In lockdown, video calls taunt me with showcases of other people’s homes

One of the unfortunate side-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic is we have seen, paradoxically, a lot more of the interiors of friends’ homes than before.

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One of the unexpected side-effects of the lockdowns is that we have seen, paradoxically, a lot more of the insides of people’s homes than heretofore. Remotely, true, but I now know what the bookshelves of various friends, television journalists and politicians contain and, within an admittedly narrow field of vision, what their interior decor reveals about them.

It came as absolutely no surprise to anyone that Nigel Farage has an awfully large number of books on military history; actually, now I come to think of it, I can think of no politician of the right whose shelves do not contain an alarming number of books on the subject. Which Tory minister is the one with all the biographies of Hitler and Mussolini? That’s right – it’s all of them, or that’s what it seems like.

But all over social media, I see many of my friends seem to be happy to show their interiors. Oh happy people, who have interiors of which they are not ashamed! And you, oh happy reader with a home, do not take that home for granted! Do not forget to cast a grateful eye, every day, on your fixtures, your fittings, your carefully curated paintings, posters and tchotchkes! I look at your homes, with their multiple rooms, their dining- and living room tables, and think to myself that they are as sumptuous and regal as palaces, and as remote. Whereas I seem to have started, for the past three years, playing a game called “How long can I survive without a …”? Let’s have a look.

1 Tea strainer. This is one of the very few things I forgot to take with me from my previous flat, and I’m not going to lie to you: its absence is a vexation. But not an unendurable one. One of the housewarming gifts I received was a sieve, and if you tilt it at the right angle it performs the task of keeping the leaves out of your tea. The main thing is that I am at least preserving some standards by making my tea in a pot, rather than using teabags.

[see also: How Zoom calls revived my social anxiety]

2 Decent set of cutlery/kitchenware. At the moment, I have five dessert spoons (no teaspoons), two or three forks, one table knife and one sharp kitchen knife. I also have five dinner plates, and one soup bowl that holds a surprising amount of Special K. All these were presents from the Estranged Wife, and I am grateful for them, although there is a small part of me that worries this is an accurate foreshadowing of the terms of any future divorce settlement. There is a larger part of me that expresses continual surprise that I am managing on one table knife, but then, how many table knives can one use at once? It’s not as if anyone is going to be coming round to dinner.

Which is also why I am not bothered too much by drinking my tea out of a Hogwarts mug (also a gift from the EW). Well, OK, I am a bit bothered. A mug is often an important expression of one’s personality, tastes or beliefs, but when was the last time I had a mug which performed that function? Apart from the beloved Snoopy mug my daughter gave me, now in storage somewhere, I honestly have no idea. I think I had an Arsenal mug when I was growing up.

As far as I am concerned, the most important virtues of a mug are (a) structural integrity and (b) size, and my Sports Direct mug is in a box somewhere in East Finchley. I could get another Sports Direct mug, but the idea of going into Sports Direct for the sole purpose of buying a Sports Direct mug makes me feel like. . . a bit of a mug. (Sample Google review for Brighton SD: “Awful service and unhelpful staff!. what a disgrace sports direct !” [sic].)

3 Sofa. This is a tricky one. If I get a sofa, that means I won’t have room for a table in the living room. If I don’t have a sofa, no one will be able to visit me and stay overnight unless they sleep in the same bed as me, and almost irresistible though I am, not everyone would be happy with that arrangement. I suppose I could always sleep on the floor, but then I wouldn’t be happy with that arrangement, but as no one is going to be visiting me anyway, this isn’t a huge problem.

[see also: When the underbelly of Brighton reveals itself, all I have to keep me safe is a kebab]

It would also involve buying a sofa, and I don’t have any money for sofas, so it’s all rather academic. The same applies to a dinner table. I eat my meals with my plate either on my lap or on my folded laptop on the desk, staring out to sea.

So it would seem that, as time passes, I am stripping myself down to the bare essentials, like a Beckett character. Dish and pot, dish and pot, these are the poles, says Malone. I know I have quoted this line before, but it is good to remember it. It’s as if anything more than that is an indulgence, and I have become an anchorite without faith. 

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Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 20 November 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Vaccine nation

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