Thing I Should Have Put Up Weeks Ago: Part Two

Me before lockdown
Me after lockdown

Sun Tel column again…

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I went to the Post Office last week and, as I was standing in the queue wondering whether I’d make it home before Christmas or should ring Mum and tell her to get the turkey on, I noticed a large pile of 2020 wall calendars on the till. ‘Please take for free,’ said a small sign in wobbly hand-writing beside them. There it was, 2020 in a nutshell: calendars have become so redundant they can’t even be given away. I grimaced to myself while the woman at the head of the queue continued to deliberate over the packaging and postage of a single golf club she was sending to her son in the north.

My own diary was as lacklustre as Miss Havisham’s from the end of March until the end of June. I stopped looking at it and, in truth, relished the lack of social pressure. What was I doing this Saturday? Nothing! What was I doing the Saturday after that? The same! Any sense of FOMO I had evaporated since I knew everyone else was also caged indoors, wondering what to watch on telly. I could have a bath at 9pm and go to bed safe in the knowledge that nobody was out having a better time than me. Marvellous.

Alas, in the past few weeks, this has all changed. If I open up Instagram, I note with dismay that competitive socialising is back: someone I vaguely know has just eaten crab for lunch in a Cornish pub, another is sunbathing in Puglia and an old school friend has just thrown a socially-distanced barbecue. It looks extremely tiring, all this activity, but unless I want to become the sort of misanthrope whose sole outing each week is to spend several hours queuing for stamps, I decided I had to start making plans again.

How? I’ve forgotten. Like a small child with a Rubik’s cube, I frowned down at my empty diary, unsure how to proceed. ‘Shall we do…something this Saturday?’ I texted my friend Lils, almost as nervous as if I’d asked her out on a date. What should this something be? The situation is doubly confusing because I’m unsure what’s allowed – a cup of tea at her house is forbidden but we can ride the log flume at Chessington World of Adventures? We settled on a walk along the Thames and sandwiches on Barnes Common. I wrote it proudly in my diary and, like a land girl excited about a forthcoming dance at the village hall, made a mental note to wash my hair the night before. Perhaps I’d lay out my clothes on the armchair in my room, too.

Looking back several pages in this diary, I observed that pre-lockdown me was often out four or five times a week. Who was that mad sybarite who thought nothing of dinner in Soho one night and drinks in Angel the next? It feels less like my diary and more like a Scott Fitzgerald novel. And make-up every day as if I was Elizabeth Taylor. It seems another age.

No doubt we’ll adapt just as quickly coming out of this thing, whenever that may be. That loathsome phrase ‘the new normal’ is still being bandied about but human beings have an astonishingly short memory and doubtless I’ll be back in eyeliner, weaving my way through Soho before long. We’ll have to start writing these engagements down so we don’t forget. Let me know if you need a new calendar, I can sort you out.

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How many attempts does it normally take you to leave the house? I’m a four-or-five-goes kind of person. I forget my wallet, I forget my sunglasses, I forget my car keys, I forget my book (I have a rule never to go anywhere without a book). Unfortunately, to this long list of items I now need to add masks since I keep forgetting mine when I leave the house for a Sainsbury’s run, and therefore have to return home a sixth time to play a round of a fun game called ‘Hunt Aunty Soph’s Mask.’ Unfortunately, my nieces aren’t much taken with it. ‘Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch,’ goes the old saying, but I reckon it’s time for a new one. If any readers can come up with a pithy new saying or mnemonic which includes face coverings and mini bottles of antiseptic hand gel (‘spectacles, medicals, wallet and watch?’), the nieces and I would be jolly grateful.

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Fancy a (virtual) holiday? A Taiwanese firm is offering travel-starved customers ‘pretend flights’ to feed their habit. You head to a real airport in Taipei, queue at a fake check-in, go through passport control, security and even board a plane. There’s just one catch: the plane doesn’t go anywhere; it just sits on the runway. Around 60 Taiwanese punters signed up for this treat last week, sitting on a grounded A330 and chatting to cabin staff before disembarking again. No word on whether these lunatics had virtual arguments with their other halves about who was sitting with the children, or were virtually knee-capped by someone reclining the seat in front of them. Please don’t feel forlorn if you’re British and hankering after the same. All you have to do is book a flight from Stansted, which, in my experience, is also exceptionally keen on making its customers sit for hours on the tarmac.

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