In this post I described how everyone at work had been instructed to stop treating the lockdown as a holiday and attend to the various tasks that had been neglected in recent months on account of being non-urgent, unnecessary and/or extremely boring.
My head of department had magnanimously offered to send me in to the office to access any files that we might need. My colleague, who always fights my corner and to whom I will one day have a monument raised, told me over the phone not to even think about it “at a time like this” and promptly sent a reply-all email stating that there was absolutely no need for me to go in.
“OK, then,” replied the head of department. Then he added breezily “She could perhaps drop by anyway, just to see what’s there that might be useful.”
I had no desire to go all the way to the office just to pick up some files – besides which the guidelines for this (admittedly mild) lockdown allow you to go to your place of work only if “absolutely necessary”, and our specific instructions were to do the tasks that had been neglected precisely because they were not absolutely necessary.
So I ignored the email and started on the task assigned to me, which fulfilled all three criteria of non-urgency, non-necessity and extreme boringness, of drawing up a list of useful contacts. The interns had previously started the task and I was aware that I was probably duplicating a lot of what they had already done, but at least I was doing so from home, with the cat on my lap.
The task was so crashingly dull, though, that I decided it was worth going in to the office to get the partial list that the interns had drawn up, so that I could avoid duplicating their work. It would be a two-hour foray but it was likely to save me more than two hours of tedious googling.
(I should probably note that our interns don’t only get the dull stuff to do; in fact, it is to the credit of our heads of department that the interns are given significant responsibility – doing research, preparing reports, creating content for the website, etc. And that’s how it should be, I think. Interns are only there for a short time, so it’s good for them to have opportunities to add meaningful experience to their CVs. And also, they tend to have a lot to offer. They are generally at university, or recent graduates, so they’re not jaded and ossified like the employees who have been on the hamster wheel for years; they’re still alert and stimulated and full of knowledge and ideas. Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had at work have been with the interns. They have highlighted to me that a person’s age is not necessarily a good indicator of the value of their opinions and contributions.)
I was interested to see what the city centre looked like under lockdown. My brother had sent me some videos of the city centre from when he went for a cycle there recently (in compliance with the lockdown limit of going out for “one form of exercise per day”), and it looked surreal. Here are two places that are normally so full of people that you can barely pick your way through them:
Trafalgar Square (video):
A couple of weeks down the line, though, I think people are getting lockdown fatigue. It wasn’t buzzing like a weekday, but there was definitely more activity than you would expect during a lockdown – it was more like a weekend.
There were families out on bikes stopping to take photos in front of Parliament. There were people hanging out on Westminster Bridge enjoying the view. There was sufficient traffic that I couldn’t just swan across roads; I had to cross them at designated crossing points. And for all that the government had banned “non-essential construction”, there was a remarkable amount of construction going on. (Perhaps now is a good time for property developers – your building works can proceed a whole lot faster when there’s less road and foot traffic getting in the way of your lorries and cement mixers.)
I asked the head of department for a letter justifying my outing, in case I got stopped by the police. He duly sent me a letter dramatic enough to clear a path through any police interrogation, stating that I was “part of the crisis team” and that I would need to travel from my place of residence to my place of work to perform my crisis duties.
I walked into my office after about a month of absence to find various sheets of paper strewn around, looking like ancient parchments, all discoloured and curled up around the edges (after just a month?!), and my two plants on death’s doorstep. The one has been on death’s doorstep for about a year but hangs in there grimly, but the other one was very bonny when I left it and is now just a shadow of its former self, which makes me sad. It’s a spider plant, which a green-fingered colleague recommended to me because “you can’t kill a spider plant” but I think this one may be dying of despair.
When we were still working shifts at the office, a colleague had asked me to take care of her orchids, so I went to check on them, and they were blooming and radiant and full of the joys of spring. I gave them some water to reward them, then I extracted one of my plants from its pot (the one that’s been giving death rattles for months) and brought it home to try and nurse it back to life.