Here I am at my makeshift desk. It’s very bizarre, sitting in my Crystal Palace bedroom, looking out at the blue skies and sunshine when we can’t go out AFTER WEEKS OF RAIN WHEN WE COULD HAVE GONE OUT AT ANY TIME WE WANTED. I’ve been for my daily walk already so am limbering up for a yoga video later (everyone’s banging on about yoga with Adrienne but the app Down Dog is ace because you put in what you want – time, level, key areas to focus on etc – and it scrambles the options and gives you a different work out every time so you don’t get bored). After that I might go mad and clean the bathroom, then probably eat another bit of toast. I reckon I’m averaging around 96 pieces of toast a day atm since my brother-in-law makes it and the freezer is rammed with the stuff. I’ve even relaxed my rules about not eating toast in bed (crumbs aren’t nice to sleep on) so standards really have slipped.
HERE is my Standard col on coping mechanisms yesterday, featuring my poor friend who had her first conference call from her bedroom last week and forgot about something on the shelf behind her head. And will paste Sun Tel column below. Also, if you want a bit of light relief, watch the video in this link I just found. Italian mayors shrieking at their citizens to stay indoors. ‘WHERE ARE YOU GOING WITH YOUR INCONTINENT DOGS?’ Well, it made me laugh anyway.
I’m a millennial (just) and it’s often said that we don’t like phone calls. We love our phones, don’t get me wrong. Try to separate a millennial from their mobile and she will lash out like a tigress in danger of losing a cub. But actually speak via a phone? No, thank you. We appreciate Alexander Graham Bell’s efforts but we’d rather use our smartphones to send messages via WhatsApp and spend literal hours scrolling through Instagram. There, we’ll stick up intimate details of our daily lives for others to see – our breakfast, our lipstick, a new lamp on our bedside table – but in no way do we want to have a real conversation with those others. Don’t be disgusting.
Until the past week or so, that is, when the coronavirus restrictions started and I felt an increasing urge to hit the green dial button instead of tap out a few emojis by way of reply. Now I want to speak to everyone, all the time. I seem to have become chattier than Graham Norton. My father and step-mother are on lockdown in Spain; my mother is holed up in West Sussex with Beano the terrier for company, which is all very well but he isn’t much of a conversationalist. I ring them constantly, along with other family members and various friends.
At such a time, one imagines these might be heartfelt, grandiloquent conversations where we call those we love most for comfort and succour, perhaps for pepping up with a few Churchillian bon mots. You know, really stirring stuff that charges the vitals and makes us believe we’ll all get through this together. But I’m afraid to say two days ago I called my brother simply to declare that I’d bought the last bunch of bananas in the Sainsbury’s petrol station.
I’m currently living with my step-sister and brother-in-law and, on another evening this week, while eating pasta around the kitchen table (with a breath-taking lack of self-discipline, we’ve already ripped into our fusilli supplies), we called our parents in Catalunya and put the phone on loudspeaker for a five-way conversation. Nobody listened to a single thing anybody else said and there was constant shouting over one another but this even was reassuring: the world is in chaos and yet familial bickering over which boxset is best will continue. The West Wing and I don’t want to hear another word about it.
I can’t say exactly the same joy arises from the video call. Last Tuesday, it took my agent, my book editor and me 37 minutes to get the technology to work. When we finally connected, I was alarmed by the others’ professionalism – hair brushed, glasses on, a lick of mascara. I, meanwhile, was dressed in my bicycling bib with lycra straps running over my shoulders and tufts of my fringe sticking towards the ceiling. Still, once I’d angled my laptop screen to shrink my nose, there was solace in chatting about something other than supermarket queues and infection rates.
Who can tell whether this moment will cure our phone aversion forever but I’m not sure that matters. Right now, it’s a boon. Just remember to get dressed properly before dialling into the conference call.
Last week, a party planner told me that she was trying to recruit entertainers to fly out to a yacht in the Bahamas, where a rich family was already ‘bored’ in isolation. Why can’t they read a book like the rest of us, I wondered. A few days later, a friend reported that a wealthy individual she knows has already bought two ventilators – one for him, one for his wife. Private jet bookings have soared and private chefs are apparently in high demand to cook at the homes of those who are missing glitzy restaurant dinners (or perhaps do not know how to boil an egg). I cannot pretend to be much of a socialist but would understand entirely if stories like these boost Momentum’s ranks in the weeks and months ahead.
Social media’s been awash with pictures of makeshift desks this week as everyone valiantly tries to battle on from home. I’ve seen laptops on ironing boards, propped above the potatoes in the vegetable rack and one teetering on a giant pile of loo roll. I favour the more relaxed approach of Truman Capote (who once described himself as ‘a completely horizontal writer’) and take my laptop to bed. This will dismay sleep doctors, who are fond of lectures about never taking work into the bedroom. But I pile pillows behind me and prop my computer on a pillow in front of my crossed legs and type away very merrily. Not great for the lumbar spine, though, so I try to do a quick yoga session every afternoon. Capote presumably did the same.