THE paintbrushes are out, the plastic lunch boxes sorted, drawers emptied. A wardrobe and a dressing table have swapped places to spacious effect in the spare room; clothes have been thrown away or sent for recycling.
If I sit too long on this sofa with my laptop listening to Ry Cooder, chances are I’ll be relocated too, or given a fresh coat of varnish. I’d better warn Ry he’s not safe, either.
“This is what you do when you can’t control the outside world,” I tell my wife. “You gain control of our small world inside this house.”
She hadn’t thought of it like that but tells me I am right. This isn’t always what happens when passing observations are made.
I am sitting down here because now the study is being tidied. That room is a shared space. One end is my nine-to-five berth; the other my wife’s studio. I claim further ownership by making sure to leave a guitar or two propped up there.
“I moved your guitar,” my wife says one day. “I was afraid I might knock it over.”
This is what our lives are like at the moment. Not only in this house, but everywhere. People are cooped up at home or heading nervously out to work. I’ve more or less lived in that study since March, doing four jobs at different times, plus spots of freelancing.
I have online meetings with people who are sitting in their study or their kitchen. Coffee or tea breaks are taken online, chatting to colleagues I am beginning to know quite well, even though we’ve never met.
Meetings are held with strangers. We peer into each other’s houses, intimate but distant. Intimate because you sit face to face while wondering about the books on their shelves or that picture on the wall behind them; distant because you are not there and they are not here.
“Is that a guitar?” they might say. Or they might if it hasn’t been tidied out of view. One time I spot a guitar in someone’s room and it turns out we’re both learning the same piece of music.
When life’s like this, does the news help or does watching and reading too much news boost anxiety and keep you awake at night? I’ve always been one to swallow large helpings of news, sometimes perhaps without chewing properly. My wife is usually more modest in her consumption; has a nibble to know what’s going on.
Lately though she’s been doom-scrolling about Covid-19, amassing more and more information, laying worry upon worry, until she wakes up at 4am in a fretful state.
“Perhaps you should stop reading so much news on your phone,” I say.
There is a point somewhere between knowing what you need to know and drowning yourself in depressing news. Little about the news is uplifting these days, aside from the orange stain being removed from the White House.
Worrying about why people believe conspiracy theories or whether life will ever again be normal is understandable, but it’s hard to find the off-switch some days; harder still some nights.
That’s why my wife tidies up and decorates. That’s why I tidy up with words, cheering the removal of that orange stain while worrying about the orange stain’s spiritual cousin in Downing Street.
The wood burner needs another log to settle its hot belly. Outside the late afternoon sunshine is slipping away. There is life in the garden, spring is uncurling its toes beneath the blanket of frost. One day the pubs will open again. Sport will be played again and lost again, or it will if you are me. Walks will be taken with friends. They’ll be no reason to wake up at silly-o’clock and the house will be tidied and decorated just because spring is on the way.
Life will be normal again.