On March 20th 2020, a Friday at 9AM, I was staring at the Kings Cross departures board waiting for the Leeds train to appear. Which is high drama as an experience, everyone staring at that same board, pretending they are chill and fine and not watching that same slot all sweaty-palmed.
It’s comedic and stressful: all these eyes inching closer and closer to the gate, straining 90 degrees upwards at the departures board. And then when it’s Platform 2 or 1 or 5 there’s the collective power walk of suits and suitcases. Because running seems pathetic and desperate, as if this weren’t already pathetic and desperate; the eyes, the sweat, the slow inch forward.
I hate competition. It makes me feel sick. But on this day, March 20th 2020, a Friday at 9AM, I could deal with the departures board starting line, because there was a maximum of five other racers. There was probably six employees in the whole building. Everything was shut.
This, for me, was all new. I was on my return trip from Botswana where I’d spent 2.5 weeks in a safari truck with next-to-no phone service. It had all been pretty glorious except for the few moments that we’d gotten close to a mobile tower and learned that the rest of the world, it seemed, had gone to hell. When I’d left, London was normal and now it was extremely not normal, and I was about to return home to a non-home of an Airbnb.
This was my awkward start to what would be the rest of 2020; an uncomfortable and tragic and impossible and extremely not normal and bad year for almost everyone on this planet except, perhaps, the Prime Minister of New Zealand who seems to have thrived. Many of us, especially me, tried out a lot of weird and wonderful activities to fill time with anything other than anxiety, Zoom and news. I successfully failed at quite a few, and here they are:
mastering health via Insanity (a la Sean T)
I’ve always had an extreme relationship with exercise and health, in that I am extremely health and exercise or extremely un-health and non-exercise. There are times that I have been moved towards a theological kind of health, as if drinking apple cider vinegar and mud on an empty stomach will make me transcendent and whole. During other eras, I have swayed towards a more ‘acceptance’ philosophy, in that I accept that I am eating four spring rolls and noodles and chips and curry sauce with a side of a bottle of Malbec and I know there will be leftovers to pick away at, for over an hour, at 11pm. Consistent inconsistency is Not Good but it’s always been My Thing and it’s good to stick to something, even if that’s to nothing at all.
Lockdown pt. 1, for me, had an apocalyptic, spacious quality about it. In confinement, there was a New Year-New World feeling. Amidst the panic buying and grocery washing and clapping, there was this strange expanse of glittery timelessness. I had no work. For once, it wasn’t my fault. I was alone with literally nothing else to do but to become my Best Ever Self.
Armed with my sister’s Beachbody On Demand membership login details, I began a strict, daily regime of the very famous Sean T’s very famous Insanity classes. And for a while, I was my Best Ever Self. Combined with my state-approved hour of outdoor exercise, as well as Yoga by Adrienne’s yoga videos, I followed day after day of the Insanity fitness programme, inputting it all on Strava in a way I now find deeply embarrassing. Two weeks in, I switched to Sean T’s Insanity: Max 30, which is more insane than Insanity but the extra 15 minutes saved seemed motivating. On one occasion, I tried a Country Heat video, because I’d noticed that my sister had tried it and the idea of line dancing for exercise was (morbidly) fascinating. It was exactly as I expected. I never did it again. I became obsessed with eating tiny egg wraps, every day. Literally, a tiny wrap with one egg. An egg bite. I honestly can’t tell you what I ate in the evenings, or if it was even healthy, but that Insanity class followed by the tiny egg bite made me feel pristine.
I’m still not sure what broke the cycle. Maybe it was the futility of it all; the clapping, the grocery washing, all those the damp-skinned talking hams holding press conferences and briefings. Maybe it was that rose garden interview or the numbing sludge that gums up your nerve receptors after days and days of too much bad news. I don’t know exactly why, one morning, I gave up. You can run laps around the void, or you can dangle off its edge, chewing on mint sauce-dipped pizza crusts. Maybe I was tired of the laps.
I decided to pivot to wholesome and crafty — it seemed that the best way to do this was to learn to crochet. I imagined gifting loads of crocheted animals to friends and family; filling rooms with them; making them tiny accessories. Little hats, etc.
Thankfully, for my friends and family, I failed at this right away. I watched a YouTube video 3 times over the course of several days and stopped trying. It is very tough and only for the pros.
watching every episode of Teen Mom OG
I love the show Teen Mom, but especially Teen Mom OG — which are all the original moms and dads from 16 and Pregnant who graduated to Teen Mom and are now adults dealing with reality tv fame and fandom and who incomprehensibly continue to have more and more children. I love this show. For 10+ years Macie, Farah, Caitlyn (& Tyler) and Amber have been hanging around, raising kids, breaking up, making sex tapes, screaming at producers, starting clothing lines, going to prison, getting married, having more kids, getting divorced and buying obscene houses in a high school-style corridor of my mind.
During month 1, I decided to watch every episode from the start. Which I did, and then took it to the next level by documenting it all on Insta (sad!); and took it to the next next level by creating content around it via Kiss, Marry, Kill polls of the show’s love interests (sad! But #marketing?). It turns out that a lot of people I know also love to watch absolute gold-star trash.
I can’t remember when I gave up watching every episode and creating all the Insta content. I do remember feeling that I should be getting paid for it.
making bats a hobby
I may have been drinking, but one night I decided to become a member of the Bat Conservation Trust, which costs like 2-something pounds a month to donate to and is, like most causes, a good one. They had published something about bats getting a bad rep because of COVID-19 and were keen to dispel myths around them, which I thought was charming. They had also posted something about a 4-part webinar series in conjunction with the Church of England — what must be the most fantastic and ambitious crossover of all time.
The reason that bats and churches have joined forces is that bats love to live in churches to the detriment of the church’s physical structure. But since both bats and churches are threatened by modern life (habitat loss, heresy), they decided to team up and spread awareness and honestly, I think that’s just beautiful.
As a result of the bat webinar series, I decided to purchase the webinar-recommended complete softcover textbook on UK bat species. (Which is about seventy pounds hardcover format and apparently everyone on this Zoom series stores within arm-length proximity, so that when someone asks in the chat: what books on bats do you recommend? It can be immediately drawn from the shelf with a salt bae flourish.)
I briefly considered buying a bat detector as the idea of wandering empty lockdown streets and listening to bat sounded very romantic and goth. It turns out that bat detectors are very expensive — even more expensive than the webinar-recommended bat bible — and as I was on a £0 income I decided against it.
I’ve been saying that I want to learn Arabic for about 4 years now, and it seemed like a good time to give it a go. I felt that even if I couldn’t become fluent, practicing the letters would be meditative. I hired a private online tutor. It lasted about a month and then work got busy so I decided to save it for next year or the next or the next or the next.
A former roommate had grown a singular sunflower indoors by the window in our living room. I thought it looked impressive. I bought a package of giant sunflower seeds off eBay and planted them in tiny pots. It never occurred to me they would all actually germinate and grow at an alarming rate in the middle of November. I accepted that I was going to be living in a sunflower field for the next few months. Honestly, it began to appeal to me. I don’t know what I’ve done wrong, but now they’re all dead except for one and I’ve not got high hopes for it.
I said I was going to make candles for Christmas and ordered 60 wicks online in preparation but they got lost in the mail for several weeks, so by the time they arrived I couldn’t be bothered.
letting the un-Christmas spirit of 2020 break me
I’d accepted I wasn’t going to spend Christmas with my family long before our prime minister developed the insane Tiering system and the UK developed a Super Strain. I was really okay with it. I had a support bubble to spend it with, and no expectations. If anything, it would be a fitting end to a year mostly spent alone feeling increasingly untethered. I made it to the third week of December before calling my parents crying because I was 31 and things should be different. When my mom asked what I meant by that, I didn’t know how to respond. Fair play to her, it’s a weird thing for your 31 year old daughter to say.
Later, I remembered having seen a photo on Facebook of some random acquaintance and their partner dressed in complementary plaid (probably Roots or a Canadian equivalent) in front of a Christmas tree. I think they had glowing teeth and a dog. Maybe that’s not true, but that was their vibe. I can’t tell you what this saccharine image has to do with me being 31 and having spent this year as I have done, but suddenly eight years of my life flashed before my eyes and it occurred to me that maybe things could have been different. Maybe, if things were different, I’d be hiking 7 hours a weekend like my sister or carrying around one of those thermoses that holds loose-leaf tea or legally micro-dosing edibles for my mental health. Maybe, if things were different, I’d have spent this year close by to my family with a nice Labrador called Bruce or something normal, assuming that’s a normal name for a dog. Maybe, I would have developed a more solid emotional grounding through four real seasons, wholesome outdoor activities and limited sarcasm. Maybe, I’d be able to attend all the weddings and funerals and share moments and memories and not have to wish my nieces and nephews Happy Birthday over FaceTime. The fact that I don’t have any nieces or nephews just shows you how much the un-Christmas spirit of 2020 broke me.
Anyway, it’s halfway through January now and I’ve done some therapy. I am 31-year old wearing an Eminem t-shirt and I’m mostly fine with it.
creating a replica of my own head out of paper maché
My most successful failure from the year of our Lorde 2020 was creating a replica of my own head out of paper maché. I got the idea from a satirical article in The Cut — the point being that you could use the head in replacement of your own for Zoom calls (which will one day be proven to have eaten away at our life expectancies). The actual base of the head was a success. It took me several weeks because the process is messy and tedious but for once, I committed.
Unfortunately, during the creation of the head, my hands coated in its gluey-layers of newspaper skin, I felt a growing life force — one separate from my own (head). This led me to painting the base sea green, leaving her bald and name her Christine. She’s currently sitting in my living room wearing a Santa hat, staring at me, and I have to say — she’s absolutely fabulous.
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