Residents take part in a "clap for carers" to show thanks for the work of Britain's NHS workers (Photo by NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

All clapped out

Funnily enough, al fresco clapping and Government-mandated walks have lost much of their appeal in the bleak midwinter

I turned 23 two weeks ago, meaning 20 per cent of my adult life has been spent in a pandemic. Of the three, Lockdown 3.0 has undoubtedly been the bleakest so far. Aside from the obvious fact that it is winter, and cases are surging, on a personal level I think I have finally realised that I am not going to get” anything out of lockdown.

The novel coronavirus has lost its novelty, and all the emblems of Lockdown 1.0 – banana bread, sourdough and catching up with old friends – now make my heart sink. These days, if you even dared to suggest a Zoom quiz, you would find yourself a social pariah confined to a life on the fringes of society.

All this looking inwards made me realise that in fact, there was nothing to see: I was an empty vessel

Weve all quite reasonably lost the Spirit of the Blitz. I remember how each Thursday after the clap for the NHS, a variation of the same platitude would go through my mind: What a beautiful display of community spirit in the face of adversity this is.” But looking back, it all seems so unbearably saccharine and hopeful. The recent reinstatement of the newly named Clap for Heroes, has, by all accounts, gone down like a lead balloon. Not because people do not appreciate NHS workers, but because it now feels performative and trite when the heroes in question have said they dont want anybody to clap for them; they just want people to follow the rules. Plus, al fresco clapping loses some of its appeal in the depths of winter. I dont think anyone wants to stand on their doorstep bashing a stainless-steel saucepan which is slowly freezing to their fingers, surrounded by all their coughing neighbours.

The other problem is that I have become so bored of hanging out with myself. I used to be quite content in my own company, until early in Lockdown 1.0 when the devil on my shoulder told me I wasnt making the most of the free time offered by the pandemic. There was that insufferable period in March when everyone took to Instagram to proclaim that we should seize this period of stillness” as an opportunity to pause and reflect. I decided I would. I vowed to sit back, take stock, look inwards” and as such reach a Dalai Lama-esque state of equanimity. I came to regret this decision. Yoga with Adriene put me in a bate. Two minutes into my first ten-minute Headspace meditation, I exited the app and swiftly deleted it from my phone. I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling. This too shall pass, I told myself. This too shall pass.

I have resigned myself to the fact that I am not going to gain any hobbies or passions during this pandemic

Gradually, I had a sort of epiphany. All this looking inwards made me realise that in fact, there was nothing to see: I was an empty vessel. I asked my family if I strike them as such. They gave slow, meditative nods, as if Id underpinned a feeling theyd had but couldnt quite put a finger on. The thing I find striking about you,” my sister said, furrowing her brow thoughtfully, is your complete lack of curiosity.” Its true. When people give earnest accounts of the historian theyve become obsessed with, or the humanitarian work theyve been doing, my eyes glaze over. I have resigned myself to the fact that I am not going to gain any hobbies, passions, or raisons d’être during this pandemic.

Claudia Cockerell and her Christmas tree

The only thing left to me is my Government-mandated walk. But no matter how miserable a day it is, the parks are rammed with people. Footfall has been so heavy in Hyde Park that all of the grass has been trampled into a mudslide-cum-cesspool. Everyone seems to be finding solace in feeding the wildlife, and as a result the latter have become morbidly obese and bold in their requests. My path was blocked the other day by a huge, pugnacious squirrel, demanding a fare for my passage. Luckily about five people hurled an assortment of mixed nuts and Homepride at him and I was able to slip past. When all this is finally over, I will never set foot in a park again. If anyone invites me on a walk, I will hiss at them like the enormous swans I have come to know and fear.

There have been some attempts to detract from the pervasive bleakness in my house, with limited results. My mum read an article encouraging everyone to keep their Christmas decorations up past twelfth night to boost spirits. “It doesnt have to be bad luck,” she says, because of Candlemas in February!” as if this was an answer that would elicit nods of understanding. As such, our Christmas tree is still up, slowly ossifying in the corner of the room. I feel a deep affinity with that tree. We are both wondering what exactly we are doing here. Every so often I give it a reassuring pat, to which it responds by showering the floor with a profusion of brown needles. This too shall pass, we tell each other. This too shall pass.

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