The stopped clock: a symptom of life slowing down

The kitchen clock has stopped at quarter to nine. It’s been like that for about three days now (or is it four? Can anyone remember?). It’s only since it stopped that I’ve noticed how often I look at that clock. But of course, these days, time is stretching and has less meaning than ever. Which is actually quite delicious.

With little work to challenge me during lockdown I’m finding a new, softer routine, and it’s one that I suspect I’ll be reluctant to give up. My days are full and fulfilling, and the weeks are whizzing by. Although I’m missing direct contact with friends and family, I’m also used to living and working alone during the week. Having Mr Marr home 24/7 makes me wonder why we ever thought it was a good idea to work in different cities. And having Daughter #2 back at home is a joy. The Cheese Game is just one example of the wonderful nonsense she inspires. Her exams finished this week, so as she emerges, blinking and dazed after two months with her head in her laptop, our routines will adjust their flow to incorporate her regular presence.

Easing into mornings…

At the moment, we wake well before 8, although for me that will be the second wakening of the morning. 4.10am will have seen me trying to identify which particular bird started the dawn cacophony. I think it’s usually a blackbird, but I can’t be sure. I’ll drift back to sleep, often with the help of a podcast (Louis Theroux’s lockdown series ‘Grounded with…’ is lovely) to be woken again, this time by Mr Marr with a cup of tea.

We’ll do that thing of drinking it in bed in companionable silence while checking our phones and comparing how well we slept (Fitbit now numerates this, so it’s yet another thing to get competitive about) then we’ll throw on some sports gear and head – weather permitting – for the garden.

Who would have imagined we’d get hooked on (almost) daily circuits? We keep it short and sweet – I downloaded a timer for my laptop and blast out playlists I’ve kept from years of hosting the start line of the Loch Ness 10K. We crunch, squat, skip, plank, and lunge (and struggle for breath) for half an hour. Then it’s showers and breakfast before the day properly begins.

And then? Well – who knows what my day will bring? As the only non-furloughed member of The Edinburgh Playhouse’s 270-strong staff, Mr Marr is working flat out. The dining room is his domain, although he has requisitioned my office chair… His day is full of calls, Zoom meetings, messages, social media and a suspicious amount of laughter.

The kitchen and the garden are mine. I chop, cook and bake, and I sow, mow, weed and grow. The paths and patio have been power-washed, re-grouted and sealed, and the fences, shed and garden furniture are glowing with fresh paint. I have moved plants from one part of the garden to another in the hope they’ll do more than just survive, and so far, they are thanking me for my efforts. I’ve taken cuttings, (feeling very ‘professional’ using hormone rooting powder). It is all immensely satisfying in a way that sitting at a desk can’t possibly be. And if all these nascent tomato and courgette plants survive to maturity, I’ll be looking to trade my fresh veg for your yeast… it’s still in short supply during my rare visits to the supermarket.

We break for coffee and scones some time between 11 and half past, then lunch is around 2.00. Between 6 and 7 Mr Marr logs off for the day and we head out for our walk before a late meal, then an hour or so of telly and an early night. Before I know it, that blackbird is at it again. And another day begins.

Weekend afternoons are for reading, napping or movies

Weekends are a break to the routine. We ditch the morning circuits in favour of a cycle, and the laptops stay closed. Afternoons are for reading, napping or movies, evenings for a bottle of wine and a fire. And for making plans for the future, even although we have no idea what the future might look like.

Dappled shade from the trees on a local walk one evening this week.

I feel safe here in the Highlands – I feel safe in my house and garden, and on the streets where we walk and cycle. People are open and friendly, and kind, too. There are little conversations about those regular wee ‘dances’ we do with passers-by to ensure we remain six feet apart – which of us will step into the road, or wait at the end of the bridge? And there is hope in the form of new leaves on the trees and cygnets and ducklings on the water. How different it would have been to have been entering (enduring) lockdown as the days were shortening, temperatures and leaves dropping, and it was less appealing to be outside.

The clock (still at 8.45) tells me I have again missed Nicola Sturgeon’s Daily Briefing – I’ll probably skip the teatime one from Downing Street too. But I’ll catch up on the headlines at some point. As the pace of my life is slowing and my horizons remain short, I’m more content and less anxious to follow every tiny development of every Covid announcement. Dr Ross Jaffrey’s Safe Hands: Save Lives Facebook group keeps me up to date with daily numbers in Highland. Lockdown will ease as and when the country is ready – unusually, I am happy to relinquish control to someone else, and just do what I am told.

I’ve never had the patience for seeds… these expired in 2012 but tra-la-la, we have basil!

Of course I’m concerned about the impact this is having, not just on my own depleted income (thank-you for the self-employed scheme, I’ve never been more glad that I declare all my earnings!) but on the economy of the Highlands in particular, and Scotland, the UK and the rest of the world. But short of choosing to shop local I have no control over any of that. For once I’m only allowing myself to worry about the things I can control right now. Like; ‘what are we having for tea?’, or ‘will these basil seeds with a best-before date of 2012 germinate?’. The second question has just provided the answer to the first – we’re having fresh pesto.

Letting go of the stresses I can’t control is releasing me from the guilt I felt in the first few weeks too; guilt that I have a garden, that we have food and wine, and that we can stay at home, stay safe and well, and that all our friends and family seem safe and well too. So many others have far less and are less fortunate.

I know many are impatient to ‘get back to normal’ – I’m not. A new normal will happen in its own good time. Yes, I’ll love getting glammed up again to host dinners, awards ceremonies, conferences and festivals, and yes, it will be exciting to conduct interviews and research articles when an audience is ready to read them again. But for now, still at 8.45, it’s lunchtime. Mushrooms with garlic, cream, and herbs from the garden on a beautiful home-baked walnut loaf. Don’t mind if I do.

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