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Friday, June 14, 2024
Laterally SpeakingLaterally Speaking

Laterally Speaking

I’m sure you may feel the same, but it’s as if we’ve been locked down and out for ever. It’s almost a whole year since this wretched virus took away our lives and our sanity. When it all started in March 2020, I remember saying it’d be over by June. Or certainly by July. I think we all did… And then it dribbled on and on through cancelled summer holidays and the end of August and a miserable October and of course everything was going to be normal again by Christmas… And then it wasn’t.
When the first lockdown began, I had some grandiose ideas. If we were all going to have to stay at home, then at least I might achieve something useful like learn Spanish or write a book or take online jazz piano lessons… I could even do an Open University course in History of Art or something practical like woodworking. I might take up a new hobby such as Polynesian origami or basket weaving. I could even become a Japanese food expert and give online Asian cookery classes from my own kitchen. But, no. I’ve done none of these things. It’s the whole lockdown mood itself which seems to deaden most initiatives and leaves me feeling inadequate and unsatisfied.
There were some boring jobs that needed doing around the house like clearing out the garage (long overdue) or, if that was too much like hard work, sorting out my sock drawer and throwing away everything with holes. Since this would have left me with no socks at all to wear, I chickened out and instead re-arranged all my shirts into mood order (Cheerful, Funerial, Business Boring, ‘60s Retro, Party Animal and Never Wear This). In the course of which, I rediscovered 3 forgotten ties, an out-of-date American driving license, a bag of still edible toffees from 1997 and a pair of long-lost underpants. This was encouraging because I had at least achieved something…
My most ambitious lockdown task was to sort out my DVD collection and catalogue them in A-to-Z alphabetical order. It would be great fun if I watched each one for about 10 minutes (just to make sure they still worked OK). I would start with the African Queen and progress through Alien, Amelie and Annie Hall. After a couple of months, I should end up with an assegai through my head at Zulu.
Underpants apart, I don’t seem to have achieved any of my major lockdown projects. Of course, if you’re lucky to still be working during the pandemic, or if you’re trying to work while looking after small children at home, you will have had precious little “spare time”. But for retired folk like me, the lack of deadlines and absence of appointments and other people makes time stretch into empty pages of—well—absolutely nothing!
I think I’ve become quite good at doing nothing. In fact, you could say I’ve been binging on nothing, as well as binge-nibbling Twiglets and especially binging on ‘Call My Agent’ through Netflix—very watchable and improves your French, particularly the rude words! Humans love order and structure, so you need to organise your nothingness into different categories of absolute zero. My suggestion for sorting out nothing involves the three ‘D’s: Diary, Dining and Deaf Radio.
Diary: Right now, you’re feeling empty ‘cos there’s not much going on. There is nothing more depressing than looking at lots of blank pages, so fill up your diary. Put in everyone’s birthdays and all the anniversaries that are worth remembering. Then put in all your online shopping delivery details, boring things to remember (car insurance, internet subscriptions etc) and then add weekly reminders to call friends and family members. Now, that looks better doesn’t it! You’ve suddenly got stuff that needs doing again.
Dining: Make every meal special. You can use your newly filled-out diary to inspire you. Oh look—today is the 14th anniversary of that wonderful holiday we had in Naples! Cook up a little tuna with artichoke caponata (not too many anchovies though…) And tomorrow it’s old Uncle John’s birthday! Cook a special meal in his honour. You may not like stewed prunes and rhubarb, but he used to love them even when the stringy bits got stuck in his false teeth… Bring out the candles. Have fun, be inventive and experiment a bit.
Deaf Radio: If you’re like me, you’re addicted to the News. It is hugely disheartening to keep hearing the same headlines hour by hour, day after day… the numbers of deceased, numbers of new cases both nationally and in my local area… has it got to Honiton yet? Ooh—someone in Dorchester’s got it! This is SO DEPRESSING. Please, turn off your radio. And the news on telly. Watch some David Attenborough programmes about penguins or something. Turn off the news. Click. See? Everything’s better already!

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