I was asked to do a radio interview quite recently and, as I knew the person doing the asking, I was able to give an honest answer. “I’m so sorry,” I said, “but I just can’t be bothered.” It was such a relief not to have to think of an excuse. Luckily, we knew each other well enough that they laughed, and didn’t take offence.
But I worried a little bit afterwards, thinking that perhaps this is becoming a problem. There is so much I can’t be bothered with now. Maybe it’s a natural result of ageing, and waning energy levels, but I do think that more specifically it is a post-Covid state of mind. And as I write this, I realise that I don’t even know if I can say “post-Covid” yet. Is it too soon? Possibly. Probably. Who knows.
Post-lockdown then. That period of our whole lives being put on hold, that – surely – is over now? So we pick up the pieces and try to carry on, but I can’t help noticing how changed we are. Why wouldn’t we be? Being told to stay at home, stop whatever you were doing, be afraid of your fellow humans, be afraid of the things you loved, whether that was clubbing or football or church – that is no small thing.
Like most of us, I reacted by shutting down and turning off some of my desires. It worked OK, and instead of feeling endlessly sad and angry, I ended up feeling flat. As I come out the other end, I now have to deal with a new half-heartedness, the kind of attitude summed up in my radio response: I can’t be bothered.
[see also: At my son’s damp student house in Brighton, I’m reminded of the winter of discontent]
It won’t do, not in the long term. I have to become bothered, to re-engage and start caring. I have to start saying “yes”. This has been my watchword for the last couple of weeks, and it seems to be working. I can feel myself coming back to life again.
I am seeing more people, venturing into bars and restaurants, taking trips on the train – small things, but they feel like adventures. A character in the new Sarah Moss novel, The Fell, which is set during the strictest days of lockdown and examines our psychological reactions to the pandemic, indulges herself in the most banal of fantasies: “Lunch in the café with a scone and cream and jam to finish off with, and no, it’s not that that’s the best treat she can imagine, she’s done plenty of imagining, it’s just a little dream of ordinariness.”
That’s it, exactly: a little dream of ordinariness. I remember how much I longed during lockdown to be able to have a different kind of day to describe in my diary. Now that it’s possible I mustn’t cramp my own style by continuing to say “no”.
So I meet up with my brother and sister for a day, the first time we have all been together in two years, and we eat and drink and reminisce, and laugh ruefully, not for the first time, at how different our memories are. We seem to have had entirely contrasting childhoods, each of us experiencing the same household, and the same parents, in our own way. My brother, who is ten years older than me, had parents who were laid back and welcoming, while mine greeted every friend with horror and dismay. He had left home by the time my sister and I careered through our teens, and he sits wide-eyed as we recount our escapades, our run-ins with parents entirely unlike the ones he knew.
The following day I go to see Céline Sciamma’s new film, Petite Maman, and it confirms my suspicion that childhood is a time when we never have the full picture, and are each trying to make sense of the world through glimpses, building up a picture from snippets of information reluctantly given to us by grown-ups. We have a kind of spider sense that we are not being told everything – that adults have secrets, that they only share small, insignificant memories with us, and hide the real stuff, in order to protect us.
I come out of the film with my head full of fresh thoughts, slightly exhausted from the socialising and cinema-going. I am grateful to have the house to myself for an evening, so that I can recharge and recuperate in silence, and ready myself for the next little ordinary adventure.
[see also: How one recording studio embodies everything that went wrong in the Eighties]
This article appears in the 01 Dec 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The virus strikes back