After the total Coronacoaster that was 2020, it’s safe to say we were all very glad to see the back of it and welcome a new year. And yes, 2021 isn’t exactly getting off to the best start, with Tiers, Brexit and cold, grey weather doing their best to kill any festive buzz we had left after Boris essentially cancelled Christmas.
But finally there is light at the end of the Covid tunnel – in the shape of several new vaccines currently being rolled out to vulnerable groups. ‘Normal life’ is on the distant horizon again, even if many of us will be waiting a while to get the jab.
But after so long stuck indoors, WFH with only Zoom and Netflix for company, are we ready to venture out? We reckon that in order for the post-Coronavirus society to function properly, there are a few things we’re going to have to collectively relearn…
Cast your mind way back in the mists of time, to a world where it was possible to bump into someone on the bus, in the kitchen at work, or – really search your memory here – in the pub? You’d discuss holidays, nights out, gigs you’d been to, plans for the summer (LOL), mutual friends you’d seen lately (BRB, sobbing), and lots of other things we’ve completely forgotten about by now. And that’s the problem, what are we actually supposed to chat to people about when we are allowed to have IRL social lives again? ‘So… how’s your lockdown been?’ Great chat. ‘Get up to anything fun last night?’ Eh, does ‘I put the bins out, made myself weep looking at 2019 photos on my phone and spent two hours Netflix scrolling before falling asleep on the sofa’ count as banter these days? Because that’s been my entire life since March 2020, so I’m sorry, but I’ve really got nothing else to add.
Remember when the worst thing about a handshake were those slightly clammy, limp fish ones? Then Covid hit and suddenly the simple act of shaking someone’s hand became a potentially fatal (or at least germ-infested) exercise. Sure, we all started out doing elbow bumps ironically, but they’re kind of grown on us. And who among us hasn’t had a moment of relief when they spot someone they’re not keen on, but quickly remember that the obligation to greet people by physically touching has now been outlawed? If handshakes do return in a post-Covid world, allow us a little adjustment time so we don’t run screaming every time someone holds out their hand.
As in, the ability to maintain any pretence of chill in the face of previously taken-for-granted life events. What’s that? A hug with your gran? A trip that went ahead as planned? A wedding of more than 6 people? Dinner with friends that actually took place in their home and not in a rainy carpark beer garden? Hey, even the thoughts of stepping inside a pub without temperature checks, masks, NHS app check-ins, the pressure of ordering a full meal, and simply having a drink with people you don’t live with? When these days finally come, we will lose all chill and scream, shout, laugh, hug, dance – and weep tears of pure, normal-life-induced joy.
For a brief time pre-Lockdown 2.0, when London was in Tier 2 (haven’t heard that name in years) and it seemed like maybe things were returning to normal, I had a glimpse back to what it was like dressing to leave the house every day. And then just as quickly as those dreams were granted to us, they were taken away, and back we all went to the weekly tracksuit rotation. But when I think about post-Lockdown London, and the social situations we’ll welcome once again with open arms, my heart skips a nervous beat. How exactly do you put an outfit together? No, seriously, how? Are leggings acceptable to wear out? How do I normally do my hair? How do you do a winged eye again? Can I wear a hoodie to a restaurant? Can I wear a matching tracksuit to a restaurant?! TBC.
Dating in a pandemic is pretty bleak, there are no two ways about it. Gone are the days of making your way to a bar for a first date, wondering if you’ve picked the best outfit, wondering if they’ll have picked the best outfit. No, first dates no longer consist of romantic glances and sipping cocktails in a booth. They’ve instead been replaced with an awkward alternative: making your way to the FaceTime app, wondering if your wifi connection is good enough to avoid long, awkward pauses, wondering if they’ll provide the long, awkward pauses. Oh and what if you have nothing to speak about and have to stare at each other’s faces on a screen? And what if we have to do the “oh, think you’re on mute”, “no you go… oh I’ll go… oh OK you go”. You get the picture. The whole Corona dating game is a mess, which explains the fact that flirting is now a distant memory, a long-rumoured myth, an old wives tale. Where’s the charm? The allure? The spontaneity? If I read the words “so, how’s lockdown treating you?” on a dating app one more time I will scream. Let’s do better.
Dealing with crowds
I miss festivals. I miss concerts. I miss crowded bars. I even miss the tube. And queues? But am I prepared to re-enter the mass crowds that envelop you in those situations? While I’m not actively paranoid about being too close to people, it’s sometimes hard to control the instinctive recoil when someone walks past too close on the pavement, or queues mere inches behind you in the supermarket. Being stuck in someone’s armpit on the Northern line at 8am is an even more revolting thought than it was pre-Covid and being shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of strangers in a club or a festival sends chills through my spine. Surely we can’t be expected to adapt easily in a post-social-distancing world?
While some of us have returned to a (somewhat) normal working life, and some never strayed far from it to begin with, a lot of us have adjusted to the WFH routine by now and there is a certain peace that comes from working from the comfort of your own home. Whacking the heating on full, working in your pyjamas and commuting from bed to kitchen are all luxuries I won’t easily forget. With this, though, come the challenges too: no office banter with your colleagues, no catching up in the kitchen, no formal meetings in formal meeting rooms, no office-appropriate dressing. I imagine the first week back into office life will consist of uncomfortable small talk, awkwardly put together outfits and a general lax in formality (will it now be acceptable to go barefoot in the office? I hope not).
Using the term “public speaking” loosely here, I don’t mean projecting across an auditorium for thousands to hear, I mean literal, simple-as-it-gets, speaking in public. Months and months (and months) of interacting with colleagues over Zoom and friends over FaceTime has surprisingly sucked out my confidence and spat back in a healthy serving of social anxiety. Pair that with the minimal real-life contact with shop assistants, bartenders and waiters and you’ve got yourself an exciting cocktail of stumbling over words, instant blushing and maybe a sprinkle of nervous shakes. “How was your day?”, “Yeah really good thanks” now sparks mass internal debate, ‘was I loud enough?’, ‘did I sound too keen?’, ‘can they tell I’ve gone remarkably red?’. I’m going to need a moment to rejoin society.