By mid-March my office had implemented a rota so that only one person from each department was present each day, while the others worked from home, to reduce the chances of passing the virus around at the office. We were instructed to stay at home and only go out if absolutely essential.
Work had slowed to a trickle, because everything had been cancelled, so “working from home” at that point really just meant “being available, just in case”.
I had a week off before it was my turn to go in. I wasn’t quite ready to succumb to panic just yet, so for the first couple of days I still went to the gym and the library (although I hasten to add that I complied with the spirit, if not the letter, of the directive to “stay at home” by keeping well clear of other people and washing my hands frequently).
The gym had ramped up its cleaning programme and had signs up all over the place and regular voice announcements telling people to wash their hands carefully and frequently – and certainly, I noticed a lot of people washing their hands very vigorously and using hand sanitiser during that time and staff going around cleaning everything that ever got touched.
The gym stayed open until the government instructed all gyms to close, although in the lead-up to that they cancelled classes, started limiting the number of people in the gym at a time and gave all members access to all the gyms in the chain nationwide, to help those whose routines had changed.
At some point, though, I started feeling uneasy about being in the gym and started going to the nearby park to work out instead. It was surprising how many people were out and about — although I suppose many of them were there for the same reason that I was.
I saw that a new café had opened at the park, and it had a couple of customers, despite the Prime Minister’s “recommendation” to avoid cafés.
Mom was in the doldrums watching the world gently collapse around her, although she was putting on a brave face, and I thought it would be worth taking a calculated risk of taking her to the park café for coffee. It was quiet enough that we could stay clear of other people, and there were places to sit outside, overlooking the duck pond.
So we went to the park and had a lovely time. I thought we would just have a quick coffee and then go, but we ended up sitting on the terrace for ages. Mom was most tickled by the ducks bottoming-up as they dived for grubs, and she commented repeatedly on how delightful the new café was. We spent a good quarter of an hour writing a corny review on TripAdvisor, an exercise that we both found hilarious.
I asked her what her favourite part of the park was and she said the little paved garden on the other side of the lake, so I suggested going there. I thought we would just wander through it before heading off, but she wanted to sit and enjoy it for a while. There were two people on another bench with their bikes, eating packed lunch and having a work phone call on speakerphone, and two ladies with a clutch of preteen children came and hung out for a while, taking photos.
My brother’s company set everyone up to work from home (“You have to learn new jargon now,” chuckled Mom. “WFH. A friend asked me today ‘Are your children WFH?’”). He put off actually starting to work from home as long as he could, though, because he was worried that he would spend too much time messing around and would get summarily dismissed – and, as a contractor, he would be first in the firing line if the company had to make cuts.
On his first day WFH he sent me a video of him having a telemeeting as he wandered around the kitchen. “While I’ve been in this meeting, I’ve done the laundry, unloaded the dishwasher, done my personal emails and made lunch,” he said.
Later he reported on our family Whatsapp group: “I’ve done 20 minutes of work today, so I hope I don’t get fired for under-performance.”
Mom absolutely freaked out and send an avalanche of messages imploring him not to get himself fired and suggesting all sorts of techniques he could employ to be more productive. He replied with an article about how reusable cloths may become the new toilet paper and another one about how people who can’t find any toilet paper to buy are clogging up the sewers with kitchen roll and newspaper.