Blackness Castle, Scotland

Living through a pandemic is a bit like being in The Shining, only less interesting

Well, I think it’s probably fair to say that most of us have reached the final stage of our lockdown journeys at this point – mentally, at least – and, in my case, it would also be fair to say that the final stage looks a lot like that moment in The Shining when you finally get to see what Jack Torrance was writing all this time, and it turns out to be just the words, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” over and over again, for a few hundred pages.

That’s it. That’s my life in lockdown, folks – except for “work,” substitute “childcare and tidying,” and for “play,” substitute basically everything else we used to do that wasn’t childcare or tidying. (Oh, and for “Jack” substitute “Amber”, obviously, but I’m pretty sure you pieced that one together just fine, didn’t you?)

Actually, the more I think about it, the more it strikes me that The Shining is a pretty good analogy for my life right now. Here, for instance, is the moment when I came downstairs for the 447th time that week, and found the kitchen ONCE AGAIN looking like a tornado had just blown through it, even though I swear to God I JUST FINISHED TIDYING IT approximately three minutes earlier:

Living in isolation for months on end has the unique ability to make every single thing feel like the absolute LAST STRAW. At least half a dozen times a day I find myself thinking, “That’s it: that’s the LAST F*&^%*G STRAW!” and it’s always just that my phone battery died, or I went upstairs to fetch something and came back down without it, or Terry is freaking BREATHING again, or something. Just ordinary, everyday things, which the current circumstances render completely and utterly unbearable.

(I do seem to have basically dedicated my entire life to tidying, though, and I know you’re going to want to tell me to just not bother, but if I didn’t tidy up on a near-constant basis, we’d literally have to swim through the mess in the living room just to reach the sofa, and I’d feel even worse than I do already. So, instead, I’ve accepted that tidying my living room will probably be my life’s work, and, like most great works, it is unlikely to be completed in my lifetime. Glad I went to university for this, I mean, FFS.)

Here’s Max after my parents dropped off the two bikes they’ve had in their garage all year, on account of him still being too small to ride them when they were bought, but which he’ll probably have long since outgrown by the time this lockdown is over:

I asked them to drop the bikes off because the one and only place you can walk to from our village is a long, totally featureless footpath, and I thought that, instead of just trudging aimlessly around our street in the rain, we could trudge over to the featureless footpath in the rain instead, and spend a bit of time teaching Max to ride his two bikes. (Not at the same time, obviously: we’re saving that for lockdown 4.0…)

It’s a measure of how very little we actually have in our lives now that I was looking forward to this radical change to our routine, so, naturally, within a couple of hours of the bikes arriving, it started snowing, and it didn’t stop for two days. That was last week. The snow is still there: it’s snowing as I write this, in fact. Here I am, on the way back from the one and only walk we took in it:

So, it turns out that the “nice walks” everyone keeps suggesting we take are only really “nice” if you live in nice places. (Like, I can’t help but notice that the people who are most vocal in their support of the ‘don’t travel outwith your local area for exercise’ rule tend to be the ones who live within walking distance of beaches and other scenic places, and not the ones who only live within walking distance of suburban housing estates and a chip shop*…) Ones where it doesn’t snow, ideally, because, LOLOLOL, guess who has the only toddler in the world who doesn’t like walking in the snow?

Seriously, he’ll tolerate about 5 minutes of digging and throwing snowballs, but we attempted an actual walk in it back at the start of January (Because, yes, we had snow then, too. We’ve had snow for most of this month now, and if you’re about to tell me how “jealous” you are, please take a moment to consider that this is a post in which I compare myself to Mad Jack Torrance from The Shining, and reconsider…), and, to this day, Max will still sometimes stop what he’s doing to look up at me accusingly and say, “I didn’t like that walk, mummy.” So that makes me feel awesome, and like I’m totally smashing this whole ‘parenting’ gig right now, seriously.

It’s starting to look like he might never get over it – or, indeed, forgive us for it – which doesn’t really fit with the “nice walk” narrative that everyone else has been diligently constructing for the past year, but then again, we haven’t been baking banana bread or cherishing this special time spent with “our little family” either – and don’t even get me started on the whole, “Lockdown is teaching us how to slow down and appreciate the little things!” mantra – so I feel like we’ve been doing lockdown ALL WRONG, really, and we’re only getting worse at it the longer it goes on.

I mean, we worked from home anyway, and had a baby at the end of 2017: trust me when I tell you that the absolute LAST thing we needed was to “slow down” or spend even MORE time together. None of this is a novelty to us: in fact, it’s almost like we’ve been in training for this lockdown ever since Max was born, and 2020 was the year we finally went pro.

We did not need a freaking PANDEMIC to teach us how to slow down, or force us to spend more time together, because like I said, it’s not like we were living some kind of wild, kerrrazy lives before this, you know? Seriously, you’re looking at the woman who once wrote an entire blog post about a trip to the local garden centre here, and that was BEFORE I had parenthood as an excuse.

I was hoping our lives would actually speed UP at some point around about now, but nope, just to beat this whole Shining thing right into the ground for you, here’s me, professional writer that I am, sitting at my desk, trying to convince myself I’m doing important, meaningful work, but actually just typing the same sentence over and over again, because I’ve reached a stage where I can no longer think straight or even motivate myself to TRY:

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All childcare and no self-care makes Amber a strung-out shell of a person.
All tidying but no tidiness makes Amber wonder what the hell the point is?
All wine and no food makes Amber feel momentarily better, but then regret it in the morning.

And so on and so forth…

But, of course, no one needs me to explain what lockdown is like, do they? You know. You’re living it too: maybe not in exactly the same way as me, but probably with many of the same frustrations and fears, because I don’t think there can be many people out there who’ve reached month 10 of this without getting just a little bit fed up with it all. I mean, surely?

Surely we’ve taken all of the “nice walks” we’re ever going to want to take now? Eaten all of the banana bread? Watched all of the TV shows and movies? Drank all of the wine? Because I know I have. I’ve DONE lockdown, and now I’m just sitting here, metaphorically typing the same words over and over again, on the same blank screen, while trying not to think too hard about the fact that I can’t even remember the last time I was excited about something, or felt really happy.

There’s only one scene left, then, really, and it’s the one that looks like this:

We’ve not quite got to that bit, though. Not yet. We’re getting there, obviously: at least once a day I find myself thinking, “I can’t cope with this: I just can’t do it any more,” but the truth is, I just don’t have a choice, and no matter how hard, and how boring, and how utterly impossible this groundhog day of a life feels, I’m going to have to get up tomorrow and do it all again… and then again the next day, and the day after that, until finally, at SOME point we’re allowed to stop.

Until that day comes, though, I guess we’ll just keep on keeping on. And if anyone’s looking for a book to read, or a movie to watch, I can highly recommend The Shining

(*The photo at the top of the page was taken before the current lockdown came into effect, needless to say: don’t come at me…)

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  • Cath


    I took my toddler for a ‘nice walk’ this afternoon- except he refused to leave the buggy & it poured with rain. Luckily I had the correct tactical coat choice of layering my massive ugly raincoat on top of my warm winter jacket, but still had to turn back when we got to the duck pond & path was flooded ankle deep! Scotland in January is not kind to walkers.

    January 26, 2021
  • Vickie


    My almost-two-year-old just sits down on the pavement and screams when I try to take us on a walk he doesn’t like. At least Max is polite about it? 😀

    January 26, 2021
      • Anya


        Hah! I’m 33 and i’m the same. I just loathe to walk without aim. Pre-pandeminc i would walk through a park in route to a shopping mall. I’d eat a pastry and a coffe there and come back again . Now when i am reluctant to go to shops only when ABSOLUTELY needed, my time is kind of off 🙁
        So tired of all of it 🙂 And i have not seen sun in a week.
        I finished Mythos and Heroes on audible. Really don’t know what will i do when i finish Troy

        February 3, 2021
  • ML


    Ugh, the worst – I am sorry. I feel like this pretty much every winter because SAD, but the pandemic has just multiplied those feelings exponentially. Does Max still take naps or perhaps you can institute quiet time where you all retreat to your separate corners for an hour after lunch (you may have to work up to that if just beginning; we had a clock in their rooms with hands so I could say, “We’re having quiet time until the big hand gets on the #”). Our rule was that they could do whatever they wanted but they needed to stay on their beds or in their rooms. That was truly a lifesaver for me when my kids were little and beyond (even into tween and early teen years when we all needed a break from each other). Hang in there! Spring (and hopefully vaccines, etc.) are coming!

    January 26, 2021
  • Becky


    Thank you for writing this! There is something in this lockdown that has really highlighted the privileged from everyone else. I am tired of reading how Nicole Kidman is making the most of time with her family! And the recent decision to give hours notice to closing schools in England makes me feel like working parents are being, at best ignored, and at worst targeted.

    January 26, 2021
  • May


    I’ll trade you the snow. Down here in Argentina we’ve had a week of 30+ temperature. All you can do is lay in bed with a fan at maximum speed and pray for rain, while hoping that the mosquito repellent is strong enough because it may be COVID’s second year but dengue will be damned before it abandons its summer spotlight

    January 26, 2021
  • Mary Katherine


    I feel you. I feel like I have nothing to talk about, and nothing on the horizon to look forward to. Then I feel guilty because my income has been un-interrupted, none of my family has had Covid, and I still get to go out to a job every day with people I like. But thanks for the reminder for just HOW locked in some folks are. Gloom. Hoping for an early spring for you!

    January 27, 2021
  • Myra Boyle


    You have a chip shop ????. Just as well I don’t ????

    A lot of people are concerned about the elderly, but for me it’s kids. My 13 year old grandson thought it was interesting to live through an historical event when it all began and he was 12, but he misses his friends and while his school does online learning well most of the time, he misses the interaction with his teachers and friends.
    I feel for kids whose social relationships have been completely stopped, or at best disrupted and for those kids who are very anxious about what is happening. I’m no so worried about their education, that will balance out , apart from deprived and/or vulnerable kids who haven’t had online access, they will fall further behind.

    How I look forward to seeing kids going to school in their uniforms, playing in the park, and us all eating out, going to the cinema or theatre or even the pub.

    Roll on time

    January 27, 2021
  • Gem


    I am lucky enough to have nice walks on my doorstep. I genuinely cannot see what harm can be done by people from the local town (which by the way is flooded) driving a short distance up the hill so they too can enjoy a scenic stroll around the countryside where it’s easy to social distance. And obviously if they buy a takeaway coffee or sandwich from the local cafe (normally inundated with tourists) while they are here that will help save them from going under.

    I can see the potential harm in all the people who live in the town tromping about the same half a square mile (the only bit that isn’t flooded) and being unable to practice social distancing or look after their mental health.

    But the local constabulary don’t see it that way.

    Before I sound too smug I’ll point out I have a toddler so there’s no me time just he time and my new self employment plan basically imploded thanks to the pandemic.

    January 27, 2021
  • Erin


    I had to restart therapy and my mental health is abysmal right now, so I feel you <3 I'm in Michigan, USA which I imagine weatherwise is fairly similar to Scotland. It's not only cold and snowy (which I can handle) but it has this thing called the "lake effect" (because it's surrounded by what are referred to as the great lakes – 4 of 5 big ass lakes that flow out to Niagara Falls – no idea if this is knowledge outside of the USA or not), that means it's basically cloudy for two weeks straight and then if we're lucky, we may be just lucky enough to get a half day that is partly sunny. Yesterday was one of those days and I literally went for a drive and a walk just to see the sun for an hour. Anyways, all that to say, don't worry we're all turning into dull girls and boys along with you.

    January 28, 2021
  • Becky


    Omg I feel that “nice walks only work in nice places” sentiment because I DO NOT live in a nice place and going for a walk is a RISK!

    I hope you’re doing okay in this hellish time, and things can only look up ????

    Becky | Uptown Oracle

    January 28, 2021