I’ve found writing anything in the last eight or nine months almost impossible. I wanted to write about my experiences of the pandemic and lockdown, and everything that goes with it, but every article had to start with so many caveats about how lucky I am compared to so many that it felt overindulgent and ridiculous to even try. But turning this situation into a sympathy war doesn’t benefit anyone, and even if from the outside your 2020 looks okay, from the inside it may not feel like that – and there should be space for all those feelings, even while we prioritise the worst affected.
I’ve found this period between Christmas and New Year more difficult than I’d expected. Last year was such an exhausting, endless stretch of monotony that I was really looking forward to getting to go home to my parents for Christmas, getting a change of scenery and a break from having to feel completely in control of everything. Of course, with the last-minute changes to lockdown rules, that didn’t happen, and I spent a bizarrely quiet Christmas just me and my partner. The presents I had bought for my family and already packed up ready to go are still sitting in the corner of the living room. The plans for making mince pies and sausage rolls together, decorating our enormous tree, watching Home Alone with my brother, eating the insane amount of food they’d ordered, having family arguments over Scrabble, and taking long muddy walks with the dog all had to be let go. I know it was the same for so many of you, and although it may not be a big loss compared to so much that has happened to people, this year and every year, it’s still something you can mourn and be sad about without feeling guilty.
Christmas Day itself wasn’t as bad as I’d feared it would be, although we had music or the television on at all times to combat the eerie quiet with only two of us. Any sad or solemn music had to be skipped immediately, before I started crying, and the opening and closing credits of Love Actually – with all the families being reunited at airport terminals – were sniffed and sobbed through. We had a huge breakfast and then a fairly small lunch, 80% of the chicken was kept for another day and the two types of stuffing we made on Christmas Eve didn’t even leave the fridge. Prosecco was drunk, Home Alone and Mary Poppins were watched (the former I tried to watch at the same time as my family, but somehow their version got a few minutes ahead of ours) and it was all in all the longest Christmas Day I can remember. The next few days have been the more difficult bit, which I hadn’t anticipated – I’d been looking forward to Christmas for so long, and even though it was different, it was a good day – but now that was gone, and it was back to the long repetitive days of the same old stuff, without even a few family feuds to change the scenery.
Looking at the number of cases now, and hearing the stories from hospitals of not enough ventilators and choosing which patients to save, I’m glad we didn’t risk it. We’d been very careful, and were driving back instead of taking the trains, but the danger was still there. It’s clear that despite everyone’s optimistic messages about 2021, nothing is going to change anytime soon. I saw one wildly optimistic post suggesting that we’d all be seeing each other as normal in March, having vaccinated everyone in January and February – I don’t see how this is going to happen, particularly at the current rate of vaccinations. According to one online vaccine estimation tool, as a 32 year old woman with no underlying health conditions who isn’t a key worker, I can expect to receive the vaccine sometime between June and September. I’m mentally trying to prepare myself for another six months at least of barely leaving the house, rarely seeing people aside from my partner, and continuing to do absolutely everything over Zoom. Incidentally, June to September is also the rough estimate I have for when the braces will come off my teeth – provided that my appointments are able to continue as they are at present, without another full-scale lockdown. 2021 will be a thrilling (read: tedious, monotonous, and painful) race for me to see which happens first.
With such a dull outlook for the first half of 2021, I’m setting myself tiny and actually pleasant resolutions for this year. Last year I started learning French on Duolingo, and quickly succumbed to the habit of only doing enough that the owl was satisfied, and the notification went away – about 2 minutes. Obviously, my French did not improve – in fact, I never got beyond the point of revising what I learned in GCSE French, many years ago. However, I would like to try again and perhaps get a bit further this time. I am always embarrassed that I only speak one language, especially as so many of my friends and colleagues are bilingual at least.
As it seems deeply unlikely that I’ll be going abroad much this year, I’m resolving to bring other cultures inside these four walls in other ways. I want to read at least one book a month that’s in translation. I’ve never put much thought into whether what I read has been translated before, although I have read and loved many translated books – Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series being an excellent example. Electric Literature did two articles on translators and the very important work that they do, and it’s inspired me to dig a little deeper and read more from other places this year (the first article is here). Similarly, I want to make an effort to cook more new dishes, and especially authentic (or as near as I can get) dishes from other cuisines. I bought my partner an Indian cookbook for their birthday last year, and we’re already having fun using all the different spices to create new favourites.
Linked to this, I want to try cooking or baking some things that I’ve decided I can’t make, without ever actually trying to do them. Two that immediately come to mind are pastry and bread. I’ve never made either and have got the fear that they’re too difficult or complicated for me to master – perhaps from watching too many episodes of Bake Off where things that look marvellous to me are declared to be awful or barely edible. I’ve more or less given up eating bread while I’ve had braces on, as I can’t bite into foods so sandwiches, toast etc have to be eaten with a knife and fork, which is joyless. However, this is very, very slowly changing as my teeth move, and pastry is always extremely delicious and easy to eat (provided I don’t do it wrong and it becomes rock-like).
Despite the strange blankness of the holiday period, and the inevitable insecurities that the endless talk of New Year diets brings out in me, I do enjoy the feeling of hope and possibility that comes with the beginning of another year. I fear it won’t last long, as the effects of January’s long greyness settle in, so I’m trying to make the most of it while I can. Hopefully, these resolutions are small enough and enjoyable enough that I’ll want to keep them going in some small way and they’ll help combat the feelings of tedium and ennui that this extended lockdown brings. Good luck everyone for a better 2021, and remember that you are not alone in whatever thoughts you’re having, even if you feel like you are. I hope you can find some energy to reach out, or find some escapism, to relieve the pressure of all this stress and strangeness.