An Old Life & Persistent Habits :- More Lock Down Thoughts.

By Howard Hockin | 06 May 2020
As the lock-down continues. Howard experiences an isolation birthday and the usual irritations.

I’m still here, unlike a fan of the invisible man. We’re all still here, plodding along as everything merges into one big lump. Sat at the same desk day after day, watching the outside world. The sun is back, and there is a sense of normality outside my window, which is worrying. Nothing is yet normal. Nothing.  Not even my habits, which have developed further.

Truth is, I can feel the discipline and the concentration wane myself. I am sensible, so I will try harder, but I understand how sections of society are creeping back out onto the streets. They’re staggeringly selfish too, but I am not surprised at this happening. Staying at home for week after week is tough, and for some outright dangerous. Going out is not a crime, but the social gatherings that hog much of our attention quickly raise my blood pressure.

Living in a 2nd floor flat, in the early days of this supposed lock down, I would leave the flats without touching any bannisters. The door would be opened with a gloved hand. Recently I found myself bounding down the stairs to get a delivery and realised I had slid my hand down every bannister on the way down. Discipline stuttering. I turned off for ten seconds, and it deeply annoyed me for a good few hours. At the back of my mind though is the ever-growing acceptance that none of us can live like this forever, and at some point many of us will just take our chances out there. Because we have to. And maybe there has to be a limit about just how cautious you can be, before it drives you to insanity. If I could catch the virus from touching a single bannister for two seconds, then maybe it was meant to be.

Or maybe it already has. After coming back from Paris at the end of January, I had a two-day fever and a seven-day cough. Too early for Covid-19 has always been my assumption, but of course there are regular stories of this being around since last year. That’s not to say I automatically believe such stories. Surely we would have noticed at the time? As ever, I assume I have not had it, and act accordingly, as should we all. That fever forced me to miss a home defeat to United in the Carabao Cup, so every cloud and all that.

Two months ago, I would have run a mile at the prospect of a video call. I may have run even further. I’d avoid them like the plague (or virus) -more than public speaking, olives, tomato-flavoured  crisps or any of Manchester United’s sponsors. As mentioned in my last blog though, now they are the norm, a connection to the outside world.  We all need to see other people’s faces. I have hosted one quiz night, which is a Friday evening tradition now. It’s fair to say it was a triumph. People still talk about it in hushed terms. Alcohol consumption has risen sharply. This has tied in nicely with video calls. I drink (alcohol) on video calls, I don’t drink (alcohol) the rest of the time.

The last quiz was themed, as a black tie affair. Nothing summed up better the abandonment of any pretence of dressing appropriately since lock down. I had no black tie, so instead I dressed as follows: suit jacket, grey tie, stripy t-shirt. And below camera level, swimming shorts and slippers. Soon to be seen adorning the catwalks of Milan, no doubt. My hair is even wilder, but with no real social life, it matters not. I have written SEO content in the past about how those that work at home should act as if they are in an office and dress accordingly. And so I sit here typing in pyjama bottoms, a t-shirt and my new trainers that are so comfy I never want to take them off.

Yep, I’ve started buying things. Splashing the cash like a footballer in the VIP area of Discotheque Royale. I’m spending wildly on food as I feel I can as I have lost out on a wedding, summer holiday, and probably a year of going to football matches. By wildly I mean I bought a whole duck and a few extra crisps. But as the weeks pass, and nothing happens once more, I feel I need to do something to retain sanity. I’m skint, but hey, if this isolation means I don’t spend £2000+ on trips, football, gigs and beer as I would normally have done over the coming months, then I can justify buying a bin for the kitchen. And a pizza stone, full bedding set, copper frying pan, running shoes (I don’t run), computer chair and some chaat masala. So just a few essential items then.

It is seven weeks since I entered a shop though. Everything is delivered now. I have found a supermarket delivery slot, as I seem to be a priority customer for one particular chain. I won’t book more than one shop a month, but there are plenty of slots when I go in to their site, so I won’t feel guilty either. I would never take a last slot. That and Rolos are sacred.

I think I have caught the virus on twenty separate mornings. A slight tickly cough is all it takes. A slightly tighter chest than normal, clearly caused by a bout of anxiety, also does the trick. A slightly dry and sore throat raises alarms, rather ignoring the possibility that the 10 cans of beer the previous night may have contributed to the situation. This must be an especially tough time for hypochondriacs.

The occasional government-approved walks are not getting any easier.  I’m still swearing to myself when any other human hones into view. I have found walks with a friend a lot, lot easier. We remain on opposite sides of the road, and shout across to each other, when traffic is clear. I have bumped (not literally) into friends on my last two excursions too, which has helped make things easier.  We all need to see other people’s faces. Still, the birds seem to have calmed down a bit, but wildlife is rampant, which is great. Flowers I have never noticed before seem to be in full bloom everywhere. I hate wasps as much as ever. It’s nice to have a constant amongst the chaos.

And then there was my birthday, on Monday. A weird experience, for sure. At first my thoughts turned back to last year. Last year was weird in a way too, as it must have been my only birthday as an adult where alcohol was not consumed. The night before I had drunk enough for the week. But on the day I drove up to the Lake District with friends to climb Catbells (that’s where the main photo was taken) at dusk, after a hearty portion of fish and chips. It was the Festival of Light, where as the sun dropped we all lit up the mountain side with our torches. As we did, Liverpool cheated their way to a winning goal at Newcastle. I had a family meal the next day, and on Monday, City played Leicester City. The rest is history.

This birthday has been rather quieter as you’d expect, but involved alcohol, as the gin was finally cracked open. I’ve never been overly-bothered about celebrating birthdays anyway, so it was no biggie staying at home. After all, my friend Lou had to celebrate her 40th at home last week. On Friday my friend Tony will turn 50, and we will catch up on Zoom, rather than in Budapest as was the original plan. That’s a damn shame, as each week brings new cancelled arrangements, and a resolve to “make up for lost time” at some point. We may have quite a wait.
I saw my mum and dad from a distance, which is not ideal, to put it mildly. Just surreal, really. I did a podcast on Carlos Tevez, said thanks to a lot of people online, internet surfing taking up a good chunk of the day, sadly. Then drinks via video call with Ahsan, his wife, and our friend Debs. Star Wars/ May 4th crossover jokes were made, and I bit my lip as per every other birthday! A Chinese takeaway ended that call, and the masses of salted caramel products consumed earlier in the day meant it wasn’t quite as healthy a day as last year. This is the one day where the consumption of anything is permitted.

I am now in possession of a face mask – and 2 minutes of wearing it confirms that it is a very uncomfortable experience. I’d rather stay in, to be honest. Boris Johnson is going to relax restrictions soon, it seems inevitable. It will be carte blanche for many to act as if everything is normal, if they are not already, and this will mean further cases and a delay in whatever version of normality faces us at some point in the future. Many parts of Manchester are already resembling normality. What more is there left to say? The body count will rise and rise whilst we pretend that we can go back to normal and play football. But for me, nothing will have changed. A government announcement does not make a virus disappear, sadly. There will be social distancing for some time to come. Who knows at what point I could comfortably step onto a busy tram? Or a crowded bar? Or the Etihad on match-day? At least I can continue to work at home. For others, who cannot and need to work, they must feel like lambs to the slaughter if we can’t as a nation get this under control.

That day will come. When it feels the odds are so far in your favour that you can function with some level of normality. After all, we all need to see other people’s faces.  And there are a lot of faces I’d like to see as soon as possible. That first game back will be great. That first pint might be even better.  And for the socially inept amongst us, the dilemma as to whether a hug is an appropriate greeting has been removed for now.

Take care everyone, and as always, up the blues.