05 Apr In Captivity: Week 3
Life online took root this week. Classes, conversations, exercise sessions, coffee mornings, drinks evenings. All of life it now taking place on Zoom. Or Facetime. Or Skype. Or some other clever little app that someone has invented, prefiguring this very moment.
It’s wonderful – and not. I find myself flipping between being thrilled, ready to embrace it all and wishing it would go away. It feels more frantic than ordinary life used to feel, when you’d arrange to meet someone or go somewhere and you had to plan in the transport, think about journey times, finish times, last train home, remembering to pack a brolly, take your ticket for the movie or the show or, if you’re already up with the Zeitgeist and have your entire life sucked into your mobile phone, remembering to charge it before you leave home. All we have to do now is draw up a chair in front of the laptop, phone or tablet, or whatever device is to hand and click on the invite or the video or the link. And yet…gosh, how simple it all used to be!
There are moments when I feel as if I’m running to catch up with myself. Maybe it’s partly that I’m catching up with the technology, finding myself still toiling on the nursery slopes of the great ski resort of social media when being able to do the black runs is really what’s needed. There’s also the thing about never being able to have a decent excuse to not turn up. “Sorry, I can’t do then – got a doctor, dentist, hair appointment. Need to see a man about a dog”. The excuses just won’t wash when you can’t ever be out. And you daren’t say you’re not feeling well because that will just grip all your chums with mortal fear. It’s not that I’m prone to making excuses to avoid social gatherings, but there are times, you know, when it’s good to have the choice, when being able to stay away and have some quiet time would suit me better. And quiet time, contrary to expectations when I first contemplated what we now know as ‘lockdown’, is very limited.
The frantic-ness is maybe a way of filling the new space – pouring noise into the vessel of confinement for fear its silence would overwhelm us. I’m wondering if it keeps us from looking too hard at the enormity of the change in our lives, keeps us focused on the day-to-day, the here and now, because looking further ahead is just much too difficult. Someone, commenting on the photo in my last blog of the palace glinting in the far distance and the water in the foreground, conjectured that it was like looking at the promised land. Some faraway place that we all want to reach but we have no idea what the journey will be like nor whether we will all get there.
It’s difficult to not let thoughts drift to uncomfortable places. I haul myself back from the brink by doing mundane things. Mostly those involve using my hands more than my mind. That seems to reset my system in a way. So, there’s quite a bit of baking going on, nice messy stuff that has the benefit of smelling (and often tasting) good and allowing for the satisfying feedback you can get from transforming basic things into something delicious.
Dipping into recipe books I haven’t touched since the 1970s and flat-shares. Nostalgia floods in and I feel I should have Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd playing as background to the Magimix. There’s been banana bread to rescue the over-sized and over-ripe bananas and carrot cake to do the same with Waitrose Essential Carrots, which come in quantities too large for even an average household, let alone one late middle-ager plus one third ager both with small appetites. We don’t normally eat cake but it seems, like the carrots, essential these days and with the daily exercise regimes – aerobics before breakfast some days – we should manage to weigh in around the same at the end of the 12-weeks. Time will tell, as one’s parent used to say.
And reading, of course. I’m continuing to spend time with Thomas Cromwell and Henry, the latter now relieved of wife number two and wed to wife number three. Hilary Mantel must have been clairvoyant given the timing of the publication of the third volume, The Mirror and the Light. It’s almost spooky, when you stop to think about it. Its 850 pages between firm covers offer a sustained weight-training-and-reading combo that’s really done us a favour now that we’re seeking every possible means of preserving muscle tone.
And there’s the knitting. I’ve always got knitting on the go. Socks are my thing – easy to handle using four little needles, satisfyingly quick to see results, plenty of technical variety in a short space, and usually welcome as gifts come Christmas. I’m using up the stash of leftover wool, so the designs and colour coordination may be eccentric but, believe me, the construction will be just fine. Once you’ve learned how to do it, knitting is the ideal activity to counteract stress. A blend of repetition and creativity, it is tactile and aesthetic, mundane and transformative. It has a particular quality that I’d call occupied idleness. A steady pace and a rhythm that soothes.