Emma Clegg had imagined that self-isolation in her home would be peaceful and contemplative, but it turns out it’s quite the reverse and life has become way more hectic.
You’d think that a period in isolation would be, well, isolated, wouldn’t you? Pre-Corona the idea of isolation might have conjured up images of medieval ladies bending over elaborate tapestries by an open fire, long walks on the moors Emily Brontë style, religious figures doing lonely penance, solitary book reading sessions, long periods of romantic contemplation out of the window, rugged men chopping wood in the snow, erudite conversations or monologues – a more spiritual and cerebral existence altogether.
Not so in our household. Activity is heightened in fact. There is quite a bit of furniture being moved about – to create additional work spaces and to sort out stuff that needed sorting out anyway. Tables and chests of drawers have been transported onto different floors, chairs have been reallocated and redistributed, in order to satisfy the needs of workstations and gaming stations. Bags and chests have been emptied, and then filled up again with different contents. Just yesterday afternoon I observed my partner taking a five-foot metal flamingo into the garden. Food cupboards have been reorganised: tins of baked beans and tomatoes have a special department, having previously teetered wherever there was a space; out-of-date packets have been removed; the contents of shelves with rarely used objects like teapots, lidded sugar bowls, egg cups, saucers that have lost their cups and special occasion wine glasses and decanters have been packed away.
There are five of us to be fair, but our isolation is extremely busy. I keep starting jobs and then not finishing them. I coax my son into activities that don’t involve wearing headphones, and then discover I need to support him through them. I start making soup and then get distracted and forget that was what I was doing, until I see half a chopped onion on the cutting board two hours later. I say I’ll make a sandwich for someone, and then order a repeat prescription for my mother online, take her a cup of tea and cake, hoover the sitting room and look up cooking on a budget online, until I am reminded about the promise of a sandwich by a now very hungry person wearing headphones who is it seems incapable of doing it himself. I start to sort out my filing system, push a few piles of paper around and then get very bored and confused and shove it all into two empty drawers (of a table that used to be on a different floor).
The dining room table – never an idyll of peace and minimalism – has taken on a life of its own. It currently has a Playstation screen, a host of candles left over from the power cut last week, a Quavers packet, an empty tablet blister pack, a roll of doggie poop bags, a sharp knife, miscellaneous pens, a box of lens wipes, two odd socks, a mini speaker, a water bottle, a calculator, several folders, an empty mug, a Tupperware with a packet of out-of-date ham inside, a pile of old photographs, several clusters of wires, a rubber, a mortgage statement, a pile of scattered papers, an open exercise book and, yes, a chess board.
My self-employed other half seems bemused by being surrounded by people, and keeps trying to escape to his studio to get some peace and quiet. He was also found mopping every floor on the ground floor yesterday – which happens rarely – and hoovering the landings. He has been moving pots and plants about in the garden (no doubt as a way of escaping the busyness in the house) and even asked wistfully if I thought Homebase might be open. He has also had long conversations with his father and brother, who he hasn’t spoken to in months.
The evenings are pretty crazy, too. We had three Skype conversations and two long telephone calls last night, some of them overlapping. Then there was the Big Clap for the NHS. We hardly had time to have supper. Rather than spending more time on Netflix and Now TV watching serial epics obsessively with all this new free time, we seem to be watching television less, preferring to talk to people, to marvel at a changing world, to get things done, or just get to bed.
The dog is on edge. His solitary weekdays with his human father have been disrupted. He likes his daily routine and he can’t understand why there are so many people around. He enjoys it, because there are more people to play ball and ‘it’s my sock not yours’ with and there is the very real possibility of getting fed twice by accident, but because he needs to keep an eye on everything that’s going on in the house and growl or bark at unexpected noises, he’s much busier, and life is way less peaceful. It’s true that there are less people to welcome home enthusiastically because we’re all here all the time, but he is finding the whole isolation thing quite tiring and needs to do a lot more snoozing to catch up with himself.
That tapestry will just have to wait.