Self-isolation is tedious and necessary but it does have its perks…
I knew I was scraping the barrel when I, a travel writer under a travel ban, emailed my editor this week wanting to write a piece on being a tourist in my own home. But that, for millions around the world, is where our current adventures begin and end.
And upon reflection, this self-isolation scenario does have an awful lot in common with a bad holiday. I’ve probably packed the wrong supplies, I’m squabbling with my companion, I haven’t read any of the books I was planning to, I’m eating all the wrong things, I’m definitely drinking too much and most importantly, I want to go home. Home to normality that is. Home – and I never thought I’d say this – to the office.
But here we are. On holiday from the outside world. I’ve still got wildlife: today I witnessed a spider meticulously murder a fly on the ceiling. I’ve relished in the joy of learning a new language: ‘covidiot’ is my word of the week. And you could say I’ve discovered things I didn’t previously know about the landscape in which I find myself. Join me on a tour of my abode, why don’t you…
The only loo in the house broke the evening that Boris instructed us to stop engaging in ‘non-essential’ travel. Would the plumber deem this callout to be essential? Thankfully, the fifth one we called did.
I should clarify here that technically the loo didn’t break. Sir Osric broke it. Sir Osric is my companion on this journey (and that is his chosen pseudonym); he’s one of my best friends and I live in his house with his three whippets. Sir Osric is stubborn, intelligent, kind, and mad as a box of frogs. Staring down the barrel of a life without loo roll last week, he thought it best to order one of those whizzy Japanese bidets from Amazon, which you might say was a good idea, and then install it himself, which was a bad idea.
The plumber did an admirable job of keeping a straight face and thank goodness, managed to fix things. Elsewhere in the bathroom, the shower is lonely and underutilised.
Or as I now like to call it, the battleground. This is where Sir Osric glides into the kitchen, when the table is laid and I’ve almost finished cooking dinner, and says things like, “Oh well done, I can take it from here.” The other day, I waited several hours for him to meet me in the living room for lunch, only to spot him creep up to the designated pasta I’d made the evening prior, microwave it in its entirety, and scuttle back upstairs to demolish it during a conference call. He won’t make that mistake again. In turn, I have been entirely unreasonable on topics including Sir Osric’s approach to washing up, the bins, dog walks, and for generally being alive.
The kitchen is also where the supplies are kept. I am not usually one for light packing; I think the carry-on approach is a false economy with more disadvantages than advantages. But in preparing for these uncertain circumstances last week, I just could not bring myself to be that person in the supermarket with a trolley full of loo roll. I put this down to the anarchist in me. So I didn’t buy much, and I’m not eating proper meals; rather grazing on things like toast, Licorice Allsorts and cherry tomatoes. Every few days, in an ode to Italy, I make a gigantic pasta dish which lasts us several breakfasts, lunches and dinners. That is, if Sir Osric doesn’t have his way with it.
Most importantly of all, the kitchen is where the wine lives. Sir Osric panic-purchased wine in vast quantities and it is, I believe, the supply that is saving our sanity. We start quaffing at 5pm daily, and on the weekend, just as we would on any holiday, earlier than that. My tolerance is creeping ever higher, and it seems likely that one or both of us shall emerge from this lockdown with a moderate to severe drinking problem. Curiously, however, I don’t appear to be suffering any hangovers. The gods have smiled upon me in these dark times.
Isolation has been, happily, hangover-free. Photo: Getty Images
The living room
Before the lockdown, this was a spot on the map famous for its lively dinner parties and late night recording sessions with the band Sir Osric manages. A great number of Netflix marathons have taken place here too. Today, the living room is a makeshift office jungle; the floors covered with cables like vines, screens wobbling on totem poles of coffee table books; conference calls conducted in pyjamas. Sometimes the dogs trip on the wires and send it all tumbling. This provides us with some much-needed distraction from the mundane.
The whippets, it must be said, are having a splendid time with their humans at home all the time. I spend the vast majority of my day at this dining-table-desk, and their plaintive snouts are never far from my thigh. I have long said that dogs should be allowed in offices: they just make everything better.
As for Netflix, there has been surprisingly little of that in this household. I have watched Contagion (a prophetic masterpiece), twice, but that’s it. Most nights, we watch Boris Johnson – with his stabby clenched fists and his sad eyes – deliver the daily bulletin. It’s quite fun overhearing the neighbours argue. But otherwise, as far as entertainment goes, Sir Osric relies upon ordering weird things on Amazon (the latest being a remote control flying fish), and I watch TikTok videos, which I like to do in my bedroom for a scintillating change of scene.
The bedroom: Costume-change from one set of leisurewear to the next. Photo: Getty Images
Here we reach (nearly) the end of our grand tour. Absolutely nothing interesting takes place in my bedroom, other than costume changes, from one set of leisurewear to the next, TikTok, and sleep – much more than usual now that there’s no galavanting at night and we can set our alarms to 8.50am each morning.
The great outdoors
Something happened last Wednesday that never, ever happens when I’m on holiday, and not at home either, for that matter. I went for a run. A global pandemic was what it took for my squeaky clean 2012 Nike trainers to make their debut. And I have run every day since. Wormwood Scrubs, our local park (what an awful name for such a nice place), is not a new frontier; it’s where we walk the dogs, but you see things differently on a jog.
Running hurts and requires distraction, which I have found in the beautiful cobalt irises littering the grass and the birds nests in the trees. There’s an elegant elderly lady with a scarlet scarf who comes out for a walk every afternoon at 4pm, and now we smile and wave at one another as I swerve past. There’s a stout, endearing Staffordshire bull terrier who approaches everyone with what looks like bared teeth but, her owner assures me, is actually a grin. Each day at dusk, a flush of parakeets divebomb in and over our heads.
Wormwood Scrubs is the closest to travel that this travel writer will probably get for a while. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some people theorise that one day we’ll all be holidaying by way of VR, and that might be true for some. Certainly, more of us will be working remotely once this is all over.
But in the same way that letters will never truly replace emails, nothing beats the feeling of exploring new territories in real life, even if – for now – those territories are very, very close to home.
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