It was when Jesus of Nazareth demanded that I fill out the form that I finally figured something was up. Earlier protrusions into the narrative I’d passed off as tiresome but not shockingly improbable. Being asked to scan through some documents before we could board the night train to Istanbul was an imposition, but heck I did it, impatient – as you can imagine – to solve the murder. Signing off a strategy paper as a precondition to having brunch with Christopher Walken in an empty Space Odyssey-themed restaurant in eighties Miami was the sort of quotidian demand those Hollywood stars can make from time to time, big whoop. The Big J, however, was not (so far as I can recall) much of a stickler for bureaucracy. Suspicious, even a little shocked, I woke up, and shuffled the space of a few feet in the 4am darkness to the future Extreme Hoarders Christmas special bomb site that is my home office and booted up the computer. Never going to work means never leaving it, even apparently when trying to play it cool with the son of Christ on the bank of the river Spree.
I saw a cartoon recently with all the days of the week listed, crossed out like this:
Days slide by as indistinct as a gust of tepid air. It’s not just time that’s off, but our relationship with space is askew. Being always in the same place (if we are lucky with the same people) means that we are so much more the same person. Gone is the staging of a warmly-lit cocktail bar, the roar of a football terrace, the clink of glasses in a restaurant, or the throng of a pub on a winter’s night. Packed away collecting dust are the costumes of our formal and informal selves. The scene changes of normal life allow us to explore sides to our personality that change, like the shifting of guanine crystals in the cells of a chameleon that allow it to alter colour with its background, when the place around us changes.
I am an off-white chameleon, and I will be the same tomorrow.
A man came over to quote me on some work in the garden, and we stood in the freezing sunshine for half an hour chatting about our families, cycling, woburn abbey, and his desire to keep chickens and bees. He was the first stranger I’d talked to at length (outside of work) in months, and the details of his life were fascinating to me. I offered him more coffee, willing him to stay as the snow fell down on us, urging him to talk more about his late mother in law, his son at university, and the newness of it, the genuineness of it, was delightful.
This is all to say that I figure normality will return, and those claiming that this pandemic will radically alter our way of life are overreacting.
We haven’t evolved for six million years to live in a cottage in the outer Hebrides and zoom in to work discussions in tracksuit bottoms. Cities are still where we have congregated after centuries of fires, plagues, and bombings because we need and love what the concentration of human beings gives us. A deliveroo curry is just nice sustenance – sitting eating in the same place every night isn’t a change of scene, it doesn’t prompt a change of dialogue, or invite a change of perspective. We will dress up, down, and sideways. We will shout over the noise of a crowded boozer, and sing along to the piano player in that bar in charing cross. For all of the horrifying news of this pandemic, it’s the lack of drama in our daily lives I miss. The costume changes, the scene changes, the unexpected dialogue with new characters. We are all in, and all we want is to be out.