Retreat, Days 18-20

As I approach three weeks of social distancing (and almost two full weeks of official lockdown), my strongest feeling is confusion. So much of what I understood about the world has been turned upside down. This feeling is even stronger than my feelings of fear and frustration.

So much that I’ve taken for granted has been turned upside down. As David Allen Greene pointed out, “the Regulations remove from everyone in England the fundamental rights of freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and freedom of worship, as well as severely limiting their right to conduct any business.” I believe that social distancing is absolutely the right thing to be doing; but these are monumental and unprecendented changes to society, restrictions beyond those in place during the Second World War. The world has changed very, very quickly.

It feels very strange to be in a situation where these regulations are neccessary, and the scale of the problem is oppressive. Every morning I wake up feeling dislocated, like I’ve lurched into the wrong parallel universe.

  • One of the best articles I’ve read recently is from Vice: What to Expect After a Month of Lockdown, According to People in Italy and Spain. Basically, we’ll get used to it, but there will also be a slackening off in the level of social interaction.
  • Another good piece from Vice, on whether it’s OK to use Zoom despite their security issues.
  • I came in from my walk about 9am yesterday, and wondered if I should have a G+T. Of course I didn’t (morning drinking is for Christmas Day and before a flight only), but the thing was, it took me a second to summon up an argument against it. Everything feels abnormal.
  • Word of the week via Warren Ellis: doomscrolling
  • One of the bright spots over the last few weeks has been the pets channels in the work slack. Although there was some drama when someone posted a cat picture in one of the dog channels.
  • The company I’ve worked for has declared there will be no layoffs in 2020, which is a great relief.
  • I’ve not ordered a takeout or delivery meal since I started my retreat. My cooking is improving rapidly. I’ve got bored of my range of dishes and am moving to buying ingredients and figuring out meals for them. I’ve also ordered a veg box (my first) which I am very excited about.
  • While my cooking has improved, last night’s risotto was a disappointment.

Retreat, Day 17

  • It was Blaise Pascal who said that all the troubles of humanity came about because of the difficulty men had in simply being happy to sit alone in their rooms.” – Nicholas Lezard
  • Back to the morning walks today. Setting out at dawn, the world is much quieter. Given the strange situation, I seem much more aware of the world. Today, I was shocked by a scent of some flowers (Google lens tells me that they were Berberis Darwinii). The sea was calm and I regretted not going out with swimming gear. Despite the ongoing horror, the world seems so beautiful right now.
  • My retreat deepens as I continue to avoid the news. I do read longform articles about the crisis when they turn up on RSS, appreciating the calmer analysis, away from liveblogs and suggested articles.
  • I’d been thinking about moving away to the country when this is over, but I guess a lot of people are thinking the same, as Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s says in her article Coronavirus has tainted city life. I had the option of heading to the countryside for lockdown, but I still think I made the right choice to see this out at home. I’d just rather my home was surrounded by a garden where I could walk freely.
  • CJ Stone wrote a nice piece on choosing retreat over lockdown: “I’m not, however, in lockdown. I’m meditating. I’m on retreat. I’ve become a hermit in my own home… We’re being made to look inwards. And the really interesting thing about this is that, when you look inside yourself, you find everyone else there too.
  • I’ve also appreciated the thoughtful posts and podcast interviews by Gordon White from Rune Soup. I disagree with a lot of what he writes about coronavirus, but it’s good to see other views. His recent post A Better World is No Longer Optional talked about the economic effects, as well as how Amazon is pushing out smaller, localised companies.
  • Talking with my friend Helen, we discussed the need not to touch our noses while outdoors. I have the perfect thing to help this: my clown nose!

Retreat, Days 13-16

  • I feel a little guilty at how comfortable I am at the moment. I have the routine of work, and lots of fun activities to keep me occupied. My parents seem to be safe in isolation, so I’m making the most of the solitude, while being aware of how quickly things could shift.
  • I’ve not watched or read news in the last 24 hours. There is going to be little of comfort there, and it’s not going to change my behaviour, so there’s no point.
  • One thing that shocked some people was the announcement in Monday’s daily briefing that it could be six months before life gets back to normal. This was an unhelpful statement, as it did not provide details. I’d be surprised if we were on full lockdown between now and the end of September – even Wuhan was only under strict measures for about two months. But, if it’s to be six months, then so be it.
  • The weekend was mostly good. It was nice to have a break from work, and the job provides structure during the week – although it does tire me out. I’ve not had the energy spare for volunteering yet, but will try to do something next weekend.
  • Despite not being able to go out, not needing to commute etc, I don’t know of anyone who’s feeling a time dividend right now. Life sometimes feels just as busy as it did before, which is a useful lesson.
  • My sleep is settling down now. I still wake early, but I’m managing to get back to sleep again. Life feels a lot easier with enough sleep.
  • It’s also useful to be paying so much attention to how I work. I’m finding that it’s too easy to be half-hearted and distracted with mutli-tasking. Sitting down and focussing on writing for an hour this morning was joyful and exciting. Given the choice between deep work and multi-screening, the deep work feels much richer.
  • Zoom still doesn’t function as a proper social life, but it was good to catch up with some friends at an Open House. It would be even better to see them in real life.
  • I took an evening walk today, having slept in, and it was almost oppressively busy, with the joggers paying no attention to social distancing. Still, one advantage was bumping into Emily and Sooxanne. In each case we stopped and chatted at a two meter distance. Strange times, but so lovely to see them.

Retreat, Day 12

  • I slept much better last night, which was a relief. I feel so different.
  • Of course, I still woke up at five, but I treated myself to a slow, slow morning. I didn’t turn the phone on until about 11am and feel much calmer for it.
  • The Small Batch near me is still closed, but I ordered some sachets of their ‘Stay at Home’ roast to get me through the next few weeks.
  • I’m feeling more settled in this strange and fragile new world. I am surprised at how little energy I have to make use of the new free time, but that’s OK.
  • I missed the daily briefing because I was watching The Platform on Netflix Party. The film was a little on-the-nose in the current situation.
  • I had a meeting online with Rosy Carrick, who gave me some feedback on my new writing project. It needs a lot of work, but there is something exciting there.
  • Now I’ve settled into this new world a little, I am going to switch the daily posts to a more occasional rhythm. But I am probably going to post more around the new writing project.

Retreat, Day 11

  • I’m settling into a rhythm now, starting the day with my walk. I visited the Co-op where social distancing was being well-enforced, so the messages seem to be getting through. It was officially a day off, but I dropped into work’s daily stand-up to give my update anyway. It was good to see people. I do miss my colleagues – finishing work was very sudden. I wish I’d thought to take longer over saying goodbye.
  • I’ve been avoiding the news. There’s a lot of it, and much of it is stressful, so I’ve stuck to the daily briefings. I have read some good longform articles which have turned up via my RSS feeds.
  • One I liked was from a reddit post from China about cooking under lockdown. It contains some interesting speculations on food history, as well as a useful hint: “Pickled vegetables seem to scratch the same itch fresh vegetables do.” If I can find the ingredients, I’m thinking of making some kimchi.
  • As it’s been a day off I watched Clive Barker’s 1990 film Nightbreed and caught up with some reading. I’ve also emptied out some long neglected cupboards which are filled with a mix of trash and treasure. Might as well do this while I have time.
  • We had our first family zoom call, which was good. But it’s also alarming how quickly such things have stopped seeming weird.
  • Adjusting to this all-virtual world has been strange. A lot of people seem to be finding their lives as busy as they were before, with lots of programmed activities. I’m finding I need to turn whatsapp off sometimes, to allow me to focus a little.
  • Via linkmachinego: A letter to the UK from Italy: this is what we know about your future. There is a lot in here I recognise. It’s also sobering to be reminded that the curve of infections in the UK is similar to Italy. I just hope that Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London is right when he says that the UK has enough intensive care units for coronavirus
  • Sleep continues to be a problem, and I need to figure out how to avoid waking so early. For the first ten days I’d not felt the lack of sleep, but today I’ve had a flicker of a headache most of the time.
  • No worthwhile planks today, but I’ve been doing more exercise generally.

Retreat, Day 10: A beautiful day

Another morning when I couldn’t sleep, so I went for my walk at dawn when only a few people were about. One passer-by pointed out how beautiful the day was, and they were right. The sea was still and at low tide, and I wished I’d had my swimming things. Of course, this is the calm before the storm, but knowing that makes this time feel all the more strange.

Lack of sleep has left me tired today, and my diet was been more carby than it should have been. I need to be more careful – it’s not as if I can walk it off. And I’d been eating so well up till now.

I have a day off tomorrow, and really need to settle into my routine. I’m also going to spend some time focussed on my creative project and get that rolling. I should also go out and buy some supplies too, but I’m not too eager to do that yet.

Today’s plank was an appalling 73 seconds. It’s been a slow, sleepy day. It’s quite an unexciting update too. I’m getting a little more used to this.

Retreat Day 9: Cosy Catastrophe

Last night, Brighton blogger wordridden posted A Journal of the Plague Week, where they wrote that it “feels like a bit of a ‘cozy catastrophe’ for us at the moment“. And that’s exactly how I feel: life is strange and isolated, but it is also cosy. I’m also aware that this is not everyone’s experience, particularly after talking to a friend who works in the NHS and is being retrained to work on ITU wards.

Today I slept in until 5am – a vast improvement – then set out for the morning walk. It’s been a beautiful day. While I worked on my writing, I paused my music to listen to the birdsong. Then I had work until the government briefing. In the evening I got together with some people to share some writing via Zoom. It was lovely to hear some poetry and have a chance to chat.

I have a day’s leave on Friday. Of course, a day off work is not the quite thing as it was a week ago. I’ll probably stay in touch with my colleagues and turn over some performance tests, while focussing on non-work things. I’m mostly settled, apart from a few missing supplies and a list of emergency activities for if things get difficult. I also want to spent some time focussing on my creative project.

The isolation does feel hard at points, and sometimes I want to see friends so desperately, but I’m mostly settled. There are serious things to worry about, like  my parents’ health, and the toll this is taking on some people close to me. I just pray that my experience of this catastrophe remains cosy.

Today’s plank was a painful 133 seconds – which breaks the two minute barrier. The juggling is going well and I am already seeing myself improve.

Retreat, Day 8: The New Normal

Today is the first day of the official lockdown. I had another early morning, waking about 4:15am. A little after 5 I went for my legally-permitted daily walk doing about 10,000 steps. I wasn’t sure if that was greedy, or too many? On the way home I stopped at a shop and bought some fresh food. The shopkeeper reckoned there were riots coming, but things seem fairly calm.

Today has been a gentle day. I did some good writing before work, settling into the new project. The job was fun, and filled out the time. The evening has catching up with people, planning the next few weeks, and cooking a delicious curry: I wish you were here to share it. So strange, not knowing when next I will cook for someone else.

It’s weird to have such as relaxed day amidst what, for many people, will be a horrific and distressing time. In the daily briefing it was announced that 250,000 volunteers were needed for the NHS. I gave my details, and was glad that I have a current DBS. Hopefully I can make myself useful, rather than just relaxing in my flat for weeks.

Today is the first day of the official distancing rules; and the start of my first full week in retreat. I’ve spoken to Rosy on the phone, messaged a few people, but only been in the presence of one other person. Strange days.

There is much to say and think about what’s happening, but I’ve enjoyed today. Sure, it would have been better if I could have walked further, sat with a friend, or read in a cafe. But I am grateful for this day.

Today’s plank was a painful 113 seconds.

Retreat Day 7: Signs of a Crisis

Day 7 of my retreat brings a drawing-in. I’d already decided to be stricter about my social distancing before the lockdown came in. My routine is now settling. Waking early (4:45am today), physio, walking to the pier then back through town. Home, breakfast, writing, work.

Of course, I have it fairly easy. There are many people in cramped or dangerous domestic situations. My mood is good, but not as resilient as I would like. I’m working on that, paying attention to how I’m feeling. Hopefully, once I am more settled-in, I can look for ways to volunteer and do something to help.

I’ve mostly ignored the news today. The constant updates were getting wearing. Obviously, this won’t work for everyone, but the situation seems dangerous yet relatively slow-moving. It’s getting too easy to make myself anxious about things.

Life is surprisingly busy, even if we have to be sociable behind screens. I’m loving the voice calls and the chats, but also wary of not making time to relax and contemplate. There’s also the danger that this initial burst of energy/activity might fade, so I am keeping an eye on that.

I’m also trying to settle into this slowly. There are lots of things I could do, but I don’t want to commit myself to anything just yet. The structure is building slowly, little routines, and new habits. I like having a candle burning, sometimes even when I am working at the job. There is no need to hurry here.

Today, workmen started next door. It was a little frustrating to have my day disturbed by chainsaws. I guess i’m one of the few people’s whose life will be improved by a full lockdown.

My biggest problem is sleep. I am waking up very early but not feeling tired. My appetite is also not as good as usual, and I’m having to force myself to finish meals. I’m keeping an eye on my weight in case it starts falling too fast.

It feels like we have fallen into a Douglas Coupland novel. That’s OK.

I’ve been practising juggling, and practising the first ball of Mill’s Mess. The thing I’d forgotten about juggling: it’s not the catch, it’s the throw. All the skill is in the throwing.

The news about the lockdown came in while I was on a zoom call with some friends. That’s something I will think about tomorrow though. One day at a time.

Today’s plank was a disappointing 87 seconds (20 off my best). My body is still wrecked from the hike – and I think I’m losing a toenail.


Distancing Retreat, Day 5

Today is the first non-work day on retreat. What does weekend mean now? How does that affect the schedule?

My plan for today was Walking. I picked a route that allowed me to maintain responsible social distance, avoiding any groups of people. I also thought it would be good to get out of the flat and think about strategy. Yes, I’ll be a project manager at heart until the bitter fucking end.

The walk itself was a bit of a trudge. I picked too long a route, and found some stretches boring. I’m discovering that I’m not a huge fan of rewalking rural areas (although the world has found a brilliant solution for me, right?). The bizarre thing was passing by a couple of stalls (at Hove Park and Ditchling Beacon) and seeing people queueing close together. The messages are not getting through.

I’m hoping the current restrictions are in place for a short time. But the pub closures are going to be “reviewed on a monthly basis“, which suggests disruption could go on for a while. The question I’m asking myself is how I would cope with an indefinite distancing. (By indefinite, I just mean we have no idea how long this will continue – and better to plan for a long time and not need those plans, right?)

The main thing I’ve realised is that I’ve not set up enough frivolous activities. I’ve thought of a few other things to do, such as practising juggling. I also need much less screen time. And maybe I should be writing more letters.

I suspect we’re still in a stage of shock at the scale of the current problem. I’m hoping that, over time, new solutions will emerge. Some of these might involve previously unthinkable compromises with civil liberties. I also wonder how society if going to change in other ways. Brighton has a lot of people who live alone. Previously, this was envied – now that has become a challenge. Are we going to see changes in the types of living arrangements people want? But, as this becomes the new normal, people will devise solutions.

One initial response to distancing is for people to be very social remotely. I’ve reached out to a lot of other independent people, making sure the communication lines are open. There have been a lot of phone calls. I’m loving zoom (and the virtual pubs). But I’m also aware this needs to be balanced with time to relax. So far, I’m staying off social media, which I find too stressful.

(While I’m focussing on my own problems, I’m also aware that a lot of people have it far worse. Beyond the people who are sick and the front-line staff treating them, there are large families living in very close quarters now, to say nothing of vulnerable people who cannot escape difficult or dangerous domestic environments).

And life is about finding new ways to Connect. Walking the seafront last night, I phoned a friend as I passed near her flat. She’s been in self-isolation for over a week now and, while we’ve spoken a fair bit, I’ve not seen her. She came out onto her balcony and we waved at each other.

The government’s shutdown of the pubs and restaurants had an immediate effect. By 9pm, Hove was Christmas-Eve-quiet. I popped by a couple of shops, cobbling together items from a shopping list for Rosy. It took three places and some flexibility to get everything, but I managed. Then, another doorstep conversation, keeping our distance. I can’t wait for this to end.

No plank today, because I walked 60,000 steps.