Lists from a life in lockdown

Hello you. 

I’m Flo: Islington local, TEDxLondon team member and the voice behind the Beyond Borders newsletter. Time is measured differently in lockdown: have you noticed?

Getting on the tube, grabbing a sandwich in Pret or heading to the pub on a Friday night – these familiar actions that serve as the punctuation points of our daily existence feel like they belong to another version of us. Instead, the passage of time is marked by my company’s pub quiz; Boris’ daily briefings; clapping for key workers; the length of a film or of an episode of a TV show; even bin day. 

We are also different in lockdown. I’ve rewritten this newsletter multiple times over the last two weeks, struggling to keep up as the situation changes around me, and I move through shades of grief, frustration, anger, sadness and calm – often all in the same day. If there’s anything we’ve learned about the world and ourselves during this crisis, it’s that nothing stays the same, for better or worse.

So, rather than attempting to encapsulate my experience as something neat and finite – because, of course, we’re still in the middle of it – I’ve decided to share some of the ways in which I’m learning to take care of myself so that I’m able to take care of others.

One of the most important recent decisions I’ve made for my mental health is to remove the pressure to be ‘productive’. Instead of spending my limited time and energy trying to write the next Great British Novel, I’ve been stretching my creativity by prioritising the work and activities that nourish me, either by contributing to the wider community or by providing a sense of loosely-structured escapism.

Last weekend, I finally felt energised enough to attempt something I’d always wanted to learn. I made cinnamon buns. I mixed and kneaded and sprinkled them with sugar, only to lose confidence towards the end of the baking process so that they came out of the oven a little dry. Nevertheless, I carefully partitioned one into quarters and ate it in my garden, dipping the pieces into black coffee, turning my face to the sun as I savoured each bite.

A tool I’ve always relied on to organise my thoughts during tumultuous times is list-making. Below I’ve shared some of the rituals, actions and resources that have brought me comfort, calm and flashes of joy over recent weeks. I hope they help – and that they encourage you to make your own.

I’ve been listening to:

Isolation Rituals:

  • Radio 3 in the mornings, Radio 6 Music in the afternoons, Smooth or Gold 80s when I’m cooking and Encore Radio when I need an unabashed, jazz-hands-inspiring singalong.
  • A virtual family pub quiz: dodgy internet is no excuse for not giving it your all. Competitiveness is a given; ungracious victories are encouraged.
  • Cooking in peaceful silence while my listening to my housemates laughing raucously over Tiger King in the living room next door.
  • Yoga with Adrienne. Stretch and breathe.
  • Taking a mid-morning break with the Guardian’s quick crossword. Telling myself I won’t cheat and then, after ten minutes of mixed success, giving up and cheating.
  • Stepping out of a hot shower and smothering my body in moisturiser. It’s incredible how taking the time to ensure your shins aren’t turning into sandpaper can transform your day.
  • Reading as much as possible. Whether it’s great sweeping epics, short and sweet personal essays or recipes that are more like journals, reading is the only mode of transport to which we still have unrestricted access.
  • Disney+.

I’ve been watching:

Four ways to help your community:

  1. Join your local Mutual Aid Facebook group: it’s the quickest and easiest way to hear where your help is most needed.
  2. If you have elderly or vulnerable neighbours and you don’t know them well enough to call, why not slide a note under their door with your number and an offer of help in case they need it?
  3. Volunteer via SpareHand for a quick and easy way to get matched with tasks in your local area.
  4. Contact your local food bank to see if they could use your help. If you’re not sure where that is, start by signing up through the Trussell Trust website.

Don’t Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

–Mary Oliver


Post-isolation rituals:

  • Trips to the cinema – a big glass of red wine, a pile of nachos and a hand to squeeze.
  • Cooking a messy, unprecious meal for family and friends: bodies packed around a dining table, plonking pasta onto plates and sloshing wine into glasses with elbows knocking and cackles of laughter competing with music turned up too loud.
  • Making my first coffee of the day in the office kitchen with my closest colleagues, sharing news and gossip as if we hadn’t seen each other only hours beforehand.
  • Catching the eye of a woman across the room during a particularly difficult exercise class and seeing my own half-pained, half amused expression reflected back at me.
  • Walking with no destination and no deadline. Along the coast, up a hill, down a packed Soho street.
  • Hugs. 

Further Reading: Musings on a life in lockdown