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  • Writer's pictureChristian Durham

Contemplating one's novel in a New Word Order 5

So 10 days into lockdown.

I remember watching programmes like The West Wing, when something dramatic happened and everyone would pick up phones and say ‘we’re crashed’ or ‘crash the West Wing’ or you would see Secret Service people come rushing into a scene with the president chatting happily with a group of school children and run him out with guns drawn, talking into their earpieces.

Is this lockdown as dramatic as a television programme? It hasn’t been written by a room full of Hollywood writers. It has written itself into our psyche. And, I suppose it is also a matter of what ‘dramatic’ means. We are in a world seeing hundreds of people dying each day from a virus that is surrounded by very little scientific knowledge. For those affected, I hate to think what they must be going through. The fear in those struggling to breathe, the fear that people may have passed it on to their loved ones, the fear that essential workers can continue to cope, the fear of what the world will be in a few months’ time.

So I suppose it is a dramatic, surprising shift from running around worrying about Brexit, climate change and where that other sock has gone after you hang the washing out to dry.

But for me, it feels quite a slow drama. Yes, the moment when our show, Zorro, closed with so short a notice took my breath away. It was heart-breaking. But since then, time seems to have stretched and a lot of us are now sitting at home pottering. A lot of pottering. Some potting may well be going on but mostly pottering. (and not the Harry type either – unless some people are choosing to learn a new skill and have chosen real magic).

I found myself supermarket shopping this morning and ended up looking at things I would never normally look at, just to slightly eek out the experience of being out of the house. Add to that the general sense of calm there is everywhere. The country now stands 2 metres apart outside shops queuing quietly to be let in. People say please and thank you to anyone who is working and smile more. And again personally, I no longer feel the constant need to create or search for work (in the theatre industry, there simply isn’t any). Of course, there is the concern about earning a living and to many that is terrifying. I am very lucky that I have a few savings so can survive for a few weeks more. But now I don’t try and sit on the helpline every single day to enquire about New Style ESA, just so I don’t feel the frustration of sitting on the line, going through all the menus for them to then just say a recorded goodbye and hang up on you. I give myself a break.

I exercise and climbing 100 storeys in my apartment block listening to music has a wonderfully mind-numbing effect on the brain for 40 minutes. Perhaps this is a chance after 30 years of constantly looking for work (as a self-employed person, who invariably does short contracts) to take a pause. I have never planned to retire but perhaps this is what it partly feels like. And I’m sure it won’t last. The longer it goes on, the more the possible futures will crawl into our brains and lay their seeds of worry and hope and fear.

As I have googled online for things like: silly things to do indoors during a pandemic (not the greatest offering but then perhaps the people inside my computer have all got Covid 19 and haven’t made that page up yet), bake a chocolate cake (well, of course, I searched that one and the ingredients are actually sitting on the counter top ready to go!) or totally useless things to add to your amazon shopping basket but not actually buy (currently a gherkin, a second hand oil tanker registered in Panama and 62 Terrys chocolate oranges): so apart from that, I have also noticed the odd post from people saying it is ok to not be creative or work during this New World Order. And that is comforting. We can give ourselves time. We can lay on the sofa with our loved ones and just talk or lose at cards. We can chose to just declutter our archived WhatsApp chats without finding an emoji to tell the world or simply consider our navels.

We are currently giving our planet a brief moment of recuperation by not pumping millions of ton of environmentally dodgy things into the air and the water, so likewise we can give ourselves a period of time out from everything else. Two members of the Zorro cast are hosting a quiz this evening. Just a simple coming together of people with a common memory to play something frivolous and not earth moving (though last week the Blue Team was definitely robbed!!! Black team – don’t think I will ever forget that!!). I hope that is one thing that we can all take from this experience, that time away from work and stress and fear, is time well spent.

Even just writing this, makes me realise, I have spent too much of my life chasing the next job, even the possibility of the next job. Now I love the theatre industry and being able to work in it makes me incredibly lucky and happy but perhaps over the last 30 years, I have let it become a bit too all consuming. That can’t be healthy. Time to change and give myself a break.

Take positives from our time in lockdown if you can. Perhaps we can make a slightly better New World Order for us all the other side.

PS: today is Saint Francis of Paola’s Day. He liked being a contemplative hermit in the late 15th Century. Ironic!

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