these times, these places will struggle, we’ve admired the ingenuity and stubborn determination that has helped them keep going. We have changed our daily routines around them, rather than giving the supermarkets a complete monopoly over our food. We have made new routines: every Saturday morning now begins with an early morning visit to Wooster's Bakery to collect our weekly bread and Sunday morning pastries.
3. Gardening for beauty, as well as produce
This is a quite a revolution compared with where we were 12 months ago. Last year we were confident that everything in the garden had to be a fruit or a vegetable: we had no time for plants that just looked pretty.
But since the view from the dining table has become almost the only thing I see outside, it has become vital for my wellbeing that I can find joy and inspiration in the view I have from my home office. As the weeks have passed and we have done more and more in the garden, so my happiness has increased. Looking out at the newly painted fences, happy bees, and green foliage, is such a natural mood-booster.
Our garden is still very much a work in progress: large areas still resemble a building site, other parts mud baths. However the over the last few weeks, the garden has become more of a space for us to relax and unwind, filled with flowers that lift the spirit, and colours and scents that inspire the senses, rather than being just being an extension to our larder.
4. Appreciating the silence
We spend our lives bombarded by so many sounds – loud chatter in the office, beeping horns and sirens on the daily commute. Some choose to live with a constant background noise – maybe headphones, maybe the TV – but I have come to love the sound of silence. I can work at my desk each day undisturbed, with the gentle ticking of the clock, and the sweet sound of two sleeping cats sprawled out in the summer light by the back door. I hear the birds singing, and how it changes throughout the day; the sound of them squabbling over food, the gradually deepening voices of chicks as they grow older and finally fledge, leaving me with an empty silence once they have flown the nest.
At night I have paid more attention to the sound of rain as it steadily beats against the windows, and I have become more attuned to the delicate sound of footfalls, and creaking floorboards as my husband works upstairs in the office. This also means that when I choose to have noise – putting on an LP in the evening as we rest in the living room, or listening to a podcast whilst cooking the dinner – I pay more attention to it, appreciating the act of listening as an activity in its own right, not just as something to disguise the delicate silence.
5. Noticing seasonal change
Never before have I been so keenly aware of the changes to the landscape around me. Our daily lunchtime walks have allowed me to see the changes of the seasons in real time. Roadside verges previously ignored as we drove past are now places I purposefully walk to see the change in plants: from the nettles of spring, to the cow parsley of early summer. We are taking time to appreciate the nature we have around us, slowing down and connecting with the area in which we live, and finding a world we never knew existed on our doorstep.
The highlight has been a nest of baby blue tits in the garden. From the early high-pitched chirping, through the exhausting efforts of both parents working tirelessly to feed them all day, to the final days where their tweets grew deeper, and the day came for them to leave the nest, flying around our garden like wild things.
Moments like this have only been accessible for me because of our unique circumstances, and it is these moments that give me hope for brighter days, and for a future I want to shape that is different, considerate, slower, observant and humbled than the world I lived in before.